August 7, 2009

How a Fact Becomes a Myth

Because I can't leave this issue alone, check out this post by Brendan Nyhan detailing the similarities between the Birthers and the advocates against health care reform. Notice, if you will, how the standard climate denier arguments also fit this pattern:
1. Take a complicated issue that people don't understand (e.g. presidential citizenship reqirements and Hawaiian birth records or the complex health care reform bills pending in Congress).
2. Advance a disturbing hypothesis about the issue that will appeal to your side of the aisle (e.g. Obama isn't a legitimate president; the health bill will take away your freedom).
3. Misconstrue available evidence to construct arguments supporting your point.
4. Promote these myths widely. If you are successful enough in doing so, the media will feel obligated to report on them. Coverage will then frequently be presented in an artificially balanced "he said," "she said" format, giving further credence to your claims.
5. When your arguments are debunked, claim that the media is trying to silence you to prevent the truth from being revealed.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until various elites (e.g. John Boehner on health, Lou Dobbs on Obama's birth certificate) start claiming you have raised legitimate questions about the issue of interest.
Most recently we've seen this pattern with the right quoting the cost of the Waxman-Markey bill as being several thousand dollars a year for the average family, even though most studies, including the ones cited by the GOP, say that the costs will be far more modest, or even negative.


  1. Not only are there similarities, it seems like they are often the same people. First the jeers at McCain rallies, then the tea parties, then the birther movement, now health-care hysteria. The ignorant are usually the loudest folk in the room.

  2. @Brian True, and it's exasperating how often the same people keep ginning up the same fake controversies over and over again.