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Neilbert
07-25-2010, 11:55 AM
This should surprise nobody:
taken from NPR (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128490874) (audio version available).

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We'd like to believe that most of what we know is accurate and that if presented with facts to prove we're wrong, we would sheepishly accept the truth and change our views accordingly.

A new body of research out of the University of Michigan suggests that's not what happens, that we base our opinions on beliefs and when presented with contradictory facts, we adhere to our original belief even more strongly.

The phenomenon is called backfire, and it plays an especially important role in how we shape and solidify our beliefs on immigration, the president's place of birth, welfare and other highly partisan issues.

Have the facts ever convinced you to change your mind, and how did it happen? Call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We begin with Dana Milbank, national political columnist for The Washington Post, who joins us from a studio at the newspaper here in Washington. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. DANA MILBANK (National Political Columnist, Washington Post): Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And on Sunday, the Post published a piece you wrote that started with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's claim that law enforcement agencies found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that had been beheaded.

Mr. MILBANK: Yes, I think Governor Brewer lost her head on that one in particular. Now, there's a huge problem with violence on the border, but virtually all of it happens to be on the Mexican side. And what happened in the case of this claim is a news organization out there called the Arizona Guardian called all the coroner's office, the medical examiners in those border counties, and they could not think of a single instance of an immigration-related beheading.

I called the governor's office to see if they could give me some of this decapitation information, and they didn't so much as return an email or a phone call. So I suspect if they had evidence of that, they would have furnished it.

CONAN: And no updates since publication.

Mr. MILBANK: There is no reply still.

CONAN: There are any number of stories about the immigration issue, which is really hot right now, but border violence on the rise, Phoenix becoming the world's number-two kidnapping capital, illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings. The majority of those who are crossing the border are doing so as drug mules, and you say all wrong.

Mr. MILBANK: Yes, in each of those cases. Now, the drug mules was again Governor Brewer, and in the case of the number-two kidnapping capital in the world, that's being voiced around town on the various networks by John McCain.

So we're in this curious situation where the Arizona Senator McCain and Arizona Governor Brewer, vying to see who can repel the largest number of tourists from Arizona. So they seem to be attempting to do in their own interests.

CONAN: And the facts, as you suggest, are not elusive here. The issue about crime rates and the border counties has been, you suggest, exhaustively reported in the major newspaper in that state.

Mr. MILBANK: They have been, and the FBI keeps statistics on this, and the fact is that violence is flat to slightly lower than it was a decade or even two decades ago. But when this is pointed out, the President said as much in his speech, people get indignant, and they respond with anecdotes like such-and-such rancher was killed in March, or this trooper was shot in April.

Now, these things are true, but of course, the anecdotes don't by themselves don't prove that there's actually more crime than there was previously. And then the response to this story has been very much the same, just sort of, like, angry. They suggest that I'm making up the facts. But I just, you know, pulled them from the FBI website. Now, I guess the FBI could be making up the facts, but I don't know how far we can take this.

CONAN: And this is obviously one set of issues around immigration, which has been, as we suggested earlier, a very hot subject of discussion in recent months, since Arizona passed the controversial law. But it is not isolated. This kind of political discourse, if you will, is not isolated to immigration.

Mr. MILBANK: No, I think that's right. As you introduced the subject, I mean, it brings to mind the birthers' claim. And, you know, I first heard about this, I said, well, that's kind of interesting, but then even once a copy of the birth certificate was posted online, it became, well, that's not the real birth certificate, or there's some other birth certificate.

I mean, we've had, you know, people making allegations that there's FEMA is operating a concentration camp, I think, in Wyoming, and it is almost as if no body of evidence that disproves these things will convince people not to believe it.

And I mean, this is because we have a Democratic president now, and, you know, there were similar things going on with George W. Bush. Remember the radio that he was supposed to be having in the back of his jacket during the debates?

CONAN: Oh, right, so he could pipe in...

Mr. MILBANK: They didn't do a very good job of it, if they were piping it in.

CONAN: If they were piping it in, well, also that the whole 9/11 plot was a government plot to justify war.

Mr. MILBANK: Exactly.

CONAN: Well, Brendan Nyhan is a health policy researcher at the University of Michigan. He recently published "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions." That was in the June issue of the Journal of Political Behavior, and he joins us now from the studios of WUOM, Michigan Radio, our member station in Ann Arbor. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. BRENDAN NYHAN (Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research, University of Michigan): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And when facts are readily available, why are they not enough to change people's minds?

Mr. NYHAN: Well, the problem is, you know, as human beings, we want to believe, you know, the things that we already believe. And so when you hear some information that contradicts your pre-existing views, unfortunately, what we tend to do is think of why we believed those things in the first place.

And, you know, so when, you know, we get these corrections, we tend to say I'm right, and I'm going to stick with my view. And the thing that my research, which is with Jason Reifler at Georgia State University, found is that in some cases, that corrective information can actually make the problem worse.

So some people who read Dana's article about immigration may actually have come away from it more strongly committed to the belief that crime has gone up along the border.

CONAN: And indeed are probably demanding his birth certificate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NYHAN: That's right.

