The Big Question

What’s Been the Most Significant Lie or Untruth Told to the Public?

John Yiannis Aloimonos
Professor of Computer Science, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

That self-driving cars are within our reach. People invest their money on this technology hoping for a quick profit. Self-driving cars, however, are very far into the future, because although they have good enough perception, they lack common-sense reasoning. We don’t know yet how to give machines common sense.

Jonathan Katz
rofessor of Computer Science, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

That misinformation is a problem only of the right. The left is not blameless, and unfortunately most media nowadays is biased. People need to learn to think critically about all information they receive, and be skeptical of anything that is too one-sided.

Gary LaFree
Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

That terrorism poses an existential threat to the United States. Despite appearances, deadly terrorist attacks in most parts of the world and for most time periods are extremely rare. The trick is to devise policies that protect from the deadliest possibilities while guarding against making things worse by overreacting.

Sandra C. Quinn
Professor and Chair in the Department of Family Science, School of Public Health

That the election was stolen, and its aftermath, which threatens our democracy in fundamental ways.

Jennifer D. Roberts
Associate Professor of Kinesiology, School of Public Health

That “the negro health problem is one of the ‘white man’s burdens,’ and it is by no means the least of those burdens.” This was the opening statement of Dr. L.C. Allen’s general sessions address at the 1914 American Public Health Association meeting. His rhetoric perpetuated a fallacious dogma of anti-Black racism, white supremacy and medical racism that some still believe today.

Oliver Schlake
Clinical Professor of Management and Organization, Robert H. Smith School of Business

The most significant lie or untruth is the one that nobody in all the answers to this request has uncovered. That is the hallmark of a great lie—it is undiscoverable and has penetrated the public opinion as an established truth.

Linda Steiner
Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

The big lie is that if something is not true always and everywhere, then there is only personal truth. Medical experts outside and inside government circles (Anthony Fauci being Exhibit A) did the best they could at the onset of the pandemic to offer helpful guidance and policy about how to minimize the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. As evidence began to accumulate, those medical experts needed to adjust their advice, even directly contradicting themselves on what was likely safe or not. This should not be taken to say they were lying. Nor should it be taken to suggest that each of us should make up our own minds on whether or when to wear masks, avoid social contact, etc. We have new data, new context, more experience that provides good, reliable (true) information ... until still more new data, context and experience supplant the old.

Caro “Spike” Williams-Pierce
Assistant Professor of Information Studies, College of Information Studies

That so-called “soft” degrees (like the humanities, psychology, etc.) aren’t useful. Any student who thinks deeply about people and society could have told Apple that its AirTag design was ripe for horrific misuse, and suggested design alternatives before release. These degrees are very useful—it’s just that big companies haven’t been leveraging them properly.

Ronald Yaros
Associate Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

“Climate change is a hoax” was one of the election-year claims. As a former broadcast meteorologist who was first in the nation to produce a five-part series on the EPA’s first “Greenhouse” report in 1982, it would have been impossible to predict a “hoax” exactly 40 years earlier. We’re now seeing and coping with the predicted changes that are threatening the globe.


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