Confirmation Bias on Steroids

Ralph Reed is currently chairman and founder of the aggressively Christian Faith and Freedom Coalition. He says the 11-year-old recordings of Trump bragging that as a “star,” he could engage in sexual assaults with impunity are “ancient,” and do not change his view of the businessman.”Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, who also backs Trump, said evangelical leaders frustrated with Trump’s controversies need to “lighten up.”

I guess boys will be boys. (Even when they’re 59, as Trump was at the time the tape was recorded.)

Although a number of Republicans have distanced themselves–once again–from Trump’s language and behavior, only a few have withdrawn their endorsements, and he and his most ardent supporters have retreated to the time-honored tactic of 12-year-olds everywhere: “The Clintons are worse!”

Will this latest eruption by the real Donald Trump be enough to cut into Trump’s base of support? Probably not. They live in cocoons impervious to unwanted facts.

I’ll admit to visiting–Nate Silver’s blog–on a more than daily basis during this nerve-wracking and bizarre Presidential campaign. On a recent visit, a post by Carl Bialik discussed a new study about how and where Americans get our information — and how  our political beliefs affect whether we believe what we read.

Among the findings: About 6 in 10 report being better informed than they were five years ago. One possibility, though, is that our fractured media environment means more Americans are convinced that they are more informed while at the same time retreating into their silos.

Short version: what people believe they know may or may not be accurate. The post reminded me of similar, sobering conclusions reached by Aaron Dusso, a young colleague who is part of the academic “team” at the Center for Civic Literacy.

“While the goal of better education is laudable, as a remedy to the problem of civic ignorance it presupposes that the cause of this problem is a lack of exposure to information. In other words, if people only knew the facts, they would think and behave differently. The problem with this belief is that, at best, it is only partially true. Research in psychology has routinely shown that people do not engage the world with an open mind. They actively avoid information that may contradict what they already believe, interpret ambiguous information so as to fit with their existing beliefs; rationalize and actively reject disconfirming information; are biased when retrieving information from memory; overestimate how much others agree with them; and assume others are more influenced by media than they are.”

A recent post by Juanita Jean provides a perfect–and incredibly depressing– example of the phenomenon.

I have an acquaintance who is a Facebook Republican. She is a sweet woman and claims to be a Christian, but this is what the cult of Donald Trump is doing to people. I sent her a note this morning that I was going to turn off her feed on my Facebook page until after the election because this crap is unforgivable.

That paragraph was followed by screen shots of tweets sent by the “sweet woman,” a Trump supporter. The first one purported to be a story about Senator Tim Kaine’s “open marriage” and how his “creepiness” was scaring women voters away from Hillary and to Trump. When Juanita responded with a link to Snopes, confirming that the information was false, the “sweet woman” responded with “He looks like a perv. And I just read that Snopes is run by Hillary supporters.”

Translation: if reputable sources–fact-checkers, mainstream media, scientists, experts in a field– provide information inconsistent with my preferred beliefs, they can’t really be reputable.

We’re doomed.


  1. Not sure we are doomed. Confirmation bias has always been around. What is being exposed is the reality of who we are, and how biased that really is.
    I don’t have a day in which I realize how wrong some construct I have is, or how biased it was. Hopefully I let it go, although not always.
    The beauty of his thing called life is our ability to understand we don’t understand.
    I am always brought back to TS Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’:

    With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.
    Through the unknown, unremembered gate
    When the last of earth left to discover
    Is that which was the beginning;
    At the source of the longest river
    The voice of the hidden waterfall
    And the children in the apple-tree
    Not known, because not looked for
    But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
    Between two waves of the sea.
    Quick now, here, now, always–
    A condition of complete simplicity
    (Costing not less than everything)
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    When the tongues of flames are in-folded
    Into the crowned knot of fire
    And the fire and the rose are one.

  2. What surprises me in the whole brouhaha about Trump’s comments, which are totally in character so not surprising in themselves, is that little attention has been paid to Paul Ryan’s response. By most assessments, he is a respected congressional leader. Part of his response included “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” Championed? Revered? Sounds like a Walter Scott novel. I don’t need to be championed, I need to be regarded as an intelligent human being. I don’t need to be revered, I need to be respected. I find these subtle remarks to be as alarming as those made by Trump. They represent an antiquated and condescending view of women.

  3. I have heard many times from Republican friends that Snopes and Politifact and other fact checking sites have a liberal bias and cannot be trusted. They say only Fox, Drudge and Red State etc. can be trusted.

  4. My biggest fear in the past couple days is that the GOP will somehow manage to convince trump to drop out and then they can use pence as their nominee. Pence would have a real chance to win. This scares the hell out of me!

