Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dan Sweeney Should Be Ashamed of Himself

So liberal playground Huffington Post has an article by Dan Sweeney titled "There's No Arguing With Conservatives... No, Seriously, Scientific Studies Prove It." The first paragraph:

A new study out of Yale University confirms what argumentative liberals have long-known: Offering reality-based rebuttals to conservative lies only makes conservatives cling to those lies even harder. In essence, schooling conservatives makes them more stupid.

He then cites a Washington Post article that describes the study. If you read the entire article, you'll see that the psychological effect of misinformation cuts both ways equally. Yet Sweeney omits the entire first half of the article, which exhibits liberal susceptibility to the very tendency he's decrying:

In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University, volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber."

A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation.

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.

Republican disapproval of Roberts rose after hearing the misinformation but vanished upon hearing the correct information. The damaging charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after it was debunked among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad information in the first place.


Bullock found a similar effect when it came to misinformation about abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Volunteers were shown a Newsweek report that suggested a Koran had been flushed down a toilet, followed by a retraction by the magazine. Where 56 percent of Democrats had disapproved of detainee treatment before they were misinformed about the Koran incident, 78 percent disapproved afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval dropped back only to 68 percent -- showing that misinformation continued to affect the attitudes of Democrats even after they knew the information was false.

But of course Sweeney includes the two corresponding experimental procedures in which Republicans were first given misinformation, and then a rebuttal (about the WMDs in Iraq issue and the Bush tax cuts). He seizes upon their continuing to believe the misinformation as evidence of conservative "rigidity," even though the conservatives were exhibiting exactly the same behavior observed in liberals.

This study is valuable because it sheds some light on the psychological processes that make rational argument difficult for everyone. But to try to paint it as something that affects only conservatives, and leaves liberals unscathed, is false, immature, and counterproductive.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great job! Thank you for double checking the references.
I guess the instinct of verifying the sources is more natural to a liberal with some scientific background than to a conservative :)).
Huff is too hardcore and biased for my taste.
cheers!
www.d0k.com

aguillen said...

From the original Washington Post article:

"Bullock and others have also shown that some refutations can strengthen misinformation, especially among conservatives."

Anonymous said...

in the Huffington Post article you reference, it is stated "Offering reality-based rebuttals to conservative lies only makes conservatives cling to those lies even harder." That is not true of the liberals in the study. The point was that after the refutation, conservatives in this study were even more likely to believe the misinformation, which is why it mentions the 'backfire effect'.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add that I do think it's wrong to villify conservatives themselves, and it is better to argue for your own policies, whatever they are, but you are actually misrepresenting what they found.

Christi Nielsen said...

Thank god I've found another person who thinks rationally. Great post. And you're absolutely right.

For those of you quoting the whole "it affects conservatives more" thing, you need to re-read that article. The liberals were given a conservative viewpoint (stemcell) and then it was refuted. For the study to be fair, they should have been given a liberal viewpoint just like the conservatives were given conservative viewpoints. Apples and oranges, people.

One thing that drives me nuts is when people think that all this political nonsense only affects the other side. Now THAT is stupid, Sweeney.

Anonymous said...

No, they were given something they were already inclined to believe, that Roberts was bad for some given reason. How is this in any way different? Now these sorts of damning by alleged personality defect are indeed a mistake, but the authors of the research themselves bring up the 'backfire effect', which is where the difference lies.

Christi Nielsen said...

Anon - are you saying that liberals are inclined to believe/agree with Bush's stand on stemcell research? The liberals were given that viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

"A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation.

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent."

Owen T. Cunningham said...

See latest post: http://higgsblogon.blogspot.com/2008/09/sweeney-responds.html