July 10, 2017
"These two experiments are well done, and the data analysis appears to straightforward and correct: we observe clear movement on subjects' beliefs as a result of factual corrections," Alex Coppock, who researches political decision-making at Yale, writes in an email. "This piece is nice because it adds to the (small but growing) consensus that backfire effects, if they exist at all, are rare."
Others commended the researchers for collaborating in the face of conflicting results. "I think this is exactly how the scientific process should operate as we try to explain human behavior," Asheley Landrum, who researches politically motivated reasoning at Texas Tech, writes. "Social scientists, arguably, should be even more aware of motivated reasoning, recognizing that it also occurs in scientists."
Nyhan's research is about seeing if attitude change is possible. And this research often comes to frustrating ends. In one study, he and Reifler tested out four different interventions to try to nudge vaccine skeptics away from their beliefs. None made a difference. Though it is elusive, at the least, he found a little attitude change within himself.