Birther Motivated Reasoning and Belief Perseverance in Action

By Chris Mooney | April 26, 2011 11:34 am

This is an incredible video (source here). Michelangelo Signorile has a long conversation with a birther, presents all the facts, and then we all get to watch and listen as this person refuses to accept them, coming up with counterarguments (although not very well). A more sophisticated birther would do a lot better job at defending his or her preconceptions, and there are many of those out there. But what’s remarkable is to observe motivated reasoning and self-defense of one’s beliefs in action:

I want to thank Jamie Vernon for finding this. You are all going to be hearing a lot more from him, by the way, as he’ll be guest blogging here next month. More soon….


Comments (16)

  1. Matt

    Reminds me of the time when a bunch of my friends were convinced that Nixon planed to stay President for a third term and would use force, if fraud did not succeed in getting him re-elected. Couldn’t argue with them either.

    I think some may still believe he would have done it if it weren’t for a few plucky Democrat Senators.

  2. John

    Chris, the controversy is over the difference between a “Certification of Live Birth” vs a “Certificate of Birth”.

    The “certificaTION” is not the same as a “Birth CertifaTE”. The Certification does not require a baby, anyone can enter a hospital and request one. The same is true for the announcement in the newspaper.

    What has been posted online, that the Radio Host aludes to, is the Certification, no the Certificate. No one has seen a Birth Certificate, not original nor a copy. All we’ve seen is a 2007 copy of the Certification, and we can’t even check it because the number has been redacted.

    The only group which claims to have seen the actual, physical, original Certificate is, a liberal think tank devoted to whitewashing issues like this. This group is run by, a known liberal organization which regularly employs authors of anti-conservative books.

    Next time I challenge you to post a clip of a conversation between equal parties on the subject. Watching a trained radio host browbeat an under-educated caller reveals nothing of the true birther movement.

    I suspect this is simply part of your continuing narrative portraying conservatives as ignorant and uneducated. I’m sure that plays great to the liberal cheap seats.

  3. ryan

    Motivated reasoning as in when liberals convince themselves that people who work should support those who don’t?

    Or when they can’t defend their beliefs do instead say, “I can’t explain. It’s just how I feel.”?

    Sent from my Verizon phone. Because I have a job.

    You’re welcome, by the way.

  4. Sound great, Ryan. Where do I sign up for this program where I can stay at home and have all my bills paid by other people who work?

  5. John,

    There is no “controversy is over the difference between a “Certification of Live Birth” vs a “Certificate of Birth”. This is just a distinction cooked-up by Birthers when they were presented with the evidence that Obama was born in the US.

  6. Chris Mooney

    Nobody is saying anybody is stupid, ignorant, or uneducated. If you’d been on the show you probably could have defended your (wrong) view more convincingly. This is how motivated reasoning works. The more sophisticated are capable of worse bias. It has nothing to do with being dumb–in fact, precisely the opposite.

  7. Richard Thoman

    This is a perfect example of more liberal motivated reasoning and belief perseverance in action. Making yourself feel better about your wrong beliefs with the weak arguments of the weak-minded among your opposition instead of facing the facts that the rest of your opposition presents.

  8. Chris Mooney

    It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it.

    Whenever I blog about birthers, birthers somehow find this site–which can’t be a normal read for them. They must be looking for people to argue with.

    And now they accuse *me* of being motivated.

  9. Terry Brooks

    Tranactional Analysis explained prejudice (along with other fallacies in thinking) by saying that the “parent” had information that interfered with the “adult.” Thus the belief that African Americans are lazy, (which was provided by parents and culture) prevented the person from receiving real information. Indeed, these people would see what they wanted to see – a black person taking a break was received as proof of laziness, while seeing many working long, hard hours was ignored. If racists want to believe that President Obama does not deserve to be president, they will take information from whatever source they want, and truth becomes irrelevant. Sadly, these folks are unable to recognize that they are being played for fools by politicians that use stupid arguments like this to get them to vote against their self-interest, and the interest of the greater community.

  10. Steven

    “The Certification does not require a baby, anyone can enter a hospital and request one.”

    Can you provide some sort of evidence that this is true? If not then your argument isn’t valid.

  11. Jon

    It’s interesting how the caller seemed to court the host’s thinking of him as a “redneck”, like he was embracing the identity to make himself feel like an oppressed underdog, just like Julian Sanchez says in this post on ressentiment:

  12. Joshua

    #2 John:
    Take a few minutes to watch CNN’s recent reporting on this:

    Basically it’s an, in Hawaii,first hand debunking of every WND Birther “fact” you’ve internalized.

  13. Chris,

    Thanks for posting this, even though it’s a quite depressing video. I think it’s important for all of us to be exposed to as full a range as possible of the opinions that drive other voters and consumers, even when that includes things like birthers, the people who deny HIV/AIDS causality, those who blame vaccines for a variety of health woes, the climate change deniers, etc.

    The saddest thing about these situations is that there is no solution to them. If someone is pushed via whatever ideological or political or other incentive to not just believe but actively embrace something counterfactual, then there’s nothing anyone else can do about it. Those people will be a drag on the political system and slow down efforts to decarbonize our economy, invest in AIDS research, promote the use of vaccines to reduce certain childhood diseases, etc.

  14. Paul Gregory

    When my sons were born I was issued a ‘Record of Birth’. This is obviously not a “Birth Certificate.” Yet, when I signed him up for school that accepted it with no question. Does this mean that my children’s citizenship is in question and my state is perpetrating fraud on its (possibly not?) citizens?


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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