Trying to correct political myths may only entrench them further, study says

May 4, 2015, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
social network
Social network diagram. Credit: Daniel Tenerife/Wikipedia

Bad news, fans of rational political discourse: A study by an MIT researcher shows that attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength.

"Rumors are sticky," says Adam Berinsky, a professor of at MIT, and author of a paper detailing the study. "Corrections are difficult, and in some cases can even make the problem worse."

More specifically, Berinsky found in an experiment concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that rebuttals of political rumors about the supposed existence of "death panels" sometimes increased belief in the myth among the public.

"Pure repetition, we know from psychology, makes information more powerful," Berinsky says.

In the case of the "death panels," Berinsky's research indicates that the best way to counteract these rumors is to find a political figure who could credibly debunk the rumor based on their broader political stand—a Republican senator, for instance.

As Berinsky sees it, it is harder for a democracy to function well in a public environment pervaded by political myths. The nonexistent "death panels" were alleged to have decision-making power over whether citizens received health care; in reality, as Berinsky points out, the ACA had provisions to pay doctors for counseling patients about their end-of-life options.

"It makes communication between politicians and citizens kind of difficult, if these people think politicians are trying to kill their grandmothers," Berinsky observes.

After treatment: More belief, more rejection

The paper containing the results, "Rumors, Truths, and Reality: A Study of Political Misinformation," will be published in the British Journal of Political Science.

Berinsky conducted the experiment with three separate waves of public-opinion surveys in 2010, encompassing nearly 2,000 voters. The surveys tested multiple methods of debunking rumors about the ACA on multiple categories of respondents.

Among "attentive" voters who responded to the survey, 57 percent initially rejected the rumors about "death panels." After seeing a nonpartisan correction of the myth, those figures changed slightly, to a 60 percent rejection rate. But a Republican-sourced correction raised that rate to 69 percent, while a Democratic-based correction only led to a 60 percent rejection rate.

In each scenario, the acceptance rate of the rumor went up, while only the Republican-based debunking markedly changed the rejection rate. Other slices of the survey group yielded similar patterns in which both acceptance and rejection rates rose, with Democratic-sourced debunking efforts being the least effective.

When Berinsky conducted follow-up surveys of voters weeks later, he found that about 43 percent of all respondents (not just "attentive" ones) rejected the rumor. A nonpartisan debunking of the rumor produced a 51 percent rejection rate, but a debunking stemming from Republican sources yielded a 58 percent rejection rate, while a Democratic correction led to 53 percent of people rejecting the rumor.

A reason for the results, Berinsky surmises, is apparently minimal belief, among contemporary voters, in the existence of neutral sources of information.

"No one perceives these [sources] as nonpartisan," he says.

Berinsky's experiment also produced new data about the attachment of the electorate to myths in general. He asked respondents whether they believed in any or all of seven different myths, six of which concerned politics—such as the myth that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, or the rumor that vote fraud in Ohio swung the 2004 presidential election to then-President George W. Bush. Only 5 percent of the population believed four or more of the seven rumors, but on average, people believed 1.8 of the rumors.

As Berinsky sees it, that means belief in seemingly outlandish ideas is not the province of a relatively small portion of uninformed, conspiracy-minded voters.

"It's not that there are some people who believe a lot of crazy things," Berinsky says. "There are a lot of people who believe some crazy things."

Fact: Book in the works

Other scholars say the study is an important addition to the academic literature on political rumors and voter knowledge.

In that vein, this paper is part of a larger project Berinsky has undertaken about political and public opinion; he is currently working on a book project on the topic as well, to be published by Princeton University Press.

"There's a lot more interest about this in political science and psychology than there was 10 years ago," Berinsky says. He believes practitioners—politicians, strategists, consultants, and more—seem increasingly attuned to the research that scholars are producing in this vein as well.

"There is a lot more interest in trying to find out how people think, rather than assuming you know how they think," Berinsky says.

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tadchem
5 / 5 (7) May 04, 2015
Critical Thinking is a skill. It takes training, practice, and most importantly a willingness to entertain propositions that are dissonant with one's beliefs. Few people are able to do this with facility.
Most people find it easiest to accept whatever is the first proposition they encounter on any given topic, and hold that as the standard by which they evaluate all subsequent propositions.
For this reason, even the most carefully examined, tested, and validated ideas, such as General Relativity, are not universally accepted until all the dogmatists whose 'understanding' preceded the idea have died off.
EWH
2.7 / 5 (11) May 04, 2015
What about the myth that the "Affordable Healthcare Act" would lead to affordable healthcare?

