2013-06-11

Factoid Factories

Factoids (urban legends, myths, commonly held misbeliefs etc) are rarely created as such. They usually begin as misunderstandings, jokes, tales not supposed to be taken seriously or similar. The interesting phase comes later: When they are spread around the world as truths.

Here are three well known and prolific sources of factoids. Maybe none of them ever created a true factoid that caught on -- but they sure have spread the factoids of others.


 
Charles Fort

Fort spent decades poring over newspapers, cutting out anything that caught his eye. He collected news that were peculiar, odd, weird, incredible, supernatural or just "in the wrong context": rains of fish, frogs, blood, rocks, crosses or just about anything; people levitating, spontaneously catching fire, reading minds, teleporting; statues crying or bleeding; monsters, UFO:s, astronomical observations ranging from the strange to the completely outlandish; and so on. He eventually published four volumes and got quite a few followers. Many of his news items are still in circulation among the credulous.

What he didn't do was to check the many stories. People who have taken the trouble to do so, have found that the weirdness usually evaporates quickly; it's misconceptions or false rumours, when not jokes or crude hoaxes.

Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Robert Ripley created Ripley's Believe It or Not! -- a franchise that comes in many shapes, describing the bizarre, unusual, incredible etc. It's success never depended on source-checking.

QI - Quite Interesting

The game show is, of course, a joke. So is @qikipedia on Twitter, where "The QI Elves" (the research staff) post various statements, more or less interesting, amusing and true.

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