CONAN: This is a phenomenon described as backfire. You say it's a natural defense mechanism to avoid cognitive dissonance.

Mr. NYHAN: That's right. You know, it's hard, it's threatening to us to admit that things we believe are wrong. And all of us, liberals and conservatives, you know, have some beliefs that aren't true, and when we find that out, you know, it's threatening to our beliefs and ourselves.

And so what we think happens is that the way people, you know, try to resolve this in some cases is to, you know, buttress that belief that they initially held, and, you know, there's a long line of research showing results like this.

CONAN: And again, we'd like to think of our brain as something that's been trained in, you know, Cartesian logic, when in fact, our brain is sort of hard-wired to leap to conclusions very quickly.

Mr. NYHAN: That's right. And what's interesting is in some of these cases, it's the people who are most sophisticated who are best able to defend their beliefs and keep coming up with more elaborate reasons why 9/11 was really a conspiracy or how the weapons of mass destruction were actually smuggled to Syria or whatever the case may be.

So this isn't a question of education, necessarily, or sophistication. It's really about, it's really about preserving that belief that we initially held.

CONAN: And you define sophistication, as I read your piece, you define it as somebody who is right a lot of the time, but the 10 percent of the time they're wrong, boy, they stick to being wrong.

Mr. NYHAN: That's right. That's right. And, you know, I should note that this isn't just a matter of how you interpret information. It's the information you seek out in the first place.

So some of the people in the case of Dana's article who, you know, are committed to the belief that, you know, immigration has increased crime, may avoid information that contradicts that belief in the first place. So it's not just a matter of how they react to reading the article, it's that they may not even see it in the first place.

CONAN: And Dana, that's even perhaps more relevant in a world where we don't have to read any general-issue newspaper if we don't want to. We can find places where we can go to find people who agree with us.

Mr. MILBANK: I think that's exactly what's happening, and that's what's reinforcing this sort of a psychological predisposition that Brendan's talking about, and that is if you only get your information from, say, Fox News, or you only get your information from the Huffington Post, well, what they're telling you may be accurate, but they may leave out things that might sort of weigh in on the other side of the issue.

So then if you do stumble across something that undermines everything that you've been hearing, well, you get confused, you get angry, and, you know, a lot of the letter-writers in response to this particular story were saying I have my facts wrong. Of course, they didn't furnish facts in contradiction of that, although one did say I was full of whale poop, and I wasn't even sure whales made poop, but I didn't want to get into a factual...

CONAN: It's nice to get ambergris into the conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the talk, as well, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Call and tell us if there's been an occasion where facts have helped you change your mind and how it happened. Woody's(ph) on the line, Woody calling from Muncie, Indiana.

WOODY (Caller): Hi, I really enjoy your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

WOODY: Yeah, I was raised in a pretty conservative, evangelical, Baptist church and family, and I kind of embraced the creationism as a worldview kind of by osmosis. I didn't - it wasn't really pushed on me.

But anyway, when I decided to become a minister, and it wasn't because of that issue, I kind of adopted that viewpoint, along with (technical difficulties) really thought through at the time. And 40-some years later, I'm retired. I was a pastor, I still am part-time, but I've changed my views radically in some regards on issues and especially on creationism. I embraced...

CONAN: And what was the engine of...

WOODY: Pardon me?

CONAN: What was the engine of change here?

WOODY: Well, I think it was just the facts. You know, I would read, and I'd listen to all kinds of things, you know, not just religious arguments, to scientists. And I always have been an eclectic reader.

And it's just the the evidence that God created in some way that we don't understand or that creation happened in some way we don't understand, I continue to believe that God did it, but I don't, I don't think the Bible tells us how he did it.

Basically, the Genesis accounts of creation just tell us that he did it, not how.

CONAN: All right. Well...

WOODY: And the people yeah, the people who want to argue that it tells how, and, you know, especially those who embrace seven-day creation theory, totally miss the poetic nuances of the intent of the authors.

CONAN: Woody, I'm afraid your line is breaking up a little bit, but thank you very much for the call. We appreciate it.

WOODY: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about, well, facts, and how come they can seem to matter so little in many arguments. Have the facts ever convinced you to change your mind? Call and tell us the story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's one of the underpinnings of democracy: Informed citizens make better voters and better decisions. If you're wrong, all it takes is the facts and you change your mind. That's the popular belief, anyway.

The problem, as we've been hearing, is that's not always the case, especially when it comes to very partisan issues. Have the facts ever convinced you to change your mind? How did it happen? Call and tell us your story. Email is talk@npr.org. The phone number, 800-989-8255. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are: Dana Milbank, national political columnist for the Washington Post, and Brendan Nyhan, a health policy researcher at the University of Michigan. He recently published a study called "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions." You can find a link to that on our website. Again, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Brendan Nyhan, why is it that highly partisan issues seem to be most subject to this backfire phenomenon?

Mr. NYHAN: Well, I think they're the cases where people care most about the actual outcome of the debate. So, you know, if you're going to buy a refrigerator at the store, you really don't care except to buy a good refrigerator.

But in the case of something like your political views, you don't just care about accuracy, you care about you essentially have a team in a lot of cases, right. You're either a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative.

