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False Rumors and Politics
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Jonah Lehrer remarks on false rumors in political seasons:


Humans are exquisitely social animals, and yet we're vulnerable to some pretty stunning flaws in social cognition. Unfortunately, most of these flaws are on full display during a presidential campaign. Consider the false rumor, which can influence our beliefs even when it has been debunked. The most powerful example of this phenomenon, of course, is the swift-boating of John Kerry. It didn't matter that every reputable news source found most of the charges to be misleading. The sheer fact that Kerry was being accused of lying was enough to impugn his honesty. Even when we're found innocent, a little guilt remains.


He then goes on to talk about a rumor regarding Michelle Obama saying "whitey", but I was thinking of a much more pervasive bit of misinformation: The idea that Barack Obama is a Muslim. I'd heard people refer to Obama a couple of times as a Muslim, but initially wrote it off. But while I was in California last week, talking to a couple of people with PhDs, one of them said something like: "Well, I don't think Obama will be elected. He's got two things going against him...he's Black and he's a Muslim." Now, this guy wasn't American, but he was intelligent, educated, and generally politically-informed.

It's also bewildering how someone might know about the Rev. Wright scandal (he's a reverend, not an imam!) and still somehow think Obama is a Muslim.

Anyway, there's enough misinformation flying around. If you are in a conversation with someone and they clearly misstate the facts, please politely correct them, for all our sakes.


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