By: Wolfgang Tillmans | Wolfgang Tillmans: my two-year quest to explain the post-truth era | Neuroscience | The Guardian
Why are people today becoming so immune to facts? To find out, the photographer turned to politicians, activists, extremists – and even MRI scans
There was no landslide. The protagonists of rightwing populism would have us believe that their side emerged from recent elections and referendums with an overwhelming share of the vote. But in reality their successes were less clear-cut. The Brexit vote that took the world by surprise was very close: only 51.8% of those who went to the polls voted to leave. Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took the Turkish presidency with just 51.4% of the vote and Donald Trump won the US electoral college – and thus the presidency – with just 46.1%, whereas his adversary scored 48.2%. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland party behaves as though it were a huge movement “reclaiming” its people, even though more than 87% of German voters chose other parties.
When I was invited to guest edit and design the 64th edition of the Jahresring, an annual German collection of essays on a theme from art history or philosophy, I immediately knew I wanted to focus on “the backfire effect” – a phenomenon first described and analysed in 2006 by the American political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. Essentially, people who are entirely convinced by a statement, regardless of how incorrect it might be, cannot be persuaded to change their minds by facts to the contrary. Such evidence only reinforces their belief in the fallacy.