And so you're filtering all the information you receive, you know, through that prism, and so what you end up getting is this real divergence on all sorts of issues, not just on, you know, what policies we should adopt as a country but on actually the underlying facts. And that makes it really hard to have a debate.

You know, if one side says, you know, the sky is blue, and one side says the sky is purple, we have a pretty hard time, you know, actually, you know, agreeing on the premises to actually have a conversation.

CONAN: It's interesting you use the word teams. A lot of us are passionate supporters of one team or another, but the issue is generally resolved by the World Series or when they play each other, that we can come away and say, well, we'll get you again next year.

Mr. NYHAN: Yeah, for a certain portion of the electorate, it is almost like a team sport. And, you know, if these are the people you, you know, identify with an align yourself with, and, you know, you watch your team arguing on cable news and whatever, then, you know, it's going to be natural to want to support your team, right? And so you get the kind of cuing effects where, you know, the elites on your side of the aisle are telling you something, and you really do want to believe it.

And I think, you know, that's an important, you know, point in this conversation is it's not, you know, it's not something about blaming voters. You know, most people don't have a ton of time to check every single thing they hear about politics.

You know, one of the things that I've advocated is holding elites responsible for putting this information out there in the first place, and the kind of fact-checking that Dana has done is one way to do that. And even if it isn't effective at changing people's minds out there, maybe it makes people think twice about putting the information out there in the first place.

CONAN: And Dana, that suggests that there is a, you know, the shame factor: If you can hold the elites responsible for putting out information that's just, well, flat wrong, maybe they can then tell their supporters I might have missed that one.

Mr. MILBANK: Well, I think it's useful to attempt to do that. I'm kind of doubtful that it actually has any effect. I think what's really happening underneath this is, you know, if you look at surveys all across the board, there's declining trust in all of the institutions, whether that's in government, whether that's in the press, whether that's with church. Whatever it is, Americans dont believe anything, so that gives rise to any old wacky conspiracy theory.

And when there are efforts to try to rein this in and say, no, let's agree on the facts, things have sprung up like PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times. They just won a Pulitzer Prize for it, and FactCheck, that's through the University of Pennsylvania, they all come out and say no, here are the facts, this is how it is, and objectively, that's how it is. Except the people who have been just told that their facts are wrong by FactCheck are going to go out and attack FactCheck, so there's no way to sort of referee this because it's not actually grounded in fact anymore, and nobody trusts anybody.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Andrew(ph), Andrew with us from Blacksburg in Virginia.

ANDREW (Caller): Hey. I think the one issue that first came to my mind was nuclear energy. And I think that's still one where, you know, it's even more imperative I think now, especially, with our energy future being discussed a lot in the wake of the BP oil spill.

I used to be an environmental activist. I was party secretary with the Green Party here, actually. That was when I was in college. And I think it was once I got out of college, and once I wasn't as insulated, I think, in the people that I hung around so much, and I started I think I had a couple friends.

I moved after college. I had a couple of friends that we were discussing this issue one day, and they were telling me some about in their travels and having been over in Europe, where they actually use a lot more nuclear energy. And when you come down and look at it, and you look at, you know, the cost of nuclear energy versus the cost of some of the other things we were (technical difficulty) and the environmental cost of things like coal and oil, as we're seeing right now, it's actually got a very good track record.

People like to fixate on Three Mile Island, but, I mean, that's (unintelligible) 30 years.

CONAN: Yeah, it's there's still that waste issue to deal with there, Andrew, but...

ANDREW: That's true, but there's no perfect solution. There's no perfect solution, but still, when you look at the total picture, while there is no perfect solution, it is still a it's probably the best mass-production option that we have right now, in my opinion.

CONAN: All right, Andrew, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. And Brendan Nyhan, I wonder, is there any evidence that over time, as things become perhaps less emotional, the metaphorical, you know, the devil's horns and the tail come off the issue, and people are able to reconsider?

Mr. NYHAN: It's certainly possible. You know, we saw something like this with weapons of mass destruction. You know, that was one of the primary rationales for the war in Iraq, and so even after, you know, that rationale had largely been disproven, people hung on to it. But over time, we saw this kind of flattening out, as people shifted onto other rationales for the war or even came to oppose it.

So I think, you know, as issues become less salient, you know, people can admit, you know, maybe that they were wrong. But that takes a long time, and in a lot of cases, you know, the damage has already been done.

CONAN: I suspect people admit that mistakes were made, not necessarily that they were wrong. Here's an email from Johan(ph) in Dundas in Ontario, Canada:

I am reading Christopher Hitchens' book "God is Not Great" currently. So this phenomenon of evidence rejection is especially relevant to me right now. Are people who adhere to fundamentalist religions more likely to reject evidence and facts in favor of their strongly held views, religious or otherwise? Brendan, is this restricted to one worldview or one political ideology?

Mr. NYHAN: I don't think so. I don't think so. There are people who have made that case in the psychological and political science literatures, but I think the jury is still out. And, you know, the conclusion that my co-author and I came to is that this is really a human problem.

And, you know, we conducted experiments where we found similar resistance to evidence among liberals, and there's other examples like that out there, as well.

