Why do people believe so many false claims?

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2019

What if they've heard nothing else?
Why do so many people believe so many things which aren't true? We're thinking of people within our own liberal tribe, not just of the nuts Over There.

What explains so much false belief? Today, in The Atlantic's Book Briefing, Rosa Inocencio Smith offers this, early on:
SMITH (12/13/19): [W]hile modern technology may have fostered the spread of misinformation, the social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson write that our tendency as humans to convince ourselves that we’re right no matter what the evidence shows has deep psychological roots; indeed, as the anthropologist Pascal Boyer writes, prioritizing beliefs over facts was part of human evolution.
"Prioritizing beliefs over facts was part of human evolution?" Why would an anthropologist be saying something like that?

Later tonight, we hope to check with the future anthropologists with whom we consult to see if they're familiar with Boyer's work. But in this "story" [sic] to which Smith links, Julie Beck offers a brief account of Boyer's thinking, as explained in his forthcoming book, Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the World Humans Create.

You can check Beck's account of BoyerThink for yourself. For ourselves, the instinctive attraction to false belief doesn't seem especially hard to explain, at least on a theoretical "pop anthropology" basis.

(If our species evolved during the war of the all against all, agreement with the beliefs of the tribe, and the group membership thus conveyed, might have been a survival skill. But we'll check with our future experts.)

At any rate, we were struck by the highlighted claim in the passage below. We think the highlighted claim misunderstands the sweep of our current dilemma:
BECK (12/11/19): The sheer scale of the internet allows you to find evidence (if sometimes dubious evidence) for any claim you want to believe, and counterevidence against any claim you don’t want to have to believe. And because humans didn’t evolve to operate in such a large sea of people and information, Boyer says people can be fooled into thinking some ideas are more widespread than they really are.
"The sheer scale of the internet allows you to find evidence...for any claim you want to believe?" Even if we assume that's true, what if some false assertion is so ubiquitous that it never even occurs to a person that some alternative possibility could be true?

We're thinking of the ubiquity of the silly, propagandistic claim we discussed all this week:
"Nothing is working in our American public schools."
This has been a favorite claim of the right, the left and the mainstream for decades now. We'll take w wild guess—many people have heard this claim so many times, from such an array of sources, that it has never entered their heads that the claim might not be true, or might be highly misleading.

"The sheer scale of the internet" may allow you to find evidence for some claim you want to believe. But what if you've been propagandized in such a ubiquitous way that it never even enters your head that some possibility could be true?

We think today of the ubiquitous claim, "Nothing is working in our schools," and of the astounding way the Washington Post and the New York Times disappeared so many elementary facts in their "news reports" about last year's Pisa results.

We humans are widely propagandized, and that's even true of us brilliant liberals. Indeed, as our society continues to split into tribes, it seems to us that we see it happening pretty much every night of the week!

28 comments:

  1. "our tendency as humans to convince ourselves that we’re right no matter what the evidence shows has deep psychological roots"

    In humans, it's complicated, dear Bob. Humans can, of course, hold false beliefs, but they're also capable of doubts, of questioning dogmas handed down to them.

    We saw it when they gloriously elected Donald J Trump, back in 2016. Against all odds.

    Liberal zombies, on the other hand... They have no functioning brains. All they do is repeating their cult's talking points, and hating everyone who isn't.

    Oh well.

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    Replies
    1. Mao. you seem to be a perfect example of someone who convinces himself he is right no matter what the contrary evidence. Perhaps the electoral college electorate's voting in of Trump wasn't an example of glorious questioning of dogmas, but falling prey to a demagogue. He ran as a republican, and there a lot of republicans, Reagan, the 2 Bushes were also elected. Not to say that it wasn't quite an achievement for Trump to get elected. You might be surprised that a lot of the antipathy toward dems and liberals is that they are 'socialists', not that they a 'globalists,' plus the abortion issue and immigration. The economy is going ok now, but no matter who is in charge, it probably will tank at some point. Trump's reelection depends a lot on that not happening before next November.

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    2. "Trump's reelection depends a lot on that not happening before next November."

      Whoa, whoa. Not on a zillion of bombshells, walls closing in, tipping points, beginnings of the ens, collusions, high crimes, meddlings and obstructions, but just the economy?

      You're committing a thoughtcrime, my dear. Tsk. A joycamp is waiting for you, I'm afraid.

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    3. Btw, what's your opinion on Johnson's victory yesterday? Perhaps falling prey to a demagogue, or perhaps something else?

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    4. Pretty good gig ya got goin' there, Mao. Don't know why you get paid to spew it, though. Ain't none of it worth two shits much less two cents.

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    5. Johnson's victory is bad new for Sanders and Warren, I would think. Most people don't like Trump because he's such an a-hole. However, the dems have handled things badly, have gone of the rails with identity politics, the whole Russia thing etc. I'm no good at predicting election outcomes, however.

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    6. AC/MA the economy is not "going ok", indeed, there have been recent reports about how bad the economy is. While unemployment numbers are low, workforce participation is at a low not seen since the mid 70's - this is very bad. Worse, 44% of those employed are in low wage jobs, with a median income of $18k. These are adults 23-54 who are earning less than a living wage. Only about 30 million Americans are earning middle class wages with healthcare benefits; however, both the poor, middle class, and upper middle class are drowning in debt and living paycheck to paycheck.

      Actually socialist policies are very popular with Americans. Here are some of the popular ways the US has been historically socialist: the US government produces the military, medicare, social security, money, roads, firefighters, etc. Support for medicare for all, when reasonably framed, is hugely popular.

      Btw, over 90% of abortions are done at the zygote/embryo stage - a clump of a few cells.

      Trump support is largely motivated by racism and anti-immigration, Trump supporters despise The Other. This is by design as they have been conned for decades by corporatists.

