Of Schools, Skepticism, and Snopes

quiz2By now, I’m sure many of you have seen the alleged “science quiz” making the rounds on the Internet — the one that says dinosaurs lived with people and that an Apatosaurus is the best explanation for the Leviathan of Job 40.

[Odd fact: when I type Apatosaurus, the Firefox spell-checker wants me to change it to Brontosaurus. How antiquated.]

A lot of these sorts of things get passed around the Internet, and as any good critical thinker has learned, it’s best to remain skeptical about the alleged origins and explanations attached to them. That’s why I’m glad the Internet has Snopes. While everybody else was forwarding this thing around Facebook and Twitter, Barbara and David Mikkelsen actually questioned it. And they got to the truth.

As you can see from the Snopes entry for the quiz, it turns out that, this time at least, the picture is real and the explanation attached to it has actually been verified. The page actually has gone through a number of revisions in the past two weeks. It began as Undetermined; then, when the Mikkelsens received information from the original Reddit poster, it was moved into the Possibly True column; and only after an independent source verified the original claim did the page finally move into the True column.

That’s somewhat rare for a Facebook-fueled viral image! It’s far more common for images to be Photoshopped, or to be fixed with some folkloric explanation, or both by the time they make the rounds of the social networks.

It may be that in this case, the image went viral quickly enough so that its origin was easy to track down: it was a Reddit image uploaded towards the end of April, and it went viral quickly enough that the image hadn’t yet accrued some of the fake explanations these images often do. Or may be that, at least in this case, the image was presented with an authentic explanation in the first place by a Redditor willing to talk about it more when contacted. Whatever the case, I’m just glad the skeptical and rational community has pages like Snopes out there to do the grunt-work that the rest of us can’t (or won’t) do for ourselves.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: don’t trust anything you see on Facebook until you’ve verified its authenticity. I know, none of your friends and relatives bother to verify anything, but that’s why you’ve got the reputation as the person in their Friends list “who doesn’t believe anything.” With sites like Snopes and, heck, even Google out there, there’s no excuse for spreading something that’s not true. At least in this case, you can feel free to hit that Share button. [An accompanying rant about the state of our education system is completely optional.]

About Brian Hudson

Brian is an educator and freelance creator living in Dearborn, MI. He writes app reviews for http://www.appchronicles.com, blogs about Dungeons & Dragons at http://writer.hudsonweb.net, and podcasts about pocket-sized MMORPGs at http://www.massivelyportable.com.
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14 Responses to Of Schools, Skepticism, and Snopes

  1. From now on, my standard answers to any question will either be “BIBLE!!!!!!” or “were you there.”

  2. Jay Cox says:

    Awesome! I first checked Snopes when it was still “undetermined”. I didn’t know how much work they had put towards determination since I had last checked.

  3. Thomas B. says:

    I agree with everything you say, and I think of Snopes as one of the trustworthy sources of info on the Web.

    But we skeptics face a dilemma by promoting certain trusted sources of information (especially given our reputations among friends for “not believe anything”). Doing so is easily mistaken as a blanket approval of all information coming from that source. That’s when anyone to whom we’ve cited “Argument from Authority” or “Ad Populum” would delight in making us eat our words!

    • Brian Hudson says:

      The mistake many people make with Argument from Authority is in assuming that it means one can never use an “authoritative” sources. Argument from Authority is really about staking the truth of the claim solely on the source’s perceived authority. In the case of Snopes, yes they do have a reputation as an authoritative source on “legend busting”. But one of the reasons they’ve earned that reputation is that they always back up their evaluation with facts and sources. I would never say “The test is real because Snopes says it is.” Instead, I accept the test’s authenticity because Snopes did a great job of assembling evidence that verified it.

    • Russell G. says:

      I’d trust Snopes more if they didn’t have so many questionable ads on their site: the “Local Mom Discovers Teeth Whitening Secret” ad. The “Mortgage Rates Down To 3.5%!” ad, which includes a photo of a VERY scruffy looking man for some reason.

      • I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism. I get similar ads on Skeptoid.com, and that’s after I’ve cranked all of Google’s ad filtering options to the max to weed out the crappy ads. Ad filtering is good but not perfect. I’m sure the Mikkelsons have the same concern and have taken similar steps.

  4. Chuck Padgett says:

    “Jesus died for your sins!” “Were you there?”

    • Brian Hudson says:

      Unfortunately, I’ve tried this one before. It doesn’t work. The standard reply is “No, but the Apostles / the writers of the Gospels / other people were there, and they wrote it down for us!”

      • The other reply they give is “How do you know that Plato lived?”

      • mud says:

        If you read the gospels..The disciples (note) had done a skidaddle when jesus was on the cross..

        So there could have been a switch.

        Sadly, I cant claim that conspiracy, its been around 1400 years.

        One point to note is that the gospel writers were definitely not there. I usually am told I am a tad churlish, look at my once off reference.

        If you really want to get up someones nose, point out that Paul was an evangeliser of what is apparently a very different case than the synoptics or John. He wrote about 40-50 years (best case) before the new proselytisers.. to be known as the gospel writers.

        Claims that christians were burned by nero are negated by the bible itself as in Acts..Agrippa does not know who these christians are, how the hell would Nero know?

        You cant prosecute any argument with the religious unless you make them stick to the story.

        Its not pedantry! Other people werent there to write about it, so the argument thrown at you can be comfortably negated by picking up that great anthology and asking your friends to..prove it..

        Ps…as that delightfully funny historian Richard Carrier would point out..”Happy the Pig” is in Acts..If you can just do a little Latin.

    • Thank you, Jesus, but if your daddy is pissed off at me I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions by myself. No one else can, imo.

  5. Argent47 says:

    I’ll bet that the promulgators of this stuff would readily assert that there was an American President named Abraham Lincoln, and that he was assassinated in a theatre. If challenged on this, with “Were you there?”, they would have to say “No”, but their belief would remain unshaken….

  6. Argent47 says:

    (We need the ability to preview/edit comments here…)

    Of course, the “Lincolnists” would say that there were observers then, and they wrote it down for us, and we still have those records.
    But relying on that still requires relying on evidence presented by someone else’s senses … kinda in the way that we rely on other people’s (and instruments’) senses for many other data. (That, creationists, was a hint…)

  7. mud says:

    I did see an associated file in AIG that was sent with the jpg. It was vitriolic enough to outshine the pictures. Posting the pictures was far nicer..

    I’d link it, but I shared a share from FB Skeptoid and the FB crew closed me off.

    Not a problem, FB was just for 4 very close colleagues and friends and simple access to my view sites (like skeptoid and brave new climate). Its not a big loss.

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