In 1983, a small-town newspaper in Michigan caused a stir when it reported that a deadly chemical called "dihydrogen monoxide" had contaminated the city's water supply. The report warned that this chemical was fatal when inhaled, could produce blistering vapors, and accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
It is found in nuclear power plants, acid rain, and even in the excised tumors of terminal cancer patients.
A decade later, in 1997, a 14-year-old boy named Nathan Zhoner brought this issue to widespread public attention. He used scientifically correct evidence to prove why the chemical in question should be banned.
Nathan presented his project to fifty ninth-grade students. Forty-three voted in favor of banning dihydrogen monoxide, six were undecided.
And only one recognised that dihydrogen monoxide was just plain old water.
The Durand Express was merely doing an April Fool’s prank when they first wrote their article, and Nathan Zohner was not trying to actually get water banned either.
Instead, his experiment was to show how gullible people can be.
All the points he made were scientifically correct but he fooled his classmates by omitting other important information by water.
Eventually this was dubbed as ‘Zohnerism’ by a journalist, where true facts are used to mislead people towards false conclusion.
And the thing is, this effect occurs much more often.
The power of misinformation and the ease with which people can be misled is alarming. Zohner's experiment may have been a simple high school project, but it carries a powerful message that should not be ignored.
Zohnerism, while initially a prank and harmless high school experiment, highlights a disturbing trend in our society - the spread of misinformation. False claims, presented as fact, can have far-reaching consequences on our health, democracy, and social justice.
Take, for example, the anti-vaccination movement.
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the safety and efficacy of vaccines, misinformation campaigns have convinced many people that vaccines are dangerous. This has resulted in outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and mumps, putting countless lives at risk.
Misinformation can also undermine democratic institutions by eroding trust in public officials and institutions. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russian operatives spread false information on social media to influence the outcome of the election. This kind of disinformation campaign undermines the very foundation of democracy - an informed electorate making free and fair choices.
Furthermore, misinformation can perpetuate social inequalities. Inaccurate and misleading information can lead to discrimination and oppression of marginalized communities. For instance, false information about racial and ethnic groups can and has fueled prejudice and discrimination, resulting in a society where certain groups are systematically disadvantaged.
We as a society need to be vigilant in our pursuit of truth and critical in our evaluation of information, lest we fall prey to the insidious nature of Zohnerism and its destructive consequences.
One key aspect of critical thinking is the ability to recognize and question assumptions. Zohnerism plays on our preconceived notions and biases, causing us to accept false claims without question. By questioning our assumptions and seeking out additional information, we can better evaluate the validity of a claim.
Another important aspect of critical thinking is the ability to evaluate the evidence. Zohnerism is effective because it presents scientifically accurate information while omitting important context. By evaluating the full body of evidence and considering alternative explanations, we can more accurately determine the truth