Nana and I were discussing the aforementioned phantom menace of Korean fan death at a party last night where one of our company happened to be Korean. She could corroborate the fact that, not only is fan death--sudden death while sleeping, popularly attributed to leaving the fan running through the night--frequently cited as a common cause of death in news reports and government policies, most Koreans, herself included, sincerely believe that it's true.
Now, it would be easy to dismiss this kind of belief as some strange, backward phenomenon presenting in a country still only a generation away from superstitious traditionalism and rampant authoritarian propaganda. However, hearing a young, educated, and otherwise sensible person trying to convince us that fan death is a very real danger to our health got me thinking. Surely there must be some fact we Americans take for granted that, upon the slightest rational observation, is patently absurd? What do you think? To qualify, the belief would have to be held my the vast majority of the population and at least passively supported by the government and the media, so that rules out most topics related to religion, global warming, or evolution.
I know most Europeans would tell us the desirability of the free market is a myth, and recent events show that their worst caricatures of how the market actually works may be closer to reality than we'd like to admit . . . though I still can't shake the belief that, in theory, free markets, regulated to prevent anti-competitive practices, still produce the maximum good for the maximum number of people.
In the UK and parts of the US, the anti-vaccination Autism scare could be a candidate if it picks up more steam. The idea that vaccinations cause autism does get some support in the media, the FDA hasn't forged any clear policy on the matter, and the belief is based on the same fallacy--that if two things happen at the same time or in sequence, it means the first caused the second--that gives us the Korean fan death scare.
So I ask you, loyal readers--are there any other Western myths you can think of that rival the Korean fan death scare?