The Michael Shermer Show is a series of long-form conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.
Why are so many of us wrong about so much? From COVID-19 to climate change to the results of elections, millions of Americans believe things that are simply not true―and act based on these misperceptions. In Wrong: How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation, expert in media and politics Dannagal Goldthwaite Young offers a comprehensive model that illustrates how political leaders and media organizations capitalize on our social and cultural identities to separate, enrage, and―ultimately―mobilize us. Through a process of identity distillation encouraged by public officials, journalists, political and social media, Americans’ political identities―how we think of ourselves as members of our political team―drive our belief in and demand for misinformation. It turns out that if being wrong allows us to comprehend the world, have control over it, or connect with our community, all in ways that serve our political team, then we don’t want to be right.
Over the past 40 years, lawmakers in America’s two major political parties have become more extreme in their positions on ideological issues. Voters from the two parties have become increasingly distinct and hostile to one another along the lines of race, religion, geography, and culture. In the process, these political identities have transformed into a useful but reductive label tied to what we look like, who we worship, where we live, and what we believe. Young offers a road map out of this chaotic morass, including demand-side solutions that reduce the bifurcation of American society and increase our information ecosystem’s accountability to empirical facts. By understanding the dynamics that encourage identity distillation, Wrong explains how to reverse this dangerous trend and strengthen American democracy in the process.
Shermer and Young discuss: how do you know if you are wrong, or that someone else is wrong • the evolution of reason: veridical perception or group identity? • the 3 “Cs” of our needs: comprehension, control, community • open-minded thinking • intellectual humility • political polarization • echo vs. identity chambers • social media • lies • disinformation • Donald Trump • democracy • science and morality • solutions to identity-driven wrongness.
Dannagal Goldthwaite Young is a professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware. Young is an award-winning scholar and teacher, a TED speaker, an improvisational comedian, and the author of Irony and Outrage: The Polarized Landscape of Rage, Fear, and Laughter in the United States. Her new book is Wrong: How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation.