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Saturday, July 7, 2007

Not To Repeat Myself... Oh, Wait


Ian Welsh at FireDogLake takes a look at a study today:
The study, carried out by Kimberlee Weaver and colleagues, found we can tell that three different people expressing the same opinion better represents the group than one person expressing the same opinion three times - but not by much.

In fact, if one person in a group repeats the same opinion three times, it has 90% of the effect of three different people in that group expressing the same opinion.
Ian [emphasis mine]:
This is about all you need to know about why 70% of Americans wound up thinking Saddam was behind 9/11...


Under the fairness doctrine both sides of a political argument had to be given equal airtime. The repetition factor was thus balanced out and the two ideas could then compete, hopefully, on the merits. Add to that the fact that most liberal positions are, in fact, majority opinions, which means people would, in their everyday lives, hear more liberal than conservative opinions, and in general you would wind up with more accurate impressions of what the majority belief was (and people are reluctant to go against the majority belief. If “everyone” except some “dirty hippies” thinks Iraq was behind 9/11 and has nukes, well, why wouldn’t you? You don’t have time to study it, but the media is repeating it, so why wouldn’t it be true.)
The demise of the Fairness Doctrine is a pet peeve of mine, and it is, so far, the only subject I've posted on which has garnered reaction (pushback from National Association of Broadcasters types), even at the mere mention of it. My last post, not to repeat myself, was on the subject.

There's something else in his post I'd like to embellish on:
And repetition isn’t just about getting an idea of how many people believe what. It isn’t just about group think. It’s about learning. You learn by repeating things...


It sinks in, it becomes a part of you and how you think, when it’s worn in like a rut.

Beliefs and opinions then are a lot like the old say “you are what you eat”. Hang out at FDL long enough, and you’ll see the world one way. Hang out at Little Green Footballs (no, no link) and you’ll wind up thinking a very different way. Listen to Rush Limbaugh every day; or have Fox on all the time, and you’ll wind up believing a lot of what they say...

This isn’t inevitable. There are always those few iconoclasts who stand against the tide, who see through the fog of lies and who have the guts to say so. But add in social approval of the people we spend our lives with, and its few enough of us who will be able to cut through and see that just because “everyone” thinks something doesn’t make it so.
I recently sold my copy of Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, an excellent, if somewhat dry, empirical study of the dichotomy of formed vs. expressed opinions, by Timur Kuran (please visit my storefront). The author documents just how naturally craven we all are when it comes to expressing our true feelings: We basically do a gut-check on how much approval we will win or lose before we open our mouths, and that, more often than not, tempers us from expressing what we really feel about a given subject.

This is particularly insidious if our media is fooling us about what "most people" think. And so, not to repeat myself, I really think that the Fairness Doctrine needs another look.

The guy I started blogging with, Kevin Brennan, was perhaps the savviest political observer I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to and writing with. He doesn’t blog anymore and the reason he doesn’t isn’t just the standard “time constraints”, it’s because "I’ve said everything I wanted to say". He’s right, he did. He said it all… once. And even those few people who read him, mostly won’t remember, because he didn’t say it, say it again, then tell everyone he told them so.
Thanks, Ian, for pointing that out. Sometimes I feel like your friend did, and I am now heartened to continue to repeat myself.

However, so as not to repeat myself, I'll let Ian do that for me:
So, at a political level, the Fairness Doctrine needs to come back.


  1. Sounds like an interesting book Petro.

    Most people "go along", you see it in the social sciences all the time - whether it's the Millgram experiment or one of countless others. People do what other people around them do; say what they say; believe what they say. Not everyone. No. But more people than not.

    When people ask "are people innately good or bad?" my response is "neither. Most people are weak, they will be good if they are in an environment that encourages being good, and bad in an environment that is bad".

    Of course, some people are "good". Some people don't torture, no matter what. Some people help others when there's not only nothing in it for them, but it's a detriment to them.

    And some people are bad. There are such things as "bad people".

    But most people are neither good, nor strong, they're just weak.

    Maybe I'll write that article one day for FDL. Some people regard that as a pessimistic philosophy, but I think it's an optimistic one - perhaps because when I was younger I thought most people were scum, rather than most people were weak. Took some good people and some weak people to sort me out.

  2. Welcome, Ian! :)

    There are the 1 in 20 sociopaths among us (according to a couple of books on the subject I've read), but I suspect that number is higher in complex societies - with all of its attendant human conditioning and social disconnects.

    I, personally, am inclined towards innate "good." Most bad actors I have run into come across as extremely flummoxed, and defensive about it to boot.

    Our "natural" anthropological state is not one which is observable in this gassed-up era of human development, IMHO.


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