apparently captured the last fraction of a second of the tourist’s life . . .
and also of the final moment of normalcy before the universe changed for all of
us. In the blink of an eye, a beautiful autumn day was transformed into flames
and terror washed over a populace unaware that it would soon be in the midst of
Sharp, critical minds noted: The winter coat
being worn by the tourist was far too warm for the sunny Sept. 11 day of the
attack; the North Tower had no outdoor observation deck; and the plane in the
background was the wrong model.
ALAS! It was just a clever photo trick. A
But even if the picture wasn't real, the
emotions it stirred up were. It is because of these emotions the photo spread
rapidly around the net. Millions of people received this email in just a few
hours. Most of them believed it was true.
Another email. Another rumor. Another lie.
Repeated circular references can amplify the
power of rumors. “ A lie told a hundred times becomes the truth”
As the story was passed on from friend to friend, it gained credibility.
Many sites on the web acknowledge how easily
rumors can be spread so easily. There are also so many real life examples. I
have compiled a few of them:
is neatly summarized as follows: the more people approach you with a
certain fact, the more likely you are to believe it is true, because you
implicitly believe that there are an increasing number of "backing
facts" not explicitly stated. If John tells you "Bill is gay!"
and Joan tells you "Bill is gay" you may begin to believe that Bill is
gay. If a third person tells you the same, your credibility in the event
increases. Why? Because you presume that each person has verified this and you
presume their verifications to be independent.
The interesting thing about Presumed Backing is that it can achieve critical mass. With a sufficient number of initial believers in an event, a few even relatively skeptical individuals may be won over through sheer numbers. As these skeptics fall, doubt is introduced into ever higher levels of skeptics, letting a convinced populace truly replace the presentation of facts.
This is how rumors get started. A devious
individual plants an idea into a handful of impressionable peers' heads. These
together can then begin to sow doubt into the minds of the populace, and so on
and so forth. Once a rumor is widespread, we often implicitly believe there to
be equally wide-spread substantiation of the allegations, even when the truth
may be that the ill-advised "fact" had a singular author.
Once you recognize the process of Presumed
Backing, it's easy to stop. All you have to do is inquire as to the direct
evidence. "Who saw Ed with another man? Are they sure they were intimate?
-- asking Ed himself might not be a bad idea either. This eliminates the false
assumptions about the strength of the verification undergone by your peers and
will help you from contributing to rumors and other "false memes".
If you redistribute information, it is wholly
your responsibility to check that information for correctness.
Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-five
Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things”
Rumors begin with "I read somewhere that
... " or "I heard from someone that.…" Before long the rumor
becomes reality, as "I know that…" passes from person to person.
Rumors may be true but usually they are not. They do make for great tales,
however. There is the legend of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," in which a
driver picks up a hitchhiker who vanishes from his car along with his jacket;
locals then tell the driver that his hitchhiking woman had died that same day
the year before, and eventually he discovers his jacket on her grave. Such
stories spread fast and never die.
legends and persistent rumors are ubiquitous. Here are a few:
How many have you heard … and believed? None
of them are true.
THE VMYTHS.COM WEBSITE
few gullible reporters talk to a few pseudo-experts, and suddenly...
From the archives of Psychology Today:
Jack Levin, Ph.D., co-author of Gossip: The
Inside Scoop said. "The primary function of gossip is to help us make
social comparisons. For example, if we read bad news about celebrities in the
tabloids, or get into the gruesome details of our neighbor's misery, our own
problems begin to pale in comparison."
It is the same thing with organizations: If
you can make other organizations look bad, yours look good by comparison.,
How many thousands of people have been led to believe countless virus hoaxes on
the internet. Time and time again, they fall for it. I must embarrassingly admit
that I once deleted a critical file from my Windows program, because someone
credible emailed me that it has a virus.
High credibility sources will convince people
quickly,but low credibility sources have a "sleeper
effect" of more slowly changing peoples beliefs. Once someone
ascribes to a belief, they tend to forget if it originated from a low
To check if the alert you got is a hoax: http://www.hoaxinfo.com/
Shortly after the World Trade Center terror, some Americans urged their
family and friends to avoid shopping malls on Halloween. They forwarded an email
allegedly authored by a friend of a woman whose Afghani boyfriend had skipped
town but not before urging her to stay off airplanes on Sept. 11 and out of
malls on Halloween. The email listed the woman's employer and work phone number
to provide skeptics with a way to check the veracity of the story.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES: Evan G. wrote
about " Social Identity Theory "
where people groups tend to be enforced by derogating other groups. Bigoted
behavior in America is most prevalent among unsuccessful people predisposed to
looking for others to blame for their failures.
Randy Tucker of The Cincinnati Enquirer
the scenes at most major corporations, public relations officers have been
waging war with a nebulous, virtually invisible, enemy for years. Their
adversary has the power to bring even the biggest corporate giant to its knees
with attacks that often begin with a whispered phrase, such as “I don't know
if it's true, but I heard that ...”
rumors — claims commonly spread over the Internet and whose origins are almost
impossible to track — have marred the reputations of such Fortune 500
companies as McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble.
the successful operations that are targeted by these rumors,” said Frederick
Koenig, whose book, Rumor in the
Marketplace, has made him a leading authority on the topic.
rumors have survived for decades.
None of these
claims has ever been verified, but that doesn't stop people from believing them
and passing them on, Mr. Koenig said. And most recipients believe them. As P.T.
Barnum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute and most of them
rumors are like a (computer) virus,” said Vicky Mayer,.” It's so hard to
fight, because it's so difficult to find the source of the rumor.”
