Snopes versus dopes: the battle continues, and Snopes seems to be winning
For years I have been a fan of the urban legend and conspiracy theory debunking site, Snopes.com. And let's get one thing straight before you start lecturing me about being a Snopes worshiper: I don't consider Snopes infallible, any more than I consider any other information source, online or off, to be infallible. But it appears to me that the Snopes folks are generally diligent researchers, and certainly are a far more credible source than the "alternative" media sites that thrive on selling largely baseless fear and outrage to the conspiracy crowd. (I'm talking to y'all, Alex Jones, WorldTruth.TV, Before It's News, et al.)
At the very least Snopes is a reasonable place to embark upon your own path of inquiry whenever someone shares a meme on social media that seems too bizarre or funny or horrible to be true, or -- equally as important -- that fits too neatly into prevailing social and political biases (even and especially your own). Whenever this happens, which it frequently does, I first check the link in the meme to make sure it's not a satirical/fake news site like National Report. If it is truly being presented as serious news, then, yes, I will very often go to Snopes first, because more than likely they've covered it. But I generally don't stop at Snopes, although I may end up sharing the Snopes page on threads where the meme is being presented as real news.
Snopes, as many know, began as a hobby in the mid 1990s for a California couple named David and Barbara Mikkelson. As far as I know, the Mikkelsons have never pretended to be anything but what they are: a couple of hobbyists whose hobby grew into an obsession and a web presence with a huge following. Except for the "huge following" part, I can very well identify with the whole hobby-turned-obsession thing, because I've been hammering away at this Whirled for more than nine years now. The important point to stress is that despite the frequent claims of their detractors, the Mikkelsons have never pretended to be experts or authorities or the last word on anything.
But here's one thing they have accomplished: again and again Snopes.com has made fools of conspiracy fans and followers of the "alternative" (read: nutcase) media. And this, I suppose, is precisely why said fans and followers work so hard to counter and "expose" Snopes and paint Snopes fans as the fools. In doing so, however, the conspiracy fans invariably make themselves look even more foolish. But that doesn't stop them, and there remain large numbers of people who passionately hate Snopes and whose wrath often encompasses Snopes fans, whom the anti-Snopesers accuse of being stupid, gullible, uneducated or lazy.
One of the frequent complaints about Snopes is that they have a "liberal bias," and the corollary to that claim is that Snopes is being secretly funded by one or more nefarious liberal organization(s) or some other special interest group. Back in March 2013, the Skeptoid blog published a credible post debunking the "liberal bias" accusation. (It was cross-posted on the Skeptical Libertarian blog the following month.)
That article, written by Eric Hall, was a response to the infamous (in some circles, anyway) "Snopes got snoped" article that is STILL going around the Internet and is frequently hauled out to discredit Snopes and try to make the conspiracy believers look smart and the people who consult Snopes look stupid. The original source of the article was the aforementioned conspiracy-fan site WorldTruth.TV. But the article appears to be gone now from the original site, although numerous other enthusiastic bloggers picked it up. You can read it here and on several other sites.
Eric Hall's cross-posted Snopes-defense piece makes a very good point that I too have attempted to make numerous times in discussions about Snopes' credibility as opposed to that of WorldTruth.TV:
A larger look at the site called WorldTruth.tv reveals something very hilarious. The claim that Snopes shouldn’t be trusted because it is only run by 2 people (the Mikkelsons) comes from a website run by 1 person who only identifies himself as Eddie. From WorldTruth.tv’s “about us” page:
My name is Eddie and WorldTruth.TV is my way to share all the knowledge and information that I have acquired and been blessed with in the last 32 years of my journey on this planet.
WorldTruth.TV is a website dedicated to educating and informing people on regular basis with well-researched articles on powerful and concealed information. I’ve spent the last 32 years researching Theosophy, Freemasonry, Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, the Bavarian Illuminati and Western Occultism. I remember when I first learned about the “Truth” and it wasn’t pretty. I remember learning about how the mass media lies to our faces consistently. About how the educational system only teaches the youth what they need to become obedient workers.I have to rub my forehead every time I read it. The website making a claim Snopes cannot be accurate because they do not have a large team is supposed to be trustworthy when being run by one person. If someone can make sense of that logic, please feel free to comment!
