Yale Law school professor Dan Kahan has been doing interesting studies into political beliefs. His latest finding? Facts don’t matter. In fact, when arguing with a climate change denier, gun nut, or any other extremist, facts, literally, cannot be seen.
What’s worse, when people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct those errors actually makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously. Here’s some of what Brendan Nyhan found, in the same area:
• People who thought WMDs were found in Iraq believed that misinformation even more strongly when they were shown a news story correcting it.
• People who thought George W. Bush banned all stem cell research kept thinking he did that even after they were shown an article saying that only some federally funded stem cell work was stopped.
• People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs. They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same. Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
• But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy. If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.
It would be something if Reaganesque positive election ads had a greater ability to change folks’ minds than negative. Although, that thought is equally depressing. Read more here.