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Mar. 9 2010 - 12:20 am | 142 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Do Corrections Work?

NEW YORK - MARCH 05:  (FILE PHOTO) Comedian St...

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Only if you’re predisposed to believe the “correct” information:

Nyhan, along with Georgia State University’s Jason Reifler, conducted a series of experiments in 2005 and 2006 in which student test subjects read mock news articles featuring misleading statements about well-known but ideologically contentious subjects such as the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion. Half of their subjects read articles including only the misleading statements; half read articles that also included a correction.

By comparing the two groups of respondents, Nyhan and Reifler determined that the ideology of the subjects tended to predict reactions. Efforts to correct misperceptions were more likely to succeed among those ideologically sympathetic to the correction, such as liberals to the notion that WMD were never found in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed. But the corrections tended to “boomerang” among those ideologically predisposed to believe the erroneous information. Thus, conservative subjects who had read the correction were even more.

We’ve talked on this blog before about the fact that correcting bad information can serve (unintentionally) to reinforce bad information. But this adds a partisan spin to things: If we want to believe the correct information, we’ll do that. And if we want to believe the incorrect, bad information, we’ll do that — and we’ll do it harder if anyone tells us it’s wrong.

Reality can indeed be… very truthy.

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2 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Great points! Another example, it’s widely held that SECDEF Rumsfeld “dissed” GEN Shinseki by not attending his retirement ceremony.

    In the “yellow journalism” coverage on that topic, nearly all wrote about Rumsfeld not attending, with statements like:

    “Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz pointedly did not attend his retirement ceremony.”

    However, they failed to include the pertinent fact that he was not invited! It is common practice for those retiring to invite who they want to attend. It is also a social norm to NOT attend something to which you were not invited.

    Two headlines:

    Secretary Rumsfeld Fails to Attend Army Chief’s Retirement Ceremony

    GEN Shinseki Retires Without Inviting Rumsfeld to Ceremony

    Which one is more factually correct? From the information I’ve received, the latter.

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    I'm a freelance writer and blogger based in Brooklyn, NY. My background is mostly in politics. I've worked on the editorial boards of the New York Sun and New York Post. In 2006, I wrote a book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party" (Wiley). I've also done my share of freelancing, for places like the Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Reason, and RealClearPolitics.

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