A more recent (April 2014) effort to defend Snopes appeared in the Houston Press, courtesy of Jef Rouner. Take a few moments to read it if you will; it's worth it. I'll wait. Not that Jef's effort has had any effect whatsoever on the die-hard Snopes detractors, who still apparently imagine themselves to hold the factual, intellectual and in many cases the moral high ground.
Health Nut goes nuts over Snopes piece
Take "Health Nut News" blogger Erin Elizabeth (please). Last month she got all bent out of shape because, she says, Snopes misrepresented a couple of things she had written about the much-buzzed-about holistic doctors murder "conspiracy" (note: the link is to a blog post that takes a skeptical view of the "conspiracy"). Erin is, among other things, the personal and business partner of alt-health guru and osteopath Dr. Joseph Mercola. (Here are some skeptical links about Mercola, and I also wrote about him on a post last year (see under, "Joseph Mercola: sitting pretty at the top of the alt-doc heap").)
Given her partnership with Mercola and her role as a natural-health blogger, Erin clearly has a stake in fanning the flames of the dead-doc drama. Don't get me wrong; I'm not making light of anyone's death, nor am I discounting Erin's distress over the loss of anyone who may have been a friend or associate, but there seems to be something more going on here. It centers around Erin's insistence that she has been careful to avoid any mention of a conspiracy regarding the high numbers of "suspicious" deaths among alt-health doctors, practitioners and advocates. She's just calmly reporting, don't you know. But to me, reading even one of her posts about the ongoing saga makes it pretty clear that she is playing on the conspiracy theme. You don't have to use the word "conspiracy" to do that.
Here is the July 21, 2015 Snopes article with which Erin took issue. The article was not written by one of the Snopes principals, Barbara or David Mikkelson, but rather by a longtime Snopes board participant named Kim LaCapria.
And here, if you can access it, is the link to the Facebook thread on which Erin shared her video explaining how Snopes done her wrong. (I'm sorry that I can't seem to find a more universally accessible (e.g., YouTube) link.) In her video Erin seems a tad overwrought, declaring that the Snopes piece might just be the most irresponsible piece of journalism she has seen this year, or perhaps even in a whole decade. She is shocked, shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you! And shocked (in case you didn't get it the first three times).
Mostly Erin seems shocked about the Snopes article's insinuation that she is spreading "conspiracy" rumors, but she also spends an inordinate amount of time in the video quibbling about one of the missing doctors' home state: Montana or North Dakota? She even insinuates that the confusion over the doctor's residence, exacerbated by Snopes, might be a reason nobody can find him. As well, Erin seems to be royally pissed off because she has been misquoted and misrepresented by other journalists -- not Snopes, as it happens, but even so, she is laying most of her outrage on Snopes for this video.
That video wasn't the first time that Erin has dumped all over Snopes. She previously huffed that they are doing a disservice to the health world. Here's an August 2014 rant. The big headline is:
Many quote “Snopes” like they’re scientists or doctors, but they’re just 2 ole couch potatoes who may be coerced by special interest groups
To bolster her accusations, Erin posted a much-shared picture of the Mikkelsons sitting on a couch, with a clearly overweight orange tabby cat perched behind them.
Again I think it important to emphasize that as far as I have ever been able to see, the Mikkelsons have never claimed to be anything but what they are: two folks interested in researching various unbelievable claims. Unlike some of the pond scum (no offense to ponds or scum) that I have written about on this blog, they haven't masqueraded as doctors or scientists. And I doubt if most people who cite Snopes do so believing that either one of the Mikkelsons is a doctor or scientist. That headline seems to be a reflection of Erin's own defensiveness at work.
And as for the ad hominem accusation of being "ole couch potatoes," the Mikkelsons have never claimed to be health nuts either, as far as I know. The well-known picture of the Mikkelsons, which admittedly isn't very flattering, is frequently shared by people who seem hellbent on discrediting them. It appears to be a candid photo taken in a moment of levity. Maybe they now regret ever allowing it to be taken or shared; I don't know.
But I do know that as the "Health Nut," the youthful looking and attractive Erin Elizabeth has a very carefully crafted public persona, and my guess is that she is quite picky about the pictures of herself that she allows to be shared publicly. She seems to be unnecessarily rubbing it in that she's cute and the Mikkelsons... not so much.
