Debunking the week's rumors

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http://www.sptimes.com/News/091701/Worldandnation/Debunking_the_week_s_.shtml

Debunking the week's rumors

By Times staff and wire reports

St. Petersburg Times,
published September 17, 2001


Throughout last week's events, the public has experienced a steady stream of horrific images, emotional moments and somber speeches. While the vast majority of reports have been true, some initial ones were wrong. Rumors, too, have circulated widely, some with a seeming life of their own. Here's an update on some of the most prominent stories and rumors:

Firefighters in a sport utility vehicle were rescued from the towers' rubble: Reports of firefighters recovered alive in a buried SUV were carried by television stations and news agencies, including the Associated Press. Authorities were ecstatic. But the story wasn't true. The accurate report: Two firefighters had been temporarily trapped in an underground air pocket and freed by other rescue workers.

Someone rode the building down and survived: This story seemed to spring up early and take on an almost urban myth status. There is no mention of this in any reliable news source.

Afghanistan was bombed on the evening of Sept. 11: The source of explosions at Kabul airport has been tracked to rockets fired by opposition rebels. They destroyed three aircraft of the ruling Taleban militia in retaliation for bombing raids by Taleban jet fighters the prior weekend.

The CNN footage of the Palestinians dancing in the street was shot in 1991. CNN says that footage was forwarded to it by the Associated Press and Reuters, and it was dated Sept. 11, 2001. The network assumes that's correct. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who condemned the terrorist attack, reportedly attributed any celebrations to a small band of children.

The World Trade Center towers were insured for only half their worth: In the spring of 2001, the World Trade Center was valued at $1.2-billion when it was leased by its owners, the Port Authority, to a consortium of investors for 99 years. At the time of the 1993 bombing at the center, it was insured for $600-million in property damage and $400-million in liability coverage. Insurance experts say that losses will almost certainly wind up in the billions after factoring in property, worker's compensation, payments to families of the dead and accident and business-interruption claims. Estimates of the payout range from $5-billion to $25-billion. The final cost to the world's insurers will depend on the fine print.

A bomb was found Sept. 11 on a plane at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The FBI says Delta officials ordered Flight 1989 to land at the Cleveland airport because it was on the same Boston-to-Los Angeles path as the two planes that hit the World Trade Center. The FBI unloaded the passengers and questioned them. The plane had neither been hijacked nor had a bomb aboard. All passengers were released.

Osama Bin Laden's brother attends Harvard University. The Associated Press reported on Sept. 12 that bin Laden has longstanding family ties to Boston. Several of his relatives have lived in the area during the past decade. One, Mohammaed M. bin Laden, owns six condominiums in the Flagship Wharf condominium complex in Charlestown, Mass. A brother, Sheik Bakr Mohammed bin Laden, established scholarship funds at Harvard Law School and School of Design. Harvard officials said they were satisfied Osama bin Laden had no connection with the programs, and that the family members who took part were estranged from him.

A woman talked on a cell phone with her husband and other police officers trapped in the Trade Center rubble: New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was present when a hysterical Sugeil Mehia, dressed in medical scrubs, told authorities that she had just gotten a call from her husband. "It was all fake," Kerik said Friday. Mehia was charged with reckless endangerment, obstructing fire operations and filing false reports.



-- Anonymous, September 17, 2001

Answers

10) Just For Grins

One of the weirder reactions to the terrorist attack in the US is the chain letter going around that makes Nostradamus--- a 16th century astrologer--- seem like a clear-eyed visionary.

Like all successful astrologers, Nostradamus spouted vaguely-worded predictions--- verbal Rorschach ink blots devoid of any real meaning on their own--- that the listeners could interpret as applicable to their own lives. The "meaning," if any, came from the listeners, not from anything that Nostradamus actually said.

But the chain letter going around now makes Nostradamus seem he really could see the future:

In the year of the new century and nine months, From the sky will come a great King of Terror... The sky will burn at forty-five degrees. Fire approaches the great new city...

