Even though the easy and obvious answer should be easy and obvious (duh), a disturbingly large percentage of our fellow Americans aren’t satisfied with taking the easy way. Good for them, I say: it demonstrates their exceptional American characteristics of ingenuity and perseverance to come up with these unconventional answers, while generating easy laughs for us lazy slobs whose consciences take no offense when we just skate by, exercising nothing more mentally rigorous than logic and reason.
Public Policy Polling conducted a poll in late March that asked people about conspiracy theories, ones “well known to the public, others perhaps to just the darker corners of the internet.” What did they find? A rich vein of loopy:
- 4% believe shape-shifting reptilian people take on human form and gain political power to manipulate society and control the world (probably thinking of Mitch McConnell on this one)
- 5% believe Paul McCartney died in 1966 (the rest of us think he’s on another world tour)
- 11% believe the U.S. government allowed the September 11 attacks to happen
- 13% believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ (huh?)
- 14% believe the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s
- 15% believe the medical and pharmaceutical industries create new diseases to make money off of treatments
(As for the 29% who think aliens exist—what’s wrong with the other 71% of you?)
Just so much harmless kookery, right? Yes, but what about the 20% who believe the government is hiding a link between autism and childhood diseases, or the 37% percent who believe global warming is a hoax? Those people act on their beliefs to the detriment of the futures of both their children and the planet they share with the rest of us. What does it say about our society when, more than ten years after the fact, 44% still think that our then-president took the nation to war on a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, and another 12% aren’t sure?
What about the people who had elaborate explanations for the Boston Marathon bombing the day after it happened, before anyone but the bombers themselves could possibly have known the truth?
For starters, I suggest you check out the Bad Astronomy blog on Slate, where Phil Plait recently vented a little about the march of antireality in general and just today about the links between the anti-vaccine nuts and the measles outbreak in Wales. He has a clear-headed approach and a clean writing style that I think you’ll appreciate.
After that? I don’t know for sure…perhaps we can all get some good advice from the 14% who believe in Bigfoot, or the 9%, like Gen. Jack Ripper, who are convinced that fluoridation of our water isn’t just about dental health.