Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why They Lie

Have you been pondering why the "Straight Talk Express" has devolved into a lie machine? Lies every day. Obvious lies. Ridiculous lies. Lies repeated even after they have been publicly proven false. Despite the fact that McCain and Palin are exposed as proven liars, they continue to lie. Even the usually complacent media has dropped euphemisms and started to call them lies - not just "misstatements" or "inaccuracies" or "misleading".


I found the answer listening to On The Media: Uncorrectable

They lie because it works.
Because it works even better when the lie is exposed.
The more McCain is proven a liar, the more he is believed.
Conservative America really is Bizarro world.

Here is what is going on:

The Power of Political Misinformation

By Shankar Vedantam
Monday, September 15, 2008

A series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds after it has been debunked -- even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.

In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University, volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber."

A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation.

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.

Republican disapproval of Roberts rose after hearing the misinformation but vanished upon hearing the correct information. The damaging charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after it was debunked among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad information in the first place.

Not too surprising, but then something really strange happens when Conservatives hear a refutation to something they are predisposed to believe. Unlike Democrats, who reduce their belief after a refutation, Conservatives believe the falsehood even more strongly when it has been refuted - often they are nearly twice as likely to believe the lie after it has been proven false.

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.

There you have it.

In a Machiavellian (or Rovian) campaign both sides would have an incentive to lie - because even after the lies are exposed, there is some gain among those predisposed to believe the lies. But for conservatives the incentive is overwhelming - the more boldfaced and untrue the lie - and therefore the inevitability that it will be soundly refuted - the more solid the support and belief in the lie among the base. And McCain's biggest problem has been his very weak support among the conservative base. All he has to do to change his lukewarm support from the conservative base into rock solid enthusiastic support is to become the biggest most obvious liar on the planet.

Mission Accomplished.

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