Jim's Blog Ramblings about novels, comics, programming, and other geek topics

15Sep/080

Are facts useless to U.S. voters?

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A couple new articles came across my viewing today. The first was by Joe Miller of The Fact Check Wire, who posted a new article titled "Fact-Checking is useless."

An [WaPo] article last September pointed to cognitive science research showing that debunking myths can have the effect of reinforcing the very myths you’re trying to refute. That’s because the human brain is hardwired with a lot of shortcuts. One of those shortcuts: Over time, we tend to forget the "not" part of a claim while retaining the rest. So “Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction” becomes “Iraq had WMDs.”

Now, in a new article published yesterday, the Post warns again that correcting misinformation can actually strengthen beliefs in false claims, especially among those whose worldviews already incline them to believe the false information.

At one of the better political polling statistics, analysis, and mapping sites, Five Thirty Eight.com, Sean Quinn also posted an articled titled "Democrats must give voters explicit permission to like Palin". Quinn writes about how one supporter has given up on facts all together.

For example, a man at Palin's rally in Carson City heatedly told an Obama volunteer in response to his anti-Palin argument, "I don't trust the facts!" Some people hear that and think: "I cannot relate to someone who would say that." I hear it and think: "Defended around emotion and feels under attack." People under attack can't be persuaded. And persuasion is the goal, remember? You can’t reason someone out of his or her feelings. But you can validate those feelings, buy their willingness to listen, and then calmly make your logical case.

I also believe the above quote can be used to summarize many's beliefs in a multitude of concepts (especially religion and politics). One can never win an argument when one side is debating emotions and the other side is debating logic. I think this is why so many people get frustrated when talking about politics (or religion).

After reading those articles, the first thing that came to my mind was the great philosopher and human psychologist Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report.  In 2005, he invented the word "Truthiness" to describe how people typically overrule logic with emotion.

Truthiness:

  1. (humorous) The quality by which something is believed emotionally without regard to evidence or rational thought. Frequently used derisively via ironic praise.
  2. (humorous) The quality of adhering to incorrect concepts one wishes or believes to be true. Used as previous.

For anyone interested, Joe Miller (Fact Check.org) issued a special report in Cognitive Science and Fact Checking in 2007 that's also a good read.

Here's a few non-partisan web sites where you can find some truths/facts:

P.S. That Chain E-mail Your Friend Sent to You Is (Likely) Bogus. Seriously.

Update 9/30/2008
ars technica wrote an article about this a couple days after I posted my blog.

James Welch

James Welch is a software engineer in Vermont working for a large information technology company and specializing in .NET. Additionally, he holds a Master’s Degree in Software Engineering and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science. Jim also enjoys local craft beer, comic books, and science-fiction and fantasy novels, games, and movies.

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