In the city of york there will be a great collapse, 2 twin brothers torn apart.by chaos while the fortress fall the great leader will succumb the third big war will begin when the big city is burning - NOSTRADAMUS

But this "quote" is in fact a series of snippets removed from different parts of Nostradamus' writings, heavily edited, altered, and then stitched together to make it sound meaningful. Gosh, I could make a telephone book seem like an accurate predictor of the future, that way.

Reader Marc Powell was the first to write with additional detail:

The [Nostradamus] quote is, in fact, inaccurate, though it certainly has been circulating quite a bit. This quote was actually written by a college student as part of a thesis to demonstrate how a series of generalities, such as those offered, in many cases, by Nostradamus, can be used as "predictions of the future."

You can find out more about the quote below at http://www.snopes2.com/inboxer/hoaxes/predict.htm . (this page has been getting a lot of traffic, so it may be down occasionally, but it's there)

Thanks, Marc.

Astrological forecasts--- like fortune-cookie predictions--- can be fun if taken as the nothing more than the simple entertainments they really are. But anyone who takes them more seriously than that is falling into an old, old trap. If you get the above chain letter, just delete it: Purely and simply, Nostradamus was a just another nutjob. Click to email this item to a friend http://www.langa.com/sendit.htm

-- Anonymous, September 18, 2001


from Declan McCullough I notice that you cited the snopes.com/Urban Legends site to dispel and clarify the rumours about the CNN-using-old-Palestinian-footage story. There is more explanation of the "radio blacklist" story, there, too. You would do a great service by circulating the Web address for the special Urban Legends page devoted just to terrorist attack-related stories. (Every time I get that freaking Nostradamus thingy forwarded to me, I send back this address ...)
http://www.snopes.com/info/rumors.htm


-- Anonymous, September 20, 2001

http://www.dallasnews.com/technology/personal_technology/stories/48117 0_nethoaxes_27pe.html

Don't believe it: Skeptics find no truth in Sept. 11 rumors forwarded in e-mail

09/27/2001

By DOUG BEDELL / The Dallas Morning News

Internet rumors and hoaxes have found new life with the tragic events of Sept. 11.

Some, like those involving bogus predictions of Nostradamus and symbols in Microsoft's Wingdings font, are recycled folklore. Others including doctored photos of the World Trade Center and rumors that CNN used 1991 footage to show Palestinians celebrating the terrorist attacks are originals.For those who investigate and debunk urban legends and Internet hoaxes, the last week has been as taxing to their Web servers as it has been on their time.

Debunking urban legends and Net hoaxes
Without researching the factual claims made in a forwarded e-mail, there's no 100 percent sure way to tell it if it's a hoax, but there are common signs:
Note whether the text was actually written by the person who sent it to you. If not, be skeptical.
Look for the telltale phrase: "Forward this to everyone you know."
Look for statements like "This is not a hoax" or "This is not an urban legend." They usually mean the opposite.
Look for overly emphatic language, the frequent use of uppercase letters and multiple exclamation points.
Be suspicious if the message seems geared more to persuade than to inform or if the message purports to give you extremely important information that you've never heard of before or seen elsewhere in legitimate venues.
Read carefully and think critically about what the message says, looking for logical inconsistencies, violations of common sense and obviously false claims.
Look for subtle or not-so-subtle jokes, indications that the author is pulling your leg.
Check for references to outside sources. Hoaxes will not typically name any nor link to Web sites with corroborating information.
Check to see if the message has been debunked by Web sites that cover Internet hoaxes, such as hoaxbusters.ciac.org.
Be skeptical of virtually any chain e-mail you receive (i.e., any message forwarded multiple times). It's more likely to be false.
Be wary of "reports" that mimic a journalistic style or attribute text to "legitimate" sources.
Be especially wary of health-related rumors. Most importantly, never act on this type of rumor without first verifying its accuracy with your doctor or other reliable source.

