How Facts Backfire

This post is an extension of the UPDATE of yesterday’s post.  I thought that it needed its own thread due to the importance of the conclusion of the university study.  The conclusion, in essence, is that you can’t teach an old dog new facts.

The Boston Globe article begins:

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

It seems to me that this Jeffersonian platitude was widely accepted among The People of this nation.  But now, there is evidence that people furnished with the facts, most often do not change their opinion.  That’s terribly frightening and clearly bodes poorly for the continuing functioning of our democracy.

The article continues:

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

Terribly shocking news. That is why I have reprinted the story once again.

The article continues:

Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper. “The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

Well, that’s the psychology of it all. Surely this phenomenon has been around humanity before Jefferson, but there is a great difference today.  There are many 24/7 media outlets as well as the Internet that can spew out spun facts and outright lies to an eager audience who will soak them up like a sponge. And, they are reinforced daily, around the clock.

A few days ago I asked UptheFlag if he knew why there are some people who are so easily propagandized while he seems to have avoided that plague.  It’s like not getting the flu or measles. One is not immunized against propaganda, but perhaps the content of this U of M report explains his resistance to right-wing propaganda. And mine as well.  We have incorporated our own set of beliefs through the years and, when presented by a piece of ‘data’ that counters our accumulated knowledge, it rolls off of us like water off of the proverbial duck.

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

This new information has changed my mind about the effectiveness of blogging as a source of information-sharing.  While it may keep ‘those in the know’ up to date about the people whose political views  cluster on the right-wing of the political spectrum, it is useless to assume any more lofty benefits from blogging- specifically, the ability to change the minds of people through truth-verification.  It seems to me that we are essentially spinning our wheels.

What say you?


12 thoughts on “How Facts Backfire

  1. The sun is green, the sky is hot pink, the clouds are black, and the grass is purple. A conservative Republican told me so, and, since he’s been shouting it louder and louder and repeating it constantly, it must be true.

    But you and I know otherwise.

    Facts are facts and must be accepted. They can be verified (proven) and must be accepted as truth. Those who refuse to accept truth live a lie, and nothing of any good or lasting value ever came from a lie.

  2. Hello Muddy,
    Below is just another example of what the Real Tea Party is about. Allow me to proudly introduce Mark Williams, a Tea Party leader with much influence and voice within the Party. My, how so proud many must be to proclaim their alliance and membership of this Tea Party political group. Man’s ability and propensity to find some reason to subject another to discriminating abuse, slander and defamation of character for the sole purpose to incite hate on another so they may feel superior; just never ceases to amaze me.

    Mark Williams is a California radio host and leader of the Tea Party Express. Mark Williams’ became famous by his first racial racist aspect statement when he labeled the Manhattan boro president a “Jewish Uncle Tom” and President Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug.”

    But when he posted a satirical letter supposedly from “the Colored People” to President Lincoln praising slavery that apparently crossed the line.

    The federation, an umbrella organization that claims to represent 85 Tea Party groups, kicked out Williams’ group when it wouldn’t fire him. “We have expelled Tea Party Express and Mark Williams from the National Tea Party Federation because of the letter that he wrote,” federation spokesman David Webb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

    Mark Williams called the letter written after the NAACP which called on Tea Party leaders to oust racists from their ranks, “clearly offensive.”

    In the voice of slaves, Williams wrote: “Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the Massa in the house.

    “We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!”

    He went on to say blacks don’t want taxes cut because “how will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?”

    In a press release, the National Tea Party Federation says it ordered the Tea Party Express to kick Williams out and say so “prominently” on their Website. They did not.

    So what was Marks Williams’ response: “Who’s the National Tea Party Federation anyway?” “There are internal political dramas amongst the various self-anointed tea party leaders and some of the minor players on the fringes see the Tea Party Express and Mark Williams as tickets to a booking on Face the Nation,” Mark Williams said with reference to David Webb.

    Mark Williams went onto say, “There is no tea party leadership; every tea partier is a tea party leader.”

    The federation says it represents more than a million activists in 85 groups. Williams’ Tea Party Express is one of the most influential in the conservative movement. It has reportedly raised $2.3 million this year, helped elect Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts and organized a rally in Nevada that featured a rare Sarah Palin speech.

