From Amy Gahran at Contentious, from a journalist’s point of view:
It sucks when you work really hard to do the fairest, most systematic investigation of a topic that deeply affects many people’s lives — but the very people who are suffering most from the topic of your research refuse to believe what you have to say, or accuse you of being part of some conspiracy to hoodwink them. And meanwhile, your less skilled or less ethical colleagues are producing their own research and reports designed to foster fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
That generates considerable friction, controversy, and conflict. And worse, it delays the discovery and implementation of real solutions.
Why does this happen — and what can journalists and scientists do about it?…
Panic Virus isn’t a great book (I found most of it tiresomely redundant, like a heavily padded feature article), but the 2nd half of ch. 16 on cognitive biases is relevant here.
There (starting at about location 3100 in the Kindle edition), Mnookin explains psychological phenomena such as pattern recognition, the clustering illusion, cognitive dissonance, and availability cascades. They’re just part of how our brains work, and the practices of science and journalism often act as counterbalances to these innate tendencies. That’s why science and journalism are fundamentally uncomfortable and controversial professions.
But these quirks of how brains work are why just presenting facts and information often has the opposite social effect that journalists hope for.
I think if our goal as journalists is to help people understand how things really are, how they got that way, what might happen next, and what people might do to steer the future or protect their interests, we need to think hard about how to accommodate — not deny — these psychological tendencies.
Aside from an excellent post, about an issue Paul Rosenberg explored for years at Open Left, the post has a great update. The question of how you deal with true believers, who believe despite their belief hurting their interests, how do you bring them to an awareness of reality, that’s a key question for progressives as well as journalists.
There is a core 15-25% in this country that consistently vote against their interests because they’re triggered by some larger group, usually by triggering racist fears (e.g. “Don’t give Medicare to people not like me”) but economic fears also can trigger a reaction (and a vote) against ones interests. This group, while small, is big enough to swing close elections and off elections. Which is one reason, of many, that we need to discuss and debate this issue of how people perceive reality and how to help people see reality more clearly.
What Do You Think?
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