Monday, September 22, 2008

Study: Fact Checking Has "Backfire Effect" on Republicans, "Strengthening Their Belief in Misinformation"

I’m going to say what no one else has the nerve to say: Republicans have used outright lies in the three elections to argue their case to the American voters. It’s hard to defend against a long list of lies and fabrications, while still trying to present your own plans, or even explain the real fallacies of your opponents record. Sure there have been political lies in the past, nothing even close to the insane amount today, but many had to be explained or admitted to. Not anymore. What has changed today are the number of “fact check” outlets exposing the exaggerations and fibs by the candidates. What I thought was a good thing, may not be helping after all.

In the Washington Post story, “The Power of Political Misinformation” By Shankar Vedantam, Republicans may be receiving the or Politifact information in a way that should scare anyone in the reality based world:

As the presidential campaign heats up, intense efforts are underway to debunk rumors and misinformation. Nearly all these efforts rest on the assumption that good information is the antidote to misinformation.

But a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds after it has been debunked -- even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.

Political scientists provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. 34 percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons.

The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

A paper soon to be published suggests that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Scientists did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.

The researchers are all Democrats.

One researcher questioned attempts to debunk rumors and misinformation on the campaign trail, especially among conservatives: "Sarah Palin says she was against the Bridge to Nowhere," he said, referring to the pork-barrel project Palin once supported before she reversed herself. "Sending those corrections to committed Republicans is not going to be effective, and they in fact may come to believe even more strongly that she was always against the Bridge to Nowhere."

No comments:

Post a Comment