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.