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    7. "I'm no good at predicting election outcomes, however"

      Oh well, I suppose what's left for you is praying for a recession, sudden and severe. Tsk. What can I say?Good luck, I guess...

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    8. “what's your opinion on Johnson's victory yesterday?“

      Both were unpopular, but Corbyn’s negatives were far higher than Johnson’s. Unfortunately for Trump, that isn’t the case with his Democratic rivals.

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    9. "have gone off the rails with identity politics"

      This. Why should anyone give a shit about the white working class?

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    10. No nimwit. I'm hoping there isn't a recession. I can't predict the future. I'm skeptical that the economy is so great even now. It's ok for someone like me - taxes somewhat down, stock market up, but probably not the case with many. We'll see, election is a ways off.

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    11. Who are talking to, dembot? Voices inside your head?

      I didn't say anything about predicting the future. I said that American working people defeated your zombie cult in 2016, and that's a fact.

      I don't know what's going to happen next year either. Betting odds are currently about 50-50, and I am cautiously optimistic.

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    12. Predict the future?
      Hey shithead, you can't even predict the past.

      "American working people defeated your zombie cult in 2016,.."
      And Trump handed the economy to Wall Street, and the working people cheered and clapped.

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    13. Here, dembot, a nice cartoon to go with your brilliant analysis: "The economy is going ok now, but no matter who is in charge, it probably will tank at some point."

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    14. Inherent to capitalism are boom and bust cycles. With capitalism you can not avoid a regular recession, it is just a matter of when and how deep.

      With Trump's tax plan, my taxes have actually gone up because I am near-upper middle class. The tiny tax cut for some in the middle class expire in a couple years, the tax cut for the wealthy are permanent. Most people are not invested in the stock market, only 25%, there are more Chinese invested in the stock market than average Americans.

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  2. “We're thinking of the ubiquity of the silly, propagandistic claim we discussed all this week:

    “Nothing is working in our American public schools."

    Test scores (NAEP for example) have increased over time, although there is a bit of stagnation or falling off recently.

    This does not, however, necessarily show that something is working in our public schools. That is an unproven assumption.

    It could be the result of lead abatement. Or it could be improved socioeconomic conditions, just to name a couple of non-school factors.

    Perhaps Somerby would like to provide an example of what it is that schools have specifically done to cause the scores to increase. All or some of those reforms put in place by all those technocratic reformers? If so, then hooray for the technocrats; more reforms must be in order.

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  3. "our own liberal tribe"

    Yeah, right.

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  4. “We think today of the ubiquitous claim, "Nothing is working in our schools," and of the astounding way the Washington Post and the New York Times disappeared so many elementary facts in their "news reports" about last year's Pisa results.”

    Those disappeared “facts” apparently included weeding out black and Hispanic scores to show something amazing.

    At any rate, is it any wonder that Somerby carefully picks and chooses which stories to report on? He wouldn’t want his readers to think his take on the media may not be a completely accurate picture. Here’s a story, from the Washington Post, from November 1, that takes Somerby’s exact line:

    “The common mistake Betsy DeVos made about new NAEP scores — and other problems with her ‘sky is falling’ narrative”

    By Valerie Strauss 
    November 1, 2019 at 2:39 PM EDT
    (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/11/01/common-mistake-betsy-devos-made-about-new-naep-scores-other-problems-with-her-sky-is-falling-narrative/)

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  5. Studies show that Republicans believe significantly more false claims than Dems.

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  6. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/12/britain-mueller-report-russian-media-uk-us

    Glenn Simpson offering his services to the Brits now.

    Fusion GPS never sleeps.

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    1. The Steele dossier has largely been corroborated, the Mueller Report exposed massive corruption by Trump. The more corruption is exposed, the better.

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    2. It’s fair to say that corroboration of the Steele dossier has been problematic.

      Horowitz said that Steele’s source for info lwould not corroborate it and that this was not relayed to the FISA court.

      “ ...for example, the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained information from Steele's Primary Sub-source in January 2017 that raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele reporting that was used in the Carter Page FISA applications. This was particularly noteworthy because the FISA applications relied entirely on information from the Steele reporting to support the allegation that Page was coordinating with the Russian government on 2016 U.S. presidential election activities. However, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to share the information about the Primary Sub-source’s information with the Department, and
      it was therefore omitted from the three renewal applications. All of the applications also omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an operational contact for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers (one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application), and that an employee of the other agency assessed that Page had been candid.”


      https://www.politico.com/news/2019/12/11/doj-inspector-general-testimony-russia-probe-report-082293



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    3. "the Mueller Report exposed massive corruption by Trump"

      On what page of the report can one see this corruption?

      Are you like deadrat? Pathetically pretending to have read the report, a weak liar?

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    4. 9:13 is accusing 7:43 of being Bill Barr.

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    5. The entire Mueller Report details corruption by Trump.

      The only thing specifically not corroborated in the Steele dossier is the the pee tape. The rest has either been corroborated or not investigated. The pee tape may very well exist.

      It is bad faith to assert Horowitz said something and then not quote him but quote mis-reporting by Politico. Here is what Horowitz actually says:

      "our review did not independently seek to determine whether corroboration existed for the Steele election reporting"

      also this

      "we therefore determined that Steele's reports played no role in the Crossfire Hurricane opening"

      Republicans never discuss things in good faith.

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  7. The whole point of the Goldstein story in the Times saying “nothing has worked”, was referring to twenty years of major reforms, such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core that we’re supposed to raise test scores. That didn’t happen. If Somerby wants to argue that those reforms were good or effective, he is welcome to do so, but by trying to show how good our schools are (when viewed a certain way), he completely misses the point of the story.

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