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You may have seen this “news” going around online, but if you haven’t, here it is: a new study shows that 7% of adults in the United States (about 17 million people) believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.


A lot of people were appalled by the results of the survey, in which the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy asked questions of 1,000 American adults online, but I’m not all that surprised.

First of all, as an atheist who has fought against all sorts of pseudoscientific beliefs, this poll seems pretty consistent with what I’ve seen in my life.

In fact, in 2013, a separate study showed that more than 12 million Americans know that “lizard people” control politics. Only about 5 million more are ignorant about the origins of chocolate milk.

It’s also possible a large number of Americans just wanted to mess with the pollsters. When you’re taking a multiple choice exam that counts for nothing, it’s very tempting to choose the most absurd answer just to mess with the results. And options were provided to participants. It’s not like they supplied their own incredibly wrong answer.

But barring statistical sabotage, the fact is that this is America, where we have Scientologists, who believe humans were planted here by an alien in a large spacecraft, and Mormons, who believe Jesus came to America and that God lives on a planet called Kolob, and Catholics, who believe a consecrated communion wafer is literally (literally!) the body of Christ. We have people who believe in reptilian overlords, in burning bushes that talk, and that visiting Ark Encounter is a worthwhile family vacation. We are a melting pot… of terrible ideas.

According to NPR, experts weren’t surprised by the brown cow results either. Registered dietitian Lisa Cimperman said some people were having “a little fun with their answer.” She had some other thoughts, too:

More and more individuals are living in suburbs or cities. And we go to this giant grocery store. We see everything all packaged and placed nicely on the shelves, and we don’t really understand what it takes to get it there.

She further explained that there could be legitimate cause for some confusion, because of the coloring of chickens and eggs.

White eggs simply come from chickens with white earlobes and generally white feathers. And brown eggs generally come from chickens with red or brownish feathers and red earlobes.

Her point, however, is that ignorance plays a larger role in this misconception than we may want to admit.

Again, this is America, where we have all sorts of crazy and demonstrably false notions floating around in the marketplace of ideas. So, even if 17 million people do believe this, maybe we should be grateful that the number isn’t higher.

(Image via Shutterstock)