Washington Post: Many Arabs think WTC destruction was a controlled demolition and that pentagon was hit by a missile

Washington Post

Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; Page A03

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either "true" or "false." Among those identified as false were statements such as "The side effects are worse than the flu" and "Only older people need flu vaccine."

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi. While these beliefs likely arose because Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to connect Iraq with Sept. 11, the experiments suggest that intelligence reports and other efforts to debunk this account may in fact help keep it alive.

Similarly, many in the Arab world are convinced that the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was not the work of Arab terrorists but was a controlled demolition; that 4,000 Jews working there had been warned to stay home that day; and that the Pentagon was struck by a missile rather than a plane.

Those notions remain widespread even though the federal government now runs Web sites in seven languages to challenge them. Karen Hughes, who runs the Bush administration's campaign to win hearts and minds in the fight against terrorism, recently painted a glowing report of the "digital outreach" teams working to counter misinformation and myths by challenging those ideas on Arabic blogs.

A report last year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, however, found that the number of Muslims worldwide who do not believe that Arabs carried out the Sept. 11 attacks is soaring -- to 59 percent of Turks and Egyptians, 65 percent of Indonesians, 53 percent of Jordanians, 41 percent of Pakistanis and even 56 percent of British Muslims.

Research on the difficulty of debunking myths has not been specifically tested on beliefs about Sept. 11 conspiracies or the Iraq war. But because the experiments illuminate basic properties of the human mind, psychologists such as Schwarz say the same phenomenon is probably implicated in the spread and persistence of a variety of political and social myths.

The research does not absolve those who are responsible for promoting myths in the first place. What the psychological studies highlight, however, is the potential paradox in trying to fight bad information with good information.

Schwarz's study was published this year in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, but the roots of the research go back decades. As early as 1945, psychologists Floyd Allport and Milton Lepkin found that the more often people heard false wartime rumors, the more likely they were to believe them.

The research is painting a broad new understanding of how the mind works. Contrary to the conventional notion that people absorb information in a deliberate manner, the studies show that the brain uses subconscious "rules of thumb" that can bias it into thinking that false information is true. Clever manipulators can take advantage of this tendency.

The experiments also highlight the difference between asking people whether they still believe a falsehood immediately after giving them the correct information, and asking them a few days later. Long-term memories matter most in public health campaigns or political ones, and they are the most susceptible to the bias of thinking that well-recalled false information is true.

The experiments do not show that denials are completely useless; if that were true, everyone would believe the myths. But the mind's bias does affect many people, especially those who want to believe the myth for their own reasons, or those who are only peripherally interested and are less likely to invest the time and effort needed to firmly grasp the facts.

The research also highlights the disturbing reality that once an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it.

Indeed, repetition seems to be a key culprit. Things that are repeated often become more accessible in memory, and one of the brain's subconscious rules of thumb is that easily recalled things are true.

Many easily remembered things, in fact, such as one's birthday or a pet's name, are indeed true. But someone trying to manipulate public opinion can take advantage of this aspect of brain functioning. In politics and elsewhere, this means that whoever makes the first assertion about something has a large advantage over everyone who denies it later.

Furthermore, a new experiment by Kimberlee Weaver at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and others shows that hearing the same thing over and over again from one source can have the same effect as hearing that thing from many different people -- the brain gets tricked into thinking it has heard a piece of information from multiple, independent sources, even when it has not. Weaver's study was published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The experiments by Weaver, Schwarz and others illustrate another basic property of the mind -- it is not good at remembering when and where a person first learned something. People are not good at keeping track of which information came from credible sources and which came from less trustworthy ones, or even remembering that some information came from the same untrustworthy source over and over again. Even if a person recognizes which sources are credible and which are not, repeated assertions and denials can have the effect of making the information more accessible in memory and thereby making it feel true, said Schwarz.

Experiments by Ruth Mayo, a cognitive social psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, also found that for a substantial chunk of people, the "negation tag" of a denial falls off with time. Mayo's findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2004.

"If someone says, 'I did not harass her,' I associate the idea of harassment with this person," said Mayo, explaining why people who are accused of something but are later proved innocent find their reputations remain tarnished. "Even if he is innocent, this is what is activated when I hear this person's name again.

"If you think 9/11 and Iraq, this is your association, this is what comes in your mind," she added. "Even if you say it is not true, you will eventually have this connection with Saddam Hussein and 9/11."

