In a near semi partially penultimate post on Surgeonsblog, I parenthetically mentioned this article about a study of what happens when people are presented with information that disproves a certain claim. A key finding:
Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler 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. Thirty-four 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.
.... Nyhan and Reifler found this "backfire" effect only among conservatives. Refutations had little effect on liberals, but it didn't cause them to actively believe the misleading information even more strongly.
I find it fascinating. Of course, it's not possible to make blanket statements: the numbers suggest that some conservatives were convinced by data, as well as that some liberals weren't. I know some open-minded conservatives, and some close-minded liberals. Still, the implication is clear: resistance to facts -- hardening one's erroneous view, in fact, when shown evidence to the contrary -- is a characteristic of the conservative mind more than it is of the liberal. So not only is it the case that, for many anyway, there's no hope of common purpose; it's also true that liberals are more likely to be right. Facts being what they are: facts.
It seems a fair assumption that people at the extremes are the ones most likely to fall into the refractory category. And, given the way gerrymandering has led to selecting the most partisan representatives of a given party, it's also logical to conclude that Congress is full of the 64/67 percenters; ie, that Congressional Republicans are simply incapable of being persuaded by facts, no matter the issue at hand. It's pretty discouraging; and it sort of puts the lie to the concept of bipartisanship. If the commentariat of this blog is any example, it's plainly impossible to have a meaningful discussion of serious issues with people congenitally (let's assume they can't help it) unable to process new information, especially information that contradicts their preferred beliefs.
Would that it weren't so. I'd like there to be a credible opposition to whatever party is in power. Especially, of course, if it's the party of backfire effect. But even when it's the good guys. Politicians of either party are wont to get carried away with themselves. As it is, the current party of opposition is constituted, in Congress anyway, of people literally incapable of dealing with reality, and studies prove it. It's not a good thing.