CONAN: Let's go next to Chrissie(ph), Chrissie with us from San Francisco.

CHRISSIE (Caller): Yes, I'm just calling to say I changed my mind on two different issues, one about gun ownership. I was originally from Utah, and I didn't think that people should be able to have guns, and I just thought people were crazy to actually have their own guns.

And then I started to talking to more people and kind of educated myself. And it turned out the man that I married, his father makes bullets, and I went out shooting, and I actually think that people should be able to own their guns. Of course, I think background checks, and, you know, there needs to be definitely some controls over that. But I changed my mind pretty dramatically just through, really through self-education.

And then I also changed my point of view on the death penalty. I really believe that people, if they were convicted, they were dead wrong, and they really should have, you know, should be killed.

And then I educated myself again, and I just don't really believe in the death penalty at all. I just don't think that everybody has the same upbringing, the same choices, the same monetary backgrounds, and so I'm really against the death penalty now.

So I've changed my point of view just really through, I think, self-education and actually really great programs like this that are offered to us through NPR.

CONAN: Well, Chrissie, that's very kind of you to say. Thank you very much for that, appreciate it.

CHRISSIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email, this from Patrick in Puyallup in Washington: This topic is so important, I feel points to the heart of so many of today's social problems, why so much doesn't get done in politics. The lack of humility makes it hard to take an honest look at one's own views and opinions, causing people to stick with talking lines they know to be contrary to the facts.

And Dana, getting back to the immigration issue and the state of Arizona, talking lines they know to be contrary to the facts, I'm not sure that's right.

Mr. MILBANK: I think in some cases, that is right. It's important to make a distinction between beliefs that people hold and the facts. So a lot of your, the emailers and the callers have spoken about, you know, evolution or nuclear energy or guns and the death penalty, obviously, people can have very different opinions, and there should be a debate on all of these things.

But there should be a common body of facts that everybody can agree on and yet have a difference of opinion. I think and that's certainly the case with immigration, as well.

But I think when you have a public figure like John McCain saying Phoenix, the largest city in his own state, is the number-two kidnapping capital in the world, it's already been disproven by neutral, independent parties, and he continues to say it.

I mean, look, you can't say the man's lying because you don't know what's going on inside his head, but you have to say he certainly should know by now that what he is saying is false, yet he continues to say it.

CONAN: The phenomenon also plays out every day in the office of NPR's ombudsman. Alicia Shepard receives and response to listener comments and complaints about NPR News, those so infrequent complaints. And she joins us here in the Studio 3A.

Alicia, nice to have you back on the program.

ALICIA SHEPARD: Thank you.

CONAN: And where do you see this - give us an example of how this manifests itself.

SHEPARD: Well, I wanted to follow up - I will - but with what Dana said, beliefs versus facts, I think it's the context that they selectively hear. And it's just phenomenal to me how I can have people call about the same story and, yet have heard it so differently. And I think that that plays into something called the hostile media effect...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SHEPARD: which is that the more neutral a news story is, the more people are likely to bring their own beliefs and biases and points of view towards that story, and they hear it very selectively.

CONAN: This used to be more difficult in the old days when we just had our memories of audio recordings. These days, there are transcripts.

SHEPARD: There are transcripts and then there is Jon Stewart to remind people what they said once.

CONAN: And give us an example of how this manifests in your office.

SHEPARD: Well, for example, there was a story last week about Netanyahus visit to the White House. And in it, the - one particular listener was very upset and said that this story was very biased. And he said, because it only quoted these people. And then I went back and listened and I spoke with Ari Shapiro who had done the story, and he said, well, I also quoted, and he named two other people who represented that man's views. But he falls into that hostile media effect where he listened very selectively and focused on that. And he was also influenced potentially or - I won't say he was, but he could have been by a piece that was in the National Review Online, particularly criticizing that story.

So sometimes it's not even a matter of whether theyve heard the story, it may be something they've read or a LISTSERV that they're on that says contact the ombudsman, or NPR did this today.

CONAN: I wonder, Dana Milbank, does it help when your stories are always in black and white?

Mr. MILBANK: Well, it certainly helps people come up with reasons to disagree with it. I mean, it is nice to be able to point to something and say, you know, show me where the complaint is. I mean, there's a difference between a factual error and just somebody not agreeing with you or feeling that you, you know, sort of stacked the deck one way or the other. If there's a factual error, we want to run a correction. If they're just saying I didn't like what you wrote, well, then maybe you should write a letter to the editor because that's a disagreement of opinion as opposed to a disagreement over fact.

CONAN: Dana Milbank, national political columnist for The Washington Post. Also with us, Brendan Nyhan, a Robert Wood Johnson scholar in health policy research at the University of Michigan, and Alicia Shepard, NPR ombudsman. You're listening TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Brendan Nyhan, I wondered, this is, as I read in your account, a very young field of inquiry.

Mr. NYHAN: It is. You know, political science, for a long time, we focused on things like, could you name all the Supreme Court justices? You know, how many years does a senator serve for, things like that. And, you know, you can do those surveys and you find that people don't know a lot of those things. But I'm not sure it really matters so much whether you know those things. At best, they are proxy for some, you know, more general sense of sophistication about politics.

