Most of us around here know about internet memes, hoax emails, and other sources of scientific and medical rumor. After all, we’re geeks (or at least, I am). My wife, however, is not. She is a typical (and wonderful) woman, from a particular ethnic group, and particular part of town (and well-educated). I’m a fairly well-known physician, but when we go out to dinner, everyone stops to say “hi” to her—and is introduced to “her husband” for the third time.
So it isn’t really a surprise that she knows more about the “real world” than I do. I was sitting on the couch reading my feeds, and she was checking her email. She apparently belongs to a mailing list that “everybody” is on. I’m not sure how to reproduce the entire email, so I’ll describe it. It has pictures of an adorable child placing a Tupperware container in a microwave, a refreshing bottle of water, some chemical diagrams, and a headline that reads “Cancer update from Johns Hopkins”. It explains how plastic will poison you with dioxins and other nonsense.
Now, to most folks reading this, it looks like the internet-equivalent of a cut-out newsprint ransom note. But to a suburban mom…
My wife said, “Look at this…is this true?”
“Of course not, honey. It’s a load of bullshit.”
In a response all married people will recognize, she responded, “How would you know?”
“Well, I’m a doctor…”
“But it came in email. And every (insert ethnic group) mom in town is on this mailing list.”
Knowing an exaggeration when I hear it, I grabbed the laptop and looked at the address line—she was right. Everyone. Every friggin’ mom withing ten square miles got this steaming hunk of spam and forwarded it, usually with a little note like “we all know about this, but just to remind you…”
So I did a fifteen second google search (yes, I timed it), and came up with this.
Yes, it’s apparently a well-documented hoax. But to a busy mom, who is checking her email after finishing work, putting the kids to bed, and watching the news, it’s believable.
We of the scientific blogosphere serve a few purposes, and one of them is to educate the public. Sometimes the public is sitting in the other room while we educate each other.
(My wife insisted on forwarding the real Johns Hopkins link to, well, everyone. This should be interesting…)