News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective
12th July 2010

When you don’t let facts get in the way

posted in In the News |

A while ago, I wrote about how some of my most beloved and respected family members and friends have wrongheaded political views (those completely opposite from mine). It’s as if we absorb only the information and perspectives that enforce our own beliefs, even going so far as to get different messages from the same speech or news broadcast. (What is it my smart, successful brother-in-law sees in Sarah Palin that makes him admire her when I think she is a divisive, fear monger who speaks, albeit with a pretty smile, in meaningless clichés?) An article in Sunday’s Globe, entitled “How Facts Backfire” confirmed my observations about this perplexing disconnect, noting: “There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t.”

Also disturbing, the article referenced last month’s Political Behavior journal which reported on studies attempting to change people’s false thinking by providing them with facts. The result: people held to their original beliefs despite evidence that those beliefs were flawed or incorrect. Rather than adjusting their thinking in light of contrary evidence, the study documents “several instances of a ‘backfire effect’ in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.”  Great! Facts will not alter our misguided beliefs; instead we cling to them more strongly. As someone committed to education as the solution to advance causes of social and economic justice, as well as a host of other woes, this is sad news indeed. It may be futile, but I doubt my politically wrongheaded loved ones and I will stop trying to correct each other’s misguided thinking.

Take today, for instance, when my brother sent me an email espousing the evils of gun control with a series of horrific statements about 56 million people being murdered in the 20th century (Russians, Armenians, Jews, Chinese, Mayan Indians, Cambodians…) because gun control left them defenseless. The email raved about Switzerland: “A nation that issues every male over 18 a gun. Switzerland’s government trains every adult they issue a rifle as a member of the militia. Hitler didn’t invade Switzerland because of this. He is supposed to have said, ‘Switzerland doesn’t have an army—Switzerland IS an army.’ Switzerland has the lowest gun-related crime rate of any civilized country in the world! It’s a no brainer! If you value freedom, please send this anti-gun control message to all your friends!” To which, I responded: “Yes, definitely, let’s take away any kind of restriction on who can own guns—mentally ill people, convicts, paroled rapists, drug addicts etc. Let’s also do away with any kind of waiting period, whether it’s three days or a few weeks. Why wait even one minute to own a gun? Better yet, let’s not require any identification. Let anyone of any age buy an uzi, a sawed off shotgun, AK 47, M-16, machine gun….whatever. All you need is money, no questions asked. That would be much better. NOT!” And so it goes…

There is currently one response to “When you don’t let facts get in the way”

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  1. 1 On July 15th, 2010, Cliff Krieger said:

    I remember that article from The Boston Globe back on Sunday.  I thought for a moment that Democracy was over, that Bill Buckley was wrong.

    Then I thought about it some more.  People used to trust the MSM—even after they took us to Cuba and the Philippines in 1898.  Today not so much.  And the Internet has helped.  The reason half of TV viewers go Fox over ABC/CBS/NBC is that half the people no longer trust the MSM.

    I thought about those people in past experiments and decided that maybe the subjects didn’t think of the experiments as being in possession of the truth.  Remember, these are the psychologist who tried to get us to torture people we didn’t know—at Yale University.  I am hoping we have moved on from that trust of “authority”.

    As for Switzerland, it would be more like bringing back the draft and bringing in everyone and saving money by storing one’s firearm at home rather than the local Armory.  As for the US, I am not sure a draft would be a good idea, but that is a different issue.

    Regards  —  Cliff

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