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The Danger of Misconception and How to Avoid

Misconception. So familiar, and yet, it’s disheartening to see how unprepared we are for tons of misconceptions thrown at us every day in this modern time.

In an information era where knowledge is so easily accessible, fact-checking can be done via a one-second Google search, we thought it would be a piece of cake for misconceptions to be corrected and gradually wiped out. Instead, we see the number of misconceptions rise daily; they pop up in every aspect of life, from scientific subjects like maths to social issues, including gender and religion.

Even worse, misconceptions can flood into matters of life and death, like the medical field and political issues. Real-life examples like anti-vaccines and anti-Chinese, caused by medical and political illusions, respectively, have shown how severe consequences can be.

In a time where almost half of this world’s population is using social media and anyone can become an anonymous professional taking advantage of these platforms’ faulty regulations to spread misunderstandings, sooner or later, we will get ourselves into the tangle of misconceptions and treat not only ourselves but also one another terribly. To prevent this aftermath from happening, it’s high time we equip ourselves with the most basic idea about misconception and how to avoid falling into its trap.

What is a misconception?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a misconception is a wrong idea based on a failure to understand a situation. Cases of deception are often caused by a lack of proper understanding of a topic and taking in false information.

Any topic is subject to numerous misconceptions. Scientific fields such as maths and physics also suffer from multiple delusions that require scientists to speak up and correct the misinformation, like how people thought the Earth was the center of the universe hundreds of years ago until Galilei said the opposite. Fighting against long-rooted misconceptions is always a pain. Still, hardly any pain is more challenging to resolve than the one caused by social misunderstandings, as people become highly subjective when considering social issues.

The majority of misconceptions floated online at the moment are usually related to sensitive social issues regarding race, gender, or religion, which are deemed more accessible to cause a stir in public and stimulate segregation. Take stereotypes, a typical genre of misconceptions, as an example. It’s not difficult to scientifically prove “Muslims are dangerous” is a faulty assumption. Nonetheless, people may argue that it’s simply their observation, that somehow their thinking is wired in a way that associates all the bombing and terrorism to a typical religion.

And that’s when we should start to question ourselves: when and how did that wiring happen? In many cases believing in stereotypes doesn’t necessarily make someone a horrid person. An African classmate once sincerely apologized to me that he had no idea saying “All Asians look the same” would be considered racist; his belief has been limited to his observation alone. Indeed, that is precisely the origin of misconceptions.

How do we have misconceptions?

Many researchers found that misconceptions turn out to be outcomes of learning. Their formation happens when people are exposed to inaccurate information or fallacious reasoning, which may hinder their understanding of new details afterwards, especially if this further information contradicts what they already know and believe in.

As misconceptions exist in all areas, the more concepts in new areas emerge, the more misunderstandings will arise. When Internet-based platforms allow unchecked information to reach their users, misconceptions are granted a free way to a massive number of receivers. Meanwhile, social media users are often so unguarded that many have fallen for the trap without attempting or even thinking of fact-checking.

Also, due to this reason, social media like Facebook or Twitter have become a “school” where conspirators play the role of experts or professionals and spread misinformation under the name of facts and knowledge. Trevor Noah, when commenting on the social chaos during the Covid-19 outbreak, implicitly criticized Facebook for its insufficient regulation of false facts when he said, “Everyone seems to go to Facebook University.” The pandemic is not the most recent nor the first proof of how easily people forget fact-checking and jump to biased conclusions; however, it is the most prominent example of how little prepared we are to face fake news and its severe consequences for the community.

How dangerous can misconceptions be?

As mentioned before, some misconceptions can cause difficulty in learning if new information is contradictory to what we’ve already known. However, their negative impact doesn’t stop there.

Misconceptions about sensitive issues can segregate the community. Misconceptions about feminism make people fighting for gender equality look like oppressors asking for the maximum power of women over men. Misconceptions about Covid-19 make people turn their back on each other at a time when only unity can win. In the long term, misunderstandings can create long-lasting distrust and chaos within our community, exchanging right and wrong and increasing the crime level in society.

The most dangerous consequence of misconceptions, however, is one that we can see right away: their impact on individuals’ health. It doesn’t take much time for a medication-related misconception to take one’s life; a child without vaccines could never open their eyes again due to diseases like measles. Misconceptions are then no longer just thoughts and opinions; they have become real weapons capable of hurting people physically.

How to avoid misconceptions?

Acknowledging the danger of misconceptions means developing strategies to avoid them. So, how should we do this?

Fact-checking is crucial for tackling any piece of misconception or misinformation. Whenever coming across a new piece of information, spending extra five-minute fact-checks online will not only give us confidence in our newly gained knowledge but also save us from the danger of misconception. The emergence of the Internet, despite allowing false information to spread easier, encourages the bloom of fact-checking websites and scientific research papers which you can rely on.

Developing critical thinking skills can also be helpful. Misconceptions can be refuted with appropriate reasoning and evidence. As for evidence, you can rely on the Internet. However, in terms of logic, only honing critical thinking skills can assist you in finding out fallacies and suspicious arguments in any new piece of information you come across. Start asking questions, challenging logical inconsistencies, and using logic to find your way to the truth.

In the meantime, you can start collecting a list of reliable websites or sources of news that you know you can trust for scientific evidence. Neither all results published by scientific articles nor official sources are entirely trustworthy. Still, at least you learn to read several better sources you can depend on as the foundation for your reasoning. Furthermore, as you collect the list, you will start to notice signs of reliable sources, how to find them, and enhance your critical thinking skills.

Nobody ever said it would be easy work, but fighting against misconceptions is worth it. It has the potential to save your life and others, as well as improve our quality of life as a community.

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