General Discussion Correcting Someone With Facts Often Makes Them Even More Misinformed, Scientists Show

Latest News & Videos

Shawn Hopkins submitted a new blog post:

Correcting Someone With Facts Often Makes Them Even More Misinformed, Scientists Show

You've been there before. You get in an argument with some pinhead, online or in real life, who is wrong about something. You hit them with a flurry of facts that authoritatively show them they are wrong about that thing. And you get?

You get nowhere. Showing them facts only seems to make them dig in their heels and dedicate their lives to being wrong.

Scientists have noticed this, too, and many of them have come to the same conclusion. Facts don't work. There are some cases when simply...
Continue reading the Original Blog Post
This is a highly intelligent, articulate, and well written New Yorker article regarding one of the greatest and most persistent obstacles to scientific, social, and political progression: the back fire effect, in which the presentation of factual, demonstrable evidence disproving an incorrect belief will actually cause some to feel threatened and subsequently double down and even more vehemently defend their challenged world view. (The often quoted meme regarding the futility of playing chess with pigeons comes immediately to mind, as does the baying donkey from a certain comedic animated series.)

This back fire effect is inarguably one of the most significant drivers for the rising anti-intellectualism movement (branded as "anti-elitism") and its opposition to the demonstrable scientific facts of evolution, vaccinations, the true age of the Earth and the Universe, climate change, etc.

Thankfully, history has shown in the long run that (baring a few extreme and persistent outlying exceptions) society eventually overcomes the back fire effect and accepts such realities as a round rather than a flat Earth, a heliocentric rather than a geocentric solar system, awarding political power via regular democratic elections rather than by virtue of a monarch's birthright, etc. Within the past few decades alone, western democracies have seen major social shifts towards progressivism when it comes to gender equality, same-sex rights, drug regulation rather than prohibition, etc--especially among younger generations. This gives me hope, but it is still a concerned hope as there are certain issues, most prominently climate change, in which humanity is rapidly running out of time as we exhaust our efforts overcoming the anti-intellectual opposition's stubborn obstructionism rather than dealing with these at-hand issues and progressing ourselves even further.


Maria Konnikova wrote up this article about Why people persist in believing things that just aren't true, except that it suggests that... basically, it's their problem. As in, individually, if somebody isn't predisposed to adjusting an opinion, it could possibly be because it's deeply-held. That sounds obvious, but if "deeply held belief" is a matter of identity survival, then it might be more likely that people can change their deeply held opinions when they are not threatened and completely comfortable rather than when confronted (or "threatened"). But it shouldn't be up to the people around them to make sure that a person is comfortable enough to see what's right, right? Some people just have a chip on their shoulder and will fight people who aren't their enemy, to the death for entirely the wrong thing.
I would say that there are certain, critically important issues in which the impact of the stubborn, irrational refusal of some to accept demonstrable, factual, scientific reality goes well beyond such refusal being merely just their problem--as the countering obstructionism hinders society's progression in attempting to deal with these realities as we should, thereby making it everyone's problem.

As I stated in my earlier comment: humanity is rapidly running out of time with respect to climate change as we exhaust our efforts overcoming the anti-intellectual opposition's stubborn obstructionism rather than dealing with the issues at-hand and progressing ourselves even further.

As additional examples, consider: the resurgence of diseases as people refuse to vaccinate on the basis of a supposed link to the onset of autism that has been debunked, the actual reversal of the USA's limited, weak gun control laws as any attempt to discuss sensible gun laws is meet with panic screams about the Second Amendment, the similar irrational panic that thwarts attempts to implement sensible policies on other controversial polices like immigration and universal health care, and the degradation in the quality of scientific education in public schools when accepted and proven principles like evolution and the Cosmological Big Bang are falsely presented as being dubious and moreover creationist views are also falsely presented as being equally valid scientifically.

In each of the examples presented above, it is clear that the obstructionism of those entrenched in their stubborn, irrational refusal to accept demonstrable realities is holding back and even harming society at large. They are making their refusal to accept demonstrable, scientific facts everyone's problem.

(I must also point out that Maria Konnikova's phenomenal New Yorker article regarding the back-fire effect is the very same article that was already being discussed in the original post and my subsequent comment.)


Oops. I don't recall why I couldn't have caught that, but I guess the link for some reason wouldn't load on my browser another time and I just read the comments. Sorry.

Now by "their problem" I mean that changing somebody's opinion is a matter of examining personality issues as the primary concern instead of browbeating someone with what's right/correct/true, which (as we've established) would not be persuasive.

Not that we should just ignore or continue to be amicable towards people who live their lives based on false information and make the world world a wreck for everybody else--that is definitely not what I meant.

The only other way I can see to resolve this is by relying that the next generation would be detached from the emotionally-charged debates and see them as immensely proscriptive, perhaps being more cool-headedly able to weigh the facts. The only problem is that would take an entire generation and a climate conducive to cynical disillusionment.
Last edited:
I can definitely see what you're saying with regards to browbeating. If even demonstrable facts are presented in an overly aggressive, browbeating manner that sharply condemns one's world view right off the bat, then it's hardly surprising that the natural response to such a presentation would be defiant entrenchment into their challenged view--i.e. the back-fire effect. However, in many cases people are so devotedly beholden to their debunked opinions that even a soft sell that calmly attempts to utilize logic and reason to present the factual counter-arguments meets the metaphorical brick wall.

I have hope with respect to future generations overcoming the currently entrenched debates and moving onto actually dealing with the issues at hand as we truly should! History has shown that, in the long-run, society by-and-large eventually accepts the factual reality that once blasphemously challenged traditional views. And indeed, even today there are substantial differences in opinion polls between millennial and older generations on various key subjects--with the millennial's favouring more progressive and scientifically validated stances.

Regardless, in certain cases the challenges are mounting as we continue to debate their very nature instead of dealing with them--and I question how long it'll take for society to by-and-large accept the factual, demonstrable realities of the matters at hand.