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March 25, 2010

Comments

Congratulations on getting an article published in the Times, Brendan. I don't fully agree with your premise. You correctly write: people tend to seek out information that is consistent with their views...As a result, information that contradicts their prior attitudes or beliefs is often disregarded, especially if those beliefs are strongly held.

However, your article then goes on to implicitly assume that only Republicans will maintain their strongly held incorrect beliefs about health-care. Both logic and experience argue that Dems will too.

A personal example. On Tuesday my wife and I took and old friend out to dinner. Our friend berated the Republicans for not having any ideas for fixing the health-care problems. I pointed out the the Reps had a number of proposals, such as malpractice reform, which got little publicity and which were ignored by the Dems. She was too polite to say so, but it was clear that her view hadn't changed.

Your article today is one of the dumbest I have read for quite some time. You say that some people hear what they want to hear. That is no more profound than saying some people will lie to get what they want.

I followed the link in the NYT to your article and read it. It's interesting, but raises questions in my mind about the goal of an academic paper of its type.

My opinion is that you have used information that cannot be verified or is irrelevant. Why didn't you use verifiable facts for the study? Wouldn't that have made your conclusions more defensible?

For example, it cannot be said with certainty that tax cuts don't "cause" increases in revenue. Contrary to your sense of the "consensus" of economists (akin to the "consensus" of climate scientists? Scientists I know insist that there is no such process in real science), many economists feel that since the Kennedy and Reagan tax cuts it's almost become conventional wisdom that tax reductions can increase revenue. The verifiable fact I refer to is that revenue actually increased a record $550 billion over two fiscal years after the tax cuts.

Likewise, on the issue of WMD in Iraq it's generally accepted now that they didn't exist (even though it's still literally, logically impossible to prove a negative). But the verifiable fact is that at the time of the invasion all credible intelligence agencies believed they did exist. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards used almost identical language to express this, reporting that they had gone to Clinton era contacts and verified that the intelligence was consistent from Bush "one" through Clinton to Bush "two." The UK, Israel, Germany, France...all our allies' intelligence agencies believed there were WMD in Iraq. The political controversy is whether George W. Bush "lied" or "misled" the country into war for ulterior motives. The relevant information, therefore, is not whether the WMD actually existed (a "fact" that we can be fairly certain of in hindsight) but who believed what at the time. Use of relevant facts may have blunted the selective memory and "backfire" phenomena you observe in your paper.

Stem cell research is the best example you used. Either Bush did or did not "ban" research, and I suspect that's why you found the "backfire effect" to be less strong in this case.

Notwithstanding my concerns about your paper's examples and conclusions, I agree that people do tend to consume news in a way that reinforces their opinions and prejudices about political issues.

Your research doesn't really apply here. You studied whether a printed correction can undo or nullify a printed deception. Both claim and counter-claim exist in the same realm, printed in a newspaper article.

Read Obama's statement again: "the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform" [emphasis added]. He's drawing a contrast between claims about reality and that reality itself.

Now obviously some people will continue to believe some false claims (good and bad) about HCR, even if they aren't borne out in the years ahead. Some of the negative claims in particular would be very difficult to overturn with personal experience (people who believe regulating health care insurance is equivalent to a government takeover of "one-sixth of the economy" aren't likely to be dissuaded from that belief no matter what happens to them personally). And some people will no doubt use the passage of HCR to blame every negative experience they have with health care from this day forward on Obama and the Democrats.

But many people, especially those who don't follow politics closely, will have specific personal experiences under HCR that undermine what they've heard on TV or talk radio this past year, and those experiences, good and bad, will no doubt weigh heavier in the balance of forming their ongoing opinion about HCR than any newspaper article they read in 2009.

Congratulations on being published in the New York Times. Perhaps before we try to figure out how best to correct misperceptions among the general population, we should figure out how to get academics not to process the information that they receive with a bias toward their pre-existing opinions, accepting claims that are consistent with their point of view and rejecting those that are not. A case study might be academics who label as a "myth" propositions that were quite arguably correct at the time they were made--for example, the "myth" about coverage of illegal immigrants that turned out to be true enough to necessitate a change in the bill.

Obama on his claims versus the Republican claiming HCR would be "Armageddon": "You don't have to take my word for it, you'll be able to see it in your own lives."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0r7pCHpSkQ

Nothing in your paper touches this, sorry.

I don't understand why all these comments are so critical of your work. Confirmation bias is a well documented phenomenon in cognitive psychology (also known as cognitive bias) and something that I studied extensively in college, many years ago. Your research, while interesting, is not the first to prove that it is hard to de bunk myths, and it certainly will not be the last.

