Humans believe the darnedest things!


Nebraska state solon gone wild: A small but instructive news event appeared this Monday in the Washington Post.

It involved a state senator in the state of Nebraska. Nothing will turn on this news event, and yet it's highly instructive.

Jaclyn Peiser penned the report. It almost seemed like an early April Fool's joke. It involved a statement by state senator Bruce Bostelman. Peculiar headline included, the report began as shown:

GOP legislator backtracks on claims students meow, bark, use litter boxes

During a televised debate over a Nebraska school funding bill on Monday, Republican state Sen. Bruce Bostelman brought up an issue he found particularly troubling: furries.

“Schoolchildren dress up as animals—cats or dogs—during the school day; they meow, and they bark,” he said. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”

But within hours of the debate, Bostelman backtracked and admitted the accusations were inaccurate.

“It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly,” Bostelman said, according to the Associated Press. 

Say what? Yes, it seems to be true. It even happened on television!

Crikey! According to the Associated Press, Bostelman had cited "a persistent but debunked rumor alleging that schools are placing litter boxes in school bathrooms to accommodate children who self-identify as cats." 

The solon had heard the persistent rumor—and he had believed it was true:

SCHULTE (3/28/22): Bostelman initially said he was “shocked” when he heard stories that children were dressing as cats and dogs while at school, with claims that schools were accommodating them with litter boxes.

“They meow and they bark and they interact with their teachers in this fashion,” Bostelman said during legislative debate. “And now schools are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for these children to use. How is this sanitary?”


[T]he baseless rumor has spread across the country, and become fuel for political candidates, amid the culture wars and legislative action involving gender identification in schools.

Hours after his remarks, Bostelman backtracked and acknowledged that the story wasn’t true. He said he checked into the claims with state Sen. Lynne Walz, a Democrat who leads the Legislature’s Education Committee, and confirmed there were no such incidents.

People believe the craziest things—and no, it isn't just Ginni Thomas, who had apparently heard that "the Biden crime family" were being sent to the barges and had apparently believed that it might be true.

According to disconsolate experts, it's important to understand the extent to which we humans are able to believe the craziest things. These despondent, hand-wringing experts also tell us this:

It's important to understand the fact that people from every political stance are inclined to believe false claims. 

It's easy to think that crazy beliefs are only held by Others, not by people like Us. As a case in point, consider Dana Milbank's column from that very same day. In part, Milbank wrote this:

MILBANK (3/28/22): Recent advances in cognitive science suggest that highly intelligent people are more susceptible to “identity-protective cognition,” an unconscious process in which they use their intellect to justify rejecting facts inconsistent with their partisan identity.

“The really upsetting finding is that the better you are at particular types of cognitive tests … the better you are at manipulating the facts to reflect your prior beliefs, the more able you are to cognitively shape the world so it fits with your values,” says David Hoffman, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who studies cultural cognition. “You are able to take whatever unambiguous facts that exist in the world and run them through your own sausage-making mill to make it fit what you want.”

We all slip into such “motivated reasoning” to some degree, but it has been a particular problem on the right in recent years, where a combination of the Fox News effect and the weaponization of disinformation by Republican leaders has left a large chunk of the population disbelieving the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines and the reality of climate change but thinking that former president Barack Obama was born in Kenya and the 2020 election was stolen.

On the one hand, we agree! Crazy belief has become a major problem on the right in recent years. That said, Milbank may have slipped into the type of "motivated reasoning" which leads us liberals to believe that it only happens Over There, where The Others can be found living in mental squalor.

In fact, the tribunes of our own failing tribe have convinced us liberals of a wide array or misleading or bogus facts over the past several decades. In the past ten years, most of these bogus or misleading beliefs have involved issues of gender or race.

Those are the only topics we're still prepared to pretend we care about. Borrowing from Professor Hoffman's presentation, our "identities" are deeply connected to these (important) topics.

Milbank's column appeared beneath this pleasing headline:

Why do smart Republicans say stupid things?

"Careful, Milbank," one analyst cried. "We still read your columns!"


  1. "Crazy belief has become a major problem on the right in recent years."

    Oh yeah, definitely. Just recently, did you see, dear Bob, one liberal super-genius soon-to-be Supreme Court judgess not knowing who the wimmins are?

    Crazy, crazy, crazy.

  2. Uh...remember the REPUBLICAN defense of...what did sweet KellyAnne call them..alternative facts

  3. You can trace when the media moved along from questioning the result of the 2020 election, to the date they started mentioning the deficit.

  4. "Crazy belief has become a major problem on the right in recent years."

    Recent? In 1981 the GOP said cutting taxes would INCREASE government revenue. And the deficits exploded.

    1. Trump is a standard issue Reagan Republican, with all the bigotry and economic know-nothingness that entails.

    2. FDR references an issue Somerby used to champion, back before he lost his moral compass.

  5. "In the past ten years, most of these bogus or misleading beliefs have involved issues of gender or race."

