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…)

Comments

  1. #2 Christina
    March 22, 2008

    She will not be thanked.

    Those who debunk urban legends know this phenomenon very well. She will get hate mail. She will get mail that says, “Well, but just in case…. She will be accused of being rude.

    You’re not going to believe it. The total lack of logic or sense will astound you. I promise.

    Wanna see? Write a post on aspartame and watch the cranks come out.

  2. #3 Suricou Raven
    March 22, 2008

    Christina is likely right – with health scares, espicially those in which children are involved, the ‘just in case’ worry means that it is many times easier to create a panic than to halt it. No matter how much evidence is given to say that the scare is groundless, people will still have just enough worry that the experts might be wrong to continue spreading the nonsense.

  3. #4 Graculus
    March 22, 2008

    She will not be thanked.

    Nope.

    The Onion nails it, as usual.

    Calling horseshit “horseshit” is a great way to get called rude names.

  4. #5 yogi-one
    March 22, 2008

    Wow after this and the Onion article, i am now feeling truly sorry for myself.

    I have been stuck in the boxed in, closed, narrow-minded, self-imposed exile of requiring real evidence for my beliefs. (Violins, tears…)

    Imagine the state of disalignment my spiritual DNA must be in right now! I will definitely need some quantum discreation processes to help me get back on track!
    I’ll need to swing the pendulum and have the beings of the seventh level clear my past lives (which of course I can’t remember because my narrow, debilitating, skepticism blocks all my past-life memory).
    Jesus must pity me. Just think – I’m like a kid without an imaginary friend!

    Oh, well, at least I haven’t ticked off Martin Luther…

  5. #6 HCN
    March 22, 2008

    Hmmm, and he… I used to be the recipient of such “useful” information from my sister-in-laws. When she sent me the urban legend of the week to me, I sent her the Snopes site refuting that information.

    One sister-in-law has started to check the Snopes site before forwarding the dire information.

    Well, the other is a bit harder to educate. She kept doing it, and then sent me a warning about the dangers of vaccines from the whale.to website (owned by a guy named John Scudamore, who once wrote that his bum was burned by satanic black lines while he was on psychotics, he is a well known Usenet loon). I let her have it with both keyboard barrels. I asked her how dare she attempt to risk the lives of my kids (including the health impaired child) with idiocy about vaccines from a well known Usenet loon.

    She decided to just stop sending me emails with dire warnings.

    Now about the holiday dinner when she tried to tell us that the natives encountered by Columbus did not recognize the fact that they were in ships! Something she saw in a “What the Bleep” movie. Sigh… I had to tell her that I spent a the bulk of my youth in that area, and had had Venezuelan history in Venezuela and I also spent lots of time in the museum in Ft. Amador, Panama which had lots of pre-Columbian stuff including gold, and other history, but nothing on the natives not seeing the ships (especially since the Carib Indians got around in large sea-going canoes). I think she has decided not to share such knowledge at further family gatherings (she also did not like me sharing how the Spaniards used large dogs*, guns and disease to cause genocide in South America, and that within a couple of centuries the native populations in the Americas was down by 90%…*the Venezuelan teacher at http://www.eca.com.ve/ was very descriptive about the methods used by the Conquistadors).

    Oops, sorry about rambling, and welcome to Scienceblogs.

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