Sure, I Remember That (Ep. 113)

Do you remember this skeet-shooting outing with Stephen Dubner, Kai Ryssdal, Barack Obama, and John Boehner?

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Sure, I Remember That.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.) It’s about false memory, particularly in the political realm, and how we are more capable of “remembering” an event that never happened if the event happens to synch up with our political ideology.

The piece is based on a fascinating new paper, “False Memories of Fabricated Political Events,” by Steven J. Frenda, Eric D. Knowles, William Saletan, and Elizabeth Loftus. It grew out of a great experiment conducted by Slate, in which people saw four photographs of political events, three of them real pictures and one that had been doctored. In the podcast, you’ll hear from Loftus, a professor at UC Irvine, who is a leading scholar in memory in general and false memory in particular.

Here, to give you a sense of how the experiment worked, is what one of the fake pictures looked like:

Participants in the experiment were shown a doctored photo, right (the original is at left), with a caption reading “April 20, 2009: President Obama, greeting heads of state at a United Nations conference, shakes the hand of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. White House aides say the encounter was unplanned and the handshake was a formality.” In reality, however, the event never happened and there is no recorded meeting of Obama and Ahmadinejad.



I would love to see & hear freakonomics tackle the controversial "Buy American" issue. Is buying American better for the US or not?


better for Americans, worse for american corporations


that's actually not accurate otherwise NAFTA would not be popular with economists since different countries specialize in different types of products. You have to evaluate price and quality to be able to make that judgment from the consumers' standpoint - to assume otherwise is a lie.

Addy Satija

I am reminded of the time when, as the only Republican in the room, I had to listen to my friends talk about Sarah Palin quotes such as "I can see Russia from my house!" that weren't Sarah Palin quotes at all but rather Tina Fey quotes. When I pointed that out, a lot of people seemed to agree that they had actually seen the interview where they heard the former Governor say those exact words.
Your post makes this really interesting because now we know that the major news outlets tend to be politically biased and to think that they have the power to instill false memories into people is worrisome.


To be fair, Gov. Palin did attempt to suggest that she had some insight into foreign policy relationships between the U.S. and Russia because of the latter's proximity to her state. Her legacy as a stateswoman, such as it is, is certainly diminished when people believe that she said the satirical Tina Fey line, and there is no excuse for a news organization suggesting that she did (although I haven't heard one do that). That said, her actual statement did suggest that her proximity to Russia mattered. "Remembering" Ahmedinejad at the White House and shaking hands with Pres. Obama strikes me as a qualitatively more problematic error.

your teacher

what is goin on here? I get it. Seems like my experiment has gone awry on all fronts.


To James concerning US made products such as cars. If you look around you will see many US (Detroit 3) cars on the road. And they last a long time. They wouldn't make gas guzzlers if people didn't buy them! As far as price, those could be less if the US manufacturers weren't saddled with dealing with crooked unions and it's lazy workers that unnaturally jack up the wages!!

Just like what happened to Hostess! If not for the red oculus actions of the Govt at least one of them would be gone!

Nat Fondell

Thought you guys would get a kick out of this causation/correlation cartoon:

You've probably already seen it.