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Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts 

Wednesday, May 25 2011
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A long time ago, when our president was named Ronald and a guy named Ralph Reed got a lot of Americans’ attention by talking about God and sin and politics in the same sentence, we’d pass by a church each day on Ocean Avenue on the way to work whose marquee read: I’d rather know the truth than hear the facts. We laughed. We thought it was hysterical that anyone could be so closed-minded as to argue with scientific analysis — then say it out loud and expect anyone to buy it. But a lot of people did buy it. It led to a president named George and then another one named George W., not to mention people named Newt, Orrin, and Strom steering public policy for a long time while discounting all kinds of science in the name of their religious beliefs. Michael Shermer has made a career combating such things. The science writer and historian founded the Skeptics Society and also edited its magazine, The Skeptic. His latest book is The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. In it, he documents how our brains take cues from the outside world and form beliefs about why things are. From there, the gray matter looks for patterns that reinforce what it already “knows” to be true. It’s simple but pretty scary when you consider its implications for people in positions of great power. It also reminds us of what many old-school journalists already knew and told us about our chosen profession: No matter what facts you present, you won’t change what people firmly believe. Let’s just hope it’s a condition that can be overcome.
Thu., May 26, 6 p.m., 2011

About The Author

Keith Bowers

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