|what do you think about this?
||[Jan. 25th, 2005|11:56 pm]
NPR's All Things Considered: Dr. Drew Westen -- Jan 23, 2004|
We've grown accustom to hearing versions of every story--one from the left and one from the right--as if the average of two distortions equals the truth. You've seen this on tv... the journalist provides the skeleton of the story. It's then up to partisans to try to graft flesh onto one side or the other of its clanking bones.
A few weeks ago, for example, I heard a news anchor begin a segment about missing explosives at the Alqaqa munitions dump in Iraq. He described claims that weapons were missing and then handed it over to a democrat and republican to dress the skeleton in red or blue.
In fact, however, the munitions were missing and the subject of the debate that followed--when the munitions were missing--was a question of fact, not interpretation--unless of course democrats and republicans live in different time zones
Unfortunately, this format from the left/from the right capitalizes on a design flaw in the human brain. We believe what we want to believe. We seek information and draw conclusions consistent with what we want to be true
I've been studying this kind of emotional driven political thinking for the past several years and the results are sobering. For example, during the disputed election of 2000, we could predict whether people would feel that manual or machine counts are more accurate just by knowing their feelings toward the two parties and the two candidates
When people draw conclusions about political events, they're not just weighing the facts. Without knowing it, they're also weighing what they would feel if they came to one conclusion or another; and they often come to the conclusion that would make them feel better, no matter what the facts are.
An experiment completed right before the election shows just how powerful these emotional polls can be. Here's what we told the participants: a soldier at Abu Grebe prison was charged with torturing prisoners. He wanted the right to subpoena senior administration officials. He claimed he'd been informed the administration had suspended the Geneva Conventions.
We gave different people different amounts of evidence supporting his claim. For some, the evidence was minimal. For others, it was overwhelming. In fact, the evidence barely mattered. 84% of the time, we could predict whether people believed the evidence was sufficient to subpoena Donald Rumsfeld based on just three things: the extent to which they like republicans, the extent to which they like the U.S. military, and the extent to which they like human rights groups like Amnesty International.
Adding the evidence into the equation allowed us to increase the prediction from 84% to 85%. Our readiness to believe what we want to believe makes it all the more important for journalists to distinguish what's debatable and what's not. The line between facts and observations isn't always easy to draw, but presenting fact as opinion isn't objective reporting. It isn't objective to preface news that's unflattering to once side or the other with "critics claim..." when it doesn't take a critic to claim it.
There's nothing like a healthy debate, but there's nothing as unhealthy as a debate about the undebatable.