Mayo found that rather than deny a false claim, it is better to make a completely new assertion that makes no reference to the original myth. Rather than say, as Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) recently did during a marathon congressional debate, that "Saddam Hussein did not attack the United States; Osama bin Laden did," Mayo said it would be better to say something like, "Osama bin Laden was the only person responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks" -- and not mention Hussein at all.

The psychologist acknowledged that such a statement might not be entirely accurate -- issuing a denial or keeping silent are sometimes the only real options.

So is silence the best way to deal with myths? Unfortunately, the answer to that question also seems to be no.

Another recent study found that when accusations or assertions are met with silence, they are more likely to feel true, said Peter Kim, an organizational psychologist at the University of Southern California. He published his study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Myth-busters, in other words, have

leave it to the CIA's

leave it to the CIA's favorite newspaper(next to the Times of course) to perform damage control. "of course its only those scary crazy muslims that think that. go back to sleep america....."

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." ~ William Colby, Former Director, CIA


naturally, they had to include that long-ago debunked hoax that 4000 Jews were told in advance.

They attach that hoax to everything we say.

Go back to bed, America. Everything is under control.

A missile hit the Pentagon?

I wonder if only quite few people believe that a missile hit the Pentagon but the media pretends that a lot of people do. I guess even fewer actually believe that 4,000 Jews didn't appear at work on 9/11.

The "missile hit the Pentagon" meme, especially, is very useful for the media. It makes it easier for it to bypass questions like the Mineta testimony and why *any* plane was able to hit it while pointing out that the eyewitnesses saw a plane hit the building. Very handy.

Please inundate the comments section.

I believe the actual number

who believe a missile hit the Pentagon is 12%.

Again, to everyone doing activism for 9/11 Truth: PLEASE lay off the Pentagon meme in public, even if you privately believe it to be true. The corporate media use it every time, for obvious reasons.

the truth is the truth...

i've talked to some very intellegent people who were new to 9/11 truth, and the lack of remains at the pentagon was the biggest smoking gun to them, bigger than controlled demolition.
there are people who have said we shouldnt talk about controlled demolition as well, and that we should focus on things like norad's distractions and the commision not awnsering all the victims families questions

I guess this is a bit of a double-edged sword.

The crash anomalies draw many people to the movement, but many people are turned away by the missile meme that the media is cultivating.

There were remains at the Pentagon

Here, here, here, and here, for example.

184 victims were identified by DNA.

You may have doubts about some aspect of the identification process, but it is incorrect to say that no remains were found at the Pentagon.

and i might add that

and i might add that Myth-Busters fears us as much as The Washington Post fears us. no real debate, just straw men and more pop psychology. i love reading about whats wrong with me mentally because i wont accept the official story of 9/11. thats always good for a laugh. i cant WAIT until a Psycologists for 9/11 Truth group gets started(hint hint), we could sure use one to counter bullshit like this.

"The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media." ~ William Colby, Former Director, CIA

In my 'malignant ego-zophrenia' mind...

... the work of Paul Levy just fuels the fire of my psychosis. He should be picked up by DHS, you know, to keep us ever safe-ty-er from ourselves.

I posted this on WaPo's site

Well, in addition to the Arabs, a lot of us Finns do not believe the official 9/11 story either.

That may have something to do with the destruction of evidence of the world's greatest building disasters (NIST: "No steel was recovered from WTC 7").

Or it might have something to do with the fact that a plane was allowed to approach the Pentagon (of all places) for 40 minutes, and that Norman Mineta's and FAA's statements that the flight in question was being monitored well before the hit were simply left out of the 9/11 Commission's report.

Or with the fact that a large number of European and American architects and engineers think that three skyscrapers can fall straight down without structural resistance only as a result of controlled demolition. (See, for example, "Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth".)

Or with the fact that a lot of firemen, rescue personnel and reporters described explosions in the buildings, or that a machine shop in the sub-basement of one of the towers was completely destroyed before the tower even came down (as reported in an engineering magazine), and that none of these testimonies were even investigated.

Or the fact that several professional pilots tried to hit the towers in a flight simulator and systematically failed until the speed was reduced to landing speed (the planes were crashed into the towers at high speeds) -- see "Pilots for 9/11 Truth").

It might also have something to do with the fact that history is full of small and large conspiracies (such as Watergate and Operation Gladio), and that 9/11 bears all the hallmarks of a classical false-flag event. We Finns, of course, were subject to one ourselves: the Mainila shots, blamed on us by the Soviets but in reality fired by the Soviet artillery into their own territory as a pretext for attacking Finland in 1939.

So, WaPo, why the focus on Arabs only?

The scum keep nailing hammers into another coffin

i didnt say there were NO