Contrary to popular belief, common sense is wrong

Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor

Often when the editorial board takes a position, we choose one of a variety of possible opinions. There are multiple valid viewpoints about, for instance, privacy concerns in Facebook Places. We prefer these arguments, as debate can lead to new ideas. However, this week we must now focus on a different type of argument, one over a certain fact.

You might hope that there was general agreement around things that can be provably correct, but a recent poll from the Pew Research Center has shown that 18 percent of Americans, or nearly one in five, believe President Barack Obama is Muslim (rising to 34 percent among conservative Republicans).

The Huffington Post ran a response to this in the form of a slideshow of other facts that one in five Americans believe, including that nearly 20 percent of Americans cannot identify America on an unlabeled map of the world, believe witches are real, cannot name the country we declared our independence from in 1776, and believe the sun revolves around the Earth.

We are not sure if this is meant to make us feel better about Barack Obama’s seemingly unknowable religious beliefs or throw us into a deep depression about the state of education in this country.

Obama came to Carnegie Mellon this summer and spoke about, among many topics, how education remains one of the most important investments to provide for the future of America. And there are some seriously distorted pieces of knowledge that have gotten stuck, and stayed stuck, in the minds of many Americans. They were not removed or displaced by scientifically accepted truths through a grade school education, or even through a high school degree (possessed by over 85 percent of Americans over the age of 18).

And the correct versions of these facts have not been taught through the media — through television and newspaper and the other ways that Americans get their information. In fact, when those who believe Obama is a Muslim were asked how they learned that, 60 percent cited the media. For the record, he’s not.