Visit Snopes.com, the myth-busting web site and you will discover something new every time. And in most cases, what you’ll discover is that a lot of things you always thought were true were in fact LIES!
For example, just last week I discovered to my great relief that swallowing a watermelon seed will NOT cause a watermelon to grow inside you – this according to Snopes.com – unless, of course, you also accidentally consume Ortho plant fertilizer mixed with large doses of Miracle Gro potting soil, drink two gallons of water per day, and sit under a sun lamp with your mouth wide open for 30 minutes a day for two months. But even then, the chances are slim. And it probably won’t be edible.
Every day, people send me well-intentioned emails, passing along what they naively believe to be an informative news alert or a warning about some health or safety risk – most of which turn out to be utterly false. Oh sure, to be fair, every now and then the warning turns out to be helpful information I can actually use in my daily life – like the warning against wearing sweat pants made of bacon while snuggling in the wild with a bear cub within 100 feet of its mama. Just no way that’s gonna have a good outcome. Thank God I received that email just in time, right before my vacation to Yellowstone. Could have turned out badly.
But most of the time, these well-intentioned dire warnings are just plain FALSE – and I know this because I often verify the falsity of these ridiculous claims at Snopes.com – usually about 5 minutes after I’ve forwarded the well-intentioned dire warning email to 1,500 of my closest friends, typically with a subject line in my email stating: Important information. Pass this along to 1,500 of your closest friends!
Here are just a few of the email tips I received in the past month, all of which turned out to be completely without merit:
- Flossing your teeth with cat intestines releases pheromones that will make you irresistible to women – FALSE! (Although in fairness, I did become instantly irresistible to my cat, Buttons.)
- Watching 50 hours of NOVA episodes on PBS will grow new brain cells and actually make you smarter – FALSE! (However, it IS true that watching even a single episode of Jersey Shore can potentially destroy up to 1,000 brain cells)
- The legendary creature Big Foot is real and about to star in his own reality show on MTV. FALSE! (He’s going to be on the Lifetime Channel. Turns out MTV refused to throw in a stretch limo.)
- Eating a diet consisting of nothing but broccoli and tuna fish for four months will enlarge your penis. – Totally FALSE! (Don’t ask me how I know, but I do. Just trust me.)
- Using cell phones while fueling up at a gas station leads to brain cancer in mice – FALSE! (As to why mice were using cell phones at gas stations, well, that’s a question scientists are still hotly debating.)
- Watching Fox News more than an hour a week will lead to incurable insanity – TRUE/FALSE (Technically, scientists now think this only poses a serious mental health risk if you are exposed to the Sean Hannity show for prolonged periods.)
We have all seen emails with claims that too much of this or that has been shown to lead to cancer in laboratory rats. After years of in-depth laboratory studies, it was recently revealed that the primary cause of cancer in all of those poorly designed laboratory studies was in fact laboratory rats. So the takeaway is clear: Go ahead and have another rack of bacon. Don’t worry about trans fats. But for God’s sake, avoid ingesting laboratory rats at all costs.
Thanks to Snopes.com, most of these health tips and alarmist warnings we receive in our email turn out to be nothing more than misguided hoaxes – urban legends that took on a life of their own thanks to the viral power of the Internet. If you’re not familiar with Snopes.com, it’s a very informative website worth checking out. It has a singular purpose: to validate or debunk incredible claims, warnings, and tall tales that circulate around the Internet. The site examines claims such as the infamous urban legend that told us that “for every person you forward this email, Bill Gates will donate $1 towards life-saving brain surgery for a five-year old girl named Tabitha.” Yeah, right. Snopes.com often provides detailed back stories about how a particular myth originated in the first place, along with documented evidence debunking it.
Perhaps you’ve received an email informing you that the radiation from your cell phone can pop popcorn or that drinking your own urine can add ten years to your life. Whatever the incredible claim or warning, the odds are Snopes.com has tracked it down. [Author’s note: While it’s conceivable that drinking your own urine may add ten years to your life, this regimen is pretty much assured to ruin any chance you have of ever getting married. And it tastes so awful, I gave up after just three weeks.] In 90% of the cases, Snopes.com will prove with convincing evidence the tall tale is just that – a tall tale.
