We have all suffered through a conversation with a whack job; listening to them, either in person or online, completely twist logic to make a square peg fit a round hole. I will often ignore or deflect their rhetoric since it’s a waste of my time trying to change their mind. History is not the only topic they choose to distort; they also like science (see: flat earth society), economics (see: any pyramid scheme), war (see: any war movie with Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis) and even biology (see Todd Akin’s “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down” regarding rape pregnancies.)
People are entitled to their opinions. If I’m going to get upset about people spreading myths and lies on the internet, I should also start correcting people in bars and bus stops too. It is a futile exercise that will probably result in at least one black eye. I’m not going to try and stop Earl Taylor and the National Center of Constitutional Studies from selling tickets to his ridiculous lecture about the constitution at the Holiday Inn. I’m not going to try and stop the Sons of the Confederate Veterans from celebrating their ancestor’s humiliating defeat. They are entitled to their opinions and anyone that believes this silliness can go ahead and spend their afternoons hunched over a keyboard and bucket of KFC writing comments on the Idaho Statesman website.
The big difference of course comes with public funding. What happens when these myths and lies creep into publicly funded education like museums and text books? Two problems arrise. First: who’s to say my version of history is any better than the wackos? Second: What if the majority of Americans really want the lies and myths over the truth? The answer to the first question is fairly simple: historians point to the evidence while others point to (to quote XKCD) “.net pages with black backgrounds and like 20 fonts each.” Historian show history is never black and white, the gray area contains subtleties often lost in internet arguments. The second point, that the majority of Americans want to believe myth X, I believe can also be disproven.
With most generalities, American beliefs can be roughly modeled by a bell curve. On one extreme you have a small group that pushes to continue the myth. On the other extreme you might have informed academics or professionals (scientists, historians, biologists) that have a rational explanation. In the middle is the majority of Americans that probably don’t have time to care. The best thing for the historian to do is pull the center towards their side. This is difficult however, because the other side is trying the same thing.