Trusting the Internet

A few weeks back, I stirred up a bit of controversy when some people thought I was showing a liberal bias by debunking some social media posts. One of the sources I generally pick to make a quick check on the facts is snopes.com. Depending on the level of research I feel I need to do, I will sometimes just stop at that source. Much like Wikipedia, I use it as a way to get a quick hit if it isn’t something important. If it is something of some importance, I might check a source such as Snopes or Wikipedia as a way to find links to more original research, something both sites often have cited. If it is something within my subject area of physics, I will look at resources at my disposal, such as books or journals to which I subscribe. What I have found is that Snopes and Wikipedia do generally have trustworthy information when one looks deeper into the original sources. So they serve a nice purpose of summarizing information, saving me time from having to do the same.

This week, a post came up on Facebook with the headline “Snopes got snoped!” It originated with a group called “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.” The group has a noticable presence on Facebook, with over 300,000 likes and many, many shares of each of their posts. The group is clearly a “right-wing” group with posts that vary from conservative issues to those down right racially and/or sexually bigoted. I won’t address other posts further, but I want to address the Snopes issue directly, along with the larger issue of trusted sources.

Snopes got Snoped

Did this story reveal something about Snopes that I missed? I always look into claims about sources I trust, as I want to make sure they can remain on my list, or if I should reevaluate them. I looked into the story a bit further.

A website known as “worldtruth.tv” is the source of the original story. Here is the reason they say Snopes is not a trustworthy source:

For several years people have tried to find out who exactly was behind the website Snopes.com. Only recently did they get to the bottom of it. Are you ready for this? It is run by a husband and wife team – that’s right, no big office of investigators scouring public records in Washington, no researchers studying historical stacks in libraries, no team of lawyers reaching a consensus on current caselaw. No, Snopes.com is just a mom-and-pop operation that was started by two people who have absolutely no formal background or experience in investigative research.

Only recently? Snopes has an “about snopes” section which clearly states who the founders are and how they do their investigations. Why this took “people” “several years” to find this out is baffling, when simply clicking on the “about” page would accomplish this in 5 seconds (plus reading time of course).

The story continues, giving only one example of a supposed inaccuracy regarding the story of an insurance agent posting political signs on his business sign. WorldTruth claims snopes “condemned” this on their website. The only condemnation I can find in the article itself is Ms. Mikkelson referring to the sayings on the sign as a “zinger.” It turns out, the entire story of Snopes misrepresenting the story came from an e-mail circulated by another right-wing website. That website has since taken down any reference to it on their site. The claim is Snopes never contacted the company this agent represented. Turns out, they did. FactCheck.org also contacted the company, and the company verified both their request to the agent, as well as their contact with Snopes. WorldTruth printed a rumor that has long since been proven false.

A larger look at the site called WorldTruth.tv reveals something very hilarious. The claim that Snopes shouldn’t be trusted comes from a website run by 1/2 the people running Snopes. The claim that Snopes shouldn’t be trusted because it is only run by 2 people (the Mikkelsons) comes from a website run by 1 person who only identifies himself as Eddie. From WorldTruth.tv’s “about us” page:

My name is Eddie and WorldTruth.TV  is my way to share all the knowledge and information that I have acquired and been blessed with in the last 32 years of my journey on this planet.

WorldTruth.TV is a website dedicated to educating and informing people on regular basis with well-researched articles on powerful and concealed information. I’ve spent the last 32 years researching Theosophy, Freemasonry, Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, the Bavarian Illuminati and Western Occultism. I remember when I first learned about the “Truth” and it wasn’t pretty. I remember learning about how the mass media lies to our faces consistently. About how the educational system only teaches the youth what they need to become obedient workers.

I have to rub my forehead every time I read it. The website making a claim Snopes cannot be accurate because they do not have a large team is supposed to be trustworthy when being run by one person. If someone can make sense of that logic, please feel free to comment!

Apparently, the entire site is filled with re-posted articles from other fringe websites promoting conspiracies, pseudoscience, etc. For example, another headline from this site is one called “The Vaccine Hoax Is Over.” The article in its entirety is a copy from another page called the “Food Freedom Group.” So “Eddie” did quite the investigation on vaccines (yes, that is sarcasm)! The original article goes on to “prove” vaccines are harmful (in this case the flu vaccine) by citing articles from Mercola and Natural News. I tried clicking around to various links to the original studies that show this claim to be valid, but it mostly leads in a circle to these websites. The external links I could find were to the CDC. One link was to the VAERS system, but to all reports of incidents with the HPV vaccine – which of course has nothing to do with the flu vaccine. The other link was to statements by the CDC which state the flu vaccine is safe, which the article claims is a cover-up.

