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How Facts Backfire

CycloWizard

Lifer
Sep 10, 2001
12,353
1
81
Some of you may have noticed that I don't really visit P&N anymore. This probably makes most of you very happy, as my approach here was never popular (except, perhaps, with the largely silent minority). I attempted, however unsuccessfully, to bring facts and logic to the argument. In this way, I changed my own mind much more often than I influenced anyone else's opinions. People on both sides of the aisle hate me because I don't have a side. I could never figure out why anyone would align themselves with one side or the other as neither side was aligned with reality. After talking with a friend (who is also an engineer) working on his MBA, he said that the hardest thing about managing people as an engineer is that he's used to working with other engineers who consider things logically and reasonably. With most people, that's simply not the case. Things started to click into place.

After years of beating my head against the wall that is the vocal majority of P&N posters, I finally found an article that explained what I already knew: most people simply accept tidbits which agree with their predisposed positions while summarily rejecting all other information as bogus. When confronted with facts, most of you will actually cling tighter to your position which is in direct opposition to those facts rather than adapting your position to bring it into line with reality. This is why conservatives prefer Fox News, why Rand Paul makes liberals so uncomfortable when he says that the poor here don't really have it so bad, and why most of you have never and will never change your opinions on any political issues.

In any case, here are some key points from the somewhat lengthy (4 page) article that about three of us will read.
The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. 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.”

In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept.

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. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

-----------------------------

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

It’s unclear what is driving the behavior — it could range from simple defensiveness, to people working harder to defend their initial beliefs — but as Nyhan dryly put it, “It’s hard to be optimistic about the effectiveness of fact-checking.

Source: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/?page=1
 

Atreus21

Lifer
Aug 21, 2007
12,017
571
126
Excellent post.

I think it was George Grant who said that mens' minds are ruled not by facts, but by general impressions.
 
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MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
This is why religious people who are indoctrinated remain religious.

I think it's a simple defense mechanism. When proven wrong, people's foundations start becoming shaky.
 

highland145

Lifer
Oct 12, 2009
41,450
4,252
136
Sums it up.

“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.”
 

Atreus21

Lifer
Aug 21, 2007
12,017
571
126
This is why religious people who are indoctrinated remain religious.

I think it's a simple defense mechanism. When proven wrong, people's foundations start becoming shaky.
And why atheists are ironically close-minded.
 

MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
As a side note, most people who are trained to think critically (often, those of with science backgrounds) start with the notion that we most likely *don't* have the big picture, and often, science can be both confounding and seemingly paradoxical.

In a nutshell, question EVERYTHING. And most all, your own conclusions.

For example, I don't really have a typical set of normal "beliefs" that most people follow:

1) Welfare is good/bad
2) Abortion is good/bad
3) Underage sex is good/bad
4) Blah blah blah blah
5) Boo hoo hoo

For me, I believe in say... organization. In other words, Order. This belief is founded on observations of life in the Universe, and our seemingly unending desire to organize - become more and more complex, achieving higher energy levels and lower entropy states.

Some beliefs become one's own after critical evaluation.

Simplistic beliefs from the hearsay of others are often the most bullet vulnerable.
 

DesiPower

Lifer
Nov 22, 2008
15,368
740
126
P&N lost its edge, ppl read OP's entire rant and then made meaningful contributions... lol
 

woolfe9999

Diamond Member
Mar 28, 2005
7,164
0
0
Regardless of CW's merits as a poster here, the linked article is excellent and should be read by all. It didn't tell me much I hadn't already grocked from years of experience in debating people on politics and religion, but it's useful for people to be aware that scientific data exists to corroborate our anecdotal impressions.

Bear in mind that everyone has a bias problem, myself included. It's just a question of degree.

One point of interest in the article pertains to Moonbeam actually, as it appears to corroborate some of his "self-hate" rants:

But researchers are working on it. One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.
Perhaps he isn't such a crank after all?

This also underscores that people need to be careful whenever fearmongering is used as a tactic of political persuasion. The fearmonger is doing so for a very specific reasons, and it has nothing to do with keeping you informed about the true state of reality.

- wolf
 

MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
And why atheists are ironically close-minded.
LOL? Atheists are technically one of the most open minded, regardless of how you interpret that. They take the observable facts of the universe, and arrive at a viable conclusion.

The opposite is true for religious. They close out all facts of life, science, and advancements and clutch tighter to best selling book in history (perhaps actually, that title now belongs to Harry Potter).
 

MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
Regardless of CW's merits as a poster here, the linked article is excellent and should be read by all. It didn't tell me much I hadn't already grocked from years of experience in debating people on politics and religion, but it's useful for people to be aware that scientific data exists to corroborate our anecdotal impressions.

Bear in mind that everyone has a bias problem, myself included. It's just a question of degree.

One point of interest in the article pertains to Moonbeam actually, as it appears to corroborate some of his "self-hate" rants:



Perhaps he isn't such a crank after all?

This also underscores that people need to be careful whenever fearmongering is used as a tactic of political persuasion. The fearmonger is doing so for a very specific reasons, and it has nothing to do with keeping you informed about the true state of reality.

- wolf
I think Moonbeam suffers from not only from this, but primarily from a worldview that is a self-reaffirming cycle. He takes his own situation as the most truthful reflection of life, (and this is something we all tend to do, but he actually takes it really really seriously).

He's no crank in his own world that he lives in, yet like a chronic depressive pessimist can not possibly put themselves in the shoes of a persistent optimist, he can not admit that there are people (many) who do not fall under being possessed of or motivated solely by self-hate.
 
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DietDrThunder

Platinum Member
Apr 6, 2001
2,262
326
126
Unless you are dealing with science or mathematics, how can you know what the facts of anything really are? Even with science, facts change with every new discovery.