Also who gets to decide which rumors are credible and which aren't? The 2004 election exit poll results did not match the votes, and the differences consistently favored Bush. See for example http://www.common...1-34.htm "Was the 2004 Election Stolen", by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. : "Based on exit polls, CNN had predicted Kerry defeating Bush in Ohio by a margin of 4.2 percentage points. Instead, election results showed Bush winning the state by 2.5 percent. Bush also tallied 6.5 percent more than the polls had predicted in Pennsylvania, and 4.9 percent more in Florida.(33)

According to Steven F. Freeman, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in research methodology, the odds against all three of those shifts occurring in concert are one in 660,000."
EWH
3.7 / 5 (12) May 04, 2015
Come to think about it, what about the persistent myth that voting, let alone any individual's vote, has any effect on national government policy? Voters almost by definition are swallowing a big lie; is it surprising that they swallow little ones as well?
ryggesogn2
2.7 / 5 (12) May 04, 2015
Kerry and classy do not belong in the same sentence.

The only way he could 'earn' a living was to marry rich widows.
Whydening Gyre
4 / 5 (7) May 04, 2015
Kerry and classy do not belong in the same sentence.

The only way he could 'earn' a living was to marry rich widows.

A dirty job, but somebody's got to do it...
ThomasQuinn
3.8 / 5 (10) May 05, 2015
From what I read in this article, by far the most disturbing think is the excessive rate of people who blindly accept outrageous rumours as truth to begin with. It worries me that so few people will really think critically about even the most obvious hoaxes.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) May 05, 2015
Critical Thinking is a skill. It takes training, practice, and most importantly a willingness to entertain propositions that are dissonant with one's beliefs. Few people are able to do this with facility.
Most people find it easiest to accept whatever is the first proposition they encounter on any given topic, and hold that as the standard by which they evaluate all subsequent propositions.

People cannot but accept whatever they encounter first if they have no knowledge of the subject (and this is not limited to politics. You can see it in action on this very comment section with the various crazies, cranks *and* religious people).

So while I completely agree that critical thinking is important it doesn't help you form a better opinion if you have no basic knowledge of a subject. At best it might help uncover the side that si arguing its case dishonestly - but that still doesn't tell you anything about what the facts are.
Shootist
2.1 / 5 (7) May 05, 2015
it the case of "death panels" there are death panels (groups of doctors and bureaucrats who decide when to stop funding treatment for the terminally ill). the government just doesn't call them that.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (8) May 05, 2015
by far the most disturbing think is the excessive rate of people who blindly accept outrageous rumours as truth to begin with.

You can thank the media (and especially the political media) for that. They figured out that shouting anything -even if wrong- is better than honestly saying:
"I can't form an opinion because I don't know...let me get back to you when I have made myself knowledgeable on the subject"

Reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon: "if you can't win by reason - go for volume"
ryggesogn2
4 / 5 (4) May 05, 2015
by far the most disturbing think is the excessive rate of people who blindly accept outrageous rumours as truth to begin with.

You can thank the media (and especially the political media) for that. They figured out that shouting anything -even if wrong- is better than honestly saying:
"I can't form an opinion because I don't know...let me get back to you when I have made myself knowledgeable on the subject"

Reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon: "if you can't win by reason - go for volume"

Reminds me of Goebbels:

""If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. ...the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.""
ryggesogn2
2.7 / 5 (7) May 05, 2015
"Extreme secrecy eroding support for Obama's trade pact"

http://www.politi...581.html

Why the secrecy?
Intuition
2.9 / 5 (8) May 05, 2015
Antialias_physorg
You can see it in action on this very comment section with the various crazies, cranks *and* religious people).