Looking at “Eddie’s” research – nothing about WorldTruth is trustworthy. I guess my trust in Snopes as a quick resource, or at least a good starting point, is secure once again.

Snopes’ Liberal Bias

One claim made both on my post a few weeks ago, as well as the claim made by many websites of the conservative variety, is that Snopes has a liberal bias. I thought I was clear in my post that it would appear to be so, simply because the current sitting president is a democrat. For the sake of those that claim a liberal bias, I grabbed a few articles regarding our last president, George W. Bush, in order to show how they report on what is being passed around, not on the politics.

President Bush’s Low IQ

The premise here was that out of all the presidents since FDR, George W. Bush had the lowest. It was a study supposedly done by a think tank that turned out didn’t exist. Snopes even found two instances of newspapers publishing the information. It had a very obvious liberal bias, as the top 3 were listed as democrats with genius level IQs, while the bottom 5 were republicans. Snopes referred to the low IQs assigned to the two Bush presidents as “insultingly low” just based on their ability to write and speak (while acknowledging the difficulty in assigning IQ based just on those items). I would think a site with a liberal bias would choose not to report this at all, or at least avoid commentary in favor of two conservative presidents.

President Bush “refused to sell his home to blacks”

When George Bush was elected governor in Texas, he bought a house that had a covenant on it from when it was built in 1939 that stated only whites could dwell in the house. This was not an uncommon practice at that time, and often these covenants went unnoticed because they were declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 1948. The wording remains because of a cumbersome legal process to have the actual wording removed, but the covenant is not enforced because it is illegal to do so.

Snopes reports that it is very plausible for the future president not to know about the covenant because it is not part of the deed seen by the buyers and sellers, but part of a larger record recorded with the county. Snopes also dismisses the liberal claim that the conservative media swept it under the rug when the conservative reporter Matt Drudge clearly did report on the issue.

President Bush Waves at Stevie Wonder

Many of the internet rumors that went around during the Bush presidency had to do with supposed gaffes that somehow were to show a lower intelligence of the president. This story is another such story. Snopes listed this as false as well. As they reasoned, it is likely untrue as it was a very slight wave and from a distance, so it was likely meant for someone else. They even provide benefit of the doubt for the president, stating that the gesture of waving is an ingrained gesture of greeting, and something we might do even before thinking about it. This is even more so for a politician. As they state, this is likely more of a result of the caricature of President Bush then it is of his actual actions.’

Mitt Romney’s Shoe Shine

 

Romney shoe shine

 

Snopes rates the photos above as real, but with an inaccurate description. The claim going with the photo is that while President Obama is a “man of the people” who fist bumps janitors, Governor Romney is one who will stop anywhere to get a shoe shine. What is actually happening in the Romney photograph is he is getting a security check before boarding a flight. The photo description has a pretty obvious liberal origin, and Snopes shows it to be false.

Romney uses a KKK slogan for his own campaign

The Washington Post is often accused of liberal bias. In one such case, a blogger for the paper reported Romney was using “Keep America American” as a slogan, which is associated with the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan. This started because of a report that Romney used the phrase during a campaign  stop in Iowa. The Los Angeles Times later issued a correction, saying they misquoted the governor. Romney actually was saying “keep America America,” which is in reference to a less government policy, and not in any way race related. However, the rumor was continued by the Washington Post, and Snopes addressed it. Snopes went so far as to find a video of Romney using that same phrase, showing he clearly was saying “keep America America,” and not the phrase of which he is accused of saying. The blogger for The Washington Post was fired, and a correction was added to the piece. Nice work by Snopes, and not something I would expect if there was a massive liberal bias.

Trusted Sources

What did I learn from this? I learned there is another quack website out there. WorldTruth.tv is a fear-mongering, conspiracy website that should be avoided at all cost. Snopes will continue to serve its purpose in debunking social media nonsense. Although there have been one or two cases where they haven’t been able to get an answer, or a case or two where perhaps they didn’t go back to update something when additional information comes forth, they largely do a great job of investigating their sources.

I also will continue to investigate claims of my sources being not as trustworthy. But I have found sites like Science Based Medicine, Skeptoid (which is why I chose to write here), Bad Astronomy, and even Wikipedia (in some cases) can be good sources of information, especially when they can be confirmed with primary sources (such as scientific papers). How deeply I investigate will depend on the purpose, but these sites will continue to serve as one place to start. Wikipedia only gets better thanks to the effort of Susan Gerbic and the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia effort. Hopefully all of our efforts to separate the good from the bad will keep our trusted sources trustworthy.

