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May 25, 2010

Heh: Slate Runs Experiment To Prove People Can Be Deceived By Falsified Pictures; Winds Up Proving Progressives Are Weak-Minded Dummies

As I was reading this, I was thinking, "Cool experiment! I want to post this, but it really doesn't seem political at all -- not really partisan, can't make a point out of it."

I decided, halfway through -- who cares? Readers like interesting stuff, partisan or not. If I thought it was cool, probably a lot of people would.

Turns out, yeah, there's a partisan dig here after all.

Slate's experiment concerned the way memory could be shaped and refashioned through the use of doctored, false photographs. They would (I'm simplifying) show subjects (over 5000) a series of pictures, four real and one fake, and ask if people remembered the event depicted in the fake one.

Depending on the picture, up to 40% said they remembered the false reality presented.

Okay? Interesting on its own, right? Well, here's the partisan part. To set this up: One fake photograph had Bush in a pick up with pitching great Roger Clemens during Hurricane Katrina, goofing off instead of working. (He didn't see Clemens, and left his ranch to monitor Katrina from the White House.) Another picture had Obama shaking Ahmadinejad's hand. (They never shook hands, and apparently never even got close enough to get in a photo together.)

Okay, take it away:

Ideology influenced recollections, but not consistently. Thirty-four percent of progressives who were shown the Bush-Clemens photo (212 out of 616) remembered that incident, while only 14 percent of conservatives who saw the same photo (7 out of 49) remembered it. We expected that discrepancy to be reversed among subjects who were shown the Obama handshake, but it wasn't. Progressives were slightly more likely than conservatives to remember that the handshake happened: 49 percent (305 out of 618) to 45 percent (30 out of 66).

Conservatives, basically, admitted they didn't remember the event in question more often, even when it cut against their party affiliation.

It should be noted, though, that as Slate leans pretty hard left, any conservatives reading the magazine are going to be self-selecting and probably pretty sharp; they are deliberately choosing to read, basically, enemy propaganda.

Plus, progressives are more trustful of a leftwing outlet like Slate. And conservatives reading it are fundamentally mistrustful -- it's likely they sort of smelled a rat. (And do note how very different those progressive and conservative samples are; in the several hundreds versus 60-70.)(

That said, look: I have a feeling there's another factor. "Progressives" and liberals find it hard to ever confess they don't know something; a lot of their politics is actually a defense mechanism for intellectual insecurity. (Vote our way, and that proves you're a smartie!)

The worst crime, to a liberal, is ignorance.

So I think they are especially prey to any trick like this that asks them whether they know something or are ignorant of it -- they're going to have a strong bias towards claiming they "know" stuff, even stuff that's not actually true at all.

Correction: I misread their claim about Bush and Clemens; I've rewritten to explain the falsity of the picture. I think.

One thing they do, wrongly I think for these purposes, is base a false picture on something that is fuzzily true in some broader sense. They note this issue themselves -- like the fact that Lieberman didn't vote Clinton guilty during impeachment (the false picture), but did make a big deal of scolding him.

The problem isn't that some of these pictures are kinda-sorta based on something genuine, but that some are truer to some extent than others. It's an impossible thing to quantify, of course. But it makes it hard to pull conclusions out of the experiment.



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posted by Ace at 06:25 PM

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