The Propaganda Machine and `the Backfire Effect’

By on July 3, 2015 with 0 Comments

In 2006, scholars Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler presented a paper to the American Political Science Association about the “backfire effect” – presenting evidence from a series of studies to show that “when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your feelings get stronger.” In short, rather than change your views when presented with incontrovertible evidence that you are wrong, you just charge ahead with your preconceived ideas regardless of the truth.

A small group of our most ardent political opponents in state legislatures aligned with animal abuse industries – most recently in Michigan and in Indiana – are making themselves into poster boys for the ‘backfire effect.”  They are rushing to state attorneys general and demanding that they issue “consumer warnings” because, these legislators claim, The HSUS is raising funds by representing itself as the umbrella group for all animal shelters. They have not a scintilla of evidence to support their arguments, but they keep saying it because they WANT to believe it, regardless of the facts.

Again and again, they claim that we raise money by telling people we run animal shelters. Now, I’ve written several thousand blogs since I started A Humane Nation in 2007, and I can guarantee you I’ve never said we run the nation’s animal shelters. Nor will you find that sequence of words on our website, in our mailings, in our TV ads, or in our magazine, which is, for them, inconveniently titled All Animals.

I have said that The HSUS provides education and training to countless animal shelters, which we do. I’ve said that we have a campaign with the Ad Council and Maddie’s Fund that has generated nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in advertising to promote adoption of animals from shelters. I’ve said we run a great Animal Rescue Team program that helps animals when local groups don’t have the capacity to respond to large-scale animal crisis situations, like a hoarding case or a puppy mill. I’ve said that we have a veterinary affiliate that helps pets on Native American reservations where there typically are no shelters at all. I’ve said that our Pets for Life program is helping pets and the people who care about them in underserved communities throughout the United States and changing the way shelters think about such communities. And I’ve said that we are leading the fight against puppy mills and dogfighting. And lots more.

Together these legislators are a collective case study of the backfire effect in action in the political domain. These lawmakers don’t like our hard-hitting campaigns to protect all animals from cruelty. They want so much to believe we are corrupt, perhaps to justify their defense of extreme forms of animal exploitation. They have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that millions of Americans support the work of The HSUS and our agenda to pull out animal cruelty by its roots.

Recently, Michigan State Senator Tom Casperson wrote to his state attorney general demanding redress under this theory. He provided no evidence to support it. But this is the same Tom Casperson who fought to pass two wolf-hunting bills in the legislature, only to have both of them overturned by voters after The HSUS and our coalition partners qualified ballot measures on the subject. We won both measures by overwhelming majorities, with our second ballot measure on wolf hunting winning in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties. And, yes, this is the same Tom Casperson who went to the floor of the Michigan senate and was forced to apologize after he made up a story out of whole cloth about wolves stalking kids at a day care center. No such incident ever happened, and he was exposed by the press for lying. Given that things didn’t quite go his way, I can understand his frustration with The HSUS.

The latest members of the backfire gang come from Indiana, where six Republican lawmakers who had been together pushing a raft of anti-animal welfare measures, wrote to the attorney general there.  This group of lawmakers has been working to legalize captive hunting facilities, enact an ag-gag measure, and push right to farm and right to hunt measures throughout the legislature, on behalf of industrial factory farming and deer breeding interests. They didn’t succeed on their captive hunting, right to farm, or ag-gag measures, coming up short on each of these issues.

Angry about their losses, they lash out at The HSUS, and offer up their tripe, which comes from the playbook of Rick Berman, a Washington, D.C. operative who is paid by factory farmers, puppy millers, and other animal abusers to attack The HSUS.  Berman has shilled for tobacco and alcohol companies, and his own son is publicly on the record calling him “a despicable man….an exploiter….a scoundrel.”

I get it that some lawmakers don’t like The HSUS.  But the great thing about our political system is that it can tolerate dissent and disagreement. When lawmakers, though, try to abuse the power of the state government to suppress the speech of their political adversaries, then they go too far. They are not despicable for doing so. Nor are they scoundrels.  But they are un-American.

