(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
How NOT to conduct honest research.
Sociologists representing four major research institutions have published a study in the journal Sociological Inquiry examining how we support our false beliefs. They examined the false belief of many voters during the 2004 general election that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the Saudi/Al Queda attacks on September 11, 2001.
These researchers concluded that the false beliefs were not caused by lies told repeatedly by the Bush Administration, the New York Times, WaPo, FoxNews and assorted other mainstream media in print, broadcast, cable and radio, but reflected a mere quirk of the individuals’ own personal need to justify a war that was already being waged. Is this yet another example of dishonest publicly funded research, bought by historical revisionists instead of Big Pharma this time?
The researchers named their study “There Must Be a Reason: Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification,” and claim that their findings offer a serious challenge to democracy. The inference from that claim being, of course, that regular people are just too damned stupid and dishonest with themselves to justify letting them vote. Wow.
While it is a trivial observation that people tend to believe what they want to believe, and seek out information sources that support and/or confirm their already-held beliefs, I am certainly not convinced that Ph.D. sociologists should have so pointedly ignored the facts in this particular case of “What’s Wrong With WingNuts?” It was the Bush-Cheney administration that invented the lies, started the war, and was backed up in that false propaganda effort by the mainstream media establishment. Seems like giving political liars and media propagandists a free pass on misleading the public does serious damage to the credibility of erstwhile social science research!
The wingnut teabaggers who scream at congressional town hall meetings that they want the government to stay out of their Medicare did not suddenly come to the conclusion on their own that Medicare isn’t socialized, government-run health insurance. They have been repeatedly TOLD that by liars. They represent a small minority of citizens – the Republican ‘base’ of fundamentalists and certifiable morons – obviously vulnerable to the propaganda aimed at them. Yet in the sociopolitical reality of the world’s oldest democracy, this unfortunate class of intellectually challenged citizens should not be a big concern. Let’s face it. Approximately 15 to 20% of Americans are mentally ill at any given time, and at least 15% have double-digit IQs. That’s just a demographic fact, something doctors of sociology should certainly know better than most. They are no more a threat to democracy than the mentally ill and/or deficient have ever been.
By blaming the individuals for their demonstrably erroneous beliefs rather than the professional liars and propagandists who programmed erroneous beliefs into them and reinforced those lies constantly, this sort of “research” doesn’t look to be serious professional quality research at all. It looks a lot more like historical revisionism. The researchers interviewed their subjects well after those subjects had invested emotion in the correctness of the lies they’d been fed to justify a war of aggression in Iraq. They did not examine the actual sources of those opinions at all. Quite strange.
Perhaps a more worthwhile publicly supported sociological research project would have examined the lies, false statements, intelligence cooking, blatant propaganda, outright treason, and even the use of torture to force false confessions to support a fraudulent link in the push toward war in Iraq. THEN maybe examine the effect of all this high-level criminality on the least intelligent members of the voting body politic – to reach pertinent conclusions about the harmful effects of institutional and corporate political propaganda on the conduct of democratic government.
Because THAT is the true threat to democracy.
UPDATE: Please see this NYT op-ed from June of 2008 on the actual neuroscience (and psychology) of false beliefs by two actual neuroscientists, wherein they also note how effectively political propagandists can make use of the way people’s brains work in order to cause the very results the above-mentioned sociologist researchers were so ‘surprised’ by. No doubt because they didn’t bother to do any research at all into the known and well-documented reasons people believe lies and fabricate reasons for why they believe them over all evidence to the contrary –
In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Supreme Court wrote that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Holmes erroneously assumed that ideas are more likely to spread if they are honest. Our brains do not naturally obey this admirable dictum, but by better understanding the mechanisms of memory perhaps we can move closer to Holmes’s ideal.