Questions about the original findings aside, there’s reason to explore how the media covered the chocolate milk survey.
The results were instantly shared and republished by a mind-boggling number of outlets (a Google Trends search for “chocolate milk” and “brown cows” shows a spike beginning June 15th). This factoid likely garnered such massive attention because it feeds into a popular narrative about American ignorance and science illiteracy.
Our research suggests that people who are often accused of being “anti-science” are not necessarily as unscientific as one might think. The rapid spread of this story is likely related to the desire, unfortunately prominent among many liberals, to see and label other people as ignorant.
Studies suggest we are more likely to accept new information when it confirms what we already want to believe. In this case, the chocolate milk statistic fits well with the notion that Americans are fools, so it’s accepted and republished widely despite the numerous red flags that should give scientifically minded people pause.