About Eric Hall

A recent recipient of an MS in physics, I am beginning my new career as a college educator. I write about physics, other sciences, politics, education, and whatever else interests or concerns me. I am always working to be rational and reasonable, and I am always willing to improve my knowledge and change my mind when presented with new evidence.
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50 Responses to Trusting the Internet

  1. Me says:

    Good article, minor typo correction, see “obviou liberal bias”.

  2. spion kop says:

    I would suggest that you add “Exposing Pseudoastronomy” to your list of trustworthy sources. It’s a very informative podcast & website that does what it says on the label. Great piece, by the way. I haven’t used Snopes in a long time, but know them to be highly reliable. Thanks.

  3. Josh DeWald says:

    I wonder if this is what someone was talking about when I saw a comment on FB that “Snopes doesn’t always get it right”.

    I’ve always found it strange that the couple from Snopes haven’t been featured at TAM or any other Skeptical conferences, despite them being arguably one of the most reliable sources of email/hoax debunking information for a VERY LONG TIME. And your article helps debunk the notion of Snopes having any obvious bias.

  4. Greg Laden says:

    I think Snopes is a good source. There is one item they have, in which they do a debunking, that they got quite wrong and that I happen to be one of only a couple of dozen westerners with immediate observation and knowledge about. I sent them a lengthy letter (I think I sent it twice over a period of a couple of years) with a correction but it was ignored and the erroneous entry still stands. For this reason I regard Snopes with a little bit of suspicion; I think they may argue on the basis of incredulity more often than appropriate. Such arguments may lean more towards liberal incredulity than some other kind of incredulity, and this may be where the liberal bias idea comes from. As a liberal, who is quite capable of feeling liberal incredulity over certain issues, I understand this. The problem with the case I refer to is that it is complex. There is no simple reading of the issue that would not risk supporting (incorrectly) racist thinking. I suspect that is why Snopes has ignored my correction.

    But what I really wanted to say is this: There is a significant advantage to sources like Snopes and Wikipedia when writing blog posts or other widely available commentary: Easy availability. Not all information that might be brought to bear on a particular topic is easily available. Much is behind paywalls, much is in books that may or may not be easily pursued on the internet and that few people own, and for most of these conversations library research simply isn’t in play. This may make us lazy in some ways as we carry out our discussions in cyberspace, but it also allows a wide range of people to participate. At the moment, I think the anti-Wikipedia sentiment in places like schools and other areas is overdone.

    One way to diffuse the idea that Wikipedia is an untrustworthy source is to note that one can use it and not consider it to be a source, but rather, the worlds’ most verbose search engine, and this seems to be in part how you’ve used it at least in part. Most statements in Wikipedia have references that may be easier or harder to get at, but if you want to go beyond the “verbose search engine” stage one can dig into those sources.

    • Eric Hall says:

      I agree – in writing in a less formal manner than a scientific paper, it would be nearly impossible to avoid some bias. I would never claim to be bias free when writing this blog. Heck, it is difficult to avoid bias in scientific papers, especially when one looks at the stretches some make when reaching conclusions on data in their studies. I would agree the creators of Snopes probably do carry a certain liberal bias in their personal life, but I think overall they try not to let that influence their conclusions.

      In regards to the article you found with an error, I also found one with an error. I wrote them a brief note about it, but it isn’t corrected yet. I think just based on the traffic of their website, they often put articles that don’t receive much traffic as a low priority, as they do try to verify things before updating. I think Brian can attest to that on Skeptoid – it isn’t always possible to go back and fix certain things right away when constantly dealing with new information.

      Great analogy on the search engine/Wikipedia idea. I agree – that’s how I end up using it.

      • Just out of curiosity, what were the entries with errors?

        • Eric Hall says:

          One I actually got burned on when it was passed around and still has not been updated is an article regarding the “Made In China” hats from the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan campaign. After a few days, it was revealed the hats were not purchased by the campaign, but an independent group that was not part of the campaign. While I think at the time that could, to some, have significance to some people (as in “see what the Romney supporters believe in”), it isn’t factually correct. Snopes has it as undetermined, but their write up that is there could be misleading. Although most of their political stuff seems neutral when I’ve cross-checked it, that is one article I feel is not so neutral (and has not been corrected).

        • Greg Laden says:

          A simple answer to that question would be a mistake. This is why Snopes has ignored the issue, I think. There is a story about a thing some people in a traditional society in Africa did, something that to a western eye makes them look very silly. Snopes disregards the story because they knew of no direct evidence for it having happened and they seemed to think it very unlikely.

