Monday, July 12, 2010

Just The Facts, Mam

How facts backfire
Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains
By Joe Keohane, The Boston Globe
July 11, 2010

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

The problem is that Bredan Nyhan has apparently conducted a study where the facts don't matter, to prove that facts don't matter:

On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

What was the "fact" on welfare spending? The article goes on to tell us...

There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent).

The government spends 1% on welfare? That is the correct percentage?

From Kiki Bradley and Robert Rector at The Heritage Institute:

Confronting the Unsustainable Growth of Welfare Entitlements: Principles of Reform and the Next Steps
Published on June 24, 2010
by Kiki Bradley and Robert Rector Backgrounder

Here is the abstract:

Abstract: The growth of welfare spending is unsustainable and will drive the United States into bankruptcy if allowed to continue. President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request would increase total welfare spending to $953 billion—a 42 percent increase over welfare spending in FY 2008, the last full year of the Bush Administration. To bring welfare spending under control, Congress should reduce welfare spending to pre-recession levels after the recession ends and then limit future growth to the rate of inflation. Congress should also restore work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and apply them to other federal welfare programs.

Is that 1%?


The federal government runs over 70 different means-tested anti-poverty programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income persons. These means-tested programs—including food stamps, public housing, low-income energy assistance, and Medicaid—pay the bills and meet the physical needs of tens of millions of low-income families. However, these programs do not help the recipients move from a position of dependence on the government to being able to provide for themselves.

Over 70 means tested programs? I wonder which ones Brendan Nyhan included when coming up with his figures? I also wonder why Joe Keohane doesn't fact check when writting these articles. Talk about putting politics into science and "facts".


The Need for Reform

When President Lyndon Johnson announced the War on Poverty in 1964, he created large-scale national programs to help the poor and needy. Spending on these programs has grown to alarmingly high levels. In 1964, programs for the poor consumed 1.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Today, spending on welfare programs is 13 times greater than it was in 1964 and consumes over 5 percent of GDP. Spending per poor person in 2008 amounted to around $16,800 in programmatic benefits.

The Obama Administration has worked rapidly to expand the welfare state further. President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget would continue this trend, further increasing spending on programs for the poor to 42 percent above levels in FY 2008, President George W. Bush’s last full year in office. By 2011, total welfare spending (including the state portion) would rise to $953 billion.[5] (See Chart 1.)

Isn't it amazing that liberal political scientists think conservatives "Can't handle the truth" about things such as welfare spending and to demonstrate it they have to lie about actual welfare spending? Maybe the researchers are confirming their own study. They seem to come to conclusions without looking at the actual facts about welfare spending. Aren't they also prone to be victims of this very same human behavior that they are talking about?

Should we rely on left leaning media and leftist academics to give us facts? Is it any surprise that left leaning people more readily accept other leftys "facts". Is it any surprise that conservatives don't buy the whole ball of crap wholesale? Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

You should read more than one website before you start quoting facts. you now look like an idiot.

Anonymous said...

First, did you even read the research paper that they are referencing? If you did, it clearly states that they consulted with experts in the field of welfare to come up with their facts (they didn't just pull them out of their ass). Secondly, you are comparing "welfare" numbers from the study (which was accepted for publication in 2000) to numbers for welfare spending in 2010 by the Obama administration. TWO VERY DIFFERENT NUMBERS and a logical fallacy on your part. Granted, I agree that the authors of the paper didn't define "welfare" well enough but the general accepted idea of welfare is the TANF program. If you look up the numbers for TANF spending in 2000 and take that as part of the federal budget, it is less than 1%. Of course, you make a good point that there are a number of other "anti-poverty" programs- 70 means tested ones. Also, all your figures reference the term welfare without being explicit about what they are including. Are they including Medicaid? Medicare? the Earned Income Tax Credit payments? SSI? WIC? SCHIP? Do you see what I mean? You can calculate "welfare" any way you want without being specific in order to be purposefully misleading. You did in in your ENTIRE POST when you are comparing a study from 2000 to welfare spending during 2010, during the second largest recession in this country. Facts? I'm not sure you are familiar with them either!