Thursday, December 31, 2015

What Makes Bullshit Palatable?

Why Fact-Checking Donald Trump Backfires
Psychologists explain his enduring support despite his gaffes and lies.  By Zack Kopplin Dec. 30 2015

Donald Trump supporters cheer for their candidate during a campaign rally on Oct. 14, 2015, in Richmond, Virginia. Even in the face of facts, they may not change their minds.

When you Google “Republican establishment,” the top search completion is “vs Trump,” the second is just “Trump,” and the fourth is “hates Trump.” Establishment Republicans are at war with Donald Trump, and so far they’re losing. “Everyone that attacks him gets clobbered,” Democratic strategist James Carville told me.

And every time Trump is criticized, his supporters hug him tighter.

A few weeks ago, Republican pollster Frank Luntz spent hours showing a focus group of Donald Trump supporters television ads that criticized their candidate. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel described one ad as “not so subtly comparing the Republican front-runner to Adolf Hitler.”

Those attacks on Trump made him stronger. Supporters’ “confidence only grew as Trump’s alleged gaffes and mistakes were laid out,” wrote Weigel. For months, Luntz and other members of the Republican establishment have failed to deflate Trump. “Normally, if I did this for a campaign,” Luntz said, “I’d have destroyed the candidate by this point.”

Luntz may not understand why Trump’s supporters are so persistently devoted, but their behavior is similar to what I’ve seen from people who are committed to anti-science beliefs.

In a 2014 study, Brendan Nyhan and several other researchers found that when parents with negative feelings about vaccines were presented with evidence that vaccines do not cause autism, they actually reported being less likely to vaccinate their children. The corrective information had a negative effect.
(During the September GOP debate, by the way, Donald Trump falsely blamed vaccines for autism and said a vaccine “looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child.”)

I asked Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, about Trump’s strength in the face of attacks. “For highly controversial issues and political figures, there’s a risk that correct information is not only ineffective, but can make misconceptions worse,” Nyhan said. “People who are exposed to correct information in the context of a debate over a controversial issue can end up believing more strongly in the misperception than people who never saw the correct information.” This phenomenon is known as the “backfire effect.”

People often reject information about science, and politics, because they engage in motivated reasoning, according to Emily Thorson of George Washington University, who studies the lingering effects of misinformation on people’s opinions. “People’s pre-existing attitudes just invariably shape what they choose to believe, what facts they actually believe, what facts they actually retain, whether or not they actually believe corrections,” said Thorson. She gave me the example of Donald Trump supporters who have fallen through the gaps in the U.S. economy. “We know that in general, the unemployment rate is pretty good, the economy is doing well, but for somebody who doesn’t have a job, it doesn’t feel like that for them,” she said. “That’s going to shape what they choose to believe.”

Trump supporters have their own narrative about the economy. Carville told me he thought Trump’s supporters’ affection, while distasteful, was “understandable,” because Trump made sense of why they couldn’t find good jobs. “Trump has an explanation: ‘Stupid politicians have betrayed you to immigrants,’ ” Carville said, “What’s Jeb’s explanation? Their decision to support Trump is not irrational.”

Thorson agreed. “As much as the things that Trump is saying are wrong, there is an internal coherence to them that I think is compelling to [his supporters],” she said. And it’s hard to correct these misconceptions.

Another reason accurate information can backfire is because of mistrust for the source. In November, Trump claimed that American Muslims celebrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. “I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as [the World Trade Center] was coming down,” Trump said. This was incorrect and has been debunked repeatedly by fact-checkers—but the corrections might not help. “The Republican Party has told their base: You can’t trust the mainstream media,” said Nyhan. “When the media tries to debunk a Trump falsehood, it doesn’t work, and because of how the backfire effect works, sometimes it makes it worse.”

Thorson’s research shows that even people who accept the corrections may still retain the attitude they took from the incorrect information. “Initial misinformation has a stronger effect,” she told me. “We hear [someone say] Muslims celebrating [Sept. 11] and we have this gut reaction. We hear the correction and intellectually we know it’s false, but it doesn’t bring our attitudes back down in a symmetrical way. These belief echoes persist.” So even for Trump supporters who accept that he was wrong on this issue, many of them likely still hold just as tightly to the same pro-Trump, anti-Muslim, attitudes.

Which still leaves the Republican establishment with a huge problem: How do they stop Trump?
In statements made after his focus group, Luntz acted as if Donald Trump was unique in his appeal. Thorson told me that while she thought Trump was “absolutely unique” as a candidate because of disregard for the establishment and his rejection of the “norms of politics,” she said, “I think the way that voters are responding to him is not necessarily unique.” It’s not unusual for people to reject corrections and stand by a candidate they believe in.

Nyhan believes Trump’s name recognition has made it harder to change people’s opinions about him. “The closest analogue … from my research is Sarah Palin,” Nyhan said. “[Palin had] become so controversial among Republicans that how people responded to hearing she was wrong varied based on how they felt about her,” with supporters maintaining their support no matter her mistakes.

But well-known candidates still lose. “Republicans keep saying, if this happened to any other candidate, they would be destroyed, going back to the John McCain quote months ago that people thought might end his campaign,” Nyhan said, referring to when Trump said Sen. McCain was “not a war hero.” But Nyhan says establishment that Republicans have “overstated” the extent to which they have challenged Trump and that Trump has received more positive news coverage than people recognize.

When it comes to best practices for dealing with backfire effect, Nyhan suggests people looking to correct misconceptions use sources that are credible to their target audience. He pointed to a news article examining the myth that Obamacare funds “death panels.” The story included the information that doctors, as well as health policy experts who oppose the Affordable Care Act, agree that the act does not promote death panels. Attributing factual information to trusted sources, such as doctors and the likely political allies of people who have encountered the myth, makes for a more persuasive fact check.