          However, this is something that was fairly widespread in a part of the world where I lived, and worked with people living in a traditional culture, for a few years. It isn’t silly at all if you know the context and reasons for it.

          In the past, I knew a lot of New York City area Jews who would not ever consider buying a VW car or a Krupps coffee maker because they had relatives who died under the Nazis, and in some cases the Nazis ran slave labor camps for companies that are still around today. One could argue forever as to whether or not that was “rational” but it really isn’t anyone’s place to say if it is or not. It is a personal reaction to horrific things that really happened.

          The thing Snopes got wrong was not about Nazis or coffee makers, but something similar. To a westerner it would seem very silly and irrational because a) most westerners don’t even know about the holocaust that happened in that part of Africa years ago, or don’t recognize its magnitude and b) the actual reaction people have is so outside our range of experience that we can’t easily see how people would have it. Also, within the cultural context to which I refer there is a great deal of difference in opinion. The “silly idea” is held mainly by older people who are closer to having experienced very bad times (like the older generation of New York City area Jews I mention) or by a few small kids who just had it wrong. Others in that culture thought it was silly, just like a westerner might. But again, westerners tend to inappropriately homogenize their characterization of “other” people.

          This is an example of why, as an anthropologist, I do not have an automatic unabiding respect for purity in rationalist thinking. Humans are emotional creatures, in part, and are also very good at being selectively (self servingly) ignorant. Knowledge of what Snopes determined to be untrue and that I know for certain to be true would not necessarily be properly incorporated into the thinking of a lot of people.

          • Eric Hall says:

            You aren’t being very specific with your example. Can you link the specific article in which they were wrong? I can’t find anything in my search for an African culture analogous to the Nazis.

          • Greg Laden says:

            Its not an African culture analogous to the Nazis.

          • IV says:

            In regards to the African peoples that Greg Laden is likely referring to: Rawnda might be a good place to start. Though really, all of African (recent) history is bathed in the blood of genocide. There’s also Darfur in Sudan, which is an ongoing genocide.

  5. Rob Struble says:

    The most interesting part of the “Snopes is biased” meme is how they don’t/can’t debate the facts presented to debunk their myths so they vaguely accuse Snopes of… something… by being small.

  6. Sheldon W. Helms says:

    You scared me with this: “The claim that Snopes shouldn’t be trusted comes from a website run by 1/2 the people running Snopes.” I think you meant “by half as many people as runs Snopes.” I kept expecting one of the Mikkelsons to be behind the other website!

  7. Felix Hummel says:

    If you want to know why Snopes is not a trustworthy source, try reading their article about Easter. It is full of things like the Easter Bunny being a symbol of pagan fertility or that Easter is named after the goddess Ostara. This is pseudoscientific 19th century-style information that will make every honest folklorist and European ethnologist sick.

    • Eric Hall says:

      Felix -

      Snopes has six book resources listed for their article on Easter. It is Sunday and the local library is closed, but I would venture to guess that is exactly what is in those books.

      I also did a quick web search to see if they were out of line with other historians. I tried to find articles that sourced their material from different sources. Wikipedia, for example, has a resource on the Easter Bunny which is summarized as:

      In 1835, Jakob Grimm wrote of long-standing similar myths in Germany itself. Grimm suggested that these derived from legends of the reconstructed continental Germanic goddess *Ostara.[14]

      If you read some more on it and see the connections of the Easter Bunny to the Pennsylvania Dutch (Oschter Haws), it makes sense. Many of our secular Christmas traditions come from the Germans, so why not the Easter traditions as well.

      It also seems like many of the secular symbols, the origins are a mix of multiple traditions, manipulated to the point that they do not much match the origin.

      Regarding the name Easter itself, I don’t see much different origin other than the Ostara or Ēostre version. If you have a resource to the contrary, I think it would be interesting to both look at as well as possibly correct on resources such as Wikipedia and Snopes. Please feel free to share those sources.

      However, it seems like the history is reasonable (at this point) given the resources used and a well-matched history to Christmas.

      • Greg Laden says:

        This might bring up another interesting aspect of internet knowledge. About two years ago, I looked up in Wikipedia a bunch of entries that had to do with biological concepts, mainly having to do with cellular biology. The purpose of doing this was to consider assigning wikipedia pages to students in an intro biological anthropology class. As far as I could tell, the biology entries were well done and though the writing was not engaging, lots of information was provided and it was at about Campbell AP textbook level and seemed fine. (Though Wikipedia is very bad at ranking the importance of details, so some descriptions of complex things tend to treat diverse facts very uniformly so what might have been a good introductory description of something eventually becomes too detailed and hard to navigate.)

