The Death of Facts in an Age of ‘Truthiness’ (NPR)


Discriminating fact from fiction can be difficult, particularly when trying to sift through the constant stream of information being disseminated by politicians and journalists. And, as Brendan Nyhan, assistant professor of government, explains to NPR’s All Things Considered, trying to change or correct misconceptions is not easy.

Once incorrect information has created a misconception, Nyhan has found, giving people corrective information does not always correct the problem. He refers to this as the “backfire effect.” “In some cases,” Nyhan says, “giving people corrective information about a misconception can make the problem worse.”

Nyhan tells NPR, “In journalism, in health [and] in education we tend to take the attitude that more information is better, and so there’s been an assumption that if we put the correct information out there, the facts will prevail. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.”  To combat this problem, Nyhan believes there needs to be a stronger reputational price to pay for disseminating falsehoods in the first place. “That, to me, is a difficult problem, but certainly an easier one than trying to change human nature,” he says.

Listen to the full story, broadcast 4/29/12 on NPR’s All Things Considered.

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