Why Challenging Fabrications with Facts is Difficult
The Washington Post just conducted a little experiment. In the wake of false claims about the size of the crowd attending the 2017 inauguration, the newspaper surveyed 1,388 American adults, asking them to respond to two photos, one each from the inaugurations of Donald Trump and Barak Obama. Splitting the survey volunteers into two groups, they asked one to identify the photo that depicted each inaugural event. The second group was asked simply which photo showed a larger crowd.
Clear, photographic evidence from not one, but many credible sources would seem indisputable. In this example, the evidence can be corroborated and verified, which is why the Washington Post was one of many participants in the national discourse on this topic who were left to wonder how and why crowd size was even open to question.
As a phenomenon, this is not new. Advocates for community water fluoridation have amassed a body of evidence – corroborated and verified – coupled with decades of experience, all of which demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of this public health measure. Yet opponents continue to deny facts, question their credibility, and work to make false evidence appear real. Why does this succeed?
The results of the Washington Post survey reflect what a growing body of research shows. By clinging to fiction in the face of facts, we are expressing our bias, supporting our positions, purporting our beliefs, even when we can see what is patently untrue.
As public health advocates, we must look for new approaches when facts become ineffective and swaths of the populace are motivated instead by values and beliefs. The Campaign for Dental Health believes that building healthy communities is a value we all share. Community water fluoridation is one way communities achieve improved oral health. Let’s begin a discussion on all the ways to contribute to building healthy communities.