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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Your In-Box is Lying to You

Friday, March 23, 2007

Your In-Box is Lying to You

The internet provides information to users in ways that was previously not possible. We are truly living in the information age. Some of the information is of the highest quality while some is of very poor quality; it’s up to the internet user to decide the difference. When it comes to blogs or websites in general, I believe that most people have their B.S. detectors working. With blogs, for example, readers can and often do challenge the facts or opinions of the post’s author. But how often do most people challenge what they have “learned” from their in-boxes?

The biggest pet peeve of mine when it comes to the internet is forwards which purport to be factual. More often than not the forward comes from an unknown author and contains little known “facts” without any sources cited for the e-mail recipient to check. As far as I am concerned, e-mail forwards are the equivalent to the tabloid papers at the checkout stand of the local grocery store. The forward usually is very vague on details but contain an element of truth to make it appear authentic (the most effective lies contain an element of truth). Most people who receive these forwards will pass the message on to others on their e-mail list without questioning the accuracy of the message. This is particularly true if the message supports a belief of the e-mail recipient. Only if the recipient’s beliefs are challenged by the message will he or she make an attempt to debunk it.

Many of these e-mails are trivial little known “facts” that won’t hurt anyone if the claim turns out to be false. Speaking of trivia which of the following is true: Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) was a Navy Seal during the Vietnam War with several confirmed kills, world renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer was a sniper in the Israeli Defense Force, or Lee Greenwood dodged the draft in the 1960’s by moving to Canada? Though these are interesting questions with surprising answers, having the wrong answer won’t have much affect on anyone’s life.

Some e-mail forwards want recipients to take some sort of action such as boycotting a business, voting a certain way/contacting your congressperson, or tell you how to rid your computer of a little known computer virus (usually spread through e-mail). If you take an action based on an e-mail that turns out to be false, you could hurt someone (possibly yourself). Have you ever received the forward about how Pepsi designed a can with part of the Pledge of Allegiance with the “under God” part omitted? This is supposed to inspire you to boycott the company or write PepsiCo a nasty letter. How about the one that claims that members of congress do not pay Social Security taxes? Most of us (myself included) have a very negative view of politicians so this one isn’t that hard to believe. If you are afraid of computer viruses, perhaps you can download a certain attachment that will give your computer immunity from a certain virus! What do these three forwards have in common? They are all lies spread by unsuspecting internet users.

Some of these rumors which have attained urban legend status predate the internet; the internet has played a role in keeping these urban legends alive, however. Have you ever heard the one about Midwestern housewife who was visiting Las Vegas and had a tense but humorous encounter with a black man in an elevator who turned out to be Eddy Murphy? I first heard this one when I was a teenager (my mother told me this happened to a friend of one of her friends). I also rediscovered another of these urban legends from my youth: “Scientists drilling in Siberia punch a hole into hell.” According to this story, the scientists lowered a microphone into the hole and heard what they believed to be screams of damned souls. In 1989, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN, an Evangelical Christian channel) without any apparent fact checking took this news to the air to “prove” the existence of hell.

Interestingly, many of the biggest whoppers you will find in your in-box have some basis in religious experiences or other “facts” which support a person’s religious faith (so much for “Thou shalt not bear false witness”). Common ones are: “NASA Scientist discovers a lost day in time,” a Christian college student (who turns out to be Albert Einstein) humiliates his atheist science professor concerning the existence of God, and of course the famous tale of Charles Darwin renouncing his theory of evolution and converting to Christianity on his deathbed. There are many, many, more but if you haven’t seen any of these in your in-box yet, you probably will eventually.

In the age of PhotoShop, such hoaxes are even easier to spread via e-mail. I recently received a forward about an archeological discovery of giant human bones complete with photographs (I believe this e-mail was sent to me in response to a snarky YouTube video I had placed at the end of a post I wrote entitled: Sunday School Science Lesson. The video said that any day we will find discoveries of giant and unicorn skeletons). The following is the text of the forward I received:

Below are some photos of some of the GIANT SKELETONS that has been discovered throughout the years. Even recently some were discovered in South America, but little was said about it as they were quietly whisked away to their forgotten storage bin. The hoax of evolution teaches us that we come from much smaller and less complicated life-forms. Which explains why every time a set of these massive bones are discovered; they simply catalogue them and then place them somewhere out of site. Currently, the Smithsonian Institute has custody over these and many other forgotten fossils. I find it interesting how Archaeology keeps proving the claims of the Bible every time we dig something else up.

