Shocking Truth!

After having spoken with newly installed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, radical Islamists have announced, in the Egyptian magazine Rose el-Youssef, that the government will soon begin the process of demolishing the Great Pyramids.

“The magazine quoted a prominent Bahraini sheik, Abdellatif al-Mahmoud,” The New York Times writes, “as demanding in a Twitter posting on June 24 that Mr. Morsi ‘accomplish what the Sahabi Amir bin al-As could not’ and destroy the ‘idolatrous’ pyramids.”

In a “related” story, Michelle Obama has shown a shocking disrespect for the symbol of America when she was caught on tape saying, “All this for a damn flag.”

Video site YouTube reported, “Yes, folks, that is what she said, according to an instructor at a School for the Deaf and Blindwho watched the video.”

ABC reporter Brian Ross reported to Good Morning, Americaanchor George Stephanopoulos that “There’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado page on the Colorado Tea Party site… talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now, we don’t know if it’s the same Jim Holmes, but it’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.”

What’s the common denominator to these stories?

They’re all false.

“ ‘These stories are cheap acts aimed at hurting Egypt and its image, and Mr. Morsi as well,’ said Mr. Nur el-Din, an Egyptian antiquities professor. He said Mr. Morsi had reassured Egypt’s tourism officials that the country’s antiquities were in no danger from the new government.”

Yes, Jim, but what about Michelle Obama’s shameful remark about our flag! Now, THAT I know is true because a certified lip-reader said…

“Like many chain emails,” fact checker Politifact writes, “this one has evolved since earlier versions. The detail about the lip-reading instructor at the River School was added recently, presumably to give the email more credibility. But that credibility crumbled when we spoke with Nancy Mellon, director of the River School…. More importantly, the River School doesn’t teach lip-reading, Mellon said, and no one from the faculty has provided any interpretation of the video…

“So what did [Michelle Obama] really say? The consensus onAll Deaf, a website for people who are hearing impaired, was that she said, ‘It’s amazing how they fold that flag.’ ”

While ABC-TV reporter Ross did qualify his statement at the time he “broke” the news of the possibility that shooter James Egan Holmes may be a member of the local Tea Party, as an experienced reporter he knows better, and should have dug deeper before even offering something like that on-air. (Five minutes into Monday’s (July 23) Daily Show, Jon Stewart had a whole lot of fun with this one.)

In the last ten days, I have received four e-mails from well-meaning friends passing along messages typically marked, “Urgent,” or “Shocking Truth!” After checking the information, I e-mail back the truth and typically receive no response or, “Oh, I didn’t know.” Only one friend responded with, “I will not pass along… the lies out there do not deserve to be perpetuated.”

However, the question I keep coming back to is always the same: Why do so many people believe the fiction over the fact?And once again, Center for Cultural Studies and AnalysisSenior Analyst Jamie O’Boyle very clearly reminds me:

“Why do so many people believe the fiction over the fact? They do it because they are predisposed to believe it is true. Everyone does it. Do you check the facts of information that confirms what you already know to be true? You only check the facts that don’t fit in with what you believe to be true.

“Stephen Colbert calls it Truthiness, – defined as ‘a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.’

“It’s a form of Confirmation Bias (I’ve written on this before) – a tendency to favor information that confirms [one’s own] assumptions of how the world works and diminish the importance of information that contradicts those assumptions. We call these core beliefs ‘Shoulds’ because they reflect the individual’s view of how the world ‘should be.’

“It’s not necessarily conscious bias, just the outcome of the way our brain processes information subconsciously. The more emotionally charged the issue, the stronger the effect. Which is why one of the indicators of what [Politifact] calls ‘Pants-on-Fire’ misinformation is usually the Appeal to Emotion – the classic logical fallacy of basing your argument on emotion (fear, pity, dislike, flattery, etc.) rather than logically building an argument using verifiable data. It’s safe to say that almost every current political ad from either party falls into this category.

“So when you send them a correction, their response is simply ‘Oh’ – mild embarrassment because they made a mistake. You haven’t given them a reason to re-evaluate their position. You’ve simply pointed out that they got hold of one piece of bad supporting information. To them, it is a simple mistake that in no way affects the larger unconsciously-held ‘Truth’ which underlies their position.”

And what about O’Boyle’s own analysis; how does he keep hisown bias in check?

“Having decades of experience in my field, I usually have some idea of what I’m going to find in the research stage. To guard against confirmation bias we have a policy: if the data confirms our pre-assumptions, we back up the job with another analyst with a different set of assumptions.”

“ ‘The things Americans say show us they are crazy,’ Abdel Halim Nur el-Din, an Egyptian professor of antiquities and former chairman of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in an interview,” the Times writes.

Or, in the words of our thirty-first President, Teddy Roosevelt, “The only thing we have is fear!”

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