        At the same time I looked up stuff about various cultures and geographic locations. These entries were abysmal. In the case of two entries, they were so wrong that I wrote a letter to Wikipedia and soon thereafter the entries were removed. Having said that, if I were to have sought out verification on the internet of the information contained in those bad entries, most of it would check out. The pertinent knowledge was in more obscure sources that were not on the internet at all, or behind paywalls. At that time (I’ve not checked lately) the entire subfield of ethnography within anthropology, especially of certain areas of the world, simply wasn’t on Wikipedia, and the community of scholars and students was seemingly uninterested or uninvolved. Meanwhile, the more popular, avocational expertise that was out there was mostly misinformed or uninformed. I would imagine a field like folklore could have the same problem. Ask any anthropologist or folklorist if they think it would be OK to use Wikipedia in writing a research paper in college, even intro, or AP classes in high school and they’ll probably almost all sa no and express disdain for the resource.

        A community that does not like Wikipedia is not going to invest in it.

      • Felix Hummel says:

        Here is one source in English, it fits pretty well and even mentiones snopes’ error.
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/23/easter-pagan-roots

        • Greg Laden says:

          Here’s the problem :

          “Did you know that Easter was originally a pagan festival dedicated to Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, whose consort was a hare, the forerunner of our Easter bunny? Of course you did. Every year the fecund muck of the internet bursts forth afresh with cheery did-you-know explanations like this, setting modern practices in a context of ancient and tragically interrupted pagan belief.

          The trouble is that they are wrong. The colourful myths of Eostre and her hare companion, who in some versions is a bird transformed into an egg-laying rabbit, aren’t historically pagan. They are modern fabrications, cludged together in an unresearched assumption of pagan precedence.”

          Those two paragraphs are in the wrong order. The sentences where you learn the wrong thing should not be first. The sentences where you learn that there is a falsehood of some kind being discussed should be first even if the details are revealed down lower.

    • graybaggins says:

      I always thought the goddes was spelled Oestre(with links to lady parts/hormones)?

  8. Felix Hummel says:

    Sorry, since when has “sounds reasonable” been a sing for good scientific research? The problem starts with Jacob Grimm. If you look at modern research about him, you will soon notice that most of his research is based on his “ideas” an not actual research. His honesty as a scholar has long been lost even along German folklorists.

    If you look at the sources snopes gives, you’ll notice that most these books are not scientific, but made for the general public. One was written in the 40s and republished in then 90s – that is exactly the time where this kind of conclusions we can read in the article were popular. It’s called the mythological school of folklore research. One is a newspaper article. Three are those infamous “superstition dictionarys”.

    A good start for sources would be actual scientists who did some research in that field. Hermann Bausinger for example. His method of research was extremely now among folklorists after WWII – it was doing actual research and not to claim anything he couldn’t proof with written material or other sources. About Easter he came to the following conclusion: 1. We have no written sources about central European pre-christian belief other than Roman practices. 2. We have no archaeological finds that show hares (it is a hare, not a bunny in Germany) as something that could be seen as a fertility symbol – in fact we don’t have anything that reminds of hares at all. 3. The hare does not appear connected to Easter until far into the 18. century.

    A personal thought on the subject: I think the earlier scholars already mixed up rabbits and hares. The hare can hardly be seen as a fertility symbol since it only has few young each year and they are well hidden. Rabbits on the other hand has many young that can be observed pretty easily

    Since you mentioned Christmas: The same research has been done there, too. Especially the Christmas tree is a prime example of trying to find pagan sources for something that can only be traced back into the high medieval times. The rest is pure speculation. See here http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CEQQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fbib.convdocs.org%2Fv601%2F%3Fdownload%3D1&ei=y7dGUcvxLcndswammYD4Cw&usg=AFQjCNHpTqZXe0dtd2PHouvNGxUUOAS01Q (page 30, “Folklore as innovation)

    It’s truly hard to find good English sources for my claims, but I’m sure that this is mainstream among British and American folklorists, too. It is a basic scientific priciple that you have to find proof for every claim you make – the mythological school doesn’t do that. There is no proof for any pre-christian practices connected to Easter.
    Authors on that subject would be:
    Hermann Bausinger (especially his book “Volkskunde”)
    Heidrun Alzheimer (my old professor who frequently mentioned this subject in her lectures, also co-author of “Enzyklopädie des Märchens”
    Rolf-Wilhelm Brednich
    I don’t have more time now, but I’ll look up some English material.

