Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Clear Thinking

“If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

“In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

“Maybe not. 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.”

• Editorial Comment: Never let facts get in the way of a good prejudice.

• More News from the Spell-check Front: Yesterday, Betty Medsger reported on the copy editing “help" she’d received from MS Word. She’s not alone, says Teri Thompson in Ohio: “I just texted my son, ‘did you take dayquil?’ and Blackberry changed it to, ‘did you take tequila?’” Olé!

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• Agricultural Communication/Journalism Faculty Wanted! The joint program in Agricultural Communication & Journalism at Utah State University seeks candidates for a full-time, tenure-track assistant professor. See the posting at USU’s HR site here or email for details. Review begins in March. Start date: August 2011.


  1. The thesis that I am working on (as part of my research) is that it's not facts or theories that change people's minds, but stories.

    And not just any story.

    In the most stubborn of cases, it may be necessary to custom craft a story that fits, like a key in a lock, to just one person.

    I've been experimenting with custom stories in the form of anecdotes, satires, song parodies, and full-blown comic operas in which the person I am targeting plays a starring role in the story, ballad, or comic opera.

    About half the time, it works.

    The hardest class of people to reach are the Resistant Learners whose DSM-IV diagnosis is found on pages F60.2-8, namely Cluster/B/Fucks.

    Here is a picture of a typical Cluster/B/Fuck character.

  2. My guess is that whether "facts" are received or not has more to do with who is presenting them and how. Tone of voice, context, and whether the presenter is seen as friend or foe, reliable or flighty, hellatious harangue-r or impartial observer are seldom mentioned in these blurbs about the "studies."

  3. Okay... we are genetically doomed. We'll never rise above. Let's call it the 'we came from apes' effect. ;)

  4. In the mid-20th century the civil rights movement was based on changing people's attitudes. It was believed that most whites could be persuaded to accept blacks as equals. The gains were minimal. Dr. King believed that only by changing behavior, would attitudes change. To the extent that racial prejudices have lessened, it is solely due to the civil rights laws which have "forced" Americans to live and work side by side.