Getting Duped

Statements made in the media can surreptitiously plant distortions in the minds of millions. Learning to recognize two commonly used fallacies can help you separate fact from fiction.

Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse in Scientific American:

20030410foxnewsliesIn 2003 nearly half of all Americans falsely assumed that the U.S. government had found solid evidence for a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. What is more, almost a quarter of us believed that investigators had all but confirmed the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to a 2003 report by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks, a polling and market research firm. How did the true situation in Iraq become so grossly distorted in American minds?

Many people have attributed such misconceptions to a politically motivated disinformation campaign to engender support for the armed struggle in Iraq. We do not think the deceptions were premeditated, however. Instead they are most likely the result of common types of reasoning errors, which appear frequently in discussions in the news media and which can easily fool an unsuspecting public.

News shows often have an implicit bias that may motivate the portrayal of facts and opinions in misleading ways, even if the information presented is largely accurate. Nevertheless, by becoming familiar with how spokespeople can create false impressions, media consumers can learn to ignore certain claims and thereby avoid getting duped. We have detected two general types of fallacies—one of them well known and the other newly identified—that have permeated discussion of the Iraq War and that are generally ubiquitous in political debates and other discourse.

More here.