  5. My biggest fear in the past couple days is that the gop will manage to convince to drop out and then they will make pence their nominee. He would have a very real chance to win and this scares the hell out of me!

  6. Sure, I live in a silo of information because I avoid Fox, Drudge and Red state web sites (until this weekend when I had to look). But I also avoid porn, human gore and death pages (where they show people being filmed that die after their antics or stupidity) but that doesn’t make me uninformed. It just makes my brain keep from seeing things that I can’t un-see. Unlike the trump tapes and video that display his ‘locker room’ antics, I don’t want to know about these things, but when it’s a Presidential candidate, we need to know. Ugh. Make it stop, please. I told you a few days ago I’m a news junkie so this is really hard for me because as I said, it just keeps getting worse and worse. And those trump supporters that won’t dismiss him, well, they are the trash that think and say these things too, so why would they give up their support? They repeat that crap like trump for laughs and because they are the scum at the bottom of the pond. The howard stern of comedy; trash talk just like trump. ugh. How can I say these things? Because I grew up with brothers, worked with boys, guys and men of all colors and strips and lived for over 56 yrs. Trump is their hero because he is one of THEM. I will die a feminist because of what I’ve witnessed and lived through. Grabbed by the p***, indeed, I have been.

  7. Dakota; in line with your comments, I have been thinking for weeks now that to be a fly on the wall in Trump campaign headquarters and on his home ground would be filled with the 11 year old comments which are now making such a problem – MAYBE – for him and Pence. Or maybe NOT.

  8. I will agree that we doomed because I cannot see a way to correct this problem. The Donald appears headed to defeat but a large portion of our population will not accept that defeat as valid. Where I live, many people believe all these reports about Trump are merely a coordinated effort to keep their hero out of office. My three-year-old son thinks shinny pennies are gold. I cannot convince otherwise… I remain confident that he will grow out of this knowledge deficit, I have little confidence that our country will grow out of our collective stupidity anytime soon.

  9. Nancy,

    You’re right. That would be the worst case scenario, just like a long distance race where one man goes out and sets a very fast pace and then drops out of the race. But the same effect can happen if Pence becomes more and more into the forefront. One thing is for certain, Hillary Clinton surely doesn’t know how to run this kind of a race.

  10. This is a war, not a debate. We all need to take a few more steps into reality. General George Patton of World War II fame is recognized as a great military leader. He was more obnoxious than Trump. That didn’t make any difference to his troops as long as they believed he would lead them to VICTORY which he did most of the time.

    Since there is no effective resistance to Trump and his TROOPS, there’s a good chance he might end up looking as good as General Patton.

  11. Dakota,

    I thought exactly the same thing. That’s the real problem with conservatives. They simply don’t see women as equals, worthy of respect.

  12. Here is an interesting commentary along similar lines –

    You are no different than a Trump supporter and that’s a good thing

    “We all like to think that we make decisions based on a rational analysis of the facts. That’s a lovely story we tell ourselves but it’s not true. And this is especially evident in the exceptional vitriol around this 2016 US presidential race.”

  13. The conclusions from Aaron Dusso are consistent with studies of why people do not accept the results of studies on Climate Change. It turns out that the best determinant of whether or not someone is a “climate denier” is his or her political party. Membership in a “community” of like-minded people often is equivalent to living inside an opaque bubble.

  14. Nancy is right…..the worst that can come out of this is that the NeverTrump people get their fondest wish and are able to change to a worthier ‘horse’. Fortunately the Republican rules box them out and Trump in.

    As for Ryan… can find out everything you need to know about him from Paul Krugman. Hint, he believes him to be an intellectual fraud (among other things).

  15. FMonty,

    Many thanks for the link. Ultimately, we all, pretty much, have the same basic fears like the author has explained. Getting that message successfully across the BATTLE LINES is our only hope for socio/political equilibrium.

  16. Marv,

    Interesting info regarding Patton in WW II. That was before my time and, unfortunately my U.S. history taught us very little about that time in history.

  17. Nancy,

    The movie “Patton” was released 45 years ago. It was the first movie released without the distribution being controlled by the major motion picture studios, especially Twentieth-Century Fox, who made the movie. It’s been many years ago, but I was General Counsel for the McLendon Corporation, who represented the interests of all independent theater chains, in the successful negotiations with Twentieth-Century Fox that changed the practice of distributing first-run motion pictures which up until that time the major motion picture studios had been violating the anti-trust laws in distributing the “first run” only to theaters that they had direct or indirect control.

