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Friday, October 21, 2011

Changing Minds


Facts are facts. Right?
Research continues to find the correct answer to be . . . wrong. What we believe to be fact is influenced greatly by what we believe. What we believe to be fact may also be simply what our belief system allows us to accept as fact. Conversely, we are programmed to twist facts or uncritically accept inaccurate information when they reinforce what we believe already. This is why arguments often generate only a circular discussion in which no one can be convinced that they are in error.
This phenomenon is perhaps nowhere more prevalent than in politics and elections.
You see it in national politics. One has only to consider the Republican debates this year. Over and over, the candidates repeat the same or similar fibs. They seem impervious to the mountain of contrary facts piled up by the burgeoning facts checking industry. One candidate touts tax reform only to have study after study prove it will do the opposite of what the candidate claims. He is unfazed.
University of Michigan research indicates that misinformed people, even when faced with the facts, rarely reconsider. Presented the wrong way, facts can even set people’s misunderstandings into a concrete impossible to penetrate. This happens here in our region. Political enemies of individuals spread slimy half-truths and even complete fabrications depicting someone as 180 degrees different from their actual positions and record.
So, the next time a politician makes a claim, check it out before you enter it forever into your mental beliefs file. This is a lot easier to do in state and national politics where the media concentrates its sights. At the local level, you might have to seek out people who know the individual in question. They, too, will be biased, but at least you’ll get a different set of “facts,” and make a more informed decision.
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