The myth of secrecy

Leaf Van Boven, Charles M. Judd, and Mark Travers write: The revelation that the National Security Agency has been secretly amassing huge amounts of data about Americans’ phone and Internet use has sparked a lively debate about the proper role of secret information in a free and open society.

The crux of the debate is whether the value of secret information justifies the sacrifice of personal privacy. If secret information yields valuable intelligence that can be used to protect Americans, the reasoning goes, then it is worth sacrificing privacy for security.

But there is a major problem with evaluating information labeled “secret”: people tend to inflate the value of “secret” information simply because it is secret.

In a recent series of studies that we will present in a forthcoming issue of the journal Political Psychology, we have shown that people apply what we call a “secrecy heuristic” — a rule of thumb, in other words — when evaluating the quality of information related to national security. People rate otherwise identical pieces of information as more accurate, reliable and of higher quality when they are labeled secret rather than public. And people tend to think that national security decisions are wiser and better-reasoned when based on the same information labeled secret rather than public. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “The myth of secrecy

  1. La vérité

    Mind being easily influenced?
    Propaganda/brainwashing/subliminal messages……. used every day by the government and private corporations! MSM has moral responsibility to inform and educate ordinary Americans to tell the difference between the above and the truth…..too bad, can not say it will happen soon enough.

  2. eugene

    One thing about academics, they can turn anything into an impractical word game. Endlessly spinning words into, what is supposed to be, sense. Having, recently, spent some time reading of the “secrecy” of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, these guys would get laughed off the block and, frankly, wouldn’t even get printed.

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