    This essay is an exercise in bothsides-ism, but the problem is that there is no equivalence between believing that there exists structural racism in the USA and believing that Hunter Biden built bioweapons labs in the Ukraine which Putin is trying to find in order to stop their use, aided by reptilians who may or may not be disguised as Trump and Putin, or nonsense about sex trafficking of children so that senate members can drink their blood and use adrenochrome to stay young by killing babies (a not very thinly disguised version of the blood libel).

    For one thing, there is evidence supporting the beliefs about gender and race that are held by the left. There is none on the right. For another thing, there is a historical continuity for the beliefs about race and gender, consistent with a civil rights movement that goes back to the early days of slavery (or the women's suffrage movement in Great Britain, for women's rights). Not so much, for the right wing nonsense that seems to mutate faster than the media can report the weirdness. And then there is the matter of degree of idiocy.

    For these reasons, Somerby is wrong about any equivalency between favored beliefs on the right and the left. He is wrong about the left believing ideas related to race and gender solely because it supports their cognitive identity, and not because there is a factual basis for left-wing beliefs.

    Cognitive studies are conducted in lab experiments or polls that do not translate well to real life situations (this problem is called external validity). In this case, it sounds like they used some measure of partisan affiliation as a variable to test its association with IQ or cognitive ability. Somerby is over-generalizing this (as he does almost everything he talks about) to mean that smart liberals believe more identity-enhancing stuff, and therefore complaints about racism and sexism are bogus. Science doesn't work that way, and this study does not justify such a conclusion.

    Further Somerby's own cherished belief is that gender and race issues are exaggerated, wrong, bogus, so that is what he himself is most strongly motivated to believe. To the extent that Somerby himself is intelligent, that means his cherished belief that left-wing issues are blogus must be more likely to be wrong too.

    I doubt the authors of this study intended it to be used to discredit other people's beliefs, on the grounds that if those others are smart, then their beliefs must be wrong because they are warped by identity enhancing cognition. There is nothing that cannot be undermined in this way, including Somerby's own premise.

    How do you get out of this problem of circularity? You acknowledge that beliefs have a truth value independent of what believers think about their content. There is an objective reality of climate science, for racism, for sexism, for any partisan issue, that exists separate from those who hold self-serving beliefs. It is that truth value that determines whether the views are correct or not, not the IQ of the believer or that believer's partisan affiliation.

    But Somerby is sunk in nihilism and you will not get him to admit that anything at all is true, since anything is possible. If he won't admit that the sun rises in the East, you won't get him to admit that slavery was bad for the USA, or that Jim Crow recreated slavery in the south, or that there are still race-related disadvantages that need to be eliminated in our society arising from our early history of slavery. He won't even admit that slavery began with the transport of the first slaves in 1619.

    And that makes today's essay an exercise in resistance to anti-racism and anti-sexism efforts in our society, not an exploration of how the human mind works -- something he has manifested exactly zero interest in, except today as a club to beat liberals with.

    1. 7:16 great comment, all well said, thank you.

    2. Bob doesn't believe left wing beliefs are incorrect. He believes that large groups of people and corporations apply those beliefs in a knee jerk way, often because it's a way to get people's attention.

      It'd be very strange to assume that CNN really is about the struggle when they run advertisements from big insurance trying to attack their competing public Medicare plans. No left wing news organization would do that, but a corporate news outlet that sells left and liberal viewers to advertisers has no issue with it.

    3. CNN is a corporation, so they are Right-wing, like the rest of the media.
      You don't really think they don't know that the country would be in a better place if elections were financed by public dollars, do you?

    4. In other words "No left wing news organization would do that, but a corporate news outlet that sells left and liberal viewers to advertisers has no issue with it."

      Maybe knock the side of your head a couple times, not too hard now, and it could at least temporarily right your ability to read and think clearly? May be worth a shot.

    5. No one thinks the media is liberal. Least of all, those who complain about "the liberal media".

    6. Nobody would care if all Somerby did was bash CNN and MSNBC, two corporate entities with little relevance.

      Somerby says Dems should be nice to right wingers, do not call out racism or other types of oppression, do not engage in identity or gender politics. He says, without evidence - the evidence actually indicating the opposite, that being woke costs votes. He is basically doing a performance of Archie Bunker.

      C'mon, Somerby is a joke, whether his shift has been brought on by funding or ego, his posts are easily debunked nonsense.

  6. Who said that there are smart Republicans? I have seen no evidence of that. If they don't believe crazy things, they are keeping quiet about them.

    1. Mind numbingly stupid and ironic.

    2. Republicans are too stupid to know what irony is. Let's just call them numbingly stupid (and ignorant bigots), and leave it at that.

    3. Another mind numbingly stupid and ironic comment. With extra irony. And pretending not to understand.

    4. 1:39,
      What are you going to do about it? Understand how economics works? I'll take my chances.