Saturday, 31 May 2008

Did you know...?

I love trivia; those little "did you know?" boxes always draw my attention in an article, book or website. Maybe it's because the facts in them are often so quirky and interesting - and sometimes amusing as well. There are some of which one must be careful, however - for residing in these normally-trustworthy, friendly little boxes lurks something awful. Something twisted.


That's right, dear reader: what you read under the heading of "Did you know?" may not be as sacred as we would like - particularly on the intertubes. I came across a list of "useless facts" recently, and while some I know to be true, and others I can believe, there were some in there that set off my scepticism alarm. These are the sort of things that are never questioned simply because they are trivia - who in the name of Hel cares? Well, I do. I just don't like the idea of ignorance being spread through trivia quizzes etc., masquerading as fact. Maybe that's just me. Here's a couple of examples for you.

Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny) was allergic to carrots.

This is exactly the sort of "Did you know" I normally enjoy - completely pointless and yet amusing due to the irony. The irony is a little too perfect, though - and a quick search on the Mighty Wiki page for Mel Blanc reveals the story behind this pseudo-fact:

One oft-repeated story is that he was allergic to carrots and had to spit them out to minimize any allergic reaction; but his autobiography makes no such claim; in fact, in a 1984 interview with Tim Lawson, Blanc emphatically denied being allergic to carrots.

Well, without actually following this through into the actual transcripts of the interview, I would have to say that that about wraps it up for me as far as that little urban legend is concerned. Shall we move onto one which is a little less clear-cut and more, well, strange?

Studies show that if a cat falls off the seventh floor of a building it has about thirty percent less chance of surviving than a cat that falls off the twentieth floor. It supposedly takes about eight floors for the cat to realize what is occurring, relax and correct itself.

Firstly, I'm not even a little bit fooled by that catchphrase of credulity "studies show"... Did they really start dropping cats out of windows of varying height? I feel quite confident in saying probably not. Secondly, I've seen cats fall before - from slightly lower altitudes; they right themselves within a split second - and it's an instinctive reaction, not something that they have to take the time to relax and mentally work their way through. I think if your cat takes eight floors of descent to "realise what's occurring", it becomes a natural selection issue anyway.

Ah, "Did you know?" boxes. If you're not careful, they can make even the more sceptically-inclined drop their guard for a moment, because we read those boxes expecting to see something a little on the edge of credibility. If it sounds unbelievable, then do everyone a favour and read up on it before spreading it around to your family and friends.

Snopes is Dead Handy in this regard, as is the Mighty Wiki.

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