. . . and of course scientists and atheists! It's just that they are often more arrogant about their beliefs and blind to their arrogance.
Intuition
3.7 / 5 (3) May 05, 2015
So much of this is a product of the types of instant communication in conjunction with mass media. It creates nearly instant group think. All a politician has to do is trot out a complete lie and keep repeating it to achieve political gain. Hitler achieved this even without today's technology, and sadly some politicians are doing the same again today only now deceiving people world wide at a greater magnitude. Some people are starting to wake up to it, but unfortunately some never will.
julianpenrod
2.3 / 5 (6) May 05, 2015
Among other things, notice how they are equating "rumor" with "untruth", and suggesting, "therefore", that "official proclamation", by necessity, must be truth!
And, if rumor methods are so effective, why don't they use the same to spread what they want believed? It's the same "paradox" as with "Muslim extremists". The New World Order depicts Muslim teachings as somehow being able to make people want to kill themselves to promote them, but they don't utilize the same techniques to promote "democracy"!
Because the people see the swindles politics plays constantly, such as pushing the lie on which this article is based, that politicians tell the truth, just as "Muslim extremists" aren't affected as much by the madrasas as they are by the bodies of their family and friends blown apart by Special Forces goons to secure their country's resources for craven corporate interests in The West!
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) May 05, 2015
Face the facts they won't mention. Among other things, all politicians are millionaires, and, if you think they necessarily got their millions by being nice and even law abiding, then be prepared for the snake of self deception to whip back and bite you. And,m if there were any honest politicians, the fact that none of them have ever spilled the beans on their brothers in power automatically makes them crooks, as well!
It's not the number of people involved or how much a point is repeated that controls a rumor's strength. Among other things, people are convinced more by the rottenness indicated, the danger to personal welfare in the claim. Why won't articles like this mention that?
julianpenrod
2.2 / 5 (6) May 05, 2015
And note something else crucial. In fact, the New World Order wins always by being on every side of a conflict. This article pret4ends to want to try to stop political misinformation, but the successful rumors were all started, aimed, intended and benefited from by the New World Order. I have been mentioning a number of provable facts that do not reflect gently on politics and no one has even repeated them. For example, there is no independent, verifiable proof, tangibly in citizens' hands, that the numbers quoted by "electoral boards" are legitimate! Forget tampered with voting machines. There is no proof that whatever numbers "electoral boards" get, legitimate or not, are what they quote! Yet not a single individual has taken that up. Because the New World Order arranges its own rumors. They support the "hero" who provides a different point of view, they write his "views", and they keep the morons herded with them.
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (10) May 05, 2015
it the case of "death panels" there are death panels (groups of doctors and bureaucrats who decide when to stop funding treatment for the terminally ill). the government just doesn't call them that.


That's what private insurance companies have been doing for years..Life time caps, no coverage
if you have a preexisting condition. Happily that's been corrected by the ACA.
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (6) May 05, 2015
Happily that's been corrected by the ACA.


Assuming you can find a doctor and hospital.
Insurance does not equal care.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (4) May 05, 2015
Education plus truth (read science) beats myth eventually, as we've seen while learning about climate science. And the number of facets to it means we don't have to repeat ourselves nearly as much (as the proponents of myth) in the process. Full court press.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (6) May 06, 2015
truth (read science)


Science is not truth. Facts are not truth.
ThomasQuinn
4.4 / 5 (7) May 09, 2015
truth (read science)


Science is not truth. Facts are not truth.


What is, in your opinion, truth? I'm honestly curious.
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (7) May 09, 2015

Truth is the value applied to facts.

While Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State, Libya was destabilized and several of her staff were murdered. She and her minions did not tell the truth behind their deaths, and her lies led to the fact of a false imprisonment.
"Nakoula Basseley Nakoula deserves a place in American history. He is the first person in this country jailed for violating Islamic anti-blasphemy laws."

Read more: http://www.politi...Ze6wGwgT

The facts of the Obama administration actions show the truth of their radical, socialist agenda.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) May 09, 2015
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-"

Many 'liberals' who post here assert these are not truths. Why?
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) May 09, 2015
I think Ryggy got fooled,suckered, by those two draft-dodging cowards, hiding ibntheir bunkers and Undisclosed Locations, screaming "Bring 'em on!". I really do think Ryggy got taken by those obvious goobers. Only folk with no life experience got fooled by them.

Found them WMD!"??

Paid for those Bush Wars yet?
gkam
2.7 / 5 (7) May 09, 2015
Do all people have those rights. Ryggy? Including those Iraqi civilians, those families who had done nothing to us? Did they deserve your hate and mass killing?

Your politics are are just a tantrum.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (3) May 09, 2015
... truth (read: science [verifiable, repeatable, etc.], knowledge of science, facts, evidence and the like) ...

@ryg, the self-evident rights like equality, humanity, liberty?  It could happen, if the countries exporting weapons of _any kind of_ destruction, aggression, fear, terrorism, etc., come to (or are brought to) their senses. It could happen.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2015
It could happen,


You miss the point. Intentionally?

What is the 'humanity' right?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-"

The self-evident truths are that each human individual is created equal. It means the child of a king or socialist tyrant is inherently equal to any other child regardless of birth 'right'.
No individual has the right to take the life of another, unless to defend the life of another.
Each human individual is born free and not the slave of any other individual or state.
Each human individual has the right to pursue his 'happiness' and not be forced by the state or another human being to serve their 'happiness'.
These axioms are required to enable these self-evident truths.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2015
What to do when the press, which has a constitution right to freedom, chooses to print lies?