But these misperceptions, you know, we haven't studied them. And they are important because people are changing their minds in some cases based on the -you know, it's influencing their vote, it's influencing their opinion. And, you know, they're not just holding these misperceptions. They're holding them actually, in some cases, more confidently than people who have the correct view.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NYHAN: So that's part of the reason they're so hard to dissuade.

CONAN: And Alicia Shepard, I'm not going to argue that NPR is never wrong, never makes mistakes. But have there been phenomena where you say, dear reader, if you take a look at the transcript to this story - and I've talked to the reporter and you see that there - the other side that you complained was not represented, was represented, have you - they come back and said, oh, I'm sorry, I was wrong?

SHEPARD: I have to say very rarely does that happen. It's usually, but you didn't consider this or you didn't consider that. I mean, sometimes the transcript is tremendous evidence that it was considered. But it -, I'm sorry, but Mr. Nyhan talked about misperceptions, and I still think it goes back to clinging to your personal beliefs and hearing and reading things through the prism of your personal beliefs.

[Truncated for length]

Ivhon
07-25-2010, 12:32 PM
great read and oh so true.

Davian93
07-25-2010, 01:18 PM
TLDR

Mort
07-25-2010, 06:04 PM
TLDR

Seconded.

Read the first mention of backfire though, it is interesting. Just not "several pages of text" interesting atm :)

Neilbert
07-25-2010, 07:17 PM
TLDR

Ummmmm well the title of the post. Or the audio version available through the link. Oooor just read the first paragraph or so and it's a pretty good summary.

The TLDR is that being proven factually wrong will generally not cause people to re-examine their assumptions, but rather double down and reinforce existing beliefs.

Well, for example, there was a story last week about Netanyahus visit to the White House. And in it, the - one particular listener was very upset and said that this story was very biased. And he said, because it only quoted these people. And then I went back and listened and I spoke with Ari Shapiro who had done the story, and he said, well, I also quoted, and he named two other people who represented that man's views. But he falls into that hostile media effect where he listened very selectively and focused on that. And he was also influenced potentially or - I won't say he was, but he could have been by a piece that was in the National Review Online, particularly criticizing that story.

I liked this paragraph.

Sukoto
07-25-2010, 10:57 PM
Backfire is such a load of crap. I mean, seriously, the guy from Michigan and the guy from Georgia who did the research are clearly just pushing a liberal agenda. How DARE you! I am angry!

nameless
07-26-2010, 12:09 AM
Opinions being based on belief instead of facts is only half the story. The really interesting stuff kicks in when you start looking at how beliefs are linked to physiology. Something as little as whether you're slouching or sitting up straight when you hear new information can drastically affect the way you react to it.

Sei'taer
07-26-2010, 08:38 AM
I think that's a fairly accurate article. I also think it leaves out some things, but all in all...pretty good and I have to agree.

Where you run into a problem is when the facts presented don't match what you see. Even though it is anecdotal, to you it means something because you have seen it. Then, some people just don't like losing. I've been known to change my mind on a few things, and even apologized once or twice (probably once) but it has happened.

An example of what I was talking about above:

If I told you that on scale, the Gulf oil spill was on par with filling Texas Stadium with water and dumping 24 ounces of oil (as near as I can figure it, if I'm wrong, I'll change my mind...we all know about my math skilss lol) in, you probably wouldn't believe me. But if you knew that the Gulf held about 640 quadrillion gallons of water. Figure the amount of oil dumped into the gulf (90 to 180 million, depending on who is telling you, what day it is, whether they have MOM tattooed on their left arm, and if they actually know the flow rates), then it works out to 0.015% or 0.03% of the total gulf water volume. These facts have never been presented, as far as I know, by anyoen in the media and if you were down there and saw all the oil washing onshore, you would assume the entire gulf was totally covered in oil and was going to be ruined for eternity. Not the case...not even close to the case.

That in no way means that the spill isn't a major problem, it just means it isn't a "the world is going to end in starvation and horrible burning death" situation as it is being reported in most of the media and it makes my point about anecdotal eveidence nicely.

Neilbert
07-26-2010, 09:07 AM
Yeah but who cares about the total volume of the oil relative to the volume of the gulf when we are dealing with something that is going to largely sit on top of the water?

It almost reminds me of a conservative professor telling me that there were more trees today in America than there were when Columbus landed. Yes, I know about paper farms, who the fuck cares?

Neilbert
07-26-2010, 10:24 AM
Aarg. How many parts per million is 0.015%? What's the threshold for being harmed by crude oil? There are substances that are harmful in the parts per billion. Hell, nitrates in my fish tank are dangerous at 40 ppm. Vol/Vol is an entirely useless metric on its own. I would advise you not bring it up, at least not on its own, if you are trying to assure any environmentalist.

e: If I were trying to raise fish in a stadium pool and someone dumped 24oz of oil into my tank I would be super fucking pissed.

GonzoTheGreat
07-26-2010, 10:56 AM
A more relevant (to this site, anyway) analogy: the Taint on top of saidin was just a very little bit, compared to the total amount of saidin. Does that mean that it was negligible?

