Science of Lies

There are lies others tell us and there are lies we tell ourselves.

What is the science of lies?

Recently journalists have invoked neuroscience to explain everything from women’s orgasms to the Republican brain.

An article I read this week distilled the Republican platform as “equal parts truth, omission, chutzpah and lies.”

The spate of lies and half-truths invoked by political campaigns has spawned a whole new niche in journalism: political lie-detectors.

Our daily newspaper in Portland now carries Politifact, which offers readers a “scorecard separating fact from fiction.”

Stories and sources can earn a score ranging from completely true or false, with in-between (half-truth or mostly false), and the completely “pants on fire” label from the Truth-o-meter.

This gives me pause: since when it is required that consumers of information need fact-checking to tell us when a news source or political figure is lying?

In his book, The Republican Brian, science writer Chris Mooney presents data that people who are more politically conservative are less willing than others to hear information that contradicts their beliefs.

Global warming is used as the prime example to illustrate how some individuals discount scientific evidence in favor of their belief systems.

But recent reports of a meta-study about organic vs. conventional foods (they found no nutritional differences) engendered foul cries by folks heavily invested in the benefits of organic food.

Results were discounted: the science was poorly done, the authors had vested interests, their measures were incorrect.

The same argument has been launched against conservatives who discount global warming: bad science and vested interests.

Seems that we weave our own lies about hold them dear when threatened by information that cuts through our beliefs.

Most likely this is part of the human condition as evidenced by our reluctance to listen to viewpoints dissimilar from our own.

We create our own stories. The danger comes when we believe them so much we ignore the world beyond the story.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, censorship, ethics, framing, health, journalism, news bias, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Science of Lies

  1. Patrick Lu says:

    One of my friends worked at a lab this past summer and he had the same experience. Whenever there was data that was against the researcher’s hypothesis, the researcher assumed that there had been a mistake made and had everyone in the lab run every test again. My friend eventually quit because he didn’t like dealing with this “bad science”.


  2. AtulBhatS says:

    Science is now manipulated for people’s benefits. Especially Global warming as you said. At first no one cared. Now a lot of companies highlight Green Products so people buy them. This is a shame.


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