The Candy Apple
Healthy Skepticism Has Its Place
This exchange took pace in early January on a message board I frequent (some words altered, and names changed):
Statler: I just got an e-mail tsunami picture purporting to be of the wave hitting a city in Indonesia and am curious if it’s legit. Has anybody seen footage on TV of the wave hitting the shore? I guess maybe in some places, there was enough advance warning to get a helicopter up, and shoot the photo.
Waldorf: I’ve seen video footage, but not what I’d call a definitive tsunami video, so I guess the picture could be real. I would love to see it.
Kermit: Just be sure to check snopes.com first. There are some fakes going around:
Statler: This is the one I got. I’ll let my friend know it’s a fake.
I was astounded at the speed of the response, that several people in the group quickly ran to look at the Snopes site. I had heard of Snopes but never visited it. I decided it was time.
I followed the link to the tsunami photo, where I read the explanation of four factors that convinced the Web site authors this picture was faked. I’ll let you read it yourself, as they are rather protective of their copyrighted material, which includes everything on the site. They are happy for you to link to their material but do not want you quoting it elsewhere. That seems fair to me.
The “they” I am talking about are Barbara and David P. Mikkelson. They are the site operators and do nearly all the research. I began with the What’s New page and had plenty of fun. There are both photos and stories, which are updated frequently. Some photos have a “disturbing image warning,” which I trusted, and did not open. There was a precious series of pictures of a black bear with a white albino cub, which I bet will remain available for a while. The research looks pretty thorough, explaining why it might be that the cub is white, and citing a newspaper article from several months ago that validates the story of a white cub in this particular region.
Most pages follow this format: the photo or tale comes first, then the analysis, then the citations of sources used to back up the analysis. The FAQ page explains that the authors do not make any claim to being totally correct all the time. They are claiming they will research the myths and legends, and will report their findings. That’s my interpretation of what they said—remember I do not want to infringe on that copyright. The FAQ page is really a very good place to start, and from there you should try the link for their glossary, where they explain the distinction between myths and legends. And other stuff. The answer to the most important question—what the heck are snopes?—is on the FAQ page.
I have been thinking lately about Web resources, and how some of them that seem reliable are not always. I have decided that if we approach such sources with the idea that once in a while they will be in error, we can live with the 98% success rate they have got going. Several such sites are free, like Wikipedia, which lists itself as a “free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Since that’s on the front page, I guess you have fair warning. If you followed a link to an inside page, though, and you didn’t know it was open entry, you might rely on the information and be disappointed.
I absolutely love the notion of a community of learners who share what they know. I am a smidge leery of somebody using this site as a sole reference. Think of it as a supplement, like that vitamin tablet you take in the morning. As for Snopes, remember they are not necessarily 100% right (I do not know of an instance where they were wrong, but I have only been a fan for a few weeks), but they are very thorough and very entertaining.
Also in This Series
- On Temptation · July 2010
- Beyond Pen Pals · July 2007
- Just Because We Can Do a Thing, Does Not Mean We Should Do a Thing · March 2006
- Google Tells Big Brother to Take a Hike · February 2006
- Wikipedia Is Not the Lovefest We Thought · January 2006
- Star Trek Gadgets Have Arrived · December 2005
- The Silver Screen Keeps Shrinking · October 2005
- It’s Just Business · July 2005
- Age Has Its Advantages · June 2005
- Complete Archive