Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brain: Now a threat to democracy

Joe Keohane for the Boston Globe reveals “How facts backfire: Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains” (July 11, 2010) Many politicians would agree with him, of course:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of > information. It's this: Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
Then the dull thud of pop neuroscience factiods hits the In Tray: “Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired.”

Aw come on, Joe! If that were a significant problem,
democracy would never have developed or remained stable for hundreds of years in North America. In fact, the United States and Canada, both born as democracies, are among the most stable nations in the world. If anyone doubts tis, try going round my neighbourhood and announcing that you are starting a revolution.

People will think you are marketing a new brand of fizzy pop, and wonder if you are offering free samples. That’s it.

My best guess is that, re false news stories, people who doubted the original source won’t believe the correction either. There is such a thing as not having credibility.

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