Checking Your Facts

gapingthingsUrban and Civil

Nov 15, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)


Target: 2.1.3: Scientific explanations using evidence, data, and inferential logic

Checking Your Facts

Sometimes, stories can take on a life of their own, independent of the facts. How can we
sort out the true, the false, and the sorta
kinda true?

I've put together a short list of conventional wisdoms, popular stories, and just plain
rumors. Some may be true, some may have started from a grain of truth, and some may
be just plain fiction. Some you may have heard of before, others not. All are "re
al" in
the sense that they have been told and retold for some time. I did not make any up

Your assignment is to see to what extent you can find evidence to confirm or deny

(or more!) of these statements. You may use whatever resources

you like: books,
popular media, scholarly journals, personal communications with an expert, and the

For each item, I'd like you to present the evidence that you find, pro or con. Document your
sources carefully.

If it's a published record,
give the citation. (author(s), title, pages, publisher, date)

If it is an internet source, give the URL and/or other information necessary to find it.

TV, radio, etc. all should be specified as best you can.

Personal communications should clearly identify the person and when the contact was

Some of these may be hard to find good sources for. That's ok. It would be nice if we
could always find definitive answers, but life is not always so neat. For
each source, give
your personal assessment of how reliable and authoritative you consider it to be
should recognize the distinction between, say, the National Enquirer and Scientific
American. Making a good assessment of your sources and their limita
tions is the most
important task. Keep in mind that two web pages that quote the same thing do not
necessarily constitute twice as much evidence. In so far as possible, try to track things
back to original sources rather than second
hand ones.



For each story


your sources (if from the Web, give the full URL).
At minimum, you must
use at least 2 sources per story!

Use each source only once.

Give your
ment of sources. To help standardize a little, identify each source

Somewhat Plausible
, or
Very Convincing


your rating choice.

Give your overall assessment of the story. (i.e.
Is it true?

Target: 2.1.3: Scientific explanations using evidence, data, and inferential logic

Here's the list:


Walt Disney is said to have been obsessed with his death. Supposedly he arranged to have
his body cryogenically preserved


in the hopes of someday being revived. Is this
the true meaning of "Disney on Ice?"


The most famous demonstration
of "subliminal advertising" was supposed to be an
experiment in which EAT POPCORN and DRINK COKE were flashed on the screen for a
fraction of a second to an unsuspecting movie audience, and sales at the concession stand
skyrocketed. Does this experiment s
tand as good science?


As a kid, my mother always told me to eat my carrots because they would improve my
eyesight. Was she right?


The earth's rotation, manifested in the Coriolis force, causes hurricanes and water draining
from the bathtub to rotat
e in one direction in the Northern Hemisphere and the opposite
direction down under. You can trust your physics teacher, right?


It is commonly said that 9 months after a major blackout (such as in the 1965 blackout in
New York City), there is a notable i
ncrease in the number of babies born. It sounds
plausible, but is there data to back it up?


Warnings are circulating about a new telephone scam. If you get a call from a "technician"
who asks you to push a few keys (like 9, 0, #) and hang up, don't!

This lets the caller place
long distance calls on your line at your expense. Is this a real concern or a false alarm?


The story goes that a falling apple inspired Isaac Newton's formulation of the law of gravity.
Is this just so much applesauce?


Magicians Penn & Teller perform a trick in which they appear to catch
in their teeth!

bullet fired from across the stage. Legend has it that other magicians have died doing this
bizarre trick. Show biz hype or are P&T taking a dangerous risk?


ve you heard about the terminally ill kid who wanted to get in the Guiness record book for
the most number of postcards received? Would you help him out?

10. And just what were George Washington's false teeth made out of anyway?


You may talk to
each other about getting hints for sources. But I expect you to do your
own analysis.

And here's a hint from me:

Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand has described some of these stories as "urban legends" or "urban folklore."

One description


An urban legend

appears mysteriously and spreads spontaneously in varying forms contains elements of humor or horror (the
horror often "punishes" someone who flouts society's conventions).

makes good storytelling.


NOT have to be false, although most are.

often have a basis in fact, but it's their life after
fact (particularly in reference to the second and third points)
that gives them particular interest.