All lies lead to the truth. For over 20 years, Snopes.com has been the Web's primary bullshit detector and debunker, from death by Pop Rocks to political lies. We need Snopes more than ever. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature, I commissioned talented journalist Rob Walker to explore the history of Snopes and founder David Mikkelson's relentless obsession with, of all things, the truth. From the article:
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In the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on The Sean Hannity Show to talk about the Donald Trump he has gotten to know—a man defined by “stuff the public never hears.” So he shared an anecdote about the time the billionaire’s limousine broke down, and a random passing couple stopped to help. Later, these Good Samaritans got some surprising news: As a gesture of thanks, Trump had paid off the their home mortgage. “Pretty impressive,” Hannity declared.
But wait a second. Who exactly were these people, and why couldn’t the limo driver just call AAA? Impressive as this anecdote sounds, is it true? Well, what does Snopes say? Founded more than two decades ago, Snopes.com was originally devoted to researching all manner of just-so tales and urban folklore sourced to a friend of a friend, or to no source at all. These days, when readers “submit a rumor” they’d like confirmed or debunked, it’s likely to be a tale tied to current events. And yes, Snopes founder David Mikkelson recognized that “impressive” Trump anecdote immediately.
“That same story had been told for years,” he says.
Gene Wilder's death reminded me of the lovely 2008 interview Wilder did for the Legends series about Marty Feldman. Most Americans associate Feldman with his film roles, but he had a long career in UK radio and later in television before moving on to Hollywood. Read the rest
The story of a deadly bar fight between a guy named Billy and a guy named Stagolee (or Stack Lee, or Stagger Lee) has worked its way into a broad swath of 20th-century music — from the blues of 1930s Southern prisoners, to Duke Ellington, to James Brown, to the Grateful Dead. At Davey D's Hip Hop History 101, Cecil Brown traces the true story behind the legend
back to the red light district of St. Louis in 1895. Read the rest
Last year, the Eastern coast of Japan was struck by a massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. Since that happened, you've heard researchers talk about how it was not the first time that region had experienced an earthquake that large. Although the 2011 Tohoku earthquake has been called the biggest earthquake in Japan's recorded history, that's really only describing the relatively short history of scientifically measured earthquakes. The Japanese have kept written records, describing earthquakes that sound as though they could have been every bit as destructive. And those records date back 1600 years.
But written records aren't the only way of preserving local memories, or warning future generations about the destructive power of the Earth.
Geologic evidence shows that North America's Pacific Coast has experienced earthquakes on the scale of the Tohoku earthquake. (In fact, the Pacific Northwest is probably due for one of these large quakes. It's not an "if", but a "when".) The last time it happened, nobody in the area was keeping written documents. Instead, the story of a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami—which probably occurred around the year 1700—have become a part of oral storytelling traditions. Ruth Ludwin, a seismologist at the University of Washington, has been collecting these stories since the early 1990s.
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"There was a shaking, jumping up and trembling of the earth beneath, and a rolling up of the great waters."
So says an ancient tale told to generations of Quilleute and Hoh Indians. Variations of this saga of an epic battle between the Thunderbird and the Whale are found among Pacific Northwest Tribes from Vancouver Island to Oregon's Tillamook tribe.