And, of course, family and friends are also a trusted source for information, for better or worse. “The most effective persuader is always going to be someone you know well,” said Thorson.

So in 2016, Republicans against Trump must resolve to tell Grandpa not to vote for him.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Record of a Vanishing Landscape


Film court réalisé à l'occasion de la sortie du livre "Arctique", signé par le photographe Vincent Munier, et paru aux éditions Kobalann en 2015.
Livre disponible sur
Images : Vincent Munier
Musique : Rougge
Editing : Laurent Joffrion

Watch it HERE

This is a tour de force.  Simply breathtaking.  And the best news is, there's a book of these gorgeous images.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Silly Dog Photos


Christian Vieler, a 45-year-old photographer from Waltrop, Germany, has been shooting fun photos of dogs for the past three years. He initially got into pup portraiture completely by accident: He bought a camera in 2012, and wasn’t quite sure how to use it, so, he shot a picture of a dog to figure it out.

“I took my first [photo of a dog] as a simple flashlight and shutter speed test in my studio,” Vieler told The Huffington Post. “But after I got the first funny results, I started asking every client that came to my studio with a dog if I could shoot them.”

He then started uploading the images to a Facebook page he called “Fotos Frei Schnauze.” The page eventually garnered more than 50,000 followers, who all begged for more pup photos.

These portraits of dogs trying to catch treats capture a plethora of precious puppy emotions. For instance, some dogs appear shocked or confused. Others seem joyous or sad. Then there are the hilarious few that seem so nonchalant about the snack shooting towards their snout, that they completely miss it.

“Every second dog isn't able to catch treats,” Vieler said.

And why does Vieler think that dogs are the perfect subjects to shoot?

“Dogs never complain about a bad session,” he said. “They don't even seem to mind as long as treats keep coming.”

Time to Take Out the Trash

A Trump nomination win could spell the end of the conservative party

The Japan Times  by George F. Will  Dec 29, 2015 

WASHINGTON – If you look beyond Donald Trump’s comprehensive unpleasantness — is there a disagreeable human trait he does not have? — you might see this: He is a fundamentally sad figure. 

His compulsive boasting is evidence of insecurity. His unassuageable neediness suggests an aching hunger for others’ approval to ratify his self-admiration. His incessant announcements of his self-esteem indicate that he is not self-persuaded. Now, panting with a puppy’s insatiable eagerness to be petted, Trump has reveled in the approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin, murderer and war criminal.

Putin slyly stirred America’s politics by saying Trump is “very … talented,” adding that he welcomed Trump’s promise of “closer, deeper relations,” whatever that might mean, with Russia. Trump announced himself flattered to be “so nicely complimented” by a “highly respected” man: “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good.”

When MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said Putin “kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries,” Trump replied that “at least he’s a leader.” Besides, Trump breezily asserted, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.” Two days later, Trump, who rarely feigns judiciousness, said: “It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”

Well. Perhaps the 56 journalists murdered were coincidental victims of amazingly random violence that the former KGB operative’s police state is powerless to stop. It has, however, been “proven,” perhaps even to Trump’s exacting standards, that Putin has dismembered Ukraine. (Counts one and two at the 1946 Nuremberg trials concerned conspiracy to wage, and waging, aggressive war.)

Until now, Trump’s ever-more-exotic effusions have had an almost numbing effect. Almost. But by his embrace of Putin, and by postulating a slanderous moral equivalence — Putin kills journalists, the United States kills terrorists, what’s the big deal, or the difference? — Trump has forced conservatives to recognize their immediate priority.

Certainly conservatives consider it crucial to deny the Democratic Party a third consecutive term controlling the executive branch. Extending from eight to 12 years its use of unbridled executive power would further emancipate the administrative state from control by either a withering legislative branch or a supine judiciary. But first things first. Conservatives’ highest priority now must be to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in this, the GOP’s third epochal intraparty struggle in 104 years.

In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for the Republican nomination on an explicitly progressive platform. Having failed to win the nomination, he ran a third-party campaign against the Republican nominee, President William Howard Taft, and the Democratic nominee, New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson, who that November would become the first person elected president who was deeply critical of the American founding.

TR shared Wilson’s impatience with the separation of powers, which both men considered an 18th-century relic incompatible with a properly energetic executive. Espousing unconstrained majoritarianism, TR favored a passive judiciary deferential to elected legislatures and executives; he also endorsed the powers of popular majorities to overturn judicial decisions and recall all public officials.

Taft finished third, carrying only Utah and Vermont. But because Taft hewed to conservatism, and was supported by some other leading Republicans (e.g., Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, one of TR’s closest friends, and Elihu Root, TR’s secretary of war and then secretary of state), the Republican Party survived as a counterbalance to a progressive Democratic Party.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater mounted a successful conservative insurgency against a Republican establishment that was content to blur and dilute the Republican distinctiveness that had been preserved 52 years earlier. Goldwater defeated New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for the nomination, just as Taft had defeated TR, a former New York governor. Like Taft, Goldwater was trounced (he carried six states). But the Republican Party won five of the next seven presidential elections. In two of them, Ronald Reagan secured the party’s continuity as the custodian of conservatism.

In 2016, a Trump nomination would not just mean another Democratic presidency. It would also mean the loss of what Taft and then Goldwater made possible — a conservative party as a constant presence in U.S. politics.

It is possible Trump will not win any primary, and that by the middle of March our long national embarrassment will be over. But this avatar of unfettered government and executive authoritarianism has mesmerized a large portion of Republicans for six months. The larger portion should understand this:

One hundred and four years of history is in the balance. If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either.

George F. Will writes a column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs for The Washington Post. © 2015, The Washington Post Writers Group