COMMON KNOWLEDGE: POTPOURRI III
Alex Trebek: It's not "Ape Tit." It's A Petit.. [ shakes head ] ..never mind!
Its time for another batch of smaller misconceptions, myths, and distortions that don't warrant an entire post of their own. We start off with one you might not have heard of but has been passed around in the Christian community more than the common cold in an elementary school lunchroom. Evangelical atheists like to throw it around, too.
Christians get divorced more than non-Christians! Amazing, huh? This comes from a study by pollster George Barna, who does a lot of studies and polls on Christian topics. Pastors trot this one out regularly in sermons to bemoan the lack of piety among the faithful. Is it true? Well, only if you define "Christian" in the vaguest, most broad and meaningless sense possible.
Barna's definition of Christian was basically people who believe in the existence of God and ever attend church during the year. That's it. Among that broad slice of humanity, 60% have gotten a divorce, versus just over 50% in the general population. Cue the mockery of "traditional marriage" and giggling about how homosexual "marriage" will ruin the nation.
Now, putting aside how misleading this statistic is on divorce (for a closer examination of that topic, consult the previous Common Knowledge post on divorce), this is such a broad definition of Christian as to be meaningless. Have you been to church ever in the last 365 days? For a wedding, perhaps, Christmas? To see the kids in a skit? Hear your friend sing? Do you believe that God, however you define it, exists? According to George Barna, you're a Christian!
When you dial down that definition to be more specifically faithful, suddenly the numbers plunge. Just limiting to people who regularly attend church drops the divorce numbers to 38%. The more specifically Christian you get, the lower the chance of divorce becomes. Professor Stanley at the University of Detroit did a study with a group of high-profile sociologists and they found the opposite of what Barna's study suggests:
"Those who say they are more religious are less likely, not more, to have already experienced divorce. Likewise, those who report more frequent attendance at religious services were significantly less likely to have been divorced."
But that's not good sermon fodder, I guess. Still too high a rate, but significantly lower than the general population.
Less gun control leads to more gun crime and murder! This seems like a no-brainer, having too many guns around makes it more likely people get shot. If only we could get those guns off the street! Like many things in life, what seems obvious on the surface becomes quite different with some thought.
Of all places, Harvard University did a study on guns and violence and found quite the opposite of what is popularly believed. For example, they discovered that Russia, with much tougher gun laws than the United States, has four times the murder rate (with roughly half the population). Keep in mind, this is Harvard University, not the Heritage Foundation or the NRA. Overall, they found that in general, the greater the gun ownership, the less murder and violence a nation had, while areas with heavy gun control had more problems.
The study further noted that the nine European nations with the lowest rate of gun ownership rate have a combined murder rate that is three times greater than the nine European nation with the highest rate of gun ownership. Why? Maybe Robert Heinlein is right, an armed society is a polite society. Certainly if I'm a mugger I'll think twice about robbing someone if I think there's a decent chance that they're armed.
In the last five years, gun purchasing and ownership in the United States has absolutely exploded, selling like crazy. Yet violent homicides with firearms have dropped almost 40% and other crimes involving firearms by nearly 70%. B-b-but the US is the world leader in gun violence, right? Wrong. Yes, the news and entertainment industries work hard at portraying that, but it isn't true. The United States is #1 in the world in gun ownership, and yet it is 28th in the world in gun murders per 100,000 people.
In short, gun ownership and the freedom to own weapons does not lead to greater crime, violence, or murders. In fact there's a lot of evidence that it tends to prevent these horrors. If you thought that gun crime was up in the US, don't feel bad. According to polling data, most people think so, even though the opposite is true.
There are more blacks in jail than in college! Both Jesse Jackson and President Obama have claimed this, and if you see any show on prison, you might think that its true. But it just isn't. The Washington Post editors wrote:
According to 2005 Census Bureau statistics, the male African-American population of the United States aged between 18 and 24 numbered 1,896,000. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 106,000 African-Americans in this age group were in federal or state prisons at the end of 2005. … If you add the numbers in local jail (measured in mid-2006), you arrive at a grand total of 193,000 incarcerated young black males, or slightly over 10 percent.
According to the same census data, 530,000 of these African-American males, or 28 percent, were enrolled in colleges or universities … in 2005. That is five times the number of young black men in federal and state prisons and two and a half times the total number incarcerated. If you expanded the age group to include African-American males up to 30 or 35, the college attendees would still outnumber the prisoners.
