“Stupid is as Stupid Does.” – Forrest Gump
As educators, it’s critical for us to lead our students in becoming discerning readers and diligent researchers. We’re currently witnessing a worrying increase in the spread of misinformation, much of which is amplified by social media and endorsed by certain individuals or groups. It’s for the benefit of our students and, more broadly, our society, that we arm ourselves with a sound comprehension of scientific principles and facts. Further, it’s vital to be aware of those theories that evidence-based research has disproved.
These mistaken beliefs carry risks, particularly when they possess the capability to inflict harm on individuals or the wider society. We, as educators and guardians of our student’s development, must grasp the importance of challenging such misconceptions. We have an obligation to assist our students in honing their critical thinking skills and learning to discern information from trustworthy sources.
ThinkFives has compiled a list of the Top 5 unfounded theories, underlining the necessity of fostering a scientifically literate classroom environment.
Earth is Flat
Let’s start with one of the most ridiculous theories still espoused: “the earth is flat.” Despite centuries of scientific evidence showing that the Earth is round, some individuals still refuse to accept this reality.
According to a recent survey conducted by YouGov, 2% of Americans surveyed said they believe that the Earth is flat and an additional 15% were unsure of the Earth’s shape. This means 56 million people take to this theory. More famously, NBA champion, Kyrie Irving, was asked, “Do you believe the Earth is round?” His head-scratching response: “this is not a conspiracy, the Earth is flat.”
Evidence supporting the spherical shape of the Earth comes from a variety of sources, including observations during lunar and solar eclipses, photos taken from space, and the visibility of different constellations from different parts of the Earth.
“Vaccines cause autism”: a theory that has been thoroughly discredited by numerous studies, including a large-scale study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. Even with the numerous studies that indicate otherwise, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 13% of Americans believe that vaccines are not safe for healthy children, and 10% believe that vaccines can cause autism in healthy children.
“Climate change is not real”: The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and largely caused by human activity, including burning fossil fuels and deforestation.
According to a 2021 survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 31% of Americans are dismissive of climate change, meaning they do not believe it is happening or that it is caused by human activity.
Event Deniers take “revisionist history” to a whole new level as they cherry-pick reality, defying widely accepted facts and documented occurrences. They’re not just questioning the narrative; they’re rewriting it entirely. Entering their realm is like stepping through the looking glass, where up is down and truth is often stranger than fiction. Some of it would be comical if it didn’t suggest a dangerous impact on society.
- Moon Landing Denial: It’s 1969. Neil Armstrong says, “That’s one small step for man…” Meanwhile, 7% of Americans in a 2019 poll thought, “Nah, totally faked.”
- Sandy Hook Shooting Denial: A 2016 study found roughly 5% of Americans believed this tragic event was a hoax. Can you believe it?
- 9/11 Denial: According to a 2019 poll, 15% of Americans believe there was some form of U.S. government involvement or complacency in the attacks.
- JFK Assassination Denial: Despite a mountain of evidence pointing to Lee Harvey Oswald, initially some thought it was a government conspiracy, and that JFK was still alive. And of course, many of those who did believe in his assassination still suspect government officials and the FBI were responsible.
And finally, there is the motherlode of misinformation – conspiracy theories. These are the myths that spawn in the shadowy corners of the internet, growing tendrils of untruth that reach out to ensnare the unsuspecting. It’s like playing whack-a-mole with falsehoods, each one popping up more outlandish than the last. With a bewildering blend of fiction and reality, here are some of their most outrageous concoctions.
- QAnon: Dating back to 2017, this far-right conspiracy alleges a government official, “Q,” is revealing a global cabal of Satanic pedophiles in politics, media, and Hollywood. It’s a script even Hollywood wouldn’t touch.
- Pizzagate: This theory, claiming a child sex trafficking ring centered around a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, managed to incite a man to enter the place with a gun. Spoiler alert: It’s been debunked.
- Deep State: This posits a secret group within the government working against the President and the American public’s interests. Though it sounds like a good spy thriller, there’s no evidence supporting this theory.
- False Flag Operations: According to some, the government stages certain terrorist attacks or mass shootings for their own interests. Like a plot twist gone horribly wrong, there’s no evidence backing this theory, often used to distract from real acts of violence.
- Illuminati: Some believe a clandestine group of elites are ruling the world from the shadows, influencing everything from wars to the music industry. Founded in the 18th century, the historical Bavarian Illuminati was dissolved within a decade, but that hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theories. Thanks, Dan Brown.
What dangerous misinformation most concerns you?