07 December 2012

Why False Beliefs Persist #nlpoli

If the Brothers Grimm  were alive today in Newfoundland and Labrador, they’d be politicians.

That’s because so much of politics these days is about fairy tales.

To be fair this isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s just that since 2003, the chief purveyors of fairy tales – the nationalists – have predominated.  Danny Williams, the former Premier, used to say lots of things that just weren’t true and some of his biggest fans believed stuff that just never happened.

One of them - “Agnes” – called Randy Simms on Thursday to talk about Greg Malone’s new book.  Greg’s book is doing well in the bookstores, which is good for him after putting in all the work.  Too bad the book is just a revised edition of grim fairy tales about Confederation.

A recent article on Psyblog gives four sources of misinformation and eight ways to counteract it.  Two of the sources of misinformation fit a discussion of politics in this province:

2. Politicians

We may all be aware that politicians will say anything to get elected, but can we tell the difference between the truth and the lies they've told?

Studies have found that, in fact, people find it very difficult tell the difference. It seems that knowing that politicians lie is no barrier to people believing those lies.

3. The Media

The usual sources of misinformation in the media are oversimplification and the need for providing balance.

The need for balance is an interesting one because the issues themselves aren't always 'balanced'. For example over 95% of climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions, but you wouldn't know that from many media debates on the issue, which are hobbled by the perceived need to always provide a 'balanced' viewpoint.

The original article on which the Psyblog post was based mentions some other big sources of misinformation.  Ideology and how individuals look at the world are powerful sources of misinformation and obstacles to banishing wrong information from a discussion.

All familiar stuff for regular readers, to be sure, but worth the reminder these days.  Consider, if you will, that the eight ways the article recommends to debunk myths are actually ways to spread them.  Look at the pro-Muskrat Falls campaign.  repeat a false statement over and over and people will accept it as readily as a fact.