How gullible are we?
Chargoggaggoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaug is a native American name meaning “you fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, nobody fish in the middle.” It’s the name of a lake in Massachusetts.
Actually, Larry Adler, editor of the Webster Times, made that up in 1921, as a joke, yet the gullible of the world are still eating it up on the internet. The locals call the body of water Lake Webster.
More recently, in 1997, young Nathan Zohner circulated a petition asking recipients to join him in his battle to have a dangerous chemical, dihydrogen monoxide banned.
Dihydrogen monoxide, he warned in explanatory data, is colourless, odourless, tasteless and kills thousands of people every year. Quantities of the chemical have been found in every lake, river, stream and reservoir in America today, and, he adds, the pollution is global. The contaminant has even been found in Antarctic ice, and has caused millions of dollars damage worldwide.
Fourteen-year-old Zohner won top prize in his school’s science fair with a project titled How Gullible We Are. Despite his project’s revealing title, his warnings are still being acted upon.
For example, in 2004 the Guardian newspaper reported city councillors of a California town, Aliso Veijo, proposed a motion to ban this dangerous “drug.”
In 2007, a New Zealand member of Parliament wrote their associate minister of Health, asking if they were considering banning the same “drug.”
Guardian writer Dan Glaister suggested the government leaders, and their mandarins, could use some of this chemical to wash the egg off their face.
It’s good advice, since dihydrogen monoxide is water.
“While embracing a ban on H2O seems more foolish than dangerous, this anecdote shows how quickly people embrace some kinds of ideas without thinking about them. The human propensity to accept ideas at face value, no matter how illogical, is fertile soil in which pseudoscience grows,” claims the I.I.I.I.P., the Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena, of Washington, DC.
The institute added that the information explosion, all too often the misinformation explosion, is one catalyst for the prevalence of gullibility, the other is the low level of scientific literacy in the general population.
Apparently this gullibility virus is serious stuff, because Jane is quoted saying at a Hoaxes Anonymous meeting, “Hi, my name is Jane, and I’ve been hoaxed. Challenge and check whatever you read!”
We echo her thoughts: “Hi, my name is Doug. For five weeks I’ve been politically hoaxed and coaxed, and am now contemplating adopting the Irish woman’s comment about one of her neighbours as an election mantra: “I’ll not be listening to her advice,” she said, “she only opens her mouth to let the wind blow her tongue around!”
Murphy might be another example.
He worked for a large company, and to reward employees for a good year they held a Halloween costume ball for their employees, but it was employees only.
His wife pleaded to go, but he was adamant, employees only, no family.
What are you going as? she finally asked.
She was still suspicious, and when he left she decided if she went in a costume, who’ll know?
She dashed out, got a Minnie Mouse costume and went.
She found Mickey Mouse, got him dancing, and kissing, and cuddling and even spent a while dallying out in the garden with him — we’ll not be telling what went on.
She dashed home, changed and was waiting when Murphy came home at 1 a.m.
Ready to pounce, she said, “Well now, did you have a good time?”
“No, I did not,” he replied, “When I got to the costume shop, they’d rented the Mickey Mouse costume. I had to go as Donald Duck.”
Thanks to Marius who reminded me of this tale as we shared the joy of wisdom laced with laughter, and wondered if either were gullible or was it just one of life’s misadventures?
Anyway a tip of the hat to ghosts, goblins, gullibility gurus, witches and things that go bump in the night. Have a fun Halloween, and watch out for manticores on your candy quest.
A tip of the hat to Hoaxes Anonymous member Jane who may have given us the answer to Nathan’s question of how gullible we are, as well as the antidote to the gullibility virus: get the facts first, ma’am, get the facts!