Monday, July 12, 2010

They're baaaack ... (Updated) (The Boston Globe) has resurrected the story about studies supposedly confirming that political leaners right and left entrench rather than rethink when confronted with facts that contradict their erroneous views.

It sounded familiar, and with good reason.  The main point of the story rested on studies led by political scientist Brendan Nyhan:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan 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, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
The story later identified Nyhan as the lead researcher.

I dissected that study as well as one led by John Bullock in a Sept. 17, 2008 post.

Nyhan's problem was his attempt to simulate the manner in which individuals encounter contradictory facts, as by reading a newspaper.  That approach is flawed because people can have good reasons for not trusting the newspaper over their own beliefs.  Beyond that, the specific cases used in Nyhan's study had internal ambiguities that very likely affected the outcomes.

The story also refers to a study from 2000 conducted by James H. Kuklinski:
Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas.
The source of the contradictory information makes a difference.  What else would we expect?

Find the Kuklinski study here.

The story referred to one other study:
New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge.
So far as I could determine, the story did not provide any substantial material from the study in Political Behavior, nor did it name any of the authors responsible for the study.  But I look forward to surveying it once I've located it.


The new study in Political Behavior is apparently a reworked version of the old Nyhan study and was again led by Nyhan.  I'll update in a new post after I assess whether the researchers effectively minimized the problems with the earlier study.

July 14, 2010:  Reworked for the first sentence in my fifth paragraph for clarity.

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