90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday September 8, 2010

Pastor Says He’ll Burn Qurans

The leader of a small church in Florida says he is determined to go ahead with his plan to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11th. We’ll speak to Jacki Levine, managing editor of the Gainesville Sun.

When Facts Don’t Correct Misperceptions

Why do some people still believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and others that President Bush banned all stem cell research, despite news reports that disprove both stories? We speak with Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan who has researched the topic. He found that facts don’t change deeply held beliefs and that sometimes, in fact, being faced with a correction makes people believe even harder in the incorrect story.

In Chicago, The Race Is On

Political observers in Chicago expect a crowded field for the next mayoral race after the city’s longtime mayor, Richard Daley, announced he would not seek a seventh term. We’ll take a look at who might be mulling a run with Ray Long, who has covered Chicago and Illinois politics for the Chicago Tribune for three decades.

‘I Believe In An America Where The Separation Of Church And State Is Absolute’

Then-Senator John F. Kennedy in a question and answer session with Ministers' Association of Greater Houston, where he made his famous speech on religion. (AP)

Then-Senator John F. Kennedy at a question and answer session with the Ministers' Association of Greater Houston, where he made his famous speech on religion. (AP)

Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 presidential campaign speech on religion. Kennedy delivered the speech in response to critics who worried that his Catholicism would color his presidency and that he would be a puppet of the pope. Dr. Gary Smith chairs the history department at Grove City College and joins us to talk about why Kennedy’s speech still resonates today, and whether another one is needed.

Rediscovering The Periodic Table, One Element At A Time

Jim and Jenny Marshall at the Apuseni Mountains in Romania, traveling to the mine where Tellurium was discovered. (Rediscovery of the Elements)

Jim and Jenny Marshall at the Apuseni Mountains in Romania, traveling to the mine where Tellurium was discovered. (Rediscovery of the Elements)

Shortly after getting married twelve years ago, Jim Marshall, a chemistry professor at the University of North Texas, took his new bride Jenny, a now-retired middle school computer teacher, on the honeymoon of a lifetime. Together, they set out in search of the birthplace of each of the 114 elements on the periodic table. They’ve finally completed their journey and compiled a comprehensive interactive DVD called “Rediscovery of the Elements.”

Music From The Show

  • Charles Mingus, “Boogie Stop Shuffle”
  • The Lickets, “Serial East”
  • Freddie Hubbard, “Little Sunflower”
  • Booka and the Flaming Geckos, “Barbed Wire Past”
  • Dean and Britta, “Herringbone Tweed”
  • Rodrigo and Gabriella, “Better Voodoo”
  • Sun Kil Moon, “Carry Me Ohio”
  • Ahmad Jamal, Patterns”
  • Tom Lehrer, “The Elements”
  • Robert Pierce

    The reason that Conservatives show more resistance than Liberals to changing their views is that the Establishment (to use an out-of-date leftist term) has, over the last century, by various means including propaganda, done an excellent job of ridding the US of genuine leftists. Folks like sixties radicals and extremist environmentalists are as stubborn as conservatives, but there just aren’t very many of them!

