Friday, September 19, 2008


There’s been no shortage of fact-checkers this campaign season. But Washington Post columnist Shankar Vedantam explains that a number of new studies suggest people don't let go of political misinformation after hearing a correction. In fact, the misinformation spreads.

Comments [9]

Matt from Arlington, VA

If you don't like the word asset, the word expertise, directly following the word asset, leaves no doubt to the Duelfer reports fair assessment of Iraq's WMD programs and the completely innappropriate use of the Duelfer report by Nyhan and Reifler.

The intent of the Duelfer report or more specifically the intent of the media reporting on the report doesn't matter here. The actual findings do, something you comment does not address. The counter-argument, therefore, is not flawed and continues to stand.

If the Duelfer report reports something different than what Nyhan and Reifler say it does, then it is more than fair, and especially necessary for science and democracy, to point out that their experimental design measures something different then what they claim to measure. Thus negating the experiments results and the conclusions reported here at OTM.

Sep. 23 2008 04:07 PM
George from USA

I believe Matt's comment about the Duelfer report is incorrect. The report unequivocally states that Iraq's WMD capability was essentially destroyed in 1991 (see, for ex., http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/pdf/duelfer1_b.pdf p.1 and elsewhere in Vol.1). The report also states that Saddam's intent was to preserve the intellectual capability to redevelop the ability to manufacture WMD once sanctions were lifted. This is what the comment Matt cites refers to (see the same pdf file, p.59). There was no evidence of "stockpiling the assets". It strikes me that a piece of the Duelfer report has been interpreted opposite of the authors' intent, so that the counter-argument is itself flawed. I have the same questions as others as to the nature of both the original statements and their refutations, each of which could be (intentionally or unintentionally) shaded to increase the odds of a particular outcome, but this particular counter-argument appears to do nothing one way or the other to either reinforce or disprove their thesis. Like Mark, I'd like to read the full papers.

Sep. 23 2008 02:56 AM
Mark P from San Mateo, CA

I'd also like a citation of the full journal papers. The Washington Post article seems to imply the work isn't yet published / peer-reviewed. Is this the case? I can't find any other mention of it on the web that don't stem from the Washington Post piece.

Sep. 21 2008 11:29 PM
Misty Steele from USA

Although there are many potential problems with the study and caveats in general for this type of research, it's hitting a very important point and I hope there are more studies along these lines. The Obama and other examples raised offer anecdotal evidence to back the claims that matches many people's experience. Eg, ask your conservative friends if Obama will raise or lower your taxes. :)

Many of the commenters are complaining about the study designs described. Are there any links available to the full journal articles?

Sep. 21 2008 10:41 PM
Kahli from Philly

For the most part, the assumption of the story is true. Case in point Obama always repeats charges thrown at him, "They say I'm gonna take your guns, raise your taxes, that I'm a Muslim" etc. If you go by polls, more people today accept that Obama is a Muslim than before he started his denials.

Recently on this program, this occurance was ascribed to viral email from "Uncle Joe" but it's pretty much been known since Nixon's "I am not a crook", that repeating the accusation ingrains the image in the viewers mind.

Sep. 21 2008 01:54 PM
James H. Wilkinson from North Bennington, Vermont

In order to accept this report, one would have to know in what the 'refutation' of a lie consists. If the gullible are presented with a personal 'authority' who is supposed to supplant their earlier authority, then one must ask: why are the gullible supposed to trust the psychologists to have picked a trustworthy, supplanting authority. For example, on the question of whether tax cuts increase revenues, were the gullible directed to data at government websites, data which neither of the political parties has disputed?

Sep. 21 2008 10:34 AM
Rick Evans

During the interview researchers acknowledged their political leanings and suggested researchers might be accused of falsifing data to lead to a desired outcome. In this case the word *falsified* was used as a synonym of *faked* .

Unfortunately the ambiguous use of the word falsify is one of the many reasons scientists often do a poor job communicating their ideas to the general public.

During recent debates on evolution scientists would often use the word falsifiable as in testable to distinguish between a faith explanation for the world vs. a scientific explanation.

I often cringed when I heard what felt like an attempt to be cutesy or simply tone deaf while thinking that half the listeners might be wondering, "Why would someone want to produce a faked theory?".

Sep. 21 2008 07:35 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris, France

A most interesting interview, and I will be pleased to discover other columns by Mr. Vedantam. But I'm not sure I'm keen to listen to other interviews, at least those containing the word "conservative" as long as he keep pronouncing the word "conzervative". The word must have appeared a dozen times, and each time my teeth grated.

Sep. 21 2008 02:50 AM
Matt from Arlington, VA

The Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler article is defective. Defective to the point of being false and misleading.

The Duelfer Report states on page 59 that, "There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial,
body of evidence suggesting that Saddam
pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return
to WMD after sanctions were lifted by preserving
assets and expertise."

The existence of evidence, however fragmentary and circumstantial, that Saddam attempted to continue stockpiling the assets and expertise needed to stockpile actual WMDs corrupts the researcher's experimental stimulus.

The existence of evidence in the report used to debunk the misperception that Saddam had WMDs is not a pure stimulus. The report also concludes that Saddam was not in compliance with UN resolutions requiring the complete abandadonment of WMD programs.

The push-back from subjects to this problematic research design is mis-measured as blowback. This improper research design prevents researchers from making the conclusions that Nyhan and Reifler make because the reaction cannot be attributed to their so-called refutation. I hope they note this before publication or they will be doing a dis-service to political science and research on the relationship between the media and democracy.

Sep. 19 2008 08:11 PM

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