Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talk Thursday: Semi-True Stories

It’s a semi-true story
Believe it or not
I made up a few things
And there’s some I forgot
But the life and the telling
Are both real to me
And they run like the rain
All the way to the sea
Semi-true stories
Jimmy Buffet

On any given day I could go down any given road or a hundred different ones on this topic. I'm going down this road today.

A few days ago I get an email from someone I know, someone I trust my life with on weekends when we jump out of airplanes together. The gist of it was this:

Dear All,

Ericsson is distributing free laptops for their brand promotion. They hope to increase their sales and popularity by this campaign. All you need to do is send an email about this promotion to 8 people and you will receive an Ericsson R320 laptop. Make sure you send a copy to:

“Jesus, not this again”, are the first words out of my mouth upon scanning over the email and I quickly deleted it. The next day I receive “reply to all” from another person I know who received the email too. He asks, “whats the catch.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

The fucking catch is you must live in a cave and have monkey shit for brains.

That’s what I wanted to say, but I restrained myself while I looked it up on to find, of course, that it was another hoax. I knew this without checking what the folks over at snopes discovered, but I wanted to reply to every “monkey shit-for-brains” person on the mailing list with more than my opinion. Not enough to just state that it was another ridiculous hoax. Including the link to the snopes verdict provided some non-biased proof. It’s a variation on a hoax that has been around for ten years or more.

Do educated people really fall for this kind of crap? Apparently so! Does human greed trump common sense? I am wondering!

My wife and I have a female friend, who for a while, was forwarding to us 5 or 6 emails a week about some really crazy shit, like stuff right out of The National Enquirer. They ranged from pseudo politics to wacky health claims to pseudo science. Here’s some examples of the headlines/topics:

Mars! don’t miss it.

Anti Terrorist Event

Pictures from London, beyond scary!

Baby Carrots cause cancer

She forwarded them because she thought they all sounded credible and real. Some of them were semi-true stories, which are often a bit more difficult to debunk than the outright obvious garbage. The Mars email claimed that because Mars is going to be closer at opposition this year, it is going to appear as large as the moon. Being an amateur astronomer, I knew better. The baby carrot one, claiming that you can get cancer from those grocery store baby carrots sounded possible, but my nose itched over it, so I researched it and my nose was right. It was a semi-true story, semi-true on a minor detail but which had nothing to do with the carrots causing cancer. I responded to her emails time and again, refuting the bogus claims with facts and evidence, but she just laughed it off and went on her merry way and continues to forward these outlandish emails.

Another friend forwards me emails about H1N1 swine flu being human made as a diabolical conspiracy and it includes semi-true stories to conclude that the pharmaceutical companies knew it was coming in advance because they applied for patents a year before the virus was discovered.

One of my best friends forwards suspicious emails to me with requests to research them and report back. I suppose he does this because I debunked a few of them that he really thought were legit. So now I am his official debunker.

Don’t get me going on the global warming thing. Fruitcake semi-true stories are endlessly clogging email inboxes on this one. I know people who devote their entire facebook dialogues to perpetuating pseudo science mixed with semi-true stories on this topic.

Originally, I believed the internet was going to help enlighten the world and make knowledge more accessible. I thought people would become better educated and shed urban myths and legends, superstitions, folk myth and magic, but it seems I was wrong in this assumption. Too much information and the bulk of it is bad information. Couple this with what seems to be an exponentially declining ability among our race to apply any modicum of logic or skepticism to what we read or hear. It’s a recipe that might just implode human progress back to the stone-age. It seems more and more that the internet and life in general has become a jumbled, mass confusion of semi-true stories and fairy tales and it’s beginning to bother the hell out of me.

Is it possible that there is a gullibility gene in us responsible for keeping the human race ignorant, superstitious and semi-stupid forever?