  • Andres S Lizarazu

    Just as information was misleading about weapons of mass distruction in Iraq, there were also other false statements made to further push and pursue Bush’s agenda towards the war in Iraq.
    In the same token misleading information is passed around about Barack Obama, that he himself is a Muslim. This to me is the same as the republicans lying about the weapons of mass distruction to pursue their own goals. The republicans need to grow up and stop worrying about themselves as the majority and think like Obama and put what is best for the country and the economy at the beginning of their objectives.
    The republicans simply seem to focus on politics and politics only. There are several events that show most republicans in office are stuck in te “old way pf thinking” and still do not treat black and other minorities fairly.
    In addittion the republicans are also behind making a big deal of the Mosque being built by ground zero, in order to gain support for the comin elections. By doing this they have confused more and more citizens about what America trully is about.
    If a 5 year old and his friend were bored and they decided to pick a random book and burn it in their backyard, and they were also caught by adults they would simply get into trouble for the action of destroying a book.
    In the same manner this pastor is reacting to the situation just like an upset 5 year old would. Aren’t the adults supposed to show and lead by example? Especially if they are religiously involved to an organization?
    It simply just does not make sense for this pastor to actively pursue the burning of the Quran. Everything we’ve accomplished as a human race would be simply shoved under a bus, and we’d be stuck back 1000s of years ago in the same religious wars that our ancestors were involved with. It could damage all the peace talks that were spoken of last week in the Middle East.
    I think the world is now more ready to accept equality amongst all of us, and we should trully focus on the future of humanity as a whole rather than which god you bealieve in or waht country we were from.

  • http://www.jonmasters.org/ Jon Masters

    Take a long, hard look at the history of the government. We’ve elected a black man President (which is awesome), and this country will elect a black woman President before it elects an atheist President, or appoints a second (ever) atheist to the Supreme Court. Religion is somehow implicitly required in order to pacify those with belief, whereas the truth is that only an atheist can act without any form of religious influence at all. It’s at this point that the religious usually confuse their religion with moral and ethical standards, and are then perhaps confused to learn that one requires no religion to have either.

    Every time a US President gives a speech, they’re “required” (or fear the wrath of the religious right) to end with “God Bless the United States of America”. A truly separate, non-fearing, and strong government would not do that, or emboss such things onto paper currency (and that wasn’t done until missguided “patriotic” efforts in the 50s) endorsing religion. It would stand up and say “we determine our own fate, not religion”. Everywhere you look, there’s religious influence adversely affecting secularism. Islam is a petty “concern” used as a distraction in the bigger picture of religious influence.

  • Paul Simons

    Thanks for tackling the difficult issue of large segnments of the country believing false information. My grandparents’ families were murdered in the Holocaust because of the same type of mass deception and it makes me wonder if “It can’t happen here” is still true. There is a vast electronic media network that will say anything about the leader of the nation and anyone else it chooses for such treatment, and this has happened before.

  • http://www.weku.fm/ Diane Frederick

    I’m not sure if my comments were received so I am trying again.

    This is in response to the program interviewing Brendan Nyhan.
    A problem with establishing a belief about anything is discerning facts. How does one determine what is true, what is slanted by the news mediums, what is slanted by politicians, what is false or inaccurate information, etc. Different and opposite opinions exist for most issues, and as proposed in the interview, a person will tend to believe ideas that correspond to their particular point -of -view.
    A quote popularized by Mark Twain regarding statistics: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (Wikipedia info regarding this follows at the end.) Statistics can be interpreted in many ways. The conclusions drawn by a study are often open to interpretation or even inaccurate because of parameters that are not considered, among other factors. Most surveys give respondents limited choices such as: Do you believe this or that? Typically, there are other points-of-view that could be considered and respondents might want to be considered. An example is the survey about whether one believed weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq before the war. The thoughtful response would be, “I don’t know.” How could one know? Also, a person’s particular “yes” or “no” belief might not be correlated with whether they thought the U.S. should have even taken military action. They also might not have believed the U.S. was in a war. Military action doesn’t always equate to war.
    This is all to say, one must also be careful in believing the purported results of research as well. It is also open to interpretation and may not present the facts.

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, adn statistics” is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent’s point.
    The term was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” However, the phrase is not found in any of Disraeli’s works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death. Other coiners have therefore been proposed. The most plausible, given current evidence, is Englishman Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843–1911).

  • Ken Pallante

    This story on beliefs was very interesting. It is something that I have seen in action for a long time. The sad part is that holding onto false beliefs keeps Americans from communicating with each other & coming up with solution to the problems that vex our nation.