Are there too many black men in prison? Well I'd argue anyone in prison is too many, but that doesn't mean they don't belong there or haven't committed any crimes. In any case, this presumption that everyone should go to college is flawed to begin with.
The War on Drugs is filling our prisons with black men! There are a lot of horrible things blamed on the War on Drugs, and some of it has some validity at least. This one doesn't. Larry Elder puts it this way:
Not true. In 2010, blacks were 31.8 percent of all arrests for drug crimes. But arrests for drug offenses are only 12.4 percent of all non-traffic arrests in the country and accounted for 14.2 percent of the offenses for which blacks were arrested.
The truth is, the War on Drugs isn't actually responsible for as many arrests or imprisonments as people claim, and its not jamming our prisons with blacks. Black criminals are doing that.
Blondes are going extinct! Blonde hair is a recessive gene, we're told, and as the world becomes more multicultural and people move around more, blondes are being bred out of existence. The BBC first reported this, and many other sources picked it up over time. German researchers working for the World Health Organization determined that the last blonde to be born will be within the next 200 years - probably in Finland, which has the highest percentage of blondes on earth.
But, of course, that's ridiculous. How can it be wrong, you ask, after all Germans were involved, and they're the most sciencey people on earth! Well, first off, as the professor in Edinburgh noted in the BBC report, genes never totally disappear, at most blondes would become quite rare. But as Lawrence Altman in a later New York Times story explains:
There was only one problem, the health organization said in a statement yesterday that it never reported that blonds would become extinct, and it had never done a study on the subject.
'W.H.O. has no knowledge of how these news reports originated,'' said the organization, an agency of the United Nations based in Geneva, ''but would like to stress that we have no opinion of the future existence of blonds.''
Genetically speaking, its nonsense, but it was one of those stories that was too good to bother checking on.
Mass shootings are on the rise! There are more mass killings and school shootings than ever. It seems like every time we turn on the news, there's another report of some lunatic shooting up a school or business. Things are going crazy! Clearly, we need stronger gun and anti-bullying laws.
Except that's just not true. An Associated Press report in 2012 explains:
"There is no pattern, there is no increase," says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston's Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.
The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.
Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.
Chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.
Of course, the bulk of the AP piece is about how gun violence is so awful and we need more gun control with lots of emotional pull quotes, but the facts remain.
Nobody requires ID to vote in other nations, only hate-filled right wing bigots trying to disenfranchise minorities! OK so that's a bit of a leading statement, but you'll hear that kind of thing from folks every time the idea of voter ID comes up. But guess what: just about everyone requires ID to vote but the US. In the last election, lots of observers from around the world came to the US to
make sure President Obama got reelected observe the election. What they saw amazed them. Josh Rogin reports in Foreign Policy:
The most often noted difference between American elections among the visitors was that in most U.S. states, voters need no identification. Voters can also vote by mail, sometimes online, and there's often no way to know if one person has voted several times under different names, unlike in some Arab countries, where voters ink their fingers when casting their ballots.
The international visitors also noted that there's no police at U.S. polling stations. In foreign countries, police at polling places are viewed as signs of security; in the United States they are sometimes seen as intimidating.
Many of the visiting international officials noted that there were no observers at the polling places to ensure that proper voting procedures were being followed.
Frankly these voting observers were astounded that no ID was required. After all, its an election, its so important, why wouldn't you require people to prove who they are? In fact, the general response in this article is amazement at how trusting and without checks and security the American electoral system is - and probably ought not be, in my opinion, given how easily it can be defrauded.
I used to be a leftist, pretty far left on most issues. I was terrified Reagan was going to destroy the world, I knew for a fact that he was responsible for tens of millions of homeless on the streets, and so on. I voted for Dukakis in 1988. I kept running into facts that got in the way of what I believed to be true, things I was certain about, but the evidence kept disproving. I would respond with angry dismissal, claiming fraud, bias, manipulation, and cry that you can't trust that source.
But eventually, the facts got to me. I couldn't brush away the truth that kept interfering with what the left told me was true. And now I try to be more cautious when I hear something I want or believe to be true, and more willing to check on things that I don't care to hear. Because the truth matters more than my politics, beliefs, or hopes.
And that's why I like this kind of thing, why I write about it, and why I hope lots of people read it. Because there's so much out there that we take for granted or believe that's simply not the case. And in almost every instance, we're told these myths because someone gains from our belief.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.