  3. I’ve been busy at work and am finally visiting family in the Miami area. You asked me why I am an independent democrat. that’s easy, I grew up in a staunchly democratic family and just registered as a democrat but I am more of an independent.

    you also asked if I thought my list was impeachable offenses on President Obama. i never suggested they were impeachable but was trying to point out that his programs have failed and he isn’t a leader so much as a campaner. You asked what the real reason was that I don’t like him and I assume you thought I was going to say it’s because he’s black but since I am also black that isn’t the reason. i gave you the real reasons.

    I don’t know all the hocus pocus about blogs but if my comment doesn’t show up then i will assume you have somehow blocked me because I don’t agree with you. If everyone sings from the same song book then you cannot learn anything. all you are doing is confirming what the others think and you are not thinking out of the box. sorry to bother you.

  4. President Obama’s father listed his race as arab and not as African or black so the president is half white and half arab. He just doesn’t seem to care how far behind he sets our country in terms of debt. I have two teenagers in high school and want them to have a better life than I have been able to give them so far. I feed them and keep a clean house but I don’t make enough money to get them out of public housing. all I can do is watch them and make sure they hang out with the right people and go to college. They will have to get a scholarship or student loans to go because everything I make goes to paying the bills. I am a single mother trying to make things better for them and get out of this rut of living off assistance. Do you see where I am coming from?

    EOK, I got a GED and then went to CNA school a few years ago. Before that I was totally on welfare. Now I empty bed pans for a living and the wages are not so good but at least i am showing an example to my children. I wasn’t able to take debate courses in high school or in college because my mother got sick and I had to quit school to care for her. I’m sorry I’m not up to your standards but I am not stupid. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I’m not the dullest one either. Don’t insult people you don’t know.

    And MR you are right saying blogging does nothing unless you open your blog and welcome opposing views where people can actually work for change that would improve the conditions in our country. We are in very bad shape right now. Maybe you had a good job and have retirement income. all i’ll have is social security if it is still around in 25 years.

    sincerly trying to communicate with you, Jane (Janequa)

  5. Engineer- Yes, I saw that one Tea Party group ‘expelled’ another. It must be like urban gangs who ‘claim’ one area of a city as their own.

    As the article above suggests, the mind of the those claiming Tea Party affiliation is already cemented so it really doesn’t matter exactly which Tea Party theme is rejected or accepted- it’s merely reshaping the chairs on the Titanic. Their mind is set on a certain set of ideas and no matter what facts or evidence is presented to them, they will dig their heels in even deeper to defend their ego.

  6. It’s that well informed public: not one that believes whatever fairy tale it is told. The scary thing is that people are willing to believe things which run contrary to reality, and to their own interest. That means democracy’s failure is that it is an idealistic system, like Communism and Anarchy. It works in an ideal, theoretical world, but fails when reality creeps in.

  7. Jane- I have much difficulty with believing the comments that you have posted on this blog. Perhaps i am wrong in that assessment, but my gut says that I’m not.

    First of all I doubt that you are black. Had you not ended your latest comment with “Jane (Janequa)” my radar might not have gone off so loudly. It is almost humorous.

    Further, black folks don’t often talk about Obama’s lineage so when you commented, President Obama’s father listed his race as arab and not as African or black so the president is half white and half arab another radar horn sounded. In fact, it seems to me that you are attempting to say that Obama is not black and in doing so, you gave yourself away as an impostor.

    I worked for the Obama campaign and I know black folks. On election day, blacks came out in huge numbers to vote for ‘one of their own.’ They were some of the happiest people I watched as they waited in long lines to cast their vote for the first black president.

    I gave out stickers at the exit door- stickers that said “I voted for Barack Obama” and it was as if I were giving away hundred dollar bills. Several people asked me for two or three, many saying that they were saving one for their Grandchildren “so that they could remember this historical day.”

    To deny that President Obama is black can only be the work of a white person, Jane, so you have lost all credibility with me.

  8. Laci- It’s that well informed public: not one that believes whatever fairy tale it is told.

    Your comment is spot-on! I think that in Jefferson’s time it was much more easy to give people a set of facts and then allow the people to absorb and then act upon them as they saw fit. Those were simpler times with simple solutions for the mostly-ignorant masses. Colonists [and later citizens] were drawn together for a common purpose, a most-grand purpose for them all- in attempting to throw off a tyrannical colonial monarchy.

