VSL:SCIENCE // The science of truthiness

Red state, blue state. Liberal, conservative. Hockey mom, latte lover. Every election year, the country is sliced into two warring factions. We’re reminded that Democrats and Republicans don’t just read and watch different newspapers and cable channels but subscribe to entirely different sets of facts. My truth is your truthiness. Your no-spin zone is my drip cycle.

Earlier this year, political scientists at Duke and Georgia State described the Bush administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs to a group of adults, then gave those same people a convincing explanation that Iraq did not, in fact, have a WMD program in the works. How did the people react? Liberals became even more convinced that Iraq had no nuclear or chemical weapons; conservatives became even more certain that it did, with 64 percent of them insisting that Saddam was hiding the evidence. In other words, factual proof that a belief was false seemed only to reinforce that belief’s sway over reality. The scientists called it a backfire effect.

While some research suggests that conservatives are particularly vulnerable to such a cognitive flaw, other studies demonstrate that people on both sides of the political spectrum constantly engage in a reckless distortion of the facts. That we can’t help but edit the world to fit our ideology. That all of us are partisan hacks.

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VSL:SCIENCE // The science of truthiness