The “Backfire Effect” and why Global Warmists ignore facts which contradict their opinions

This is about a study on how facts – especially corrective facts – are ignored when some opinion or perception is deeply held. The study is about political perceptions and it strikes me that it is very relevant to the IPCC and the alarmists for whom the Global Warming hypothesis (that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of Global warming) is a deeply held political belief.

Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions

Abstract: We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

The behaviour of the IPCC and the Global Warming coterie in ignoring or explaining away real observations in favour of their computer models has always smacked of religious fanaticism rather than scientific objectivity. They have shown a preference for coming up with ever more fanciful explanations about why their predictions are not panning out rather than accept that the basis of their predictions may be mistaken. The heat lurking in the deep oceans or Chinese pollution blocking out the sun or “old ice” declining invisibly while “new ice” increases have all been suggested as explanations for

  1. the recent lack of warming,
  2. the broken link between global temperature and carbon dioxide concentration, and
  3. increasing global ice extent.

It would seem that the global warming brigade are an “ideological sub-group” suffering from the “backfire effect”.

In this paper, we report the results of two rounds of experiments investigating the extent to which corrective information embedded in realistic news reports succeeds in reducing prominent misperceptions about contemporary politics. In each of the four experiments, which were conducted in fall 2005 and spring 2006, ideological subgroups failed to update their beliefs when presented with corrective information that runs counter to their predispositions. Indeed, in several cases, we find that corrections actually strengthened misperceptions among the most strongly committed subjects.

…. Political beliefs about controversial factual questions in politics are often closely linked with one’s ideological preferences or partisan beliefs. As such, we expect that the reactions we observe to corrective information will be influenced by those preferences. ……… Specifically, people tend to display bias in evaluating political arguments and evidence, favoring those that reinforce their existing views and disparaging those that contradict their views.

However, individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views. Instead, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly – what we call a “backfire effect.”


The backfire effects that we found seem to provide further support for the growing literature showing that citizens engage in “motivated reasoning.” While our experiments focused on assessing the effectiveness of corrections, the results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically grounded factual beliefs – an empirical finding with important theoretical implications.

It is a little depressing that  just using facts (science) may not be of much use in getting people to correct their misperceptions when these take the form of religious belief.

Many citizens seem unwilling to revise their beliefs in the face of corrective information, and attempts to correct those mistaken beliefs may only make matters worse.

It is the sobering – and depressing – reality that facts (read science) are always subservient to even completely irrational religious beliefs.

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6 Responses to “The “Backfire Effect” and why Global Warmists ignore facts which contradict their opinions”

  1. John Sturman Says:

    There will always be local or regional anomalies of measurements that cannot be immediately explained. There are also short temporal variations in long term trends. Global Warming deniers pick these and use them as evidence to counter global long term trends. If all the facts were laid out Global Warming is irrefutable. We can now measure global temperatures using satellites. Fact: average global temperatures are increasing.

  2. John Greenfraud Says:

    This effect was not only recognized, but used prolifically by the KGB to subvert other countries through the educational systems. It was highly effective. The soviets described these people, such as the global warmists, as useful idiots. A descriptive term, not a slam.

  3. Reality check Says:

    “It is the sobering – and depressing – reality that facts (read science) are always subservient to even completely irrational religious beliefs.”

    Science itself may be in part to blame for this. Science could not succeed quickly and easily, so it began using litigation and religious-like fervor to “sell” theories. This was especially true with evolution and climate change. In part, I think, science thought it could replace God (and thus any opposition) and chose this path to prove it. Sadly, it just changed science into religion and did nothing to remove God from the conversation. It merely substituted one god for another.

    Also, while facts are not immediately believed or may backfire, continually standing by the facts and repeating them eventually may triumph. It could take years, but it’s the only way I have found to break through the “faith” in bad science block.

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