Unfortunately, with today's media, and how audio/video can be manipulated, how can you believe anything that is presented to you is fact? It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, the only reality you can be certain of is the reality that is taking place 3 feet around you. I tell my 12 year old fairly often to not believe anything that you see on TV, hear on the radio, or see on the internet. Only believe what you see with your own eyes, and then still question what you see.
 
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Oct 16, 1999
10,497
3
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The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.
I think it's also telling that they demonstrated a slight but distinct difference in "liberal" and "conservative" cognition here. A liberal ignores a contrary fact, but a conservative actually strengthens their view from it.
 

JEDIYoda

Lifer
Jul 13, 2005
33,632
3,125
126
This is why religious people who are indoctrinated remain religious.

I think it's a simple defense mechanism. When proven wrong, people's foundations start becoming shaky.
This is why people who deny any religioun who are indoctrinated continue to deny any form of religion.

I think it's a simple defense mechanism. When proven wrong, people's foundations start becoming shaky.
 

MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
I think it's also telling that they demonstrated a slight but distinct difference in "liberal" and "conservative" cognition here. A liberal ignores a contrary fact, but a conservative actually strengthens their view from it.
One entrenches oneself further (fetal position), I think often from being limited in both educational advancement and social experiences.

The other, unperturbed by the contrary fact, brushes it off as if it was a nuisance and continues, armed by the banner of justice and righteousness.
 

MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
This is why people who deny any religioun who are indoctrinated continue to deny any form of religion.

I think it's a simple defense mechanism. When proven wrong, people's foundations start becoming shaky.
Correct, if you were indoctrinated as such.

However, many people are not indoctrinated to reject religion. They are told to figure it out and make up their own mind.
 

woolfe9999

Diamond Member
Mar 28, 2005
7,164
0
0
I think Moonbeam suffers from not only from this, but primarily from a worldview that is a self-reaffirming cycle. He takes his own situation as the most truthful reflection of life, (and this is something we all tend to do, but he actually takes it really really seriously).

He's no crank in his own world that he lives in, yet like a chronic depressive pessimist can not possibly put themselves in the shoes of a persistent optimist, he can not admit that there are people (many) who do not fall under being possessed of or motivated solely by self-hate.
You may be right that he over-emphasizes, or over-broadens, the point. However, maybe he does that because the point is often ignored, or not acknowledged, by most people. And it is an important point for a large number of people. The truth is, much of our bad behavior, as a species, is based on our personal insecurities.

- wolf
 

JEDIYoda

Lifer
Jul 13, 2005
33,632
3,125
126
LOL? Atheists are technically one of the most open minded, regardless of how you interpret that. They take the observable facts of the universe, and arrive at a viable conclusion.

The opposite is true for religious. They close out all facts of life, science, and advancements and clutch tighter to best selling book in history (perhaps actually, that title now belongs to Harry Potter).
Lets take Albert Einstein for example --He converted from atheism to Christianity?

It is quite funny how many of the most intelligent people and scientists in the world end up becoming Christian if they weren’t already Christian to begin with. Some have even started out as Christians, converted to atheism, and then converted back to Christianity. So why do atheists keep trying to use mumbo jumbo science and stuff to disprove God, when the people who actually know what they are talking about, such as Einstein, all believe in God, and yet atheists choose not to?

Sorry MJinZ you are so totally wrong....
 

MJinZ

Diamond Member
Nov 4, 2009
8,208
0
0
Lets take Albert Einstein for example --He converted from atheism to Christianity?

It is quite funny how many of the most intelligent people and scientists in the world end up becoming Christian if they weren’t already Christian to begin with. Some have even started out as Christians, converted to atheism, and then converted back to Christianity. So why do atheists keep trying to use mumbo jumbo science and stuff to disprove God, when the people who actually know what they are talking about, such as Einstein, all believe in God, and yet atheists choose not to?

Sorry MJinZ you are so totally wrong....
First of all, Albert Einstein was a Jew.

Second of all, he has always been an Agnostic.

Like most of us, who are Agnostic, we recognize that there things that Science does not explain, and mostly, things that may be impossible to deduce from our own observations.

We do not categorically deny Jesus (or his existence), nor do we proclaim something with such zeal having little to stand on but our own wishful yearnings and endless fears.
 
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woolfe9999

Diamond Member
Mar 28, 2005
7,164
0
0
Lets take Albert Einstein for example --He converted from atheism to Christianity?

It is quite funny how many of the most intelligent people and scientists in the world end up becoming Christian if they weren’t already Christian to begin with. Some have even started out as Christians, converted to atheism, and then converted back to Christianity. So why do atheists keep trying to use mumbo jumbo science and stuff to disprove God, when the people who actually know what they are talking about, such as Einstein, all believe in God, and yet atheists choose not to?

Sorry MJinZ you are so totally wrong....
I think MJinZ just clarified on Einstein being a Jew. Man is that a huge gaff. I thought basically everyone knew that.

But that is not my main point. My main point is that I suggest you review the data on the affiliations of modern scientists, and most particularly, nobel laureates. The majority of them are actually atheists. If you want a link on that, I'll dig one up. There was a survey done some time in the past 5 years.

What is quite remarkable is that you can have maybe 5-10% atheists/agnostics in the world, but well over half of scientists are atheists, and the more prestigious the group of scientists, the higher the percentage of atheists and agnostics. Why do you suppose that scientists are less likely to believe in God than the general population?

Edit: I'll append some links to my post to provde sourcing:

http://www.freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Scientists_and_atheism

The current number for prestigious scientists is above 90% atheist/agnostic, and it's above 60% for scientists in general. There are other surveys with similar results.

- wolf
 
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