Pop Goes The News — Since the beginning of time, humans have chosen to believe certain things without delving too deeply into facts and evidence. It’s why religions exist and why we still buy into the marketing that tells us drinking cow’s milk is good for us.
Indeed, a lot of what we grew up believing — solely because we heard it repeatedly — is simply not true. Sugar doesn’t make us hyper. Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets. Bats are not blind. And Humpty Dumpty is not an egg.
In 2016, there are a number of persistent myths that permeate the public discourse. We hear these myths over and over again — and we repeat them. In some cases, we make spending and public policy decisions based on them.
Here are three of the most popular myths that we need to stop uttering in 2016:
- Women make 77 cents for every dollar men make
This statistic, from the U.S. Census Bureau, is only true when you don’t know — or choose to ignore — how it was calculated.
Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University, is among many experts who explained that the 77-cent figure is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full time.
It does not mean that women make 23 cents less than men when doing the exact same jobs.
George Ouzounian, an author who uses the name Maddox, has called the 77-cent statistic “one of the most persistent pieces of misinformation of our times.”
If it was true that women earn 23 cents less than men for doing the same jobs, he suggested, then companies could save money by hiring only women.
In 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics explained that the 77-cent figure does “not control for many factors that may be significant in explaining earnings differences.”
One of the key factors is occupation. For example, oil rig workers (almost entirely men) earn higher salaries than social workers (mostly women).
Post-secondary education choices are also important.
A 2013 study by Georgetown University economist Anthony Carnevale found that of the 10 highest-paying majors, only one (pharmacy sciences and administration) is dominated by females and eight of the nine others are more than 70 per cent male.
Women do, however, dominate nine of the 10 lowest-paying majors.
Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor who writes about feminism in America, has said the 77-cent myth persists for several reasons.
“For one thing, there is a lot of statistical illiteracy among journalists, feminist academics and political leaders,” she wrote. “There is also an admirable human tendency to be protective of women — stories of female exploitation are readily believed, and vocal skeptics risk appearing indifferent to women’s suffering.
“Finally, armies of advocates depend on ‘killer stats’ to galvanize their cause.”
Margaret Wente, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, said the “flawed statistics” in the wage gap “myth” are generally accepted because challenging them may result in a person being “denounced as a misogynist, or worse.”
Wente opined an effective way to close the wage gap is to “get women in university to switch their majors. Instead of sociology, they should take petroleum engineering, which pays three or four times as much.”
2. You can “detox” or “cleanse” your body
While extremely (and inexplicably) popular, cleanses and detox regimens are entirely bogus.
“Any product or service with the words ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ in the name is only truly effective at cleansing your wallet of cash,” said Scott Gavura, an Ontario registered pharmacist.
“There’s no published evidence to suggest that detox treatments, kits or rituals have any effect on our body’s ability to eliminate waste products effectively.”
Edzard Ernst, a professor emeritus of complementary medicine at Exeter University, explained to The Guardian that our bodies have organs that do the work.
“There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better,” he said.
He called the massive cleanse and detox industry a “scandal.”
Ernst added: “It’s criminal exploitation of the gullible … and it sort of keys into something that we all would love to have – a simple remedy that frees us of our sins, so to speak. It’s nice to think that it could exist but unfortunately it doesn’t.”
3. Organic foods are healthier
A lot of people believe organic foods are better for them — and they are willing to pay more for them.
A study published by researchers at Stanford University concluded that while eating organic foods reduces exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there is no “strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
Indeed, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found “evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foodstuffs.”
What’s more, organic food is sprayed with “natural” pesticides, which are not regulated like the synthetic pesticides used on a lot of our food.
In 2014, the Organic Trade Association admitted “an organic label does not promise a necessarily safer product.”