“Believing Untrue Things”


Believing Untrue Things

More Motives on Untrue Things

Summary: People believe in the truth of ideas that don’t withstand even casual empirical scrutiny, e.g., that American police kill more black people than white people every year. Why do so many of us believe in and even defend vehemently the validity of bogus ideas when contrary evidence is easily found?

You can find many examples of this kind of thing in Amazon reviews of controversial books such as Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean:

5-Star Reviews

1-Star Reviews

The respective authors of the five-star and one-star reviews appear to inhabit separate factual universes. In one universe James Buchanan was a distinguished laissez-faire economist and originator of public-choice theory. In the other universe Buchanan, the Koch brothers and other prominent libertarians were members of a racist conspiracy. How can people on one side of a controversy remain ignorant about the other side’s arguments and even basic facts?

AVI suggests possible explanations that are worth reading, as always. I think the main problem is the poor quality of our primary and secondary educational systems, particularly in the teaching of history, math and basic statistics. Another big problem is the ignorance of journalists who were educated in our lousy schools, and modern journalism’s clickbait business model that incentivizes the promotion of controversy and conflict even more than was the case back in Front Page days.


23 thoughts on ““Believing Untrue Things””

  1. Colin Powell suggests that people invest too heavily in their “positions” to the point that they tie them to their own self worth and are therefore unable to let the position go without a loss of face. I think there is some truth in that thought.

    I told someone the other day that people sometimes have ideas that become like their children and they love them unconditionally and uncritically, even if their “idea-child” is a complete idiot.

  2. “…math and basic statistics.” – This is a big issue. Last week a person that I am friends with encouraged me to make a donation to an organization that helps “fifteen thousand children living in the woods in a certain area in Florida”. I instantly asked that person that since they knew how much sewage that they created in a single day to multiply that by fifteen thousand and think about it for just a minute. As it ends up it was a charity that apparently helps less fortunate families that happen to live in poor situations that happen to possibly be in wooded areas. Which is fine. But the fact that this fifteen thousand kids living nomadically in the woods somewhere nonsense was the selling point from an otherwise bright person was an indicator that the person doesn’t know much about numbers or basically anything having to do with volume or statistics. And I hear this type of thing all the time.

    If memory serves we have had several posts on this blog about “big numbers” from one of the authors.

  3. People in general have a well-defined worldview that they try to make new facts agree with, not to modify or question. They can change that worldview gradually over time, but I also think that in today’s world many people feel the desperate need to agree with the hive mind they find themselves plugged into online at the moment.
    How else to explain current liberal/leftist cheerleading for the FBI/CIA/NSA and forced covid vaccinations? Someone ranting about these things would, upon questioning, immediately start spewing chapter and verse from the previous liturgy about how the CIA is the root cause of all the world’s problems, the Patriot Act was American fascism, and how plastics/teflon/etc., have caused massive humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.
    I just don’t think people are really “designed” to think about these big global issues very well.

  4. The “bad policing” in Ferguson is not uncommon (though with interstate less so) in white areas and the point is generally to zing out-of-towners speeding through small towns. Everyone knew there were speed traps on roads likely to handle outsiders. This seems to be a product of St. Louis’s fragmented townships.

    Heather McDonald has done a lot with this – she’s like Lott with guns. I’m pretty stupid about numbers but have found both persuasive. But I wasn’t all that committed to the other side when I read them, merely wishy washy.

    Given the percentage of blacks killed by blacks and given the fear this last year must have instilled in police, a lot of black deaths can be correctly attributed in the next few years to those headlines and the fear in police (and juries) of a year’s worth of riots.

    But all this is obvious; Jonathan’s and AVI’s points are deeper and more disturbing. News organizations are losing their aura of authority, and we may say (should say), well that’s to the good. But it is hard not to see things through that prism. And there’s all these stupid “consensus” of experts (Dept of State experts, editors in publishing houses, psychiatrists, etc. etc.) the left corrals. And it has come to the slighting of objective truth, the prioritizing of personal truth. Students say “I feel.”

    We were listening to a C-span on Greenland. My skepticism on global warming may come from my general (and provable) scientific ignorance, but I can’ get over the great past changes before man, certainly before industrialization, as forests waxed and waned. The author clearly enjoyed that barren landscape, admired the heroism and eccentricity of the explorers. I kept waiting for an acknowledgement of the famous warming period, of its “greeness.” However, he finished and questions began. Many were, of course, about those characters though some environmentalists had been drawn to the subtitle “Our Perilous Future.” One was a contrarian – an explorer himself, apparently, who had been with a group that was digging down to a centuries old village. The author dismissed him as a crank.

