"It's one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one," says Joe Keohane in The Boston Globe. "'Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,' Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789." The firm American belief in this notion is at the heart of our democracy. We believe that "knowledge is the best remedy" to "ignorance and misinformation," and that if people have the facts they'll be "clearer thinkers and better citizens." Unfortunately, we may have been wrong all along. Here, an excerpt:
"Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger....
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper."
Read the full article at The Boston Globe.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why ABC threw its Bachelor under the bus
- Why Ted Cruz is the real-life Frank Underwood
- Why I'm sick and tired of seeing naked women on HBO
- 10 things you need to know today: March 12, 2014
- How rain helped the Mongols conquer Asia
- Here's proof that Justin Bieber is just as spoiled as you always thought
- Here's how Iran is covering Russia's invasion of Crimea
- Poll: Twice as many Americans say sugar is more harmful than marijuana
- Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves?
- The FDA just approved a high-tech tiara to prevent migraines, without drugs
Subscribe to the Week