    Today’s cheap imitators (and terribly poor actors and actresses) are all about their personal bank accounts. They pimp patriotism and American historical figures in order to help maintain their current financial status.

    While it may be noble and innate to protect one’s personal financial situation, one ought not costume oneself in historical reference to attain that end.

    Further, these historical [hysterical] actors are actually marionettes whose strings are manipulated by corporate interests. They live in a ‘virtual world’ -a fantasy world- in which they believe that protecting corporate interests [insurance companies, health care corporations, Wall Street, the banking industries] will help maintain a secure bottom line for themselves and their families. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the 24/7 propaganda cements those erroneous facts in their mind solidly.

    It is almost pitiful to watch them in action, knowing that they are just puppets for the entitled elite and corporate interests. And further, knowing that they are working against their own financial future.

  9. i have not denied President Obama is black. I just said his father claimed to be arab and not black. anyone with eyes to see can tell he is half black and i was proud to vote for the first black president too. But he has failed us as a race and the country as a people. i don’t have to explain my name to you except that it was a lot easier to say Jane then Janequa to my coworkers so i go by Jane now. if you send me your email address I will send you a picture of me to prove my blackness to you.

  10. “It’s that well informed public: not one that believes whatever fairy tale it is told”
    …but when it becomes clear that Obama has lied to you, you continue to defend the lie AND the liar? Even AFTER becomming “informed” that you were deceived, you still willfully choose to believe the fairytale?
    Are you willfully deceiving yourself or, just like to live in a world of corrupt meaning?
    Which is it?

    “Colonists [and later citizens] were drawn together for a common purpose, a most-grand purpose for them all- in attempting to throw off a tyrannical colonial monarchy.”
    Do you mean a monarchy that imposed it’s will on the masses even AFTER the masses REJECTED the will of the king? Kind of sounds like congress in the present day!
    As with the king, I’m sure he felt that the colonists didn’t like his laws and taxes because “the colonists simply didn’t know what was “good” for them”!
    As when Nancy Pelosi stated that Americans are rejecting the Obamacare bill because THEY didn’t know it was “good” for them!

    “Further, these historical [hysterical] actors are actually marionettes whose strings are manipulated by corporate interests.”

    Like who Obama’s backers like BP and Goldmann Sachs just to name two of the most corrupt purchasers of influence via the campaign jar?
    What about the unions who poured money into Obama’s coffers? The SEIU alone dumped millions into Obama’s piggybank and it’s president Andy Stern spent more time (according to the whitehouse logbook) than anyone else in the oval office…to include even the Generals in charge of the current wars and the economic advisors…since the economy is trashed and all!
    I guess economic advisors and Generals on the ground still take a backseat to corperate and union whoring and money dumping when minor wars and economic collapse are occurring!
    Let’s also take care not to mention GE who poured millions into Obama…and owns NBC, CNBC, Bravo and, MSNBC who routinely spew pro-Obama propaganda to the mildly informed!

    “It is almost pitiful to watch them in action, knowing that they are just puppets for the entitled elite and corporate interests. And further, knowing that they are working against their own financial future.”

    Do you mean the elite…like Obama? On my blog you ridiculed the fact that Obama lied about taxing health benefits and medical proceedures…which work against our own financial futures! And at the same time here you ridicule those who argue against HIS working against our financial futures!
    As if we should be cheering that our medical benefits will now be taxed and added into our income putting us into a higher tax bracket costing us more!

    If it wasn’t so twisted, it would almost be funny to watch…people who want to believe in a man so much that they’re EAGER to be lied to by him and then KNOWING they’re being lied to…are equally as eager to accept the next lie!

    It just proves that YOU and BARB have more in common than you like to admit!
    She has her God…and you have yours!

  11. She has her God…and you have yours!

    Correction- she has her god and i have none. By the way, Sepp, who is your god? I often read your smacking comments about Obama, but rarely do I get a sense of who your hero, your ‘god’ might be. Do you have such a person, imaginary or real?

  12. Muddy, I like to think there may be a god but, I see more evidence stating otherwise. If there is one, I doubt he’s the same one in the churchy sense but, more like a prankster that tosses adversities in people’s path just to laugh at the outcome.
    Certainly I’ve had heroes throughout my life. My grand parents and the great-grandparents that I knew were top notch people who survived many hardhips and, were / still are very inspirational and relevent today.

Comments are closed.