"Kurtz argues that "by undercutting the traditional American story" of understanding how the principles of liberty and equality have worked to unify citizens, progressives want to focus on oppression and hyper sensitivities of race, gender and class. This liberal orthodoxy and recreation of America's history, Kurtz warns, mean that progressives are "setting themselves up for a lot of dangerous mini-nationalisms" that cause bigotry and hatred. "
http://dailycalle...a-video/
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2015
" since 2008, I should say -- this commitment, this deliberate commitment not to report news if it harms the narrative of the left. This is not one example, this is not two examples, I can give you 20 examples. As a matter of fact, you and I have talked about this many times on your show. They are deliberately not reporting news. -"
"They have not gotten to the bottom of a single one of the Obama scandals. They did not get to the bottom of a single one of the Clinton scandals [in the 1990s]. Just think about their coverage of watergate and Nixon where they would not let go until they'd gotten to the bottom of it. Now look at the IRS, look at Benghazi, look at the VA, look at so many scandals -- they've been dropped."
http://newsbuster...inalized

And now the press is attacking the sponsor of a free speech meeting in Texas.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 10, 2015
What would the 'liberals' do if Muslim gunmen attacked a homosexual wedding?

'Liberals' condemn the exercise of free speech by a Jewish woman, who was attacked.
So much for the 'liberal' defense of women in their 'war on women'.

Of course pointing out the insanity of 'liberals' only makes most of them more insane, but there may be a few who see the light.
One can hope and keep pointing out 'liberal' myths.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 10, 2015
How many socialists accept that Joe McCarthy was correct?

http://www.conser...a_papers
MR166
1 / 5 (3) May 10, 2015
"" since 2008, I should say -- this commitment, this deliberate commitment not to report news if it harms the narrative of the left. This is not one example, this is not two examples, I can give you 20 examples. As a matter of fact, you and I have talked about this many times on your show. They are deliberately not reporting news. -""

The political activism of the press has been going on since Nixon was in office. The press found out the power it had to control the politics of the US and nothing has been the same since. The press has created their own censorship just like the censorship in our universities.

They bias the news by selective reporting. Most of the time what they don't report is more important than what the do report. The press are the real anarchists in this country since they wholeheartedly support the deconstruction of every principle that this country was founded on.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 10, 2015
They bias the news by selective reporting.


To be fair, the press has been propagandizing for the state for centuries.
Most recent was hiding FDR's polio and covering up for JFKs infidelity.

The press are the real anarchists


Not anarchists. Anarchy is 'no government'.
The press is the propaganda tool for socialism, which, I agree, is the deconstruction of every principle the USA was founded upon.

gkam
2 / 5 (8) May 10, 2015
I want Ryggy to show me a Libertarian government, or tell us why there are none.
Forestgnome
5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2015
Critical Thinking is a skill. It takes training, practice, and most importantly a willingness to entertain propositions that are dissonant with one's beliefs. Few people are able to do this with facility.
Most people find it easiest to accept whatever is the first proposition they encounter on any given topic, and hold that as the standard by which they evaluate all subsequent propositions.
For this reason, even the most carefully examined, tested, and validated ideas, such as General Relativity, are not universally accepted until all the dogmatists whose 'understanding' preceded the idea have died off.


Well stated!
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) May 10, 2015
This must be true. There are STILL folk who maintain Saddam had "WMD!", because they cannot admit continual error.

Of course, those are the Stay-at-Home "patriots", the ones with the biggest flags and mouths.
Protoplasmix
5 / 5 (3) May 10, 2015
What is the 'humanity' right?
Seriously? You need to ask? It's the right to live life as five-fifths human instead of three-fifths human, with respect to race, gender and class, in so many words... maybe someday ... it could happen ...
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) May 10, 2015
the right to live life as five-fifths human instead of three-fifths human,


If the 3/5ths compromise NOT been enacted, it is 1) less likely the USA would have included slave states, and 2) the compromise LIMITED the number of slave state members of Congress limiting the power of the slave states.
Today, 'liberals' praise compromise.

Proto seems to have wanted the slave states to hold more power in Congress.

Today, Congress wants to count ALL people, including illegal aliens, living in their states in order to receive more plundered wealth from taxpayers.
docile
May 10, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) May 10, 2015
"Every reaction induces a counter reaction - and when this reaction consist of a new evidence, the worse the reaction of deniers gets."
-----------------------------------

Instead of your "evidence", you might offer actual proof.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) May 11, 2015
"As for politics, I have a couple of ideas I find helpful, such as "follow the money" and "Never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by malice"."

