Cutting Through The Crap

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Backfire Effect

I guess I'm obsessed with it. As in the previous post, about judicial temperament and selecting Supreme Court justices, I keep coming back to what appear to be inherent and unalterable differences between the conservative and the liberal mind. The implications are several, and serious. There is, it would seem, an extent to which the two are simply unable to find common ground. For reasons I don't think anyone knows (genetic wiring?, learned responses?) liberals and conservatives seem to process information differently.

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.
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14 comments:

Frank Drackman said...

Here's some information for you to process, Sid. Ask anyone who was in Halabja, Iraq during March 1991 if there were any WMDs around. Or if you could find anyone who survived the Sarin attack Sodom unleased on his own people... Sarin's classified as a WMD by the UN, the Geneva Convention, and Me, and yeah, I know the US has it to, thats cause we're the good guys.
I like your overconfidence though, its what got Jimmy Carter his second term, and Gore his first...

GDad said...

I'm sure many of could have given anecdotal support to this study after any given family dinner at Thanksgiving.

Frank Drackman said...

You sniff the gas at MY family's Thanksgiving dinners, and you'll wish you WERE breathing Sarin...
Not sayin my Wife's a bad cook, but I don't think Meat Loaf should glow in the dark...She asked me to take out the trash, I told her, "You cooked it, YOU take it out!!"... Only reason I get any women at all is because of who I am, a Rapist....
Frank

Sid Schwab said...

Thanks, Frank. I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

Helloow, DrekMan!

Saddam "Had" WMD when he attacked his own people.

Therefore, Saddam "Had" WMD and was going to use them on us, (when we attacked him).

Never mind that "Curveball" turned out to be full of shit, and was trying to get a free pass to the west

See (For Instance) http://www.bayoubuzz.com/News/World/Middle_East/Iraqi_Informant_Threw_US_Curveball_on_WMD_For_War__5062.asp

Never mind that Shrub & his republican mafia ginned up the whole war to get at the region's oil.

Never mind that the weapons inspectors repeatedly said the WMD were not there.

Never mind all of our dead, the Iraqi dead, the torture, and the lies that shamed us before the planet.

Never mind the trillions all of that is going to cost us.

Saddam "HAD"(had) WMD by God, and that makes it all true and worth it.

Thus DrekMan displays and exemplifies the leading feature of the fascist mind: the ability to focus on everything but a twisted version of the facts.

I liken minds like his to those ornately carved German clocks, made in the Black Forest.

Such a clock is made with fine precision gears and cogs that allow the clock to accurately measure time for hours, and years, at a time.

However, occasionally in some of the clocks, there are small but critical defects: such as a finely made gear missing a single tooth.

Such a clock ticks along accurately, except that once every twelve hours, it reaches the point where that single tooth is missing.

At which point, the entire mechanism jams up, the clock convulses, and begins to shriek: "CUCKOO-CUCKOO-CUCKOO-CUCKOO!"

DrekMan bears out Nyhan and Reifler nicely doesn't he?

EugeneInSanDiego

Anonymous said...

,,,the ability to focus on everything but a twisted version of the facts.

Amend that to...the ability to focus on nothing but a twisted version of the facts.

An object lesson in careful proof reading.

EugeneInSanDiego

Frank Drackman said...

Hmmm, guess this Iraq/Afghanistan war is pretty bad, No? I mean if Iraq didn't have WMDs (wiki Halabja, OH, forget it) no way friggin Afghanistan does... Whats that you say, 92 American Servicemen killed in Iraq/Afghanistan since January 20th 2009???(My Blog has a nifty update of this # at the top)Does Cheney have the Prez in a friggin Vulcan Mind-Meld (YES, I'm excited about the new Star Trek movie opening Friday)... No WMD's? so why are American Boys still dying??? Feels like May 1969 if you ask me...

Frank

Anonymous said...

Frank,

Afghanistan harbored Bin Laden after 911. That was the cause for war. Also, the zealous Taliban were gathering power there at the time. Iraq was not at all a hotbed of Islamic zealotry, I might add.

But I think you knew that. Who knows what the hell you really think about anything? I admit some grudging respect for your tenacity for staying in character. Oh God I'm a Drackmanite. I think... I think I'm falling in love.

--Sam Spade

Sid Schwab said...

Oh, no, Sam... Not you, too!

Anonymous said...

Frank, you ignore the fact that Shrub & Co. began by saying: Saddam “HAS” WMD, and only later began the “Had WMD & therefore Has WMD” tango with tortured truth.

Facts to the contrary, to you and those similarly afflicted, (Hi, BB)just constitute final irrefutable proof that Saddam “HAD” WMD.

It is fascinating, Sam, to observe the tragi/comical tenacity of the fascist mind; a mind so well described by The Incredible String Band in “The Minotaur's Song”

Think: Gilbert & Sullivan.

Straight from the shoulder
I think like a soldier
I know what's right and what's wrong

He knows what's right and what's wrong.

I'm the original discriminating buffalo man and I'll do what's wrong as long as I can

He'll do what's wrong as long as he can

I live in a labyrinth under the sea
Down in the dark as dark as can be
I like the dark as dark as can be

He likes the dark as dark as can be

I'll even attack you or eat you whole Down in the dark my bone mills roll Porridge for my porridge bowl

Porridge for his porridge bowl

I'm strong as the earth from which I'm born

He's strong as the earth from which he's born

I can't dream well because of my horns

He can't dream well because of his horns

Moo

I'm strong as the earth from which I'm born

He's strong as the earth from which he's born

I can't dream well because of my horns

He can't dream well because of his horns

A minotaur gets very sore
His features they are such a bore
His habits are predicta-bull

Aggressively relia-bull, bull, bull

I'm strong as the earth from which I'm born

He's strong as the earth from which he's born I can't dream well because of my horns

He can't dream well because of his horns

I'm the original discriminating buffalo man
And I'll do what's wrong as long as I can

He'll do what's wrong as long as he can


See: http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/The-Minotaur%27s-Song-lyrics-The-Incredible-String-Band/F75265FB74D2F2D048256DD7000A8C7A

EugeneInSanDiego

Sid Schwab said...

As one who played Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, in "HMS Pinafore," I can only applaud the reference to G and S.

My mother said I was very good. (The video is not me.)

Anonymous said...

Eugene,

I fear that indignation is Frank's catnip.

Also, here's G&S reinterpreted. Your hereby warned about lowbrow humor.

--Sam Spade

Anonymous said...

How much catnip does it take to choke a cat?

EugeneInSanDiego

Ellen Kimball said...
This comment has been removed by the author.