Of Schools, Skepticism, and Snopes
May 3, 2013
By 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.]
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