On the Road in Colorado, and a Reminder That Every Life Counts

By on July 1, 2015 with 3 Comments
On the Road in Colorado, and a Reminder That Every Life Counts

I’m at a conference in western Colorado, called Curiosity Retreats, which brings in luminaries on a wide array of subject areas to explore big ideas. Among a roster of extraordinary speakers, I was most excited to listen to a talk scheduled yesterday afternoon called “Wonders of the Ocean” by Dr. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic . . . 

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Brazil Steps Forward on Animal Welfare

By on June 30, 2015 with 2 Comments
Brazil Steps Forward on Animal Welfare

Sao Paolo, the largest city in Brazil and in all of the western hemisphere, and a financial and cultural center of South America, has banned the sale of foie gras and the fur products from animals farmed solely for their fur, in yet another victory for animals in the world’s fifth largest country. The state . . . 

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Will Humanity Rise to the Defense of Elephants?

By on June 29, 2015 with 2 Comments
Will Humanity Rise to the Defense of Elephants?

Yesterday, The New York Times published a Sunday editorial celebrating the latest progress for chimpanzees – an announcement two weeks ago from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that all chimps, including the captives, will be listed as endangered. This announcement, which comes after The HSUS petitioned for it, will have game-changing implications for these great apes . . . 

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Let Your Workplace Go to the Dogs

By on June 26, 2015 with 4 Comments
Let Your Workplace Go to the Dogs

When I’m not on the road traveling for work, I get to work chauffeur-style – except I’m the driver, and the backseat space goes to Lily, my beagle mix of uncertain age but very certain place in my heart. When I look back from the rearview mirror, she’s typically gazing out the window, or is curled . . . 

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Animal Rescue Raids in West Virginia Demonstrate Reach of HSUS Programs

By on June 25, 2015 with 1 Comment
Animal Rescue Raids in West Virginia Demonstrate Reach of HSUS Programs

Today, our Animal Rescue Team was on the ground in Jefferson County, West Virginia, to help local law enforcement officials rescue 21 dogs from a suspected dogfighting ring. The dogs were tied up with heavy chains and many bore scars from past fights. It’s been a busy week for our Animal Rescue Team in the . . . 

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Celebrities as Partners in Our Quest to Shed Light on Animal Abuse Throughout the World

By on June 24, 2015 with 5 Comments
Celebrities as Partners in Our Quest to Shed Light on Animal Abuse Throughout the World

Animal issues are in the headlines more than ever, due to a growing society-wide awareness about the plight of animals. Millions of Americans are committed to doing something about the wide range of problems that plague animals, and one key to galvanizing action is shining a spotlight on cruelty and calling attention to it. In that . . . 

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Protecting Elephants a Matter of National Security

By on June 23, 2015 with 2 Comments
Protecting Elephants a Matter of National Security

Lawmakers across the country are dawdling as elephants die. In several states, special interests have killed bills this year to crack down on the ivory trade – most recently in Oregon and Hawaii – though California’s anti-ivory trading bill is looking strong and a comprehensive ballot initiative in Washington state – to prohibit trade in the . . . 

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Yulin Dog Meat Festival Provokes Global Fury

By on June 22, 2015 with 31 Comments
Yulin Dog Meat Festival Provokes Global Fury

For the last two mornings, Adam Parascandola, director of animal protection and crisis response for Humane Society International (HSI), has woken up at 3 a.m. in China to bear witness to one of the most horrific scenes you can imagine: the slaughter of thousands of dogs – and cats – for the Yulin dog meat . . . 

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Congressional Committee Hits the Mark on U.S. MARC

By on June 19, 2015 with 4 Comments
Congressional Committee Hits the Mark on U.S. MARC

It seems there’s not a day that goes by without major news for animals – whether it is tangible progress in ensuring their protection and well-being, or examples of fierce resistance to continuing abuse. The last 24 hours have been no exception. Yesterday, Pope Francis released a 200-page encyclical that associated Catholicism with animal protection . . . 

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