  18. I think part of the problem is that the media has lost credibility. The cable news sources are all biased. Social media has never been trustworthy and now the major networks have proven their bias in this latest political contest. Even newspapers are showing bias. How can a person become informed if all their sources are corrupt?

  19. Nancy,

    I hope you didn’t mind, but the point I was trying to make is that you can’t change anything in America unless you are experienced in successfully dealing with the oligarchy whether it’s the Bush Family or the Koch Brothers. They and their “buddies” are in control of the sub-surface systems that determine what ultimately transpires on the surface. That’s a sad fact of life in the U.S. but, I know it’s the truth after observing and also tackling the phenomenon time and time again since 1960.

  20. I think the biggest issue for many Americans is that the world is changing too fast and they want to get off. Anyone who promises them the past will be followed.

    The somewhat surprising thing though is how much credibility they are willing to give, unearned, for the promise of the past.

    I see Don the con as perhaps the least credible person on earth and wonder as a result how he is equipped to be a successful con man. I think that confirmation bias is a reasonable explanation. If you want something desperately enough even if it’s not possible to have than maybe the promise of it by others of like mind is better than no hope for it at all.

    I spend some time on Facebook in climate change groups of various stripe and see clearly how people flock to confirmation over information.

    We really have become extremely cultish and that is dangerous.

  21. We are doomed. And, this is irregardless of who wins the election next month.

    Credible news sources is an oxymoron.

    AP used an anonymous government source to inform us that Russian leadership was in fact behind the hacks of DNC and some state election websites because they were trying to influence our presidential election.

    Based on the last international ratings of “free and independent” press sources, we rated like 38th because Obama has been brutal on journalists who obtain leaks from government sources, and those blowing the whistle.

    AP would never use a source like that unless the government wanted it leaked.

    Our media in this country is nothing more than propaganda, just like the BBC in England.

    I’m not sure if it’s confirmation bias or whether that’s how our government, and those pulling the strings, keep us divided.

  22. The longer this election drags on, the more I feel like I’m trapped in a Mark Twain novel.

  23. Marv,

    I didn’t mind at all. Regarding the Koch’s and their mega-wealthy ilk, I get depressed just thinking about their control. Without their same level of wealth it seems that the rest if us are doomed to be their slaves.

  24. Nancy,

    “I get depressed just thinking about their control. Without their same level of wealth it seems that the rest of us are doomed to be their slaves.”

    You don’t need their wealth to neutralize their power. You need to understand the sub-surface systems they control, their modus operandi, and their plans. See “The Myth of the State” by Ernst Cassirer. With that knowledge, I bet you could beat them too.

    I know from what you have previously posted that you are very aware of the problem of access, especially for women. That’s always been the major problem facing the Feminist Movement.

    We have beaten them over 75% of the time on major issues. It’s because we know them better than they know themselves. That’s the secret Sun Tzu revealed in his 2500-year-old classic the “Art of War.” And that’s why I was one of the featured speakers at the 1st International Conference on Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” in Nashville back in February of this year.

    You win by understanding the enemy better than you understand yourself. It’s not a matter of wealth, but it is a matter of access. Without the opportunity of access, it would be impossible to understand the direction they intend to go. We, fortunately, have had almost total access to the “Inner Circle” in Dallas without having to capitulate or collaborate. That’s why I’ve stayed with this problem for most of my adult years since I was aware since the beginnings and also informed by the most knowledgeable experts in the field of communications, that I was the only one who could successfully treat the problem.

  25. Todd Smekens–‘We are doomed. And, this is irregardless of who wins the election next month.’
    The no-no word “irregardless” is okay for Hoosier-speak but not likely to issue from the mouths of Trump or Pence who use refined street-talk such as “p$$$y”.

  26. To All,

    Neither the Republican or Democratic Parties can contain the fall-out from Donald Trump. He is operating way outside of conventional partisan politics. A new line of defense, best labeled: THE RED & BLUE LINE must be constructed and implemented, immediately, or Todd Smekens prediction “We are doomed, And, this is irregardless of who win the election next month” will be confirmed before November 7th.

  27. We are not doomed – not yet. Far more dangerous than a potty mouth know-nothing mental defective is the impending total takeover of America by corporate interests (if it hasn’t happened already). This is not the first time people are having alley fistfights and are hopeless about America’s future; take a look at the years preceding the Civil War, when alley fights norphed into secession and revolution where every casualty was an American, or take a look at France in 1789. Every great nation ultimately turns into a failed state (and for various reasons), but it is not our turn yet if we battle to maintain the small d democracy we have (or had), since without it we have no good reason to exist.

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