• “The misinformation persists…” A Conversation with Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth & The New York Times 


    Brendan Nyhan teaches at Dartmouth and is a contributor to The Upshot at The New York Times. He joined The Communications Network to discuss his recent research into false information: how it takes hold and why it persists. A lightly edited transcript follows. 

    The Communications Network: 

    Let’s start with a broader picture Brendan. Why are people fooled by false information? What makes them susceptible to that?

    Brendan Nyhan:  

    There’s a couple of big problems when it comes to politics, but I think the kinds of problems I’m describing actually do extend farther beyond politics. The first problem is that when it comes to things like politics the incentives for us to have accurate beliefs are actually pretty weak.

    You have a much stronger incentive for instance to buy a reliable car than you do to know the correct information about say an initiative you’re voting, or the presidential candidate you’re supporting, or the issue that you’re telling people your opinion about. So the accuracy motivations for us in politics are quite weak.

    That’s fine. That’s normal. Democracy has always been that way. People have better things to do most of the time and we all have lives. But it is something we have to contend with because it makes people more susceptible to false information. There just aren’t strong incentives to go out and get correct information. That’s the first problem.

    The second is we have in a lot of cases at least when it comes to controversial issues strong beliefs. We have strong preferences about the right thing to do or the side that is right in a given debate. What decades of research have shown is that those beliefs, those preferences about politics or issues influence how we process information. So they make us more likely to think information we get is true if it confirms our predispositions and less likely to think it’s true if it contradicts our preconceptions. 

    We shouldn’t just assume that facts and evidence are the best or the most effective approach to informing people or changing their behavior.

    The Communications Network: 
    In your work, particularly in healthcare reform, for those of us who have followed the debate, there are a lot of myths out there. Let’s talk about some of those myths and what are some ways that you would advice communicators and others who are confronting those strongly held beliefs. What’s the best way to have an informed debate and conversation about that?

    Brendan Nyhan:       
    Well it’s challenging when it comes to an issue like healthcare reform because it’s already so politicized. Much of my research has come to some fairly depressing conclusions about the difficulty of changing people’s minds when it comes to those kinds of issues. It’s very hard. There may be better and worse ways to approach it though.

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  • Thank You



    The Network crowd’s about the loveliest, liveliest, most fun group of people I’ve ever hung out with online and at conferences, so I try not to bore you with the details of the work and effort that makes the Network go vroom, vroom.  You maybe got a glimpse of how passionate our new Executive Director, Sean Gibbons, is about communications – you may have gotten a sense of how much our board cares about the Network from Eric Brown’s farewell post, but for the most part, we don’t write blog posts about how we do our business.  This is, we feel, as it should be.

    But as Board chair, I sometimes need to step away from the mission and ideas that fuel the Network and acknowledge and thank individuals who have given exceptional service to the organization.  So this post is to say a heartfelt thank you to three departing board members:

    Edith Asibey, now with UNICEF in Brazil, who did so much to help the Network engage with existing and new members;

    Eric Brown, who has departed the Hewlett Foundation for communications consulting and travel, and who pretty much did everything – fundraising, program content, vice chair, board chair, and then vice-chair again—and did it all with humor, heart, and smarts.

    Mitch Hurst, now the communications director for the First Five Years Fund, who added digital smarts to the Network and also lent a wry, witty, keep-it-real presence on the board throughout all of our discussions and strategic planning.

    Thank you so much.  We hope to see you in Philly and beyond.  Once a Network Jedi, always a Network Jedi.

    -Minna Jung, Chair, The Communications Network Board 

  • Rev Tn

    Tools We Love

    (The Communications Network is introducing a new series that invites you to share tools you use–especially the ones you love–to help make your jobs easier. Let us know about tools you love by sending a brief writeup to info@comnetwork.org.

    To kick things off, we’re sharing our experiences with an online transcription service we just discovered.)

    We Love Rev

    When the Communications Network set out to find a service to transcribe our new SmartCast interviews, we had two basic requirements: fast and inexpensive. After doing some searching online and reading recommendations, we decided to go with a service called Rev.com.

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  • Eric Brown TN

    Ten Years, Nine Months, Four Days, and Five Lessons in Communications

    Eric Brown, Vice Chair of The Communications Network’s Board (and a former Board Chair), is departing his job as Communications Director at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. A version of his farewell post appeared on the Foundation’s Work in Progress blog.

    Here’s what I’ve learned about foundation communications in ten years, nine months, and four days:

    1. Tactics without strategy are pretty much a waste of time.

    I’m about to give away the secret to the nonprofit communications strategy kingdom—start your communications plan with a goal, and make it a good one. There, I said it. Organizations are pretty good about designing strategic plans that have reasonably good goals. They want the utility to remove a dam by 2015, or they want to provide reproductive health services for 25% more women in a particular district in Tanzania by the end of the year. Things like that. When the communications plans come in, though, often the goal is do some kind of tactic. Write an op-ed. Get people to like you on Facebook. If pressed, grantees might say that the goal is to “raise awareness” about an issue. Well, I have high awareness that kale is better for me than bacon, but that doesn’t stop me from eating BLTs. You get my point. Good strategies start with good goals, not good tactics. It seems so obvious, but we all know that it doesn’t always go that way.

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  • Sean Tn

    An Introduction

    Post by: Sean Gibbons, Executive Director

    Dear Network Colleagues,

    I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Sean Gibbons and today is my first day as the Executive Director of the Communications Network.

    Sharing stories and ideas has been my work and my passion for most of my adult life. First through journalism, and over the past decade, in the public policy world. My experiences have made this truth plain: quality communications are a difference maker. They can spark debate, elevate new ideas, and in very real ways, improve lives.

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