Sei'taer
07-26-2010, 11:21 AM
Aarg. How many parts per million is 0.015%? What's the threshold for being harmed by crude oil? There are substances that are harmful in the parts per billion. Hell, nitrates in my fish tank are dangerous at 40 ppm. Vol/Vol is an entirely useless metric on its own. I would advise you not bring it up, at least not on its own, if you are trying to assure any environmentalist.

e: If I were trying to raise fish in a stadium pool and someone dumped 24oz of oil into my tank I would be super fucking pissed.


That's all well and good and I'm sure somebody has figured it out, and I don't claim to know or even know how to figure it, but it's not relevant to the point I was making.

People believe that if they go down to visit the gulf then they are going to be swimming in a giant lake of ooze. If all you watch is the news on TV then all you see are the pictures of the gulf that have been destroyed by the oil. Tourism is in the shitter in all the gulf states because people have seen the pictures on the news. They have anecdotal eveidence that all the beaches on the gulf are slimed and all the water has a thick oily goo on it. It's not true.

What is true is that the Louisiana coast has been hit damn hard and it'll be years before it's back like it should be, if it ever gets back to the way it was. There are some small parts of other states that have picked up some goo, but for the most part, it's isolated to LA. So why aren't people vacationing down there? They have evidence that it's horrible down there and even when you show them that it's not, they still have it set in their minds from a reputable (sometimes) source that it's bad, so they aren't going to go.

That's all I'm saying.

more relevant (to this site, anyway) analogy: the Taint on top of saidin was just a very little bit, compared to the total amount of saidin. Does that mean that it was negligible?

As far as I'm concerned, the oil shouldn't be there at all. I think I've made that point in the threads on the spill. The point I was making was how people make decisions based on what they believe to be true.

It's like saying that a street racer died in Memphis last night, therefore street racing must be a horrible problem in Memphis. Not true at all, but some people aren't smart enough to check deeper and figure it out based on facts (total deaths, total racers busted, total cars built for street racing, blah blah blah). They just go with what they hear and make it true in their minds.

GonzoTheGreat
07-26-2010, 11:24 AM
It's like saying that a street racer died in Memphis last night, therefore street racing must be a horrible problem in Memphis. Not true at all, but some people aren't smart enough to check deeper and figure it out based on facts (total deaths, total racers busted, total cars built for street racing, blah blah blah). They just go with what they hear and make it true in their minds.People are dumb. In other news: water still oily.

Sei'taer
07-26-2010, 04:23 PM
People are dumb. In other news: water still oily.

I think people are ignorant, not dumb. And the water in the gulf was always a little oily. When Memaw weighs in a 300 lbs and covers herself, her 12 children and 27 grandchildren (who all weigh as much or more than she does) with cocoa butter and dives off in the gulf, then it's pretty much going to be an oily day. I'd say that's more in tune with the taint on saidin. I hate the smell and feel of cocoa butter...nasty shit and it will make you insane.

Davian93
07-26-2010, 05:33 PM
I think people are ignorant, not dumb. And the water in the gulf was always a little oily. When Memaw weighs in a 300 lbs and covers herself, her 12 children and 27 grandchildren (who all weigh as much or more than she does) with cocoa butter and dives off in the gulf, then it's pretty much going to be an oily day. I'd say that's more in tune with the taint on saidin. I hate the smell and feel of cocoa butter...nasty shit and it will make you insane.

Ignorance and Stupidity are two sides of the same coin.

Sei'taer
07-26-2010, 05:48 PM
Ignorance and Stupidity are two sides of the same coin.

...but you can fix ignorant.

Marie Curie 7
07-27-2010, 12:24 AM
Aarg. How many parts per million is 0.015%? What's the threshold for being harmed by crude oil? There are substances that are harmful in the parts per billion. Hell, nitrates in my fish tank are dangerous at 40 ppm. Vol/Vol is an entirely useless metric on its own. I would advise you not bring it up, at least not on its own, if you are trying to assure any environmentalist.


1% corresponds to 1 part per 100.
0.1% = 1 part per 1000.
0.01% = 1 part per 10,000, or 10 parts per 100,000, or 100 parts per million.

So, 0.015% is 150 parts per million.

Neilbert
07-27-2010, 01:18 AM
I thought that the % was in Vol/Vol. To get ppm you would need to account for the differences in the masses of the molecule. I have no idea what the average composition of the leaking oil is.

I can do direct conversions in my head...

Neilbert
07-27-2010, 01:26 AM
They have evidence that it's horrible down there and even when you show them that it's not, they still have it set in their minds from a reputable (sometimes) source that it's bad, so they aren't going to go.

That's all I'm saying.

People aren't logical. They just make associations and make intuitive leaps. People aren't going to the gulf because it has a bad rep right now. That's pretty simple. The challenge is getting them to challenge those associations. Telling them you know a great beach that is oil free doesn't get rid of the negative associations. Reprogramming is hard. It sucks.

It's like saying that a street racer died in Memphis last night, therefore street racing must be a horrible problem in Memphis. Not true at all, but some people aren't smart enough to check deeper and figure it out based on facts (total deaths, total racers busted, total cars built for street racing, blah blah blah). They just go with what they hear and make it true in their minds.

