The other day Listner Jim told me about an interesting study by Scientists and Experts. It seems that you can take someone who is pretty set in their beliefs about something, and show them actual, factual evidence that their beliefs are wrong—and not only will it not matter that they’re wrong, but the factual evidence to the contrary will make their adherence to their incorrect beliefs even stronger. I don’t know exactly which study Listner Jim had in mind, but you can find lots of them if you Google “belief perseverance” or “confirmation bias.” Those Scientists and Experts are a busy bunch.
This helps explain the Troy Davis case, I guess. Troy Davis was arrested in 1989 and charged with shooting off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail during a scuffle in a Burger King parking lot. He was convicted in 1991, based solely on the testimony of witnesses. There was absolutely no physical evidence connecting MacPhail to the crime. (The gun was never found.) Seven of the nine witnesses who testified against Davis have recanted their testimony, and most say they were coerced by police into signing statements—some say they did not even read the statements they signed. (One was even illiterate.) They just wanted the police to let them go and leave them alone. One of the two “witnesses” who has not recanted his testimony is an alternate suspect against whom new evidence does exist. A couple of the original prosecution witnesses now say that this man is the one who killed Officer MacPhail. But in spite of all the facts that point to Troy Davis being innocent, the Supreme Court of Georgia has denied him a new trial, and the Georgia State Board of Pardon and Paroles has refused to commute Troy Davis’ death sentence, and unless the Supreme Court of the United States does something before 7:00 PM tonight (less than two hours from the time I am writing this), the state of Georgia will execute Troy Davis, who says he never killed anybody. The facts also say he probably didn’t, but the facts just seem to make the Georgia authorities more determined to put Troy Davis to death.
I see the same phenomenon every time I mention how John McCain “wet started” the fire on the USS Forrestal, or whenever I say “Keating 5” or “Savings and Loan bail-out” or “disfigured first wife.” My little Republican friends’ eyes glaze over, and they just get more determined to vote for this guy. Or maybe it's Sarah Palin they're voting for. I got about a dozen forwarded emails this morning concerning some PBS poll where people are being asked whether Palin is qualified to be Vice President. The YES vote was winning, and these folks were all agitated and wanted everyone to go vote NO. But I think they’re missing the point: It’s a poll, and most people are voting YES, and that means that most people—or most of the people responding to the poll, anyway—think she is qualified. You fancy liberals better come up with something better than clicking your mouse NO and thinking you’ve accomplished something. Because any facts you can produce to show that Sarah Palin is way out of her league are only going to make those YES folks more convinced that she’s great VP material. And what are you gonna do about that?