Bill Moyers: Facts threaten us.

February 15, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

According to Truthout, Bill Moyers recently gave a talk at History Makers, and had this disturbing information: well documented facts often backfire:

As Joe Keohane reported last year in The Boston Globe, political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency “deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information.” He was reporting on research at the University of Michigan, which 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 were not curing misinformation. “Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.” You can read the entire article online.

I won’t spoil it for you by a lengthy summary here. Suffice it to say that, while “most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence,” the research found that actually “we often base our opinions on our beliefs … and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

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Category: cognitive biases, Orwellian, Politics, Propaganda, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. MikeFitz17 says:

    Good posting. I urge everyone to read the entire article linked to this post. Bill Moyers has pretty much seen it all, and his thoughts on the threats facing our democracy are powerful and illuminating. The truth can be a fragile thing. Many powerful forces are arrayed against it, as demonstrated by the anecdotes Moyers shared in his talk.

    One of the points Moyers alludes to is how the proliferation and fragmentation of today's media makes it quite easy for people who want to believe in political misinformation — i.e., Obama is a Muslim terrorist born in Kenya; 9/11 was perpetrated by George W. Bush — to cling even more tightly to their wrongheaded beliefs. The "birthers" and "9/11 truthers" don't have to worry about being exposed to any viewpoint but their own. The Internet abounds with websites, such as Glenn Becks's The Blaze, that fortify and consolidate their nonsensical beliefs, while allowing them to network with like-minded believers. This is one of the dark sides of the Internet. It poses a problem that only grows worse as we move forward.

  2. rosa says:

    I think this is called cognitive dissoanance, hope i spelled that right, people hate to think they have been duped, hoodwinked, etc, that makes them feel vunerable, powerless to protect themselves from such deception, it means they were misled hence they are not as bright, smart or educated as they like to believe they are.

    it is like someone who truly believes they can ride a horse properly and handle almost any situation that comes along and come out without injury or losing control of the horse. only to find out when they finally ride a horse that is not dead broke (after all if you can ride a dead broke horse you should be able to ride any thing with hooves and fur)

    only to find out they are deceived themselves and actually don't know as much as they thought, this can be humiliating when they told their trusted friends they know how to ride, only to have something bad happen due to lack of riding skills, and rather than tell their friends they thought they could ride but cannot they pretend it was only a one time thing, a fluke the horse was that rare animal that is insane, and tell their friends I can ride any horse still.

    not a super good example but one I can relate to some extent. and if the truth is frightening to them, meaning it will lead to disaster or harm to them in some way, then that makes it harder to accept the new found truth.

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