CJR's Greg Marx has just published an in-depth examination of the difficulty of correcting misinformation that features my research with Jason Reifler (PDF) and my thoughts on the current health care debate. Here's how it begins:
Pushing back against political misinformation has lately become a growth industry. The Obama administration is trying to counter false claims that proposed health care reforms will lead to government-sponsored euthanasia, both via appeals from the president and on a new Web site. Meanwhile, the British government, a sort of innocent bystander to the debate, is quietly setting the record straight about its own form of universal health care. And, as Michael Calderone reported in Politico, MSNBC recently devoted a lot of time to the unhinged “birther” theories about the president’s provenance, in order to mock or debunk them.
So will any of these efforts be successful? Not likely. Once factually inaccurate ideas take hold in people’s minds, there are no reliable strategies to dislodge them—especially from the minds of those for whom the misinformation is most ideologically convenient. That’s the upshot of the work of Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist and blogger. Nyhan has been wrestling with the task of how to correct misperceptions for years—he helped run the now-defunct Spinsanity, a sort of precursor to current Web sites like Factcheck.org and the St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact—but his recent research with his colleague Jason Reifler raises the question of whether this battle can be won.
Make sure to read the article for more, including a discussion of different strategies for correcting misperceptions.