In an election year, falsehoods not so easily banished by facts

Separating truth from liesSo much of negotiation and mediation is about changing minds. As negotiators gather and exchange information, new data shifts the way people understand the underlying issues, perceive the risks, and weigh choices.

The concealment or distortion of facts are the thumb on the butcher’s scales in any negotiation. Knowledge — accurate information — is indeed power.

But possessing accurate information may not be enough, whether we are talking about making decisions at the negotiation table or in the voting booth. It’s what we do with that information that matters. Consider the following.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign launched Fight the Smears, a web site created to counter right-wing attacks on Obama and his wife. But last week the blog Neuromarketing asked, “Will Obama’s ‘Fight the Smears’ Backfire?“:

I’ll leave the question of whether Fight the Smears is neutral and factual as opposed to partisan spin to the political pundits. Rather, I’d like to focus on the neuromarketing aspects of this effort: could Fight the Smears end up promoting the very allegations it is trying to quash?

This idea is far from outrageous. In Damage Control That Causes More Damage, I wrote about research conducted by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that showed repeating a false claim in order to discredit it actually caused more people to believe that it was true.

Want an up-close look at how the persistence of myths looks on an individual level? One voter from Medina, Ohio, despite the efforts of one blogger to innoculate her against political urban legends, persists in believing that Barack Obama is an Arab (as if there’s something wrong with that anyway) — which, she insists, disqualifies him for the job as U.S. president. Here is a video in which she struggles to explain why she clings to her views, despite a close encounter with the truth:
http://www.youtube.com/v/MxOSO07QDNU&hl=en&rel=0&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b

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