It seems so simple: a fact is a fact, right? Well, unfortunately, it is more complicated than that, and likely always has been, but now, today, our future depends upon getting our facts straight and changing our behavior in light of that knowledge. From an article to be referenced later, “to ignore reality is a dangerous path to travel, regardless of your political leanings. It’s a good thing in our political culture that facts have been the currency of our discourse on disputed issues. If facts are somehow devalued as a currency, it will be a lot harder to achieve our common goals.”
I would like to look more closely at how facts are intertwined with science, psychology, and politics. And how different groups can hold to be true such different “facts.”
We know that today the two major issues are Climate Change and COVID -19. For both of these challenges, we have to get the facts right, our lives depend upon it. This is no time for magical, selective, or ideological thinking, or for just crossing our fingers.
I remember how my dear Australia Shepherd responded to his first encounter with a Gila Monster, a venomous lizard found in the desert Southwest. Rumi turned his head and would not look at it as though denying its existence. He did quickly enter the house and out of harm’s way, but he never had to come to terms with its actual fact of the existence of the Gila Monster. It would have been too frightening and might have changed his worldview or view of himself in some profound way. I am reading a lot into Rumi’s actions, but that is the way I chose to interpret them.
We can be rational and thoughtful, but our fears, dreams, wishes, and interests may influence what we accept to be true. At this time in our history when facts are under attack, we need to be aware of that inclination.
Online I found an article that I want to share with you. It is such a complex issue, and not an easy one to navigate, but I do hope that it might be a help to us in conversations with those of opposing perspectives. In other words, those who hold different facts to be true.
The article was from the American Psychological Association and titled “Why we believe in alternative facts,” by Kirsten Weir. The link, as well as other resources, are listed below. The people quoted include psychologists, Peter Ditto, David F. Lopez, Matthew Hornsey; a professor of law and psychology, Daniel Kahan; and Troy Campbell who holds a Ph.D. in marketing.
- It takes more information to make you believe something you don’t want to believe than something you do. That is true in matters of health, but also in those which challenge our beliefs, identity, or morals. And we are much more likely to share a link to an article on social media that supports our beliefs than one that does not, and we are less likely to fact check that article.
- We may be surprised and annoyed by people on the other side of the political spectrum who seem to have chosen to simply ignore the facts. But studies have shown that each side may believe the evidence is on their side, that their facts are the facts.
- Rather than risking one’s reputation in a group by taking an opposing view on an issue, a person may consciously or unconsciously twist the facts, tricking themselves into believing that the facts aren’t relevant, rather than risking their standing in the group.
- With modern media, we can always find “facts” to support our preferred reality. And there is also fake-news, websites that publish hoaxes and conspiracies and disinformation. And we wonder, who can we trust? And worst still, we can attribute any report we don’t like to being fake news.
Now the issue for us is how to restore our faith in facts.
- We can teach our children to be wiser consumers of information. In college, I remember a list of publications which we were not permitted to reference in research papers, since the validity of the publication was in question. We did not have the internet then, but I know that Wikipedia would be on the “banned” list.
- A more psychological perspective is for “communicators” to do a better job of identifying and focusing on fears, ideologies, and worldviews, which motivate us to accept or reject scientific evidence. A question to ask a vaccine skeptic is not ‘Why do they disagree with science?’ but ‘but why do they want to disagree with science.’ This will take less talking and more listening. One of the most important ways to inoculate people from false information is to befriend them!
And the final thought from the marketing professor Troy Campbell:
People communicating the facts often do so with the implication that the target is a bad person at worst, or uneducated at best. But an adversarial approach isn’t likely to change minds. That’s a lesson cosmetics companies learned long ago: They figured out they’ll sell more lipstick if they promise to enhance a woman’s natural beauty rather than tell her she’s ugly.
People who communicate information would do well to heed that example. That goes for scientists and science communicators, but also for anyone who can share an article with hundreds of people with the click of a button—which is to say, almost everyone in today’s digital landscape.
A few tasks for the month of August:
- As you listen to commentators with different points of view, different realities, try to discern where they are coming from. And if given the opportunity, what you might ask them? Maybe “why do you choose to believe that masks should not be worn? Why do you choose to believe that global warming has little or nothing to do with human behavior?” Imagine what their response might be. Imagine how many viewers they might lose if they gave “the wrong” answer.
- Likewise, use the same model with a friend or acquaintance on the opposite side of issues. Try to have a conversation in which your role is to listen.
- Consider writing an Op-Ed piece with the same tone, not to blame or deride the other side, but in a sense to befriend them; to change the conversation whether it be regarding COVID-19 or Climate Change.
No such conversations were possible with Rumi, his instinct was simply survival and the fact is that at the core, that should be ours.
I leave you with this song by OneRepublic. May we speak Truth To Power.
Wishing peace and health to you and your loved ones.
Thank you for being on this journey.
Till next time,
Attitude Roots And Jiu Jitsu Persuasion
Hornsey, M.J., & Fielding, K.S. American Psychologist, in press
The Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm, Part 1
Kahan, D.M. In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2016
The Psychological Advantage of Unfalsafiability: The Appeal of Untestable Religious and Political Ideologies
Friesen, J.P., Campbell, T.H., & Kay, A.C. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2015
What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief
Liu, B.S. & Ditto, P.H. Social Psychology and Personality Science, 2013