roveplato.jpgYes, that’s right, social psychologists have figured out what the Republicans have known for years, if not decades:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false”….

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research… have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.


The research also highlights the disturbing reality that once an idea has been implanted in people’s minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it.

Indeed, repetition seems to be a key culprit. Things that are repeated often become more accessible in memory, and one of the brain’s subconscious rules of thumb is that easily recalled things are true.


Furthermore, a new experiment by Kimberlee Weaver at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and others shows that hearing the same thing over and over again from one source can have the same effect as hearing that thing from many different people — the brain gets tricked into thinking it has heard a piece of information from multiple, independent sources, even when it has not.

This is why “zombie lies” are so hard to kill: The act of debunking actually sustains them. (Up to a point, anyway – BushCo’s failures have become so glaring that the lies now only work on the Republican base and the Democratic leadership.)

So how do we fight them, then? Well, the researchers recommend debunking the lies without actually repeating them, which is a bit tricky.

My crudely amateurish suggestion would be to simply substitute “Contrary to what Bush/the Republicans say,” where the lie would have been: i.e., “Contrary to what the Republicans say, President Bush has made us more vulnerable to terrorist attack.” The lie itself does not get repeated, and everyone in America hears Bush/Republicans accused of dishonesty over and over again.  (Note: This is probably more practical for politicians and talking heads, as blogger protocol typically requires an explanation and/or link to the claim one is rebutting.)

Anyone have any better ideas? Ideas that will work for bloggers?