Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NPR and truth-hustler guests Adair and Nyhan

Crossposted from Sublime Bloviations.

National Public Radio brought two of my favorite truth-hustlers on its "All Things Considered" program.   I refer to Bill Adair and Brendan Nyhan.

(clipped from npr.org 4/29/12)
Bill Adair serves as founding editor for Politico PolitiFact, a fact-checking operation started by a left-leaning Florida newspaper.  PolitiFact sacrifices journalistic objectivity in part for the sake of its marketing gimmick, called the "Truth-O-Meter."

Political scientist Brendan Nyhan mangles facts from the realm of academia.  Nyhan has tried to show that partisans don't accept facts that contradict their ideology.  His research often uses facts that beg the question (more on Nyhan), suggesting that Nyhan falls victim to his own research goal.

The relevant radio program segment deals with a column from Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke, who bemoaned the state of truth following Rep. Allen West's statement, using Huppke's paraphrase, that "as many as 81" members of the Democratic Party are members of the Communist Party.

Huppke gets some kind of award for irony.  Journalists took West out of context.  West was jokingly, though to make a seriously point, referring to the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  The context makes that absolutely clear.

Stories like these are to Adair and Nyhan what the Trayvon Martin case is to Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton.  The media want the narrative that the former two spin and so seek them out for commentary when these issues make the news.  Adair and Nyhan are the truth-hustler counterparts to race-hustlers.

Adair shows up to remind us how great it is that Politico PolitiFact is there to save the day, if only we can place sufficient trust in its work.

Adair (transcript mine, from the NPR audio):
"What's funny is sometimes I'll get an email that'll say 'You guys are so biased.'  But I won't know who we're supposed to be biased in favor of, because we get criticized a lot by both sides.  And I think that's just the nature of a very rough-and-tumble political discourse."
Funny is Adair still using the "we get criticized from both sides" dodge to avoid the issue of bias.  Fortunately a journalist asked Adair exactly the right question earlier this year with equally hilarious results.

PolitiFact's system is perfect for filtering the truth according to media ideology.

Academia, unfortunately, carries an ideological slant somewhat akin to that found in the U.S. media.  Nyhan perhaps represents one of academic liberalism's top leaders in the war over political truth. 

NPR brought forth an old example of Nyhan's supposed "backfire" effect, where a correction of a falsehood leads to stronger belief in the falsehood. Though Nyhan's own research  (see descriptions of "Study 2") appears to show that the phenomenon does not occur with clear corrections, that hardly dampens mainstream media enthusiasm for the idea.  They can claim they're doing a great job but the audience is the problem.

There is something of an information crisis, but Adair and Nyhan probably do as much damage as good in addressing the problem.  We're not getting the best information from either journalists or academia.  Journalists typically do not have the expertise to sift through complex issues of truth.  Academics have shifted left ideologically and do an inadequate job of critically reviewing the journals that ought to provide our best sources of trustworthy information.

We don't have a reliable gatekeeper for our pool of information.  And it's hard to come up with good solutions to the problem.
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
--Paul the Apostle, 1 Thess. 5:21

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