Monday, May 10, 2010

Calling All Snopes

"Talk about Big Brother!" said the woman working next to me at a volunteer event on Saturday.

We were unloading and sorting bags, boxes and cans of food donated last Saturday through the annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive.

She wasn't upset about the efforts of the letter carriers, who picked up donations along with outgoing mail. No, she was furious about some pending federal legislation that would require individuals to spend $2,500 to $10,000 weatherizing their homes before they could sell them.

"Nah ... I don't believe that," I said gently, trying to smile rather than grit my teeth. "I follow legislation pretty closely and I've never heard about that. And it would cause quite an uproar if that was included in legislation for private homes."

This lovely woman - who was sporting 20 carats of diamonds on her wedding ring, no joke - was pretty sure of her information, gleaned from a "friend of a friend."

What I should have done was refer her to Snopes.com, which I turned to when I got home. Within 30 seconds, I found this thorough debunking of the climate change legislation rumor.

Next time someone credulously repeats a factoid that sounds completely nutty, remember that it probably is. And check it out at Snopes.

9 comments:

  1. It's interesting that this piece of misinformation came from a "friend of a friend." I think many of us let down our skeptical shields when we receive information from "credible" pals.

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  2. Agreed. I find an amazing amount of people tend to believe rumor before checking facts.

    I found out about Snopes.com years several years ago on an online group I was a member of. I mentioned something I'd heard on their message board and got blasted. I'm wiser now and will never do that again without making sure what I'm saying is true.

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  3. Ah, that unimpeachable source, the friend of a friend. Immediate clue that it's an urban legend.

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  4. Yes, Susan. I think we're biologically wired to trust friends and friends' friends more than the "mainstream media."

    Lori, I had that happen also! Snopes is a terrific resource.

    Right, Desiree. I'm just kicking myself that I didn't tell her about Snopes. I did hold my ground and at least (I think) make her question her information a bit.

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  5. Snopes is one of the best websites out there. My only problem with it is how to delicately tell people about it when they forward insane rumors to me.

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  7. Yes, Petrea, we need to develop a tactful way to say "This is idiotic, why don't you check your facts!"

    Or maybe not ... ;-)

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  8. Some people choose to believe rumors that support their own political agenda, and I doubt whether they'll use any tool to do the research.

    I heard one of your folks from the Sceptical Society on NPR a couple of weeks ago. Loved him.

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  9. Karin, you're exactly right. And I knew instantly what the agenda was in this case!

    One of the most useful quotes I've ever committed to memory:

    ‘For what a man would like to be true, that he more readily believes.’— Francis Bacon

    You probably heard Michael Shermer, the president/founder of the Skeptics. (Desiree and Barry are good friends of his, btw) Larry Mantle has him on at least a couple of times a year and he's always interesting.

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