Tuesday, August 25, 2009

So much for evidence...

The other day, a friend of mine called my attention to an article entitled "How We Support Our False Beliefs" and I want to urge you to read it. The article is quite short so it won't take much time. Here's part of what it says:

Co-author Steven Hoffman, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo, says, "Our data shows substantial support for a cognitive theory known as 'motivated reasoning,' which suggests that rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.

"In fact," he says, "for the most part people completely ignore contrary information.

This is very disturbing, of course. One of the false beliefs being studied was the claim that Saddam Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The study team employed a technique called "challenge interviews" on a sample of voters who reported believing in a link between Saddam and 9/11. The researchers presented the available evidence of the link, along with the evidence that there was no link, and then pushed respondents to justify their opinion on the matter. For all but one respondent, the overwhelming evidence that there was no link left no impact on their arguments in support of the link.

I wonder if this has always been true of human beings or if this is a recent phenomenon. Either way, it is very, very worrying as our survival as a species depends on our ability to correct what we are convinced is true according to the actual facts that are pertinent.

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