Friday, May 23, 2014

Tons of Times - The Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

I don’t like to be wrong.

In fact I’d rather not be wrong WAY more than I want to be right.  That is that I would prefer to not make statements that are demonstrably incorrect or unsupportable.  Opinions are one thing, this is quite another.

The problem with this is that I’m unusually naïve for a man my age.  Some parts of my naiveté are self-generated.  I wouldn’t watch the television show “Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed” because I enjoy the illusion of magic.  Knowing how it’s done would spoil one of the great joys in my life. I won't even post a YouTube link to the show because I don't want to spoil you either.

But that's different.  There is also a de facto agreement between the magician and I.  I’m paying him/her to entertain me, I’m agreeing to be “tricked” by the illusions that he/she has worked and trained and practiced so hard to learn.  I'll make the attempt to see, while in the audience, how the trick is done, but I'm not out to actively ruin the evening.  I don't heckle comedians or break the legs of clowns either.

Well, not while they're working.  Clowns that owe you money have to be treated like everyone else.

Unfortunately, in other areas, say the internet, that agreement is completely one-sided.  There are folk, some innocently and others maliciously, who are trying to trick you and me and everyone else, into believing that certain false information is actually true.  Some are trying to make money, others are just trying to have a good laugh at our collective expense.

This would normally be where my naiveté becomes a burden.  Any number of Nigerian Princes and Ethiopian Orphans have attempted to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams for the barest of effort.  I'll admit, being rich sounds nice, and those poor orphans and princes sound like they've had it rough.

Enter  This site was introduced to me when a friend of mine pointed out that an email warning I’d forwarded was actually incredibly old and no longer valid.  Have I mentioned I don’t like to be wrong?

I was embarrassed because I’d propagated misinformation and essentially spammed all my friends with it.  This was not, of course, my friend’s goal.  He just wanted to share with me what the actual truth was.  He also, inadvertently, taught me an important lesson: if it sounds fantastic, it probably is.  It’s become one of my first rules for articles I read on the internet.

So when a friend, Dave (not Dave's real name), posted up a video of how to make Mountain Dew glow like a glowstick using baking soda and hydrogen peroxide I was at first thrilled!  My boys would LOVE to do this kind of thing, and my wife, who is a scientist and teaches chemistry, would think it was really cool.

Then, the rule kicked in, and I immediately went to only to find out this wasn’t true.  Sadly, I shared this news with my friend, who was equally disheartened.  One post later, Julie (not Julie's real name) told me that not only was I wrong about the Mountain Dew glowstick, but itself had been “wrong more times than I can count.”

I’ve heard that charge leveled a couple of times before, but never really peered into’s level of accuracy.  So, I did what I should have done the first time I heard the accusation, and started digging into  I couldn't find very much that supported the claim.  There is this email/article which made the rounds back in 2008 during the election, and seems to show up (like all good urban myths) updated every so often.  But it’s been wholly debunked itself by none-other-than and number of others (you can run the same “snopes is wrong” or “snopes got snoped” searches that I ran).

From what I could determine, applies a kind of scientific model to their research and, as any good scientist or amateur journalist, are in a constant state of verification.  They present the findings of their initial research, but when they’re presented with new information, they double back on the research and re-present the updated findings.  So they've technically been "wrong" in the past, but not out of a lack of effort or maliciously.  The National Review even published an article “Where Urban Legends Fall” where they described as “the ultimate debunker”.  The article even provides this lovely quote:

. . . folklore professor Jan Harold Brunvand, probably the top academic specializing in pop-culture myths, told me it's a big reason he's never bothered setting up a site of his own. “They have it all there,” he said, “so I will just stick to writing books.”

I dunno, when an expert on urban legends himself gives a site the okey-dokey, that seems like quite an endorsement.  Of course, that shouldn’t put paid to the question of’s validity.  This is, after all, the age of the Internet.  A site aggregating stories and presenting findings does not make for the final word on the subject.  But that is what's great about—they don't claim absolute omniscience.  They aim to debunk OR confirm widely circulated stories.  They are out to tell you if something is true or false based on, as far as they can, a reasonable level of research.  This means that is certainly an excellent place to start to discussion about the validity of Mountain Dew’s glowing attributes.

It's also a great way for me to not be wrong.  And if you really want to make Mountain Dew glow, this video will help you do it.

No comments:

Post a Comment