What I think is missing from this discussion is what are we going to do about people who continually make claims that are demonstrably false in the media. (And media who provide a platform for misleading claims) There are no consequences right now for blatantly lying to millions of people, in fact the only consequence is that if you are convincing enough you have a whole cohort of followers who believe something that is factually inaccurate. And there is no incentive to reporters to do their job and correct these inaccuracies.

I know that we can't expect every peice of information that appears on the internet to be 100% correct, but we should at least be able to expect that of cable news and newspapers. They are failing at doing their jobs when they don't correct the factual errors in their product.

"You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts."

David -- there's no question that both sides engage in motivated reasoning; I specifically made this point in the piece. However, the most prevalent and outrageous myths about reform are concentrated among the opposition (i.e. Republicans/conservatives in this case), so that's who I focused on.

Rob -- as far as I know, it was always a myth that illegal immigrants would get free health care (which is what I said in the piece). The language added to the bill just makes that point more explicit.

On Shinobi's point, see my argument about naming and shaming here and here.

Fair enough, Brendan, though the concern so far as I recall was not that illegal immigrants would receive free health care, the proposition you label as a myth in your op-ed, but that they'd receive subsidized health care or even simply that they'd be buying health care through the insurance exchanges. It was this last point, something denied by Obama that turned out to be exactly what the pending language would have permitted, that necessitated changing the language of the bill.

I suspect that anyone who is already inclined to have a negative attitude towards HCR will simply have it reinforced by any and every future experience or anecdote of flawed health care. They will attribute every perceived shortcoming to HCR, even if it is clearly the kind of incident that happens now and is caused by the imperfectability of humans.

Every news story of a misdiagnosed patient or an operation gone wrong will be seized upon as evidence of the tragic consequences of HCR, and people predisposed to believe it will lap it all up.

I suspect that anyone who is already inclined to have a negative attitude towards Evil Insurance Companies will simply have it reinforced by any and every future experience or anecdote of flawed health care. They will attribute every perceived shortcoming to Evil Insurance Companies, even if it is clearly the kind of incident that happens now and is caused by the imperfectability of humans.

Every news story of a misdiagnosed patient or an operation gone wrong will be seized upon as evidence of the tragic consequences of Evil Insurance Companies, and people predisposed to believe it will lap it all up.

Brendan wrote: However, the most prevalent and outrageous myths about reform are concentrated among the opposition

Brendan, it's only your liberal POV that leads you to this belief. Your liberal POV no doubt helped your article get accepted. I doubt that the New York Times would have published an article about how liberal myths would persist.

I want to focus on two aspects here: Death Panels, and cost.

At the dinner I mentioned above, our very liberal guest, my liberal biostatistian wife and myself all agreed that end-of-life care to hopeless patients was an obvious and necessary area where costs could be reduced. Today, doctors and hospitals treat without limit. That orientation needs to be changed, we agreed. In other words, when Sarah Palin raised the issue, a better response would have been, "You're darn tootin' we're going to have Death Panels. That's an essential cost-control measure."

The actual response of calling Palin a liar at every opportunity was politically easier in the short run. However, I would be willing to bet that in 5 to 10 years there will indeed be rules restricting some expensive treatments. Furthermore, I will probably approve of the rules, even though at my age I'm more immediately vulnerable to them than you are.

In short, it's not unreasonable to predict that something like Death Panels will eventually become a part of the plan.

Cost: It's not exactly a secret that Congress designed the law so that it would be costed over (I believe) 6 years of benefits against 10 years of income to the Plan. It's obvious that the projected surplus for the initial 10-year period cannot be expected to persist once the periods of income and outgo equalize. Yet, many liberals are unaware of this gimmick and its implications.

IMHO the myth that the Plan will produce a surplus is more important than Death Panels, especially because I expect (and hope) that the Plan will include some variation of death panels.

David are you seriously suggesting that government regulations will prevent anyone who can afford to pay for life-extending treatment from getting it? I mean that is the purest apple sauce, without a shred of evidence and wildly counter-intuitive. What other services does government stop people buying, and why on earth would they?

You appear to be confusing things that people will be able to buy with things that will be underwritten by insurance. Just because you can't insure for something doesn't mean the insurance companies stop you buying it, or are you implying that the insurance companies have all had in-house death panels for years?

Your comment is actually a great example of how people can persuade themselves to believe the most absurd predicted outcomes are really sane and realistic.