Notice how vague this claim is? “Recently some [giant skeletons] were discovered in South America…” Okay fine but where in South America? And what about this claim that this discovery was “kept quiet” and placed “out of site”? How is it that this mysterious author knew about this if this was covered up by the scientific community and the media? Maybe if we knew who the original author of this e-mail was and credible sources he or she used then we could take these claims seriously.

I did some searching on the Smithsonian website and had no luck finding anything about these giant skeletons. I’m sure that these bones have been hidden somewhere between the remains of the extra terrestrials with the spacecraft that crashed in Roswell and the top secret documents of how our government faked the moon landing. Who knows, maybe I haven’t searched hard enough. If anyone has any additional information about this e-mail, I would gladly take a look at it.

What about the photos? Here they are; I’ll let you the readers decide whether or not they are authentic. I’m not convinced. Some of these photos could have just as easily appeared in The National Enquirer next to the story about how Bat Boy saved the world from eminent destruction.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the origins of any of these pictures anywhere on the internet. Not even or has completed an evaluation of these photos (otherwise I would have linked their explanations here). However, I did find an e-mail that these sites did evaluate on a very similar e-mail with a different photograph of a giant skeleton (shown below).

Pretty convincing huh? It turns out that a digital photo website called Worth had a contest for the best phony photographs. This is where the above photograph originated. Some of these doctored pictures are pretty impressive.

My point is this: your in-box is lying to you. Occasionally you might find an e-mail that is true but you should always make an effort to find the truth for yourself—especially if you plan on forwarding the message. The world is complicated enough without filling it full of lies. I try to deal in the real world with real facts; even if the facts do not support my position. Facts I can deal with.
As I was putting this post together, I noticed a website ( ) which is the source material for the third photo on the page (the man standing next to the sculpture of the giant femur; the website is referenced on caption of the photo). The other photos appear to be unrelated to this particular website. The website is for a fossil museum in Crosbyton, TX. Joe Taylor is the owner and curator of the museum. Taylor has an anti-evolution / pro-creationism agenda but at least he is upfront and honest about it. On the “about us” page, Taylor briefly describes his background as an artist and a “fossil restorationist.” Although he has volunteered to help on various excavations, he does not appear to have any other credentials related to archeology. His fossil collection seems to be a hobby. Taylor also has several books on archeology from a creationist’s view which he has published by his own publishing company (his company has also published books by other authors with the same theme).

I want to be fair to Mr. Taylor and do some further research on him, his museum, his books, and his publishing company. I also want to find out what credentials the authors of the other books have who have been published under Mr. Taylor’s publishing company. I want to find out if Mr. Taylor or any of these authors have any scholarly articles written in peer reviewed journals (peer reviewed by leading archeologists). I have my suspicions but I want to be as accurate as possible.

My preliminary findings relating to the giant femur sculpture:

As far as I can tell based on Mr. Taylor’s story behind the giant femur, his basis for the sculpture is based on second and third hand sources. Taylor quotes from an article sent to him by someone by the name of Jack Wagner. It is not clear whether or not Wagner is the author of the article (it appears that he is not) but in any case, there is no citation for the article. No title, no author, no indication of what magazine, journal, or newspaper the article appeared in.

This does not bode well for Taylor’s credibility. In any event, I have lots more research to do on this matter. If what I have found so far is any indication, when I am finished my findings could merit another post. Check back for further developments.


Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

People in my circle of friends often send me these BS forwards. On the occasions where I respond, it tends to be the last time I'll get a forward from that particular person.

My typical MO is to reply-all to everyone on the email, with a link to snopes, truthorfiction, etc, proving that their forward is full of it. Further, I make sure to point out that a 2 minute search would have allowed them to avoid looking like a moron for sending a BS email.

Only once have I sent something other than a scathing response. I got this one once, and I actually sent a reply-all commending the person who sent it to me for actually sending something that was true.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:39 AM  

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