    I think it’s very fascinating that skeptics tend to abandon all skepticism on subjects like this and believe fairy tales.

    • Eric Hall says:

      Again, the consensus from what I can tell looking at different resources, including the one you linked is that there is no consensus.When studying history – this often happens. For example, the Christians are well known for taking over various Pagan traditions and putting their own traditions on top of them. In fact, they would purposely pick dates that matched the Pagan calendar well, and would even adopt some of the traditions and symbols in order to attract the Pagans to their church. Some of these are well known, some not as much and there is conjecture based on scant information.

      I am not abandoning my skepticism in any way by saying a reasoned conjecture based on limited information “sounds reasonable.” Why? Because of the level of importance. If I am voting on a presidential election, I want to have good, accurate, honest information. If I am making a medical decision for myself or my family, I want good, evidence-based medicine to make an informed decision. When deciding the origin of “the Easter bunny,” a tradition I don’t celebrate in my household anyway, I am going to take a much lighter look at the evidence (of which there seems to be little) and call it reasonable. In studying economic history, military history, etc., I might take a more critical look at the evidence, especially because there is more recorded evidence as well as analysis of that part of history.

      It would seem to me Felix, you are hyper-focusing on one subject on which you are much more passionate and damning all of snopes (and me) because of it. I am not suggesting turning to Snopes for every piece of information out there, nor am I saying don’t ever bother looking at other sources. I am saying that for the average social media meme, snopes does an excellent job of covering them and it is reasonable to use them for a resources in those instances.

      If I got one wrong on an exam in one of my graduate classes, would that mean I am not a reasonable resource regarding things related to physics?

      • Felix Hummel says:

        Sorry, but Christians taking over pagan traditions and using them in their own system of beliefs is up today only “well known” for Roman and Greek paganism – and everything that involved the Jesuits. For any Germanic or Celtic tradition it is more or less speculation without proper sources to work from. There are more sources for cases that banning certain pagan traditions in early medieval times formed new traditions. Take the traditional aversion to eat horse meat in many parts of the western world for example. It is most likely based on a 8th century papal ban that was made to stop pagan feasts – and this is about the only source we have that horse meat played a role in some pagan religion at all.

        The Christian chalender for example is based on the Roman one – and not on the Viking or anything. The difference is that we have distinct knowledge about Roman cultic traditions but we know nothing about the alledged traditions of Germanic tribes where, for example, the Easer Bunny is said to come from.

        Furthermore in what way is it scientific to say “We know that Christians took over other traditions, so it has to be right for this, too. We have no sources that it was a pagan tradition at all, but it sure sounds like one!”

        I still think you are abandoning your skepticism on this subject. It might not be important to you, but many, many skeptics, even James Randi (once he mentioned “oh and it’s a pagan Christmas tree anyway” on the Skeptic’s Guide potcast), use stories like that when discussing Christianity and do not notice how stupid this makes them look in the eyes of folklorists. The only skeptics that get the facts right in this case is the German podcast “Hoaxilla” – but they tend to fail miserably on medical subjects.

        I’m not hyper-focusion on a subject and I’m not in any way damning you. It is just that I tend to rate the quality of sources of information on subjects where I can determine the validity of the facts given there. My knowledge in physics is only basic, but I have professional knowledge in folklore and medicine. Snopes failed the test in folklore, so I conclude that subjects I know nothing about might be as badly researched. I think this is a reasonbale first step to test whether or not a source is reliable.

        To answer your last question: No, I wouldn’t rate you on one wrong answer in an exam – except you would have tried to answer that question by explaining why the earth is the center of the universe. If something would be that fundamentaly wrong, I would take the freedom to judge that you would not be a reasonable resource regarding physics.

        Snopes did not do what they are there for in that article. They presented a common myth as the truth.

        • Eric Hall says:

          A new fallacy is born! The “No true skeptic” fallacy! This is a bit like the “No true Scotsman” fallacy, but with research – because a skeptic is not knowledgeable on every subject in detail and doesn’t study every subject with hundreds of hours of research, they cannot be a true skeptic.

          The story is incomplete on Easter. There is probably multiple origins, being mixed together in some unknown ratio – probably passed orally for many decades and eventually becoming commercialized. I (and snopes) say our research couldn’t pinpoint one exact origin, but it follows the pattern of development like other similar folktales. And isn’t that good social science – finding patterns?