    Of course, these talks often have an opponent or two with what appears a crackpot perspective, I doubt he changed any minds, couldn’t in that brief question. Someone seems a crank if we only hear a consensus. I don’t expect unsympathetic interviews of victims’ families, even if they were – and are often proven to be – wrong in their romanticizing of their loved one’s life, of their loved one’s death. But this kind of humane softness become sloppy proofs for a sloppy argument about the police, about deaths. And it is those interviews that stick in viewers’ minds.

  5. Ferguson MO had serious problems with the practice of funding city government with fines for minor infractions, such as zoning violations. It may well be true that the practice unfairly burdened the black population who tended to be poorer. The St Louis area seems to be an inordinate crime capitol, what with the guardian ad litem scandal.

    Having taken some courses in Bayesian algebra and statistics, I am aware of the lack of statistical understanding in Medicine, let alone civil life. It sort of reminds me of the old Swedish carpenter, when asked about the size of quarters of an inch said, “There must be a thousand of them.”

  6. The illiteracy and innumeracy of the majority, due to the incompetence and/or ideological design of our education establishment, was a scandal when Reagan pointed it out and it has only gotten worse since. Lord knows I’m no mathematician or statistician, but none of the issues are THAT complex, and the math is pretty basic.

    When I ask for “a little under a half-pound” of deli meat at the Kroger, I like to clarify with, “–about point four.” 90% of the time the response is, “So you want a quarter-pound?”

    They have no concept of converting decimals to fractions or vice-versa, but you can be sure their understanding of reality–especially politics–is otherwise tip-top.

  7. What I observe is that just about everybody is acting like *lawyers*. By which I most definitely don’t mean that they’ve been studying the law, logic, and the arts of persuasive speaking…rather, that they act like a lawyer who has a client and a case (which he will only get paid if he wins), and is interested in facts contrary to that case only to the extent that he can figure out how to negate them.

  8. David Foster makes an excellent point @202– I generally avoid political discussion in daily life, but increasingly I find other people starting conversations with some talking point or advocacy declaration they’ve gotten from their preferred source . . . which is useful in itself, as far as identifying those worth conversing with, but not that enjoyable.

  9. My daughter keeps reassuring me that the crime rate isn’t as bad in St. Louis as it looks – the core of St. Louis is just downtown, so it is as if you took the worse crime area of a city and didn’t divide it out by the numbers in the outlying areas. They live in Webster Groves – but both the post office & florists give it a central St. Louis number, even if it has a separate library, school, police, fire dept. I’m not saying she doesn’t say this to soothe it, someone here may know the reasons – around here those towns would have been gobbled up long ago, but I think it is because it is old enough that they had separate systems earlier. Then again it would probably be worse if you included the part across the river, in East St. Louis.

    Yes, David, that’s probably the best description of conversations – but of course that comes from valuing “my truth” over “the truth” or, maybe my ego over yours.

  10. I think one major reason for the lawyer-like behavior is this: people have some one particular issue which is overwhelmingly important to them…and they align with whichever party supports their side on that issue, and in order to empower that party, they support them on a whole cluster of issues as well.

  11. Ginny,
    If you subtract the crimes that happen between midnight and 4:00AM, in the parking lot/close proximity to bars and “social clubs” and conflicts between previously convicted felons, the South Side of Chicago would probably look a lot like rural Kansas in crime statistics. Since I assume your daughter is neither a felon nor in the habit of hanging around bars in the very early morning, crime is mostly something she hears about after the fact and only when it’s something particularly noteworthy.

    There are the people that can’t go a year between time in jail and the rest of us that will never see the inside of a jail in our lifetime and not many in between.

  12. Another big problem is the ignorance of journalists who were educated in our lousy schools, and modern journalism’s clickbait business model that incentivizes the promotion of controversy and conflict even more than was the case back in Front Page days.

    The Front Page is so instructive in so many ways. It ought to be required watching in a US civics class.

    The backstory reveals a city controlled by one political party pandering to “one million colored voters” who are demanding justice (to hang somebody) for the murder of “a colored cop”. This, in about 1920. My daughter sat in a college classroom and was lectured on the “fact” that Blacks in America were not allowed to vote until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She’d seen the His Girl Friday version and knew better, but also knew better than to argue. Anyhow, pandering to a voting bloc organized by race is, literally, old news, and needs to be understood as such.

    The city in the tale is controlled by one political party but the STATE, and the governor, are of the other party. Not much love lost between them, either.

