Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fact Checking Spreads Myths?

Paul clued me in on an article where factcheck.org defends itself from the Washington Post's claim that debunking political myths actually helps spread them. The theory is that, for instance, when the Bush regime was working hard to mention Iraq and 9/11 together as often as possible to create a false impression that those two were connected, those like factcheck.org who were pointing out there was no connection between the two ended up mentioning Iraq and 9/11 together just like the regime, reinforcing the idea that Iraq and 9/11 actually were connected.

You see, according to cognitive neuroscience, people often remember things they have heard mentioned together, but forget whether they are positively or negatively correlated. That is to say, in the sentence, "Iraq was in no way responsible for 9/11," many people remember that Iraq and 9/11 were mentioned together but forget that the sentence said Iraq and 9/11 weren't actually connected. Or, rather, they remember, "Iraq was in no way responsible for 9/11."

But I agree with factcheck.org that the danger of further creating an impression that Iraq was involved in 9/11 when debunking the myth that Iraq was involved in 9/11 is not as great as the danger in not making sure that the truth gets out there. For one thing, while most people hear at least some news and are likely to hear the Bush regime mentioning Iraq and 9/11 together all the time, few probably of those people read and have a chance to have their impressions reinforced by factcheck.org. But, on the other hand, some people, like me, who go to the lengths to try not to be influenced by rhetorical tricks like these, and who want and need to know the truth, need a place to go to find it.

That is to say, if in order to keep the general public from further believing in a falsehood we make it impossible for those of us interested in learning the actual truth from learning that truth, we're making a huge mistake, in my opinion. We can't necessarily stop a myth from being started, spread, and reinforced through repetition, but we can put out the truth so that those who want to know it can. There's little evidence that fewer people will fall for repetition if no one like factcheck.org is out there clearing up falsehoods, but I know for sure some people will be unable to learn the truth if they aren't.

3 Comments:

At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Cal_Kyle said...

It works the same as when John Stewart associated Fred Thompson with Franken Berry. Now everytime I see Fred I have a craving for marshmallow laden strawberry cereal.

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger mooglar said...

I think maybe every time Thompson sees himself in the mirror he has the same reaction. It would explain his girth. (He looks a little slimmer lately, but I think they've put him in a bigger, but ill-fitting, suit to make him seem thinner).

:^)

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

You are exactly on the mark here (as is the article): If one's policy is to avoid associations even when it involves correcting misinformation, that allows the dishonest to entirely control the conversation.

Stategy A (do not correct for fear of association) leads to misinformation propagating as far as purveyors are willing to take it, though admittedly with some low level of credulity in the population.

Strategy B (correct, regardless of association) leads to some control over the spread of the faulty information, while (perhaps) entrenching the mistruth in some subset of the population.

If you want all people to have the wrong information but not hold a lot of stock in it, choose A. If you want some people to have the right information at the cost of others becoming a bit more certain about the wrong information, choose B.

I choose B (and pie ... I like pie.)


P.S., Another interesting article about the (lack of) fact content in political ads was also worth the read, I think.

P.P.S., Everytime I see Thompson on a dias, I can't help but think that Sam Waterston would make a very strange VP! That makes me think of Old Glory robot insurance, which makes me think of the flag.

I hear he's a patriot who stands for a strong, value-centered United States that defends its borders and the middle-class while lifting families of poverty, eliminating waste, and encouraging innovation.

Plus he looks like Franken Berry ...

 

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