Breaking the feedback loop: When people don’t correct their errors

OK, so here’s the pattern:

1. Someone makes a public statement with an error, an error that advances some political or personal agenda.

2. Some other people point out the error.

3. The original author refuses to apologize, or correct the error, or thank people for pointing out the error, and sometimes they don’t even acknowledge the correction in any way.

It’s happened in Perspectives on Psychological Science, it’s happened in the American Journal of Hypertension, it’s happened in the New York Times (of course), and, hey! Politicians do it too!

German Lopez reports:

Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris marked the five-year anniversary of the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting of Michael Brown last week with tweets claiming that the cop who shot Brown “murdered” the 18-year-old black man.

But the evidence, including a report released by President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice, says otherwise. . . .

Between now and the time this post appears, Warren or Harris might issue corrections and apologies. But I doubt it. After all, Al Sharpton never apologized for attacking that prosecutor, Donald Trump never apologized for the things he said about 9/11, etc. My point here is not “false equivalence,” just that it’s considered standard operating procedure for people to not correct their errors, even when they’re making false statements about clearly-identified people, events, or statistics. The original statement could be an honest mistake, a reasonable misunderstanding, an opportunistic bit of exaggeration, a flat-out lie, or something in between . . . whatever. The point is that the statement is clearly wrong, the evidence is right there in front of these people, but they still won’t admit the error.

It’s a sad day when political figures on both sides of the aisle are behaving as badly as Ivy League professors and New York Times columnists. What’s the world coming to?

All jokes aside, I think this is a big deal. The self-correcting nature of science, or of politics, is a lot harder to occur when powerful figures in the system refuse to self-correct. It also provides a bad example for others and promotes an our-team-versus-their-team attitude.

I understand that this is going to happen—it’s human nature to lie—or, if not to lie, than to accept questionable claims that agree with our predisposed notions—and then to not admit the error. But at least we should call people out on it, also we should be suspicious of other claims made by people who are so comfortable with being associated with untruths.