Ken Lovell, you evidently understand the term "Death Panels" to mean regulations that could prevent someone who can afford to pay for life-extending treatment from getting it. I am pretty sure that's not how Palin used the term. It's possible that some Palin critics may have misrepresented her meaning in order to make her look ridiculous. However, my understanding is that she used the term as I indicated -- that is, relating to treatments that wouldn't be covered.

Do you have any evidence or cites that Palin or other Plan critics used the term as you indicate?

In regards to George W. Bush's tax cuts, they did in fact result in an increase in revenue (even factoring inflation).

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2007/01/Ten-Myths-About-the-Bush-Tax-Cuts

It seems you fall into the same trap of believing what you want to believe. Using Google for my research, there were plenty of opinions on both sides, but somewhere out there are hard numbers that show us what really happened.

http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/81xx/doc8116/05-18-TaxRevenues.pdf

The truth is that revenues were up considerably. But so was spending... but my favorite quote is "analysis shows that the overall increase in revenues as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2003 is disproportionately accounted for by increases in corporate income tax revenues." When people have extra money to spend, business increases and you have an increase in corporate taxes. If you want to slow down growth all you have to do is raise taxes.

Some will be intellectually dishonest and ask why not lower the tax rate to zero percent? The Laffer Curve explains this well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laffer_curve

As for Sarah Palin, I think what she said about "Death Panels" was taken out of context. Her original comment regarding Death Panels is on FaceBook. Become a fan of her page and read it yourself if you really care about the truth. I bet you won't ;)

One more thought regarding Brendan's comment: "the most prevalent and outrageous myths about reform are concentrated among the opposition"

There's an old joke about a religious argument between a Priest and a Minister. The Priest finally says, "We both serve God; you in your way, I in His."

Brendan's comment is comparable to the tautology of someone who believes in his religion saying, "I believe in my religion." Similarly, it's automatic that someone wouldn't be a liberal unless he agreed with the liberal POV on most issues. The same goes for conservatives.

David, I enjoyed your last word. You have made a valiant effort, but we still are involved in the endless argument. If you look at my suggestion above I think it is clear why, and the discussion has provided support for my assertion that we should use verifiable facts rather than things that are themselves in the nature of religion. You sum it up nicely when you say "...you evidently understand the term "Death Panels" to mean..." Exactly! Is it any wonder we end up in straw man and tautological arguments when we haven't agreed on definitions of terms? One cannot "prove" that Sarah Palin's meaning for the political characterization "death panel" is a myth without defining it as such.

David I did not read what Sarah Palin wrote and I have no intention of wasting my time doing so. Her goal was clearly to get a highly emotive term into public discourse with the intention of misleading people about the bill, and she succeeded.

If you concede that all she meant was that there are limits to what will be covered by universal health care - a statement equally true of any private insurance policy - then the 'death panel' label is self-evidently idiotic. One might just as well claim my insurance company has a 'blindness panel' because there are limits to what they will pay me for eye care.

Ken Lovell wrote: "Her goal was clearly to get a highly emotive term into public discourse with the intention of misleading people about the bill, and she succeeded."

I agree. But, that's what politicians do. The Dems succeeded in getting the emotive term health "reform" into public discourse, misleading people that this bill would lead to better, more efficient health care. The Dems put the health bill in the best light; Palin put it in the worst light. There's no difference in their behavior IMHO.

David I'm sure you'll want the last word and I'll leave you to make it. But in response to your question 'Do you have any evidence or cites that Palin or other Plan critics used the term as you indicate?' (i.e. that death panels would prevent people buying treatment) I need only point to your earlier 'I would be willing to bet that in 5 to 10 years there will indeed be rules restricting some expensive treatments' which to you means it's 'not unreasonable to predict that something like Death Panels will eventually become a part of the plan.'

Your argument in the thread, in other words, is thoroughly confused and contradictory.

Ken L - ROTFL

"I did not read what Sarah Palin wrote and I have no intention of wasting my time doing so. Her goal was..."

So you can tell what her goal was without reading what she wrote?

Pretty funny!

Brendan -

I tire of another outcry about the harmful effects of the internet, re: Mooney's commnet above.

It should be clear that access to the internet cuts both ways.

True, those who are interested in only confirming their prejudices can more quickly find confirmation, e.g. not reading what someone actually said but instead relying on secondary opinions/accounts about what they said.

But those who desire the facts also have better access to them than when everything had to be filtered through a newcaster or newswriter, who btw might only be interested in confirming their own prejudices.

It's hard to measure whether the bad outwieghs the good, and if it does, is that more an indictment of human nature than the internet itself?

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