In most any day, readers across the Internet encounter some story, some report, some stunning claim which - for once and all - utterly proves that you were absolutely right about some idea you've had. Except maybe instead, what you read instead proves utterly you were absolutely wrong. Which will you decide is accurate and which is false?
Writer David McRaney says your decision has little to do with truth and more to do with what you think and believe even before you encounter something that might prove your ideas true or false. What is certain is that all across the media, the Internet, inside those tales stuffed into those endlessly forwarded emails from outraged friends and relatives, the ideas we earnestly believe grip our brains like a tropical fever which may never be cured.
His essay, The Backfire Effect on his blog You Are Not So Smart, has some very provocative ideas on this topic, highlighted by a deceptively simple thesis:
"The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.
The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger."
"In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first. For instance, one article suggested the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next said the U.S. never found them, which was the truth. Those opposed to the war or who had strong liberal leanings tended to disagree with the original article and accept the second. Those who supported the war and leaned more toward the conservative camp tended to agree with the first article and strongly disagree with the second. These reactions shouldn’t surprise you. What should give you pause though is how conservatives felt about the correction. After reading that there were no WMDs, they reported being even more certain than before there actually were WMDs and their original beliefs were correct."
"Geoffrey Munro at the University of California and Peter Ditto at Kent State University concocted a series of fake scientific studies in 1997. One set of studies said homosexuality was probably a mental illness. The other set suggested homosexuality was normal and natural. They then separated subjects into two groups; one group said they believed homosexuality was a mental illness and one did not. Each group then read the fake studies full of pretend facts and figures suggesting their worldview was wrong. On either side of the issue, after reading studies which did not support their beliefs, most people didn’t report an epiphany, a realization they’ve been wrong all these years. Instead, they said the issue was something science couldn’t understand. When asked about other topics later on, like spanking or astrology, these same people said they no longer trusted research to determine the truth. Rather than shed their belief and face facts, they rejected science altogether."
Read the full essay here. But will you think it has factual value or will you see it merely as yet another example of the utter lies which fill the world and seek to destroy you?