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How Gullible are we? Why education is important for our society.

My inclination is to make this a political post, one that focuses on the importance of education and information. And I am really pleased to note that I read that the State of SC’s Ways and Means Committee just agreed to increase funding by $149 million for next year, what everyone thought was an impossible task.

Over 1600 emails and 500 phone calls caused those on this committee to consider this refunding. South Carolina has “led the nation” in cuts to education over the past two years (even exceeding Mississippi, supposedly!). We need to educate people so that they can make better decisions and contribute more to our society, their work, and those around us.

Anyway, I came across this work in some old files, went and researched it, and it stands up. So here is the Study on Gullibility, along with the proof that we need to educate more people on more things to allow us to make better decisions on things like climate change, genetic engineering, and environmental science in general:

A freshman at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair in 1997.  He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to alarmists practicing junk science and spreading fear of everything in our environment. 

In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical DHMO or “dihydrogen monoxide.”  And for plenty of good reasons, since it can:

  1. cause excessive sweating and vomiting
  2. it is a major component in acid rain
  3. it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
  4. accidental inhalation can kill you
  5. it contributes to erosion
  6. it decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
  7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients

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DHMO is used as an industrial coolant and solvent, it is found in nuclear power plants, it is used in producing Styrofoam cups, it is a fire retardant, it is often used in animal research and drug production, it is used for distribution of pesticides and it is additive in many junk food products.

Nathan Zohner, then 14, asked fifty 9th grade students if they supported a ban of the chemical after describing the above conditions.  Forty-three said yes, six were undecided, and only one knew that the chemical was water.  The title of his prize winning project was, “How Gullible Are We?”  He feels the conclusion is obvious.

In March, 2004, the California municipality of Aliso Vieho (a suburb of LA in Orange County) nearly fell for this hoax after a paralegal there convinced city officials of the danger posed by this chemical – it got so far as to having a vote be scheduled for City Council for a proposed law that would have banned the use of foam containers at City-sponsored events because they contained DHMO, this substance that could threaten human health and safety.

(Check it out for truth at

If you haven’t quite figured this one out, DHMO or dihydrogen monoxide is also known as H2O or something we commonly call water!

And it surely does all those things listed above and many many more. It IS one of most powerful solvents known, since it is able to dissolve so many things, many more than chemical solvents like gasoline or alcohol. It is one of the very few substances that expands when frozen (converted into its solid state) and it is also one of the few solids that will float.

We also commonly see it in all three of its chemical states, a solid (ice), a liquid (water) and a gas (water vapor or steam). Life as we know it could not exist without water (although we are just now discovering some life that does not require oxygen to survive, all need water).

We can convince people that water is dangerous by telling them SOME of the information and presenting it in a particular fashion. It is the same way we can rally people around being against gun control legislation or being for “clean coal” or for objection to more available healthcare for people.

We can share data that says that Social Security or the Post Office are damaging our country’s existence. The list goes on and on. Only education and critical thinking will help us battle those who have their secret agendas or their claims that Austerity or tax reductions for the rich will boost the economy.

 Get all the facts. Make good decisions for yourself, your family and your people.


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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
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  1. Mr. Scott

    Dr. Scott,
    I enjoyed this post right until the liberal slant it took….. why inject that? Why not end with emphasizing the use of education and critical thinking as tools for examining an issue before making a decision, instead of the not-so-subtle insertion of your political platform into the last two paragraphs to use as “examples”?

    Mr. Scott

    • Mr. Scott –

      Yes, I guess I could have taken the other stance, but I could not come up with any good examples. I thought about it. Nothing popped up.

      FOX calls its “News” “Fair and Balanced” and many people watch it. But it is also known for its intentional distortions of the facts to make political points. And, I do NOT say that with tongue in cheek or anything similar; There are plenty of examples from the fact-checking organizations. It is so bad that Saturday Night Live spoofs their error correction, even.

      I just find many more examples of these kinds of factual distortions from the Right. Think Climate Change, as one example — I am a scientist by training with PhysChem and Physics and that kind of coursework in my background along with 13 statistics courses, lots of readings on astrophysics and quantum mechanics and biological origins of behavior, etc.

      By FAR, the scientists agree that the climate is changing yet the “news” and the views of many on the right is that the data are faked or something. Many of the critics are also shown to have funding by some of the organizations (Think Koch Brothers) that directly support their research and who are carbon polluters. That is just what I read.

      On the economy, I see that the budget deficit has been shrinking since 2009 — actually, measurably shrinking — see — this does not keep many from screaming that we need to cut taxes and cut entitlement programs to the poor even as the economy and jobs are recovering somewhat.

      I see tons of data on the economy – The latest Census Bureau data shows that one in two Americans currently falls into either the “low income” category or is living in poverty. Adjusted for inflation, the earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have dropped from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000. Earnings for the next 20 percent have been stuck at $37,000.

      And yet there is a continuing push by some (and focused on what is actually non-existent job loss if the wage was raised) to eliminate the minimum wage. Research pretty consistently shows that increasing it will actually improve overall spending in the economy — it is not like the people making minimum wages are going to start saving that money! They are going to spend it immediately.

      Since 2008, corporate profits have risen nearly 20% per year, while workers saw yearly disposable income gains of just 1.4%. So we need to keep corporate taxes LOW and cut social security? The average person on Social Security dies with less than $10,000 in total assets.

      Read Steve Brill’s Time Magazine article called, “Bitter Pill” and then repeat after me: Thank god for Medicare.” I go on it the first of April.

      SHARE some data with me me about the left distorting the facts like what appears to be happening on the right, if you will. Do I hear Birth Certificate?

      If my liberal slant appeared to offend you, I apologize. I am just using the data at hand to make what I thought was a cogent point about Gullibility, one that I tried to support with some examples. I did not have any of the converse examples of distorted presentations come to mind… (And please do read Brill’s article –

      The point of my post is about how people can be fooled with partial data, especially when they do not have the educational tools to understand it. That is a reality. How can we get more of the people more of the tools they need is the question.

      The article is on Gullibility, and I think my attempt to illustrate that did use some reasonable examples. If I could think of others, I would have used them. (Maybe Obama’s continued “distortions” of our use of torture, the continued support of “Too Big to Fail” kinds of policies or use of drones to kill terrorists?)

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