I don't think leaking any amount of oil into the oceans is acceptable, and those who do so should, at the very least, not be allowed to work in the oil industry. Call me radical. Chop up the business and sell it to those who can run it well. Let the free market get to work. Much like how those who die racing should not be allowed to race.

GonzoTheGreat
07-27-2010, 03:34 AM
...but you can fix ignorant.The stupidity comes in* when the ignorance is deliberate. And, of course, that makes it a lot more difficult to fix too.

* Actually, the timing would be a bit different than suggested here, but that's just a detail. Or something.

Sei'taer
07-27-2010, 04:49 PM
The stupidity comes in* when the ignorance is deliberate. And, of course, that makes it a lot more difficult to fix too.

* Actually, the timing would be a bit different than suggested here, but that's just a detail. Or something.

Especially when they are influenced by people/things that seem to have decided it's better to keep them ignorant.

Gonzo, If you've never read it, then you must find a copy of the short story Marching Morons by Cyril Kornbluth. Don't read the WIKI or anything else about it, it'll ruin the story, but find it and read it...seriously.

tworiverswoman
07-27-2010, 05:25 PM
...but you can fix ignorant.Except you've forgotten the point made in the TLDR article (and yes - I DID read it - Camel had it posted on Facebook and I read it there first).

You can offer your ignorant tourists all the facts you want, and they're still going to be convinced that a vacation anywhere in a Gulf state is going to be a smelly, slimy mess - better go up North where it's clean, dear. It's intuitive knowledge by this time, and that's much more powerful than mere facts.

GonzoTheGreat
07-28-2010, 03:42 AM
Gonzo, If you've never read it, then you must find a copy of the short story Marching Morons by Cyril Kornbluth. Don't read the WIKI or anything else about it, it'll ruin the story, but find it and read it...seriously.I have read it, and I will second your recommendation.

Marie Curie 7
07-30-2010, 01:03 PM
I thought that the % was in Vol/Vol. To get ppm you would need to account for the differences in the masses of the molecule. I have no idea what the average composition of the leaking oil is.

I can do direct conversions in my head...


I didn't have a chance to answer this before. All the measures we're talking about, whether % or ppm or ppb, are dimensionless ratios. That is, they are vol/vol or mass/mass. When talking about chemical substances, % is usually used to refer to a vol/vol ratio. A mass ratio is generally referred to as wt%, but not always.

The problem comes with measures of concentration such as ppm, which is often considered to be equivalent to mg/L. But the true definition of ppm is also in terms of vol/vol or mass/mass. The mg/L unit is only really acceptable when talking about substances dissolved in water; it's totally different for contaminants in air, for example (another example of where ppm and ppb are commonly used).

Anyway, the mg/L measure is essentially equivalent to ppm in water because the density of water is very near 1 g/mL (or 1 kg/L). So 1 mg/L = 1 mg/kg = 1 part in 10^6, or 1 ppm.

As far as the oil goes, the density of the oil is not all that different from the density of water, so 0.015% is 150 ppm in a vol/vol sense, and also close to that in a mass/mass sense.

Neilbert
07-30-2010, 01:29 PM
Wait. Either you are misunderstanding or I missed something huge.

My understanding of ppm is that is is molecules of solute per million molecules of solvant.

Which... is apparently incorrect because Chemistry assholes can't stand chemistry being in any way shape or form intuitive.

Maybe I'm thinking of Molality...

Sei'taer
07-30-2010, 03:37 PM
Maybe I'm thinking of Molality...

Read that 3 times before it hit me that it said molality not morality. Couldn't figure out what that had to do with the spill (well, it has a lot to do with the spill, but the context was all kinds of wrong).

molarity, molality. I'm all good now.

nameless
07-30-2010, 10:22 PM
Anyway, the mg/L measure is essentially equivalent to ppm in water because the density of water is very near 1 g/mL (or 1 kg/L).

The density of water is exactly 1g/ml, no? Water is used to define the measurements IIRC, such that one gram of water at 25 degrees Celsius and sea-level atmospheric pressure will occupy one milliliter of volume (or one cubic centimeter).

Marie Curie 7
07-31-2010, 12:05 AM
Wait. Either you are misunderstanding or I missed something huge.

My understanding of ppm is that is is molecules of solute per million molecules of solvant.

As I said before, ppm is generally defined either on a vol/vol basis or mass/mass basis, particularly when referring to concentrations of materials in water or another solvent. So 1 ppm would be defined to be 1 gram of solute in 1 million grams of solvent, or it could alternately be defined as 1 liter of solute in 1 million liters of solvent (sometimes this is referred to as 1 ppmv to indicate that it is a vol/vol ratio rather than a mass/mass ratio).

Which... is apparently incorrect because Chemistry assholes can't stand chemistry being in any way shape or form intuitive.

Right. Because chemistry assholes would never realize that a unit of measure involving numbers of molecules would not at all be a practical way to measure a concentration in the laboratory or in the field.

