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The Sniff Test

After receiving way numerous pieces of urban mythology masquerading as truth, I started to develop what I call "The Sniff Test". I'll keep updating this test as I discover new principles....

The primary principle is:

Treat stuff like the mythology in this section the way you would week-old leftovers in your refrigerator -- "sniff" it before eating it. If it smells funny, there's probably a reason for it. Before you replicate such "thought contagions", track down the source and confirm it for yourself.

The secondary principle is:

Don't believe everything you read on the Internet, especially if it satisfies several of the following conditions:

1) It is highly inflammatory.

2) It asks that you send a copy on to everyone you know.

3) It does not mention any names. References to a "friend of a friend", or an unnamed relative, such as "my cousin", or "some girl/boy/man/woman" are highly suspicious.

4) It does not cite any specific sources ("the NY Times" is not a citation -- "the January 22, 1996 edition of the NY Times" is, though).

5) It does cite sources, but the sources cannot be found. Anyone can tag onto a piece of e-mail a bogus source to make it sound more authoritative.

6) It does not say exactly when this event occurred. "Last month" is a relative term that means "the month before the one that I, the reader, am currently in". If the story has been circulating on the Internet for three years (not unusual for urban legends), then "last month" becomes completely meaningless unless there is a specific date mentioned.

7) It says, "THIS IS A TRUE STORY!" That's an automatic warning flag.


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Page created1/11/99.
Last updated 04/01/03 at 12:30.

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