Tag Archives: Facts

What We Know That Just Ain’t So

I forget the source of this old quote, but I’ve always liked it: “The problem ain’t what we don’t know, it’s what we know that just ain’t so.”

Recently, a regular reader sent me an article from “NeuroLogica Blog” (there’s obviously a blog for everything) that documented that hoary saying.

When asked what percentage of the population is Muslim the average answer was 15% when the reality is 1%. How many people are Christian: average answer 56%, reality 78%. How many people of working age are out of work and seeking a job: average answer 32%, reality 6% (at the time of the survey). That one seems strange. Did people really think the unemployment rate was 32% (that was average, which means some people thought it was higher)? During the great depression the unemployment rate peaked at 25%. What percentage of girls between 15 and 19 years old will give birth: average guess 24%, reality 3%.

As the author noted, the interesting (indeed, the pertinent) question is – why are so many people so misinformed about the facts? After all, these are verifiable and concrete data points, not “facts” that are really value judgments like “socialism is bad” or “religion is good.” And as the author also noted, the internet makes it incredibly easy to locate and verify these facts.

The article listed “the usual subjects”–education that doesn’t sufficiently teach critical thinking skills, a fragmented and frequently lazy media, politicians whose spin (and outright lies) are rewarded. All of these are implicated, but perhaps the best explanation is confirmation bias.

…the tendency to notice, accept, and remember information which confirms your existing narrative. The fact that we have narratives also is a huge factor. There is a tendency to latch onto themes and narratives, and then use facts to support those narratives, rather than to alter our narratives based on the facts. It is therefore no surprise that facts which have political implications have been so distorted to fit political narratives.

In other words, confirmation bias convinces us of things that we want to believe, but that “just ain’t so.”

And we wonder why Americans can’t find common ground.

Lies, Damned Lies and Politics

My husband regularly listens to right-wing radio. He enjoys regaling me with the latest in what passes for wing-nut argumentation; when I express annoyance, he generally reminds me that it is important to know what all manner of people are saying.

This morning, he presented me with the latest gem being used to defend Republicans against charges that they are waging war on women. Right-wing pundits are insisting that it was bad for women when Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act because–wait for it–requiring employers to pay men and women equal wages for equal work cost 500,000 women their jobs. Employers simply couldn’t afford equality.

To the best of my knowledge, there is zero evidence of job losses attributable to the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Act. This accusation thus joins the growing number of fact-free assertions–okay, flat-out lies–that increasingly constitute American political discourse. Partisans of all stripes have gone well beyond spin, and are deep into “making shit up” territory.

We all know that facts have been taking a real beating, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I came across Fact’s obituary.

Read it and weep.

RIP.