I can’t count the number of times I wished I had checked out Snopes.com. Like the time I stopped taking daily showers for three months because I was told the soap I had been using was destroying my resistance to germs and would lead to disease – this based on a helpful email forwarded by someone I have never heard of to someone else I never heard of to someone else I never heard of to my mother. And who would not follow the advice of their own mother? But had I just checked out Snopes.com first, I would have quickly learned two important pieces of information:
First: that this “washing with soap” scare is a completely fabricated urban legend with no basis in fact; and
Second: that my mother is a complete moron. (And I mean that in only the most loving way, Mom.)
Thanks to Snopes.com, I no longer fear flesh-eating bananas from Costa Rica, venomous grasshoppers from Guam or poisonous rat droppings in my box of Special K cereal which will cause my internal organs to dissolve. I no longer worry that downloading Elf Bowl to my computer will trigger a virus that will erase my computer’s hard drive on Christmas morning. I don’t fear that the police officer who is about to pull me over for an illegal left turn might in reality be a raging psychopath impersonating a cop, intent on killing me so he can eat my kidneys. Thanks to Snopes.com, I am no longer paralyzed with fear at the thought of leaving my bathroom.
So imagine my shock when I found out this week that Snopes.com decided to research claims that Snopes.com itself was a hoax. Snopes.com, true to its commitment to track down the truth or falsity of every Internet claim, no matter how credible or far-fetched, conducted an in-depth investigation. Stunningly, Snopes.com concluded that in fact there was no credible evidence to support the existence of Snopes.com, and reported its findings at its web site, Snopes.com.
But interestingly, Snopes.com then conducted a further investigation and discovered something even more perplexing: Its subsequent study concluded that the alarmist claims by Snopes.com that it does not exist were in fact just a nefarious hoax, and that Snopes.com was in fact real after all. It pointed to reams of statistical reports showing thousands of daily web site visits, to debunk claims that it did not exist.
But it didn’t end there. Shortly after that study, yet another Snopes.com investigation was launched, aiming this time to determine whether or not the previous Snopes.com report – which had reported that the Snopes.com report claiming that Snopes.com was a hoax, was itself a hoax – was in fact a hoax or not. As of this writing, the answer is still uncertain. It appears that Snopes.com has been caught in some carnival “funhouse of mirrors” endless loop of claims and counter claims about its own existence. As a result of this chain reaction of Snopes.com investigations into its own existence, the entire bank of Snopes.com web servers finally overloaded and crashed – that is, if we are to believe that those web servers ever existed in the first place. At present, it is still unclear whether Snopes.com is a hoax or whether this writer is simply experiencing a really bad acid trip flashback.
So how will I know what’s true anymore? I don’t know what to believe. Without Snopes.com, I won’t know whether I should refuse to accept anyone’s business card ever again because it could be soaked in a dangerous drug which will completely erase my memory. I worry about whether I might be asked by a company’s customer service automated phone menu to “please press #-9-0” – only to end up accidentally turning over my credit card information to Bulgarian Internet scammers who will go on a shopping spree at Tiffany’s using my Discover credit card. (Thankfully, it only has a $125 limit.)
And how will I ever know for sure whether those two teenagers living in my house these past 15 years are really my daughters and not aliens from another planet deposited in my house for the sole purpose of driving me insane and paying for their college education? One can never be too cautious these days.
Without Snopes.com to turn to for answers, I am confused and nervous. But there are three things I now know for a fact:
First: There never was a moon landing. All of them were faked, on a sound stage somewhere in Burbank. Neil Armstrong was really just a character played by Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster. (That’s Burt in photo at right.)
Second: Global Warming is a complete hoax fabricated by liberal environmentalists intent on making people use their brains. I learned this on the O’Reilly Factor.
And Third: For every person to whom you forward this blog post, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will donate $10 to build a hospital for poor starving kids in Africa.
Thank you for doing your part to save the starving kids of Africa by spreading the word about View from the Bleachers to 1,500 of your closest friends. With a simple mouse click, you can do your part to save the world, one needy African child at a time. Mind if I give you a hug?
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2010 – 2011