          • Felix Hummel says:

            I read my last post again and I really can’t find where I claimed that either a skeptic should know everything to be a skeptic. I rather went into the opposite direction with saying that I can only validate the quality of a source by looking at facts I can verify from my own resources. If I can’t trust a source there, why should I suspect that they do better research on other subjects?
            And I said that the alledged pagan sources of Christian traditions is something a skeptic should look at because it is something where even famous skeptics fail and become as little skeptic as most people are.

            Finding patterns is an important part of social sciences. So important that making them up is and was common. The stories are always incomplete and there are very few traditions where you can pinpoint the exact origin. This however doesn’t any researcher the freedom to claim that something is much older than the sources you have.
            The oldest source we have for a connection of a hare with Easter is from 1682 or 1678, where a doctor in Alsace warns about the dangers of eating too many eggs. In later sources from other parts of Europe it is obvious that the hare isn’t the only animal bringing the eggs, there are also squirrels, foxes and various birds. In some parts of Switzerland it’s still the cuckoo. (Yes, they do have chocolate cuckoos) That for example shows that the connection Easter and bunny was there some hundred years ago, but it was not as hard wired as you could expect if it was connected to some ancient fertility cult we have absolutely no sources from.
            In the end commercialism made the hare/bunny win the race against all the other little critters. And not a decade later that race was forgotten and scholars started interpreting its great importance for easter. Nobody ever asked about the great transcendental meaning of the Easter Squirrel.

            You can make your own theories, but the Ostara-myth is simply fake. Of course we can’t prove that it didn’t exist, but you know that much. It simply has no resonance in contemporary sources, archaeological evidence or the writings of scholars – until the 19th century.

          • Eric Hall says:

            I took a quick glance at a couple of Pagan and Wiccan websites – they all mention eggs, hares/rabbits, and the spring equinox.

            The next full moon (a time of increased births) is called the Ostara and is sacred to Eostre the Saxon Lunar Goddess of fertility (from whence we get the word estrogen, whose two symbols were the egg and the rabbit.

            The Christian religion adopted these emblems for Easter which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The theme of the conception of the Goddess was adapted as the Feast of the Annunciation, occurring on the alternative fixed calendar date of March 25 Old Lady Day, the earlier date of the equinox. Lady Day may also refer to other goddesses (such as Venus and Aphrodite), many of whom have festivals celebrated at this time.

            Another:

            Other names this Sabbat is also called by are the Vernal Equinox or the Spring Equinox, Oestara, Eostres Day, Rite of Eostre, Equinozio della Primavera (Aridian Strega), Alban Eiber (Caledonii Tradition or the Druids), Bacchanalia, Festival of the Trees, and Lady Day. Christians celebrate their holiday – Easter – near this same time and it is based on basically the same principles as ours in the Old Religion. Easter is actually determined in a very Pagan manner… it is always the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox.

            …Symbols used to represent Ostara include the egg (for fertility and reproduction) and the hare (for rebirth and resurrection), the New Moon, butterflies and cocoons.

            And:

            Eostre or Ostara is the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring to whom offerings of cakes and colored eggs were made at the Vernal Equinox. Rabbits were sacred to her, especially white rabbits, and she was believed to take the form of a rabbit.

            So – it would seem reasonable based on the tradition of applying pagan symbols to Christian holidays that these symbols were adopted and modified through various traditions to the modern commercial easter bunny. Just like evolution – I might not have every transitional fossil of various easter bunny forms, but I can see a similar evolution of other christian traditions from pagan traditions, so it seems the pattern would fit. I am good with that conclusion.

            I also stand by my thought – if I get one wrong on a test, does it mean I know nothing about physics? In fact, many graduate classes had test averages of 50-70% for the class – are we all bad physicists? No – so even if snopes got this one wrong, there are dozens and dozens of examples of them getting it right. The level of importance will determine if I check a second, third, or more sources. For internet memes – snopes as a sole source is generally fine by me.

          • Felix Hummel says:

            According to German wikipedia, the Easter Fox was still common until the 1920s in Lower Saxony. The eggs were painted red and called “fox eggs”. It also mentions the existence of a Pentecost Fox and Pentecost Eggs. This reminds me of another thing from my lectures: Tradition around any kind of Christian holiday are not hard wired. They cange season and meaning often in a matter of decades. Since you can only verify those transfers over the eras where you have written evidence from. So if the hare/rabbit was connected to Easter in the 17th century, what does this tell us about the 15th century?

    • Eric Hall says:

      Also, the whole idea of doing “science” on a humanoid bunny that hides candy and baskets of fake grass in homes coinciding with another mythological day in Christian history seems like a bit of a stretch. Reminds me a bit of the “science” of balancing a person against a duck on a large scale to see if they are a witch. Is it really even “science” at that point?