All you have to do is stand near any
groupings in any industry convention or trade show and you will hear all sorts
of gossips. “Did you hear?” .
“This is golden – you can bet your money on it”. “I don’t know if this
is true but____told me…”
That was how I first learned about news that
were later sterilized and reported in meeting industry publications. Since I am
not part of the “old buddies network”, I never took part in these
conversations. But I have an acute sense of hearing and well-developed
observation skills. I heard about who is about to divorce who, what a certain
member of the Board of Directors of the meeting’s sponsoring organization is
up to, who is getting fired, members’ grievances against the organization
CIMPA is not the only organization to be a
victim – but it seems to have attracted the most vicious ones. Recently, we
caught an email that was sent to a list containing one of our members’ names
(an indication of the size of the brain of the sender) giving absolutely false,
slanderous information about CIMPA. It was the first written evidence of a rumor
we suspected originated from the
“old buddies network” protective of their turfs and passed around
to gullible suppliers for years. They were not pleased that a non-member
of this network was encroaching in their turf and perceived competition where
there existed none. It was, therefore, to their best interest to discredit CIMPA
and try to hasten its demise. But CIMPA just kept growing. .
Even the press - afraid to lose advertising
dollars from supporters of the old buddies, ignored us. An interesting true
story: When I wrote the article, “Is Meeting Planning A Profession?”. - the
editor of the magazine of a major organization called me and said he was
impressed and will put my article on the cover of this organization’s
magazine. We collaborated on the editing of the article for days after which he
asked me to send the completed article and my photo to the organization’s
office. Two days later, he called
- embarrassed and apologetic. The head of the organization “refuses to
give CIMPA a platform”.
True to the classic model, these people
ignored the evidence: we had a very active online community, we were holding
meetings all over the world each year, we published our own reports, checklists,
newsletters and magazines. There were live, breathing humans organizing meetings
who were members of CIMPA. Nobody could find a coffin had our name on it.
We quickly fired back an email with the true
Fully aware that this is not going to make
any difference in that person’s behavior, our counsel is considering filing a
entry in Robert Fulford's column about gossip & the NY intellectuals that
appeared in theThe
National Post, July 18, 2000) read:
Elizabeth Hardwick, a talented essayist who
has been among the queens of the New York intellectual world for decades, once
remarked in an interview that she didn't much like talking about herself. ..,
she preferred "Gossip, or, as we gossips like to say, character
Yes! Character analysis! That's a fine excuse
for gossip. "Social history" is a pretty nice explanation too, but
"the desire to understand one's fellow humans in all their complexity"
is probably the best: It nicely mixes intellectual ambition, sympathy and utter
"He's a vicious gossip, you're a
charming storyteller, I'm a ...
Fred Garcia, Adjunct
Associate Professor of Management and Communications at New York University
During World War
II two Harvard University psychologists - Allport and Postman - studied wartime
rumors and came up with a mathematical formula that described the way a rumor
works and suggested ways to control or eliminate a rumor. They published their
findings in a 1947 book, The Psychology of Rumor. Allport and Postman define a
rumor as follows:
A rumor is a
specific proposition for belief, passed along from person to person, usually by
word of mouth, without secure standards of evidence being present. …we cannot
always decide easily whether we are listening to fact or fantasy.
The Allport- Postman Model of Rumor Dynamics: R ~ i x a
R is the reach, intensity, duration, and reliance on a rumor;
a is the level of ambiguity or uncertainty surrounding the rumor
In other words,
the reach, intensity, duration, and reliance on a rumor is roughly equivalent to
the importance one attaches to the rumor if true, multiplied by ambiguity
surrounding the rumor, especially surrounding its denial. To over-simplify: If
you reduce the I and a factor to zero , you would have killed the rumor.
is not easy to kill rumors. Rumor
specialist Gary Fine, professor of sociology at Northwestern University suggests
that schools set up rumor clinics. It is not a bad idea to set these up in
meetings and conventions too
But we can only probably get lasting results by developing critical thinking in all association members. Unfortunately, this is a skill not many have mastered. Psychologist Barry Singer has demonstrated that when given the task of selecting the right answer to a problem after being told whether particular guesses are right or wrong, people:
A. Immediately form a hypothesis and look only for examples to confirm it.
B. Do not seek evidence to disprove the hypothesis.
C. Are very slow to change the hypothesis even when it is obviously wrong.
D. If the information is too complex, adopt overly-simple hypotheses or strategies for solutions.
E. If there is no solution, if the problem is a trick and "right" and "wrong" is given at random, form hypotheses about coincidental relationships they observed. Causality is always found. (Singer and Abell 1981, p. 18)
Scientific and critical thinking does not
come naturally. It takes training, experience, and effort, as Alfred Mander
explained in his Logic for the Millions:
"Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed
with the ability to think clearly and logically -- without learning how, or
without practicing. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think
clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can
expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers or pianists"
When presented with hearsays and rumors, we
Critical thinkers don't invent
answers when there are none.
What hurts you more is not what you don't know but what you know that isn't so.
A wise Chinese
philosopher once wrote,
“ Some people say: I have heard something from Master Li, and people surround
them to listen. Such a person passes the hearsay with his own interpretations
and embroiders it.. What is the purpose?”
I have no clue, Master Li. I suspect in some
cases, there is no purpose- just idle minds that have nothing else to pre-occupy
them. Sometimes, they are show-offs trying to impress people. By making others
look bad, they think they are making themselves look good.
Sometimes, they are malicious., intending to harm their enemies. But what
if they are spreading false information about someone who is not an enemy –
whom they do not even know and about whom they, in fact, have no information? I