The New York Times has an article claiming that people often believe things that are demonstrably false. I expect the timing has to do with the fact (probably even a true fact) that the McCain campaign has been telling more lies recently than the Obama campaign (tho neither side is blameless, and the picture isn't black and white, if you'll pardon the pun). Anyway, the NYT informs us that there are all sorts of mechanisms at work here, and wonders if fact checking has any practical value. (I.e. will it help against McCain...).
One of the people it has interviewed notes that even fact checkers can have biases. Huh. Or should I say, Humphh?
There's nothing much new about all this, of course. The Church spent most of its first 1,500 years systematically lying about the Jews and just about everyone went along with it; even once there was a growing group of, shall we call them fact checkers, the Church mostly kept at it for another few centuries; in some corners it still does. In the previous century Goebbels may have been the world's top expert at demonstrating that if you say something often enough and stridently enough millions will believe you no matter how ridiculous you're being, but he had many competitors and companions in evil. But why reach so far as Goebbels: Have you ever listened to the BBC reporting on Israel? Not too much truth there, is there, especially when you get into body language of reporters and commentators. Regular readers of this blog are regularly exposed to my ire at the Guardian, but that will never make the Guardian any more committed to truth.
Lest you think, as the NYT article subtly suggests, that susceptibility to lies is greater with less educated people or whatever: Bah! The most committed believers (and creators, and disseminators) of the Nazi lies were an identifiable social-economic group that was far more intelligent and educated than the masses of German citizenry. This is probably equally true of the Communists, though I have fewer of the facts at my fingertips. The readership of the Guardian, in any case, is definitely more educated than the average Briton, so apparently the case can be made that more education means more susceptibility to lies.
Just switch on your TV, or reach for a magazine and let your eye flit by the first advertisements you see: if they were really true you wouldn't buy their products. Me, I've had enough contact with marketers to know that telling the truth is never on their agenda, though admittedly, getting caught blatantly lying isn't either. Have you ever noticed how fundraisers never use the word 'problems', for example, always preferring the term 'challenges'? Yep. Of course, that's but a small subset of the nexus between marketing jargon on the one hand, and the pernicious phenomenon of Political Correctness, a theology of lies if ever there was one, invented, mostly, not by McCain's side of the American cultural wars, even if it is grounded by deep roots in Calvinism and Puritanism.
It's vastly better to tell and hear the truth. But don't lets pretend our side is necessarily better at it, unless we can back up this claim with.... facts.