It was big news this week that 7 percent of Americans think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. However, as Ilya Somin points out over at The Volokh Conspiracy, 7% really isn’t that bad. All surveys suffer from communication issues – people don’t understand the question, people fuck with the pollster, etc. – which is why they all have margins of error. Besides, check out the other dumb shit many more Americans believe:
Sadly, there are numerous far worse examples of public ignorance out there, including many about far more consequential issues. The 7 percent figure pales in comparison with the 25 percent who don’t know the earth orbits the sun, the 66 percent who can’t name the three branches of government, and – my personal favorite – the 80 percent who support mandatory labeling of food containing DNA. I cover these examples and many others like them in my book on political ignorance .
I particularly like the one about DNA. But how about these whoppers:
More than twice as many (18%) thought the sun revolved around the Earth (the numbers were similar in Germany and the UK)
Way more than that (42%) believe God created humans as they are today and the Earth is only around 10,000 years old – we’re not talking about “Genesis as metaphor” here, this is hard-core young-earth creationism.
Somin’s take on all this (as it is with so many things) is that people are rationally ignorant about them because either they don’t really matter (who cares where chocolate milk comes from so long as it keeps showing up on store shelves?) or there’s nothing to be gained from acting on them (one vote is a piss in a stiff wind, so why bother taking time to educate yourself before casting it?). I think there’s another possibility – that however far we think we progress as a species, we really haven’t improved all that much. As Frank Zappa said, we are “dumb all over, and maybe even a little ugly on the side).
Apologies also to Zappa for riffing on a line from this for the title.