This NPR story comes at a perfect time given the current discussion over framing. Although ostensibly about rumors, the story makes several good points that can be applied to the current “troubles”.
The story examines several rumors, including the Obama is a muslim rumor, and points out that, usually, attempts to refute or debunk rumors end up adding to the credibility of the rumor. The NPR piece also links to this New York Times piece:
Consider, for starters, this paradox of social psychology, a problem for myth busters everywhere: repeating a claim, even if only to refute it, increases its apparent truthfulness. In 2003, the psychologist Ian Skurnik and several of his colleagues asked senior citizens to sit through a computer presentation of a series of health warnings that were randomly identified as either true or false — for example, “Aspirin destroys tooth enamel” (true) or “Corn chips contain twice as much fat as potato chips” (false). A few days later, they quizzed the seniors on what they had learned.
The psychologists expected that seniors would mistakenly remember some false statements as true. What was remarkable, though, was which claims they most often got wrong — the ones they had been exposed to multiple times. In other words, the more that researchers had stressed that a given warning was false, the more likely seniors were to eventually come to believe it was true. (College students in the study did not make the same mistakes.)
The best one can do is recite the facts – sans mention of the rumour itself. What does this mean for the current situation? Let’s flip it on it’s head somewhat. PZ went to a screening of the movie Expelled and was singled out and kicked out of the movie theater by the producer of the movie. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins was let in. Sans supporting details, these are the facts. Truth can be spread the same way rumor can and with the same effects – the phenomenon works in reverse. Everytime the producers try to spin, rationalize, or deny the facts they are only giving them more credibility. So how did PZ “frame” what happened? By reciting the facts (okay, there was some hysterical laughter). The producers, having the whole premise of their movie undermined, are now spinning hysterically and have canceled all screenings of the movie – a panicked reaction if I have ever seen one. In the process they are giving credibility to PZ’s statement of the facts. Continued statements of the facts should prove even more beneficial.