    One of the journalists portrayed phones in every milestone event of the story arc as a frame to discuss how many of the sheriff’s relatives are on the county payroll. EVERY EVENT is related to that nepotism. (Another reports every event as if proof of the impending communist revolution — so be ready to rise up and join in, my comrades! Another reports every event as if a warning of the impending communist revolution — so be ready to rise up and fight back, all your true patriots! Another repeatedly reports of how the radical left and right is distorting the news to foment conflict …) Oddly, there is not a Black (colored) newsman reporting on the question of “justice” for the fallen cop… All of the journalists agree that the “love story” of the shooter and the woman who nursed his illness is bogus, but “too good to retract”.

    The best journalist of the bunch, the one trying to escape the profession, completely MAKES UP a rationale or narrative from one, out of context, remark. And presents it with such fine rhetoric and passion all the others stand in awe. Truth is absolutely secondary to all those in the job.

    Given the chance and choice to take sides between a convicted criminal and law enforcement, the journalist chooses the criminal.

    But given opportunity to actually HELP the criminal — the journalist just stuffs him into a box. (A metaphor, perhaps, for the creation of the narrative already portrayed.)

    That’s just the highlight reel. What’s saddest, though, is that the news racket in that era was BETTER able to arrive at an educated public than the click-baiting monoculture than holds sway now.

  13. Journalism used to be a trash profession. Now it’s been totally captured by the establishment (the way the CIA/FBI have taken over the MSM is their most successful op ever). Millionaire employees of massive multinational corporations ain’t gonna do no muckraking. We’d all be far better off if we treated them like filthy lying scum, and required absolute proof for anything they ever write.

  14. The battle over facts is not the issue now, all they print or say is most frequently just opinion, unsupported by even an attempt at hard facts or even balance of differing opinions. It just has to have an emotive headline or subject and pass a narrative filter.


  15. Many people believe, or are told to believe, or are strong armed to believe that Donald Trump incited an armed attack on the Nation’s Capital on January 6. He did no such thing. Not even close. He asked his audience to go to the Capital and to peacefully and patriotically let their voices be heard. What he ask his audience to do is protected by the first amendment. As far as I know, none of the Tump supports participated in any violence.

    If I am wrong and if there were Trump supporters that participated in vilolence, that is on them. Trump did not incite them in any way.

    But those who believe otherwise will never give it up. They will never accept the truth.

  16. Ken: You know how we know you’re right? Because I have literally never once seen a clip shown from Trump’s speech that day. Not once, not ever, not anywhere. If he had incited anything, then you can guarantee it would be shown daily in the media, even today.

  17. I personally think January 6 was a setup. Trump got suckered into that rally and has shown by his withdrawal from public events that he recognizes it was a mistake. He was not prepared for the level of vote fraud all the way back to June. Not enough was done to try to control absentee vote fraud. His legal team was weak. Have you read the Kindle version of “The Deep Rig ?

    That is the electronic version with all the links. It is worth reading. Patrick Byrne, the author, is a techie and rich enough to not fear Dominion lawsuits. Hen had a team but could not get to then lawyers on Trump’s post election team. Probably there was no time for all this after the election. The time to anticipate this was before the election. The Democrat frenzy to stop the Maricopa County recount is evidence of how much they fear honest evidence of the fraud.

    January 6 was only a symbolic day and the left was way ahead of Trump in being prepared.

  18. “I personally think January 6 was a setup.”
    Notice how the FBI is still putting out APBs for random grandmas who were in the vicinity of the capitol, but somehow hasn’t been able to find the black-clad people who were smashing the doors where Ashli Babbitt was shot?

  19. there were 40,000-50,000 people on that lawn, there was maybe a 100 hundred that were sweat hogs, he says he’s going to restart the rallies, the absurdity of gauletier garland who was supported by 20 republican possums, and the house are almost ignorant of what he is doing,

  20. Here is someone with a more measured response that seems to agree with me.

    Though given that he was the subject of a completely unprecedented consistency and intensity of media and celebrity assault, his performance in the almost uniformly nasty and stacked polls entitles him to a special achievement award for carrying nearly 48 percent of the vote and probably forcing the Democrats to steal the Electoral College with harvested ballots in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and for producing so taut a political crisis that the Supreme Court ducked it (in the Texas challenge supported by 18 other states), assumedly under the mistaken assumption that that would spare them the threatened effort to pack the high court.

    This total, the anti-Trump share of the honeymoon approval rate, as in all presidential honeymoons, is slowly declining. But it is also more vulnerable than other presidential honeymoon poll results, because it is not really based on any enthusiasm for Biden, but rather on the passage of something that has gone and is not threatening to return imminently.

    Biden is going to be done in by the radicals that are using him. Harris is inept.

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