Moreover, she describes herself as having "a passion for the healing arts for nearly 25 years" and as being "an author, public speaker, and advocate for healthy living." But when it comes right down to it, having a passion and taking that passion public really doesn't make her an expert of any type -- except, of course, the self-described and relentlessly self-aggrandizing sort of expert. The New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality/alt-health world is full of those.
Not-Doktor Stoopid joins in on the Snopes sniping (again)
Recently Snopes came under fire yet again from the stuck-on-stupid contingent, and Leonard Coldwell, former b.f.f. of serial scammer Kevin Trudeau, gleefully joined in. You've met Lenny on this blog previously, and are possibly still trying to rinse your eyes out and clear your mind. I'm sorry to stymie your cleansing campaign, but he has been such a vociferous detractor of Snopes that he belongs in this post.
Lenny is a proud follower of the tradition of Snopes detractors making themselves look stupid in an attempt to discredit Snopes. Recently, for instance, he shared links to a hoax article -- which was plainly labeled as such -- about the supposed arrest of Snopes co-founder David Mikkelson. Here is the original link, though Lenny shared a link from someone else who had picked up the article on their site. However, on the second site the piece was also clearly labeled as satire.
Not only was the article to which Lenny linked tagged as satirical, and not only was the photo of the "arrest" plainly a bad Photoshopping job (you'd think that the Snopes-haters would recognize Mikkelson's face from the standard Snopes-couch-potato shot), but there are also numerous silly cues within the text that it is not to be taken at all seriously. I mean, really: "attacking the messenger?" "Shooting the piano player?" (Actually it was a player piano, which makes the story even more blatantly silly.)
But Lenny, a long time Snopes loather, posted the announcement of David Mikkelson's arrest on Facebook as if it were real news, accompanied by his customary arrogant and semi-literate I-told-you-so message. He even aggregated the hoax article for the blog on his main web site, presenting it as actual truth. It stayed up on that site for several days, and during this time I tried twice to write a public comment to the post, explaining that the article was satirical. Here are the two comments I tried to post (as usual, click on pics to enlarge):
Neither of my comments was published, though as you'll see in the second screen grab, Coldwell did publish an apparently supportive comment from a reader (who was obviously using a fake name) who claimed not to be surprised by the "news." But the article now seems to be gone from Coldwell's site. Not a word of apology to his readers, though, and as of today, his "I told you so" post is still on his Facebook page:
As the old saying goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Here's Lenny from two years ago, blathering about the "trailer trash" that runs snoops [sic]:
So deeply does Lenny despise Snopes that he has been known to throw temper tantrums on his social media whenever anyone dares to cite a Snopes article. A couple of years ago he practically had a meltdown when my pal Julie Daniel, whom I have yet to meet in person but who has become someone I consider a close friend nonetheless, cited a Snopes article to counter Lenny's hysterical sharing on Facebook of the meme about Obamacare and compulsory RFID chips. At least I think that was the meme. It was one of those silly things that are constantly surfacing and resurfacing, anyway. Lenny quickly turned his Eye of Sauron upon Julie, writing, "I know who you are!" as well as publicly issuing what appeared to be several threats to her. She was actually concerned for her safety for a while.
As it turned out, Lenny apparently thought Julie was I, writing under one of numerous aliases (he has publicly and falsely accused me of using more than 70 fake names and accounts to defame and destroy him). But I am not Julie, and Julie is not I. We, do, however, share a contempt for Lenny as well as a respect for Snopes.com.
If, after reading all of the evidence that they are not evil incarnate, you're still prejudiced against Snopes yourself for whatever reason, below is a list of alternatives. For your own sake, always check out wild rumors before sharing them on or off the Internet. And for gosh sakes, don't rely on WorldTruth.TV or anything with the name "Leonard Coldwell" in it as your source.
Update 24 May 2016: I just now discovered a wonderful blog, Just Bad For You, by novelist, screenwriter, children's book author and critical-thinking advocate Jeffrey E. Poehlmann, who is currently fighting cancer. On this April 2016 post he discusses, among several other topics, the dead-docs conspiracy tale and Erin Elizabeth's role in fanning the flames (see under "Murder, Black Ops and Cover Ups by Big Pharma").