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.I thought this was interesting (yes, in large part because I hang out with behavioral economists).
[Amusing sidenote: I read Daniel Drezner 'cause he's on Megan McArdle's blogroll and I remembered having read good stuff by him in the past. Drezner hat tips Kevin Drum for the WaPo article -- Kevin Drum whose blog is on MotherJones.com. Love it!]
Then jennyo posted about a HuffPo article (reacting to the WaPo article) which turns out to be titled, "There's No Arguing With Conservatives ... No, Seriously, Scientific Studies Prove It." I facepalmed. If you're gonna spin it that way, isn't the point that there's no arguing with ANYONE? I mean, the whole thrust of the article was how "misinformation continued to affect the attitudes of Democrats [and Republicans] even after they knew the information was false." Way to seize on to the third to last paragraph:
In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest 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. Nyhan and Reifler 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.I thought, "Wow, they argue back? Gee, 'cause liberals never do that. Wait, I thought liberals were supposed to be the ones doing rigorous questioning of everything and conservatives are unthinking morons."
I then went and actually read the Kevin Drum blogpost, and he responds to that paragraph saying:
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.***
Why? Reifler suggests it's because conservatives are more rigid than liberals. Maybe so. If I had to guess, though, I'd say it's because right-wing talkers have spent so many years deriding "so-called experts" that they now have negative credibility with many conservatives. The very fact that an expert says a conservative claim is wrong is taken as a good reason to believe the claim. This could probably be tested by doing a study of factual information outside the realm of politics and seeing if conservatives react the same way. If they do, maybe that's support for the generic rigidity theory. If not, it's support for the theory that conservatives simply distrust political elites.
UPDATE: The full paper is here. Via email, Nyhan tells me that they tried to test my proposition that conservatives don't trust elite experts by varying the source of the refutations. Sometimes it was the New York Times, other times it was Fox News. "Surprisingly," he says, "it had little effect."
In other news...
MaryAlice was talking about an incident in Florida where a man found a naked guy in bed with his 15-year-old daughter and beat the guy with a lead pipe and is being charged with assault. I was like, "Well, duh." MaryAlice said, "Well, you can shoot an intruder. A lead pipe is different?" I said that's when you suspect an immediate threat to your person and property -- like if someone's in your house in the middle of the night. MaryAlice was like, "What, rape isn't a violent act?" My first reaction was, "Statutory's dubious..." and my second reaction was, "What, were they in the middle of something when the father walked in?" MaryAlice was like, "Duh." I pointed out that she hadn't said that, had only said the father found a naked guy in his 15-year-old daughter's bedroom. She said, "Yeah, he didn't find them in the afterglow." [In looking up the story now, what I read is, "When he heard noises coming from his daughter's bedroom Thursday morning and saw a stranger standing naked on the girl's bed, he swung a metal pipe. He then chased the teen out the front door and called police."]
I said it was so bizarre that we were on opposite sides of our usual arguments (I kept snarking, "Yes, we totally want to encourage vigilante justice"), and she agreed.
Part of my disconnect, which MaryAlice kind of alluded to in defending the motivations/emotions of the father, is that I just totally don't see my parents being all, "You're deflowering my daughter! Keel!" (And not being a parent myself, I have no idea how I would react in such a situation -- except to make the education guess that I would react similarly to how I expect my own parents would react, because that what I grew up with.) I mean, I have seen my mom get all Momma Bear protective complete with claws when someone is mistreating her daughter, but they're not so much of the attack-first-ask-questions-later school.