Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Sam and I didn't know whether to be disappointed or impressed when we saw a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this week on the way that a particular problem with human memory - called source amnesia - helps political rumors to spread. We had been considering writing an op-ed on this topic ourselves, but Farhad Manjoo beat us to it. We all experience source amnesia, the tendency to forget where we heard something, and the problem gets worse as we get older. An unfortunate side effect is that repeating myths or rumors, even to debunk them, tends to plant the false idea even more firmly in people's heads. People remember that they've heard the idea, but don't remember that they've heard it was false. Such confusion may have led to John McCain's recent loose talk about the cause of autism - another myth we address in our book.