Monday, July 12, 2010

Worth Repeating: Facts are Stubbornly Rejected Things

This is a fairly well known bit of wisdom from the NY Times Idea of the Day column, people tend to choose facts that suit their beliefs not form their beliefs based upon facts. Still, it can never be said enough, both to discourage people from thinking some new utopia is possible if only everyone would listen and to remind ourselves to reflect on our own beliefs and fact check them.

Though the problem remains, given this cognitive problem, how can one ever be sure that an honest effort is being made to check our own beliefs against facts? Or alternately, to at least form new beliefs out of new facts rather than not allowing our range of beliefs to expand at all.

Of course, the link to The Onion at the bottom of the post is a good follow up as well.

[Edit: The full article from the Boston Globe is well worth reading as well, even if longer at four pages. I especially liked the pessimism expressed at potential solutions:
Nyhan ultimately recommends a supply-side approach. Instead of focusing on citizens and consumers of misinformation, he suggests looking at the sources. If you increase the “reputational costs” of peddling bad info, he suggests, you might discourage people from doing it so often. “So if you go on ‘Meet the Press’ and you get hammered for saying something misleading,” he says, “you’d think twice before you go and do it again.”

Unfortunately, this shame-based solution may be as implausible as it is sensible. Fast-talking political pundits have ascended to the realm of highly lucrative popular entertainment, while professional fact-checking operations languish in the dungeons of wonkery.

1 comment:

  1. Orwell says in the Road to Wigam Pier something to the effect that partisanship or ideology is caused by moral laziness. I've always thought that this is the best way to try to choose which facts are right and wrong and which opinions to follow. Partisanship is comfortable. You don't have to think about. Objectivity requires being always vigilante and seeing the good and the bad of both sides always.
    But it's only a goal of course. I agree we can never know what it would be like to be objective and rational thinkers.

    That's a funny link from the Boston Globe. Too true, too true.