Tag Archives: facts and ideology

Rejecting Those Pesky Facts

My favorite thing to do on Sundays is to sit at the kitchen counter drinking multiple cups of coffee while I read the Sunday papers. The Indianapolis Star takes less and less time, as it contains less and less news, but I can count on spending considerable time browsing the various sections of the New York Times. (As a result, I probably know more about New York’s government than I do about the operation of government in Indianapolis, but our lack of local journalism is a subject for another day.)

Yesterday’s Times carried two reinforcing items about the intersection of ideology and fact.  Brendon Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth, noted what has become a growing body of (distressing) research: when faced with facts  that conflict with their deeply-held beliefs, people simply reject the facts. It isn’t that they don’t know, it’s that they refuse to know. 

“Factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions, and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines. With science, as with politics, identity often trumps the facts.”

Nyhan notes that this state of affairs provides an incentive for opinion leaders to spread misinformation, because once people’s cultural and political views get tangled up with their understanding of the facts, it’s really hard to undo the damage.

As if to reinforce the disconnect between what science and research confirm and what partisans choose to believe, Elizabeth Rosenthal reported on a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund comparing average “wait times”–the time it takes to get in to see a doctor–in ten countries.

It is an article of faith among opponents of “socialized medicine” (by which is meant any government health-insurance program) that national systems always produce longer wait times.

The study found that current wait times in the U.S. were slightly better than in Canada and Norway, but much worse than in other countries with national health systems, like the Netherlands and Great Britain. Interestingly, the study also found that wait times for patients in the U.S. and the other countries surveyed were different for different kinds of medical care–we Americans tend to wait for the kinds of appointments that “are not good sources of revenue for hospitals and doctors.” In other countries, people wait longer for expensive elective procedures; in America, we “get lucrative procedures rapidly, even when there is no urgent medical need.”

We wait longer, however, for basic care–checking out those chest pains, or adjusting that diabetes medication. Partly as a result, Americans use  (expensive) emergency rooms more frequently than people in other countries.

The article suggests that the ACA may well lengthen wait times, unless we can adjust our perverse incentives–after all, we are bringing millions of new patients into a system that is already not working very efficiently. If wait times do increase, however, you can safely bet that the villain will be “socialized medicine,” full stop and facts be damned.

Facts tend to be complicated, and we Americans are impatient with complexity. Besides, we already know what we believe. Don’t confuse us with those pesky facts.