You could technically refer to 1 molecule of solute per million molecules of solvent as 1 ppm, but that is never done in reality because there is no practical way to count molecules except by either measuring their volume or their mass (unless you have specialized equipment). Thus, the practical measures and those that are commonly used are vol/vol or mass/mass. And certainly in the context we are discussing, these are the ways that the quantity 'ppm' is defined.

Maybe I'm thinking of Molality...

Nope. Molality = moles of solute / kg of solvent.

And Molarity = moles of solute / L of solution.



The density of water is exactly 1g/ml, no? Water is used to define the measurements IIRC, such that one gram of water at 25 degrees Celsius and sea-level atmospheric pressure will occupy one milliliter of volume (or one cubic centimeter).

The density of water varies with temperature, of course. Water's density is closest to 1.000 g/mL at about 4 C, actually. And at 25 C, the density of water is close to but not exactly 1 g/mL (0.997 g/mL, actually, if you want to look it up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Properties_of_water#Density_of_water_and_ice)), so it's not used as a standard for anything, as far as I know.

Edit: I forgot to add that with regard to the density of water, in the context of the discussion about the oil spill, we're talking about seawater, not pure water, and the density of seawater is actually a little higher than 1 g/mL (~1.03 g/mL or so).

Neilbert
07-31-2010, 12:50 AM
Right. Because chemistry assholes would never realize that a unit of measure involving numbers of molecules would not at all be a practical way to measure a concentration in the laboratory or in the field.

Lazy bastards. Gets with the sciencin. I want to know.

E: In the spirit of the thread: Shut up, I'm still right. *plugs ears* LALALALALLALALALALLALALALALALALALALALALLALA

don't be upset you're one of my favorite posters, no joke

nameless
07-31-2010, 01:21 AM
The density of water varies with temperature, of course. Water's density is closest to 1.000 g/mL at about 4 C, actually. And at 25 C, the density of water is close to but not exactly 1 g/mL (0.997 g/mL, actually, if you want to look it up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Properties_of_water#Density_of_water_and_ice)), so it's not used as a standard for anything, as far as I know.

Edit: I forgot to add that with regard to the density of water, in the context of the discussion about the oil spill, we're talking about seawater, not pure water, and the density of seawater is actually a little higher than 1 g/mL (~1.03 g/mL or so).

The initial metric unit of mass, the “gram,” was defined as the mass of one cubic centimeter — a cube that is 0.01 meter on each side — of water at its temperature of maximum density. For capacity, the “litre” (spelled “liter” in the U.S.) was defined as the volume of a cubic decimeter — a cube 0.1 meter on each side.

There. I knew I wasn't making that up. I just got the temperature wrong. Of course these standards were created back in the 18th century so they aren't as accurate as the modern versions that are based on "science" and "measurements."

Marie Curie 7
08-02-2010, 06:16 PM
There. I knew I wasn't making that up. I just got the temperature wrong. Of course these standards were created back in the 18th century so they aren't as accurate as the modern versions that are based on "science" and "measurements."

Yeah, I considered mentioning that, but the density of water has not been used as a standard for the kilogram since the 1800s, and as I said, it's not used as a standard for anything now. And if you think about it, the mass of 1 liter of water at 4C as the standard for the kilogram is a really awful definition because so many quantities have to be controlled and measured: (1) the temperature of 4C has to be maintained at a constant value and measured accurately and precisely; (2) although liquid water is not hugely compressible, the pressure must be maintained at 1 atm and controlled as well; (3) a container to hold exactly one liter of water has to be constructed and measured; (4) evaporation and contaminants have to be controlled.

The only fundamental unit (time, length, mass, charge, etc.) defined in a similar way is actually still the kilogram, though. There's a chunk of a platinum-iridium alloy kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France that is used as the standard for defining the kilogram (and various copies have been made for comparison). It is what replaced the one liter of 4 C water used previously for the definition. As a result of the possibility of degradation of the platinum-iridium chunk and drift over time, though, there has been a continuing discussion about other ways to define the kilogram, but no decision on changing the standard has been made yet.

Sei'taer
08-03-2010, 08:13 AM
The only fundamental unit (time, length, mass, charge, etc.) defined in a similar way is actually still the kilogram, though. There's a chunk of a platinum-iridium alloy kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France that is used as the standard for defining the kilogram (and various copies have been made for comparison). It is what replaced the one liter of 4 C water used previously for the definition. As a result of the possibility of degradation of the platinum-iridium chunk and drift over time, though, there has been a continuing discussion about other ways to define the kilogram, but no decision on changing the standard has been made yet.


Wow...I just added a huge piece of ivy league useless information to my stack! Useless only because if I start talking kilograms around here people look at me like I'm speaking Venusian.

Ivhon
08-03-2010, 09:00 AM
Wow...I just added a huge piece of ivy league useless information to my stack! Useless only because if I start talking kilograms around here people look at me like I'm speaking Venusian.

Ivy League useless information? Oh, wow...where do I start. How bout after 4 years of assimilating and regurgitating said useless information I remember NOT ONE FACT.

GonzoTheGreat
08-03-2010, 09:01 AM
Ivy League useless information? Oh, wow...where do I start. How bout after 4 years of assimilating and regurgitating said useless information I remember NOT ONE FACT.And that's a fact. Which you don't remember, obviously.