© Norman Sperling, January 31, 2015
Barbara and David Mikkelson run the famous rumor/urban legend website snopes.com . I enjoyed a lunch with them in 2010.
I asked them to draw some generalities from the profusion of individual narratives they research. Science most often comes in when:
* it buttresses a fear, due to fears of technology and manufacturing,
* or when people claim it validates a religious or political point.
Science rarely makes their top-25 list. Fabrications such as the Weekly World News concocted would often make it. The Mars-closest-in-August claim does recur every summer. Aspartame, and exploding cell phones, often make the top 25.
A fascinating aspect of legends is how attributions converge on the most famous examples in their category:
* Stories about a scientist become about Einstein.
* Stories about hamburgers become about McDonald’s.
* Stories about chicken become about Kentucky Fried Chicken.
* Stories about soft drinks become about Coca Cola.
Sometimes the attribution to the best exemplar is true, such as the item you’re just finishing about Science in rumors: it’s about snopes.com .