Great quote there, you are 100% correct.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 11, 2015
"As for politics, I have a couple of ideas I find helpful, such as "follow the money" and "Never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by malice"."

Great quote there, you are 100% correct.


Unless you are a democrat making excuses for the Clintons.
ThomasQuinn
2.6 / 5 (5) May 11, 2015
the right to live life as five-fifths human instead of three-fifths human,


If the 3/5ths compromise NOT been enacted, it is 1) less likely the USA would have included slave states, and 2) the compromise LIMITED the number of slave state members of Congress limiting the power of the slave states.
Today, 'liberals' praise compromise.

Proto seems to have wanted the slave states to hold more power in Congress.

Today, Congress wants to count ALL people, including illegal aliens, living in their states in order to receive more plundered wealth from taxpayers.


You clearly don't know your history. Had the 3/5ths 'compromise' not been enacted, the outcome would have been an electoral system where the number of slaves did not count toward the appointed electoral votes and the number of congressmen. The South threw a huge fit over the subject precisely because they would not have had their undemocratically large representation without the 3/5ths 'compromise'.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) May 11, 2015
Had the 3/5ths 'compromise' not been enacted, the outcome would have been an electoral system where the number of slaves did not count toward the appointed electoral votes and the number of congressmen.


Had there been NO compromise, the Constitution would not likely have been ratified.

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) May 11, 2015
"the Southern delegates to the Convention would have been pleased if nonvoting slaves had been counted as full persons. That way, the Southern states would have had a greater representation in the House of Representatives. In contrast, some Northern delegates resisted counting slaves at all. Why, asked Elbridge Gerry, "shd. the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the cattle & horses of the North?" Among other things, counting slaves provided an incentive to import still more slaves."
"Slaves were, however, also to be counted as less than whites for measuring a state's apportioned direct-tax liability, and that was a benefit to the South. "
http://www.herita...s-clause

Today, states want to count their 'slaves': illegal immigrants, unemployed, etc. to obtain their 'entitled' plunder from the Federal govt.
ThomasQuinn
3 / 5 (6) May 12, 2015
That is a disgusting and a-historical equation of entirely different situations - to name but one aspect, the 3/5ths compromise did not in any way benefit the slaves themselves.

The fact that you refer to "plunder" illustrates how completely insane and extremist you are. I refuse to discuss history with someone as ill-versed in the subject and as willing to lie and manipulate as you. As a professional historian, I am disgusted with the way scum like you seeks to rape my field of study to serve your extremist political agenda.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 12, 2015
3/5ths compromise did not in any way benefit the slaves themselves.


Yes, it did. It kept the slave states in the USA, and limited the power of slave states in Congress and kept up moral pressure on slave owners.

"plunder" illustrates how completely insane and extremist you are


Taxes are 'legal' plunder. Don't pay taxes and the govt will put a gun to your head and demand you pay...plunder.
Today, the scam works by states counting ALL, citizens, non-citizens-legal and illegal, to get more plunder from the federal govt in medicaid, medicare, EBT, .....

As a professional historian

You mean a professional 'liberal' historian.

An honest, professional historian would understand how people thought and understood the moral standards of the day and not compare them to any other time.
For its time, the 3/5ths compromise was a compromise, a compromise that stated many wanted slavery abolished and did not have the power to make it so.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 12, 2015
Touring the USS Constitution museum, there is a section discuss how the MA shipbuilders went to Georgia to find a specific oak needed to build the ship.
They tried to chop down the trees but succumbed to the extreme heat and humidity turning the job over to local Negro slaves.
In the days before air conditioning, tropical crops requiring manual labor required people acclimated to living and working in the climate.
Using African blacks and Indians, from India, as slaves and workers on tropical plantations was an immoral act of the British govt that sanctioned that activity.
I find it interesting few historians discuss why African blacks and Indians were used as slaves on plantations and not the Irish.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) May 12, 2015
" I am disgusted with the way scum like you seeks to rape my field of study to serve your extremist political agenda."

Well TQ I am disgusted with the way the liberal people in your field rape US history for their own political gains.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) May 12, 2015
" I am disgusted with the way scum like you seeks to rape my field of study to serve your extremist political agenda."

Well TQ I am disgusted with the way the liberal people in your field rape US history for their own political gains.


History is so poorly taught in schools there are at least two cable channels devoted to history.
Bill O'Reilley has written several history books and produced TV spots as the recent profiles on the real US west.
Rush Limbaugh wrote a very popular US history book for children.
The history teacher at the charter middle school refused to use any text written before 1979.
'Professional' historians need only look in the mirror see why no one pays them any heed.

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