What are some things that most people are wrong about?
March 22, 2011 12:13 PM   Subscribe

What are some things that most people are wrong about?

I'm looking for examples of issues on which, if you did a poll in the U.S. or (better) Canada - you'd find that the majority of the population held a belief that is clearly factually incorrect.

This is for a discussion about the role of expertise and information in democracies, so I'm especially interested in examples where the misinformation could affect someone's opinion on a public policy matter, how they vote on an issue, that sort of thing.

I did a bunch of searching, expecting this would be an easy thing to find a list of somewhere, but my google-fu is weak today.

I am especially interested in:

- Examples where the incorrect belief is clearly demonstrably incorrect
- Examples where you can point me to existing polls that show that a majority hold this incorrect belief.

Thanks, Green!
posted by ManInSuit to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
List of common misconceptions
posted by djb at 12:14 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]




previously.

posted by chasles at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2011


There's a fair amount of confusion about telecommunications billing practices in Canada, some of which has been brought to light over the past year or so. OpenMedia is not an unbiased source, but it may be a good starting point to find misconceptions on both sides of the Usage Based Billing issue in particular.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 12:42 PM on March 22, 2011


As a specific example, Usage Based Billing was initially touted as a solution to counter heavy users clogging up the pipes.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 12:47 PM on March 22, 2011


What Americans think the wealth division in US society should be, vs.
What Americans think the wealth division in US society actually is, vs.
What the wealth division in US society actually is.

A chart: Americans want to live in Sweden
posted by -harlequin- at 12:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've seen a number of polls where U.S. citizens demonstarted they actually had no clue what really was in last year's healthcare reform bill.
posted by troywestfield at 12:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is
- a poll
- of voters
- in the US
- on public policy matters
- showing majorities holding factually incorrect beliefs
- conducted recently

Regarding stimulus spending and healthcare.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Awesome, Harlequin! Exactly the sort of thing I am looking for. Thanks!!
posted by ManInSuit at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2011


Muscle doesn't weigh more than fat.

Eating too little doesn't make you gain weight.

Eating at night doesn't make you gain weight vs. eating same thing earlier.
posted by TravellingCari at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Muscle doesn't weigh more than fat.

I've said this before, but isn't this kind of a misconception of a misconception? Who has ever actually said, "A pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat!" That's a misrepresentation of what people mean when they say muscle weighs more than fat. They mean the same VOLUME of tissue weighs more when it's muscle, which is true.
posted by peep at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


[Do not make your religion argument here, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:41 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are a ton of misconceptions about exercise and nutrition. Popular understanding of these things is really terrible.

Here is a list of several different nutrition-related myths with solid evidence for the falsehood of each.

This is relevant to democracy insofar as there are government agencies that make dietary recommendations to the public, etc.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 1:50 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Further to Harlequin's link:
As Mark Howard at AlterNet notes, this data coincides with results of previous surveys finding that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about public policy issues. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out last year found that Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed about health care reform proposals. A 2008 Pew study ranked Fox News last in the number of “high knowledge” viewers and a 2007 Pew poll ranked Fox viewers as the least knowledgable about national and international affairs. And a 2003 study from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that Fox News viewers were most likely to believe that Saddam Hussien had links to Al-Qaeda, that coalition troops found WMD in Iraq, and that world public opinion supported President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
The ThinkProgress except I've quoted above itself has links to all the studies it mentions.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2011


Peep - spend some time on the message boards, you'll see people who think that it's absolutely true.

Anatoly - great link. Thanks for sharing.
posted by TravellingCari at 2:15 PM on March 22, 2011


This poll asked Americans what percentage of their federal budget goes to foreign aid.
The median answer was about 25 percent, which people thought should be halved.
The truth is about 1 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:13 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


chasles: "previously."
YES!! Thank you. I remember reading this thread last year before I had a MetaFilter account but for some reason couldn't find it when I was looking for it a few days ago.
posted by Rickalicioso at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2011


You'd have to track down the original article itself, but check the third paragraph on page 332 of this book. People in the US surveyed report a belief that judges are "soft on criminals" and hand down especially light sentences but when asked what appropriate punishments for various crimes are, respondents tend to give answers quite in line with what judges already give to the convicted.
posted by K.P. at 3:50 PM on March 22, 2011


People in the US surveyed report a belief that judges are "soft on criminals" and hand down especially light sentences

This is the same in the UK. A number of studies have found that when asked to generalise about sentencing, most of the public think it is not tough enough. When given real scenarios to consider, most either sentence in line with actual judges or even more leniently.
posted by greycap at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2011


Don't have time to link stuff, but most people I've spoken to believe that paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags. Do your research and you'll find the opposite is true. Paper mills are dirty filthy places...
posted by smokingmonkey at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2011


Previously. (Not the same as the thread someone already linked to.)

And check out this book.
posted by John Cohen at 6:04 PM on March 22, 2011


For specific Canadian examples the Aboriginal people are alwasy a popular topic of misinformation; from the differneces betweent them (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) to the myth they all live in poverty on reserves while similtanously recieve extravagant social assistance and salaries (Chiefs are better paid than the Prime Minister!). There is a huge amount of public policy around aboriginals as laws, policies and reports to solve the "aboriginal problem" are revised constantly.

Although the issues of the 80's (Oka and Meech Lake) around land rights and treaty obligations are still important there is a whole new crop of issues that have captured the attention of the younger cohort of Aboriginals.
posted by saucysault at 7:23 PM on March 22, 2011


Atlas is holding the celestial sphere and not the Earth on his shoulders.
posted by jihaan at 9:16 AM on March 23, 2011


Continuing on the nutrition angle, the idea that fat is bad and grains are good.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:26 PM on March 23, 2011


Sugar doesn't make kids hyper.

I've found that otherwise rational people will not even consider this a possibility when I've mentioned it, even if I suggest they Google it.
posted by funkiwan at 11:46 PM on March 23, 2011


late to the party here, but I followed funkiwan's google link and found this blog you might be interested in: misconception junction
posted by shakobe at 5:25 PM on April 2, 2011


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