Fact Or Fiction? Don't Be Myth-taken.

People get some of the weirdest ideas, and not all of them come from the Internet. However, the Internet has developed some wonderful tools for checking on the credibility of rumors. Recently as a dinner party composed entirely of seniors, one rather open woman scandalized the whole table with a story about “Sex Bracelets” that come in different colors and are worn by girls. The boys rip off colored sections to tell her what sexual favor they want with each color having a specific act associated with it. She related how she had heard this on the news and that she was surprised that no on else had heard about it because “everyone knows?”

Okay. Back at the shop after a few minutes on Snopes, I was able to file that one along with spider eggs in bubble gum.

Some years ago, a rumor spread across the country that McDonald’s was cutting the beef in Big Macs with ground up worms to cut costs. This could have resulted in a major loss of business, but Ray Kroc, who was still alive then, went public with a listing of the cheapest worms he could find in bulk and the price per pound. It was much higher than the cost of ground beef. Enough said. The rumor faded away. This was before Snopes.

What causes these myths to spread? Do we all like a good story so much that we suspend reasonable judgment when hearing them, or are we just too polite to challenge a storyteller?

Regardless of how myths get started and propagate, a tutor is well-advised to expose students to the various sites that expose rumors. After all, rumors can be more than just a story about a college girl who discovers she was in a sex chat room with a guy who turned out to be her dad. They can be harmful or fear-inducing, particularly if they involve rumors of potential terrorist activity near one’s home.

If you Google on “urban myths,” a variety of sites pop up, but many of them only report the rumors that are in circulation. I recommend to my students that they bookmark the Snopes site as the primary one to use when they hear something that sounds suspicious or too good to be true.

Then, depending on the student’s tastes, I suggest they visit the MythBusters site and try to watch the show on Discovery. It’s not for everyone, but their antics combined with a real attempt to prove or disprove various legends and myths such as how a cowboy should fall when shot as compared to how the movies portray nasty shootouts are great fun.

Similar sites are available to check on the various scams currently making the rounds. Immediately after every major disaster from 9/11 to the recent Tsunami, there are jerks who solicit donations under the guise of helping the victims, but unlike valid help organizations, they keep the money. When I donate to a cause, I want to be sure it is going to the right place. Again, there are several sites that cater to exposing such ripoffs, but I don’t have a favorite. If you know of one that is exceptional, I would like to hear from you.

Considerations like this are particularly important for seniors because they are often the target of illegal activities and scams. In the process of helping seniors become computer literate, we can also help them realize the various other tools available to help them in normal life.

For more in-depth tips on tutoring seniors, see the complete tutorial here. I also have posted a tutorial on elementary decision theory for those who might question a physician’s diagnosis (important for seniors) or anti-terrorist activities (important for everyone) but haven’t had the framework to analyze the data. That tutorial can be found here.