    I would posit that the problem has gone one step further. Many folks will not even entertain listening to – or learning from the true facts. My own co-worker would not listen to this very program because, “It is on NPR and everyone knows that NPR is liberal and broadcasts falsehoods.” This same co-worker will not believe information from respected “fact based” sources such as “Factcheck.org” -or- “Snopes.com” Accordingly, no conversations can take place that are not at the most superficial level. While I am a middle of the road independent, my personal experience has been that conservatives have been the most resistant to facts and to changing their minds. Most conservatives are not going to let facts get in the way of a good story.

    There can be no meeting of the minds when individuals practice, pre-emptive, ignorance.

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you
    know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    -Mark Twain

  • Frog

    Well…interesting piece titled “When Facts Don’t Correct Misperceptions” That whole low self-esteem thing you and Brendan talked about…is that a fact? If I don’t believe it is that because of “backfire”? I’m so confused. Is there any Stimulus money available for therapy?

  • Tom Gear

    I would like to know how the heavier elements, which I have come to find out recently are from far away supernovas, how did they come to congregate into mines? Weren’t they swirling around with all the other elements? Shouldn’t they all be pretty uniformly distributed? I guess there is a lot about geology I don’t know !!

  • http://www.jennymarshall.com/rediscovery.htm Jim and Jenny marshall

    Indeed, the cosmologists tell us that there was a supernova over 4.5 billion years ago which did produce the heavier elements, and the solar system “quickly” consolidated, with all of these elements, around the new solar center (the sun). On Earth, geological processes have separated out (mostly by recrystallization) the elements and minerals as the earth cooled and water (which had dissolved out the minerals) rises to cooler layers, crystallizing out beautiful individual minerals. Different temperatures, different cooling rates, different pressures, etc., preferentially separate out different minerals (and elements). Since the earth is still geologically active (as contrasted with, say, Mars), this separation process is still going on.

  • Mark Lawless

    You mention that it’s a fact that Obama is a christian, of course only President Obama knows for sure what his personal beliefs are. Perhaps the question should not be where he goes to church, but where his allegiances lie. For instance late in life I was told that I could be considered Jewish since my grandmother was Jewish and her daughter, my mother raised me. If there were a conflict between the Jews and most any other country I feel my allegiance would lean towards the Jews. And I was brought up going to a christian church during all of my childhood. So my question about Obama is how strong are his allegiances to the Muslim world.

  • Hubert Smith

    Errrr. It sounded as if Mr. Nyhan thought right-wing broadcasters should be somehow … silenced? Why wasn’t your interviewer throttling him or at least peppering him with stiff questions?

    1. Do you know, Mr. Nyhan, Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews have so few viewers?

    2. Do you know anything about broadcasting, ratings numbers, ad rates? Huh?

    3. Isn’t broadcasting a “marketplace of ideas?”

    4. Have you read the Bill of Rights?


  • http://boisemeierfamily.wikispaces.com/ Dennis Meier

    Hearing Jenny Marshall choke up when talking about Dr Marie Curie brings back emotions I had the last time I read about this fascinating woman. In an era when women were rarely lauded for their intellectual achievements, Dr. Curie was awarded two–count ‘em–two Nobel prizes: one in physics and another in chemistry.

    If you can look at the photograph of the 1927 Solvay Conference, with Dr. Curie surrounded by Max Planck, Hendrik Lorentz, and other luminaries of physics and not feel gooseflesh, then you don’t appreciate just how incredible this woman was.

  • Philip Prindeville

    “Why do people believe that there were weapons of mass destruction when the CIA’s [...] report proved there weren’t.”

    First off, there’s no such thing as a negative proof. You can prove that no WMD’s were found. But you can’t prove that they never existed. The border at the time of the war was extremely porous, and the weapons could easily have been smuggled out. For that matter, they might still be hidden in a bunker no one knows about.

    This isn’t stubbornly clinging to an opinion, this is formal logic.

    “Wow, we’ve been in Iraq a long time, and a lot of Americans have died fighting there.”