      • Greg Laden says:

        “Also, the whole idea of doing “science” on a humanoid bunny that hides candy and baskets of fake grass in homes”

        This reminds me, somehow, of my daughter’s take on the Easter bunny when she was pretty little. She asked me “Daddy, is the Easter Bunny real?” I wasn’t sure at first how to answer because of the usual parental angst about believing in things that aren’t real, pretending to believe in things that aren’t real, and not believing in them. I did not think at the time that she had ever thought the Easter Bunny would be real… I mean really, a “humanoid bunny that hides candy and baskets of fake grass…..”

        Anyway, she asked that question and I responded “What difference would it make?”

        Her answer was “If the Easter Bunny is real, it makes it a lot easier to believe in Santa Claus!”

      • Felix Hummel says:

        You really aren’t into humanities, are you? Of course, for a natural scientist, that’s all completely silly and makes no sense at all.

    • Greg Laden says:

      “A personal thought on the subject: I think the earlier scholars already mixed up rabbits and hares. The hare can hardly be seen as a fertility symbol since it only has few young each year and they are well hidden. Rabbits on the other hand has many young that can be observed pretty easily”

      Sounds reasonable!

  9. James Avary says:

    Ah, so true. My daughter lost a tooth then put it under pillow without telling us, to test the Tooth Fairy. When the test failed, she broke into tears because it meant there is no Santa Clause.

    • Greg Laden says:

      My daughter also tested the tooth fairy that way, but she was glad to find out it did not exist because she thought the whole thing was very creepy. SHe still wanted the pay-off, though.

  10. Jesse Owen says:

    I posted the anti-snopes article because people become overly complacent in their acceptance of any and all news and it’s sources. I don’t really care per se if it was full of distortions or lies. My point is that the human brain shuts down and far too often accepts whatever is given it from second-hand sources.

    In fact, the author of the article at skeptoid did nothing but spew 10 minutes of nothing but opinion. His summary was opinion. Which is my point.

    Human perception is great at one thing; bias. That is all. This is why scientific theories change every 7 years or so. Science isn’t the study of things, it’s looking at the world (if there is one) through a dirty towel over your eyes called self bias.

    As someone who has been interviewed by newspapers and misquoted when it was a simple one on one interview I will tell you…

    Trust nothing. Not corporate media, not articles you read no, -not even your own eyes.

    • Eric Hall says:

      The scientific process is designed to remove bias. This is how we are able to have come so far in the last couple of centuries. Sure, all humans have bias. This is why conclusions should be examined carefully to make sure they match the data. The method of data collection and analysis should also be carefully examined. But, in the process of science and peer review, we minimize that bias through the process.

      For example, when scientists observed neutrinos going faster than light, they checked what they could, and when nothing came up, they published and asked others to review it. Turns out, a loose cable caused the error. No problem!

      Scientific theories do not change every 7 years. GPS relies on the theory of general relativity – which was published in 1916. Newton’s Laws? Evolution? All theories that have stood the test of time.

      Steven Novella says “Science is the closer and closer estimation of the truth.” As more data and more analysis takes place, the theories might be modified – but to be improved. As a scientist, I am proud of what is accomplished, and I will continue to be proud.

  11. Shane says:

    Eddie of WorldTruth.TV is Eduard Levin and he works for a Multi-Level Marketing company called Isagenix International. Look them up and you’ll understand why WorldTruth.TV is such a big promoter of psuedo-science. Harriet Hall wrote an interesting article on them. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/isagenix-study-is-not-convincing/

    • Cyberxion says:

      Yup. That’s why he wrote it. It’s a smear piece meant to keep his down-line from reading Snopes and asking questions.

  12. Justin Nnoix says:

    HAHAHAHA that eddie fellow was on my facebook friends list for a while. real piece of work, the special kind of stupid.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for all your insights.

  14. frank says:

    Please be completely transparent with this blog and let your readers know that Snopes is funded by George Soros. The whole truth is what’s important. This opinionated blog is personal.

    • Eric Hall says:

      I will be glad to post that on this blog as an addendum if you have some proof of said connection. As of right now, their “About Us” section says they run the site independently, thus I will believe that unless there is some evidence otherwise.

  15. @Frank – Snopes is not funded by Soros. This is a rumor that Glenn Beck made popular, but it has no basis in fact. I wrote about it for this blog a few months ago: http://skeptoid.com/blog/2013/08/05/we-are-the-snopeheads/

  16. Tom says:

    I read that other article, and it started sounding really spurious halfway through. Thanks for exposing it as crockery using cool logic, which always works better than bombast.

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