SOURCE: Urban Legends and Folklore Guide

Some, such as the Urban Legends Reference Pages (www. snopes2.com), are handling 500,000 Web visitors a day, forcing curtailment of graphics, advertising and message board features that add to the load.

"We've been just getting hammered by the traffic," said Barbara Mikkelson, who runs the Urban Legends site with her Web designer husband, David.

David Emery, a volunteer who has run About.com's Urban Legends and Folklore (urbanlegends. about.com) for four years, said his normal e-mail flow has ballooned from about 50 per day to more than 200.

"The majority of them contain rumors and e-mail folklore directly related to the tragedy," Mr. Emery said. "I can't say the amount of material is increasing at this point, but it certainly hasn't tapered off."

Evidence of the American preoccupation with war-related rumors was graphically demonstrated last week when "Nostradamus" replaced "sex" as the No. 1 search term on some top search engines.

"Nostradamus received more searches in one week than any other subject [since we began tracking it] two years ago," Aaron Shatz of the Lycos 50 Daily Report told The Associated Press. "Nostradamus was misspelled in more than 100 ways and received 12.5 times as many searches as former Number 1, Dragonball [a Japanese animated cartoon], which fell to Number 8."

The Mikkelsons and other debunkers have gone to elaborate lengths to search out the sources of the Nostradamus predictions. Some of the quotations skittering through e-mail channels are traceable, they said, to a Web page erected to show how easily Nostradamus' prophecies can be massaged into compelling predictions of cataclysmic events.

Other Sept. 11-related hoaxes are far more troubling. They include:

Fictitious requests from NASA that people step out on their lawns with lit candles at a specified hour so that a satellite picture can be made to capture the nation's unity.

Bogus news accounts linking Osama bin Laden to the production of gum Arabic, an emulsifier in soft drinks and other commercial products.

The CNN footage rumor, which sparked so many inquiries that the network, its stringers and those who filed the film report issued detailed accounts of the filming and how it was acquired.

E-mail reports that a deadly "Klingerman virus" is being dispersed via U.S. mail on blue sponges sent to random American homes. This hoax was first debunked in May 2000.

Several of the latest hoaxes involve photo manipulations, a new type of Internet contrivance.

One photograph shows a tourist standing on the 110th floor observation deck of the World Trade Center. Behind him is a commercial jet that appears to be approaching impact just below.

Photo manipulations represent a new way of blurring the lines between truth and reality, but they are equally damaging, debunkers said.

The debunkers continually warn Internet users to be skeptical of frightening or unusual reports they pass around to friends and family. But no matter how many warnings are issued, rumors and hoaxes persist.

"This is a very difficult time for everybody," said Mrs. Mikkelson. "It's a time of heightened emotion and, therefore, lowered common sense. Crisis brings people together and produces more rumors because we're talking more."

The Internet, of course, has made communication faster and easier for millions.

"On the one hand, it's a wonderful thing that we don't just have to rely on CNN and The New York Times to find out what's going on in the world," Mr. Emery said. "On the other, we're still learning and it's very important that we learn how unreliable the information that comes to us via e-mail and the Net can be."

At various times in America's history, state and federal governments have actually set up rumor control centers to refute prevalent hoaxes. Generally, Mr. Emery said, such efforts have failed.

"One reason rumor-mongering is rampant is that we don't always trust authorities to tell us the truth," Mr. Emery said. "Sometimes we don't even trust the media to tell us the truth, and so you see rumors functioning as a sort of shadow news whereby people share or think they're sharing the untold truth."A lot of people have an itchy forward finger, not even bothering to think twice before shooting off unverified rumors to everyone they know."

Ironically, the Internet is also capable of quickly yielding the information needed to assess whether a rumor has any basis.

"For almost every falsehood transmitted on the Net," Mr. Emery said, "the truth is also there to be found. The challenge, I think, is for people to accept the personal responsibility that implies."



-- Anonymous, September 27, 2001

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