    This statement demonstrates conclusively that the Mr. Nyhan has embarked on a fool’s errand. Because there is no objective truth. Yes, a lot of Americans have died fighting there. A lot of Americans die every year in automobile accidents yet we still drive.

    For that matter, a lot more people died the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg or the Invasion of Normandy. By simple qualitative comparison then, Gettysburg and D-Day were less worthwhile than the invasion of Iraq.

    But of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. So this is why having a graph of casualties is pointless.

    “Indisputable facts about how revenue, in the Treasury, had actually gone down.”

    Again, that’s a negative proof. One could argue that revenues might have gone down further without the tax cuts stimulating the economy. Since we can’t simultaneously pick two courses of action, one will always be hypothetical. How then does one make accurate comparisons to a fanciful alternative past?

    “I don’t believe the stimulus has been a failure. [...] Without the stimulus, we’d be significantly worse off than we are now.”

    That may be. It’s hard to prove, but one can make an educated guess. But again, this goes to the point that there is no objective truth, and what is objective is oftentimes not relevant.

    What’s relevant here is that the stimulus objectively failed to meet the benchmarks that the President set. He claimed we’d have unemployment above 8 percent unless we implemented it, and we have that anyway. In that measure, the stimulus was a failure. It failed to prevent the outcome it was supposed to negate.

    In this case Ms. Burnett isn’t unveiling any objective truths, any more than she is imparting an alternative spin.

    “So we need to be more aggressive in identifying these elites. And we need to be more aggressive in not giving them access to that megaphone.”

    Shall we simply denounce them then, and have them report to Room 101 where you can play O’Brien and set them straight? This is a truly scary notion.

    “[...] Most of which, have been from the right.”

    Yes. Like John Kerry’s assertion that US troops terrorize Iraqi women and children in the middle of the night. Or President Obama’s assertion that a change in US policy of engagement will by necessity bring Iran to the negotiating table. Or Harry Reid’s assertion that the war in Iraq was already lost. Or Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that the Dems taking the House in 2006 would bring new levels of transparency and ethics to Capitol Hill. Or that the Health Care Bill wouldn’t end up costing taxpayers a single cent. Or… do I really need to continue?

  • Connie of North Carolina

    Wow! Thanks Robin for covering Mr. Nyhan’s research. It was SO fascinating to learn about! It gives validity to what I already had a sense was happening. What was MOST intriguing was the results of the “self-esteem” experiment. Thanks again!

  • Philip Prindeville

    @Andres S Lizarazu:

    “Just as information was misleading about weapons of mass distruction in Iraq, there were also other false statements made to further push and pursue Bush’s agenda towards the war in Iraq.”

    Sir, your memory is failing you.

    Former President Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Harry Reid, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator John Kerry, the heads of state of France, Britain, Germany, Egypt, Israel, Russia, and Jordan (to name just a few) all stated on the record that they also were convinced that Iraq had such weapons.

    Unless President Bush managed to pull the Jedi mind trick on all of these politicians, I would say that it wasn’t a fabrication.

    I’d also point to the axiom that not finding the weapons doesn’t prove they didn’t exist: it only proves you didn’t find them.

    To this day, Iran continues to smuggle explosively formed projectiles into Iraq. So we know what’s being smuggled, and where it’s coming from, and where it’s going to… and we still can’t stop it.

    My inclination is to say that had Saddam wanted to smuggle the weapons out of the country into Syria, he would have been able to.

    Not everything you disagree with is a “false statement”, unless you can conclusively and irrefutably prove it so–which you’ve not managed to do.

  • louise

    A quote that i read somewhere on line while doing research for a class by Iain Banks that i find to be true states “There is no feasible excuse for what we have made of ourselves. We have  chosen to put profits before people, money before mortality, dividends before decency, fanaticism before fairness, and our own trivial comforts before unspeakable agonies of others.”  (Banks)

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.