Just the facts — and a few outrageous and hilarious lies

Telamonia spider. Photo by Rushen, published under Creative Commons license.

Telamonia spider. Photo by Rushen, published under Creative Commons license.

Does a venomous, two-striped telamonia spider lurk under toilet seats in public restrooms? Is President Obama planning a run for a third term? Does China hold more than 50 percent of U.S. debt? The answers: No, no, and no.

From Facebook to chain emails to Uncle Joe’s latest hobbyhorse, crazy-false “information” abounds. With all the online fact-checking resources, no one has to fall for the phony stories that circulate every day. With the new year beginning, and new stories circulating, here’s a guide to some of the fact-check resources available at the click of a mouse.

Snopes.com is one of the oldest and biggest online resources, winning recognition from publications as diverse as the Reader’s Digest and the New York Times. Want to know whether it’s true that gangs are targeting women at Wal-Mart? Or that a crazed killer was found in the back seat of a woman’s car after she stopped at a gas station? Just search for the rumor on Snopes.com, and you’ll find lengthy, footnoted research. Snopes is so well-known that some phony emails even try to boost their credibility by claiming they have been “checked by Snopes.”

PolitiFact.com is another valuable fact-checker. I don’t always agree with their interpretations, but they do track down what politicians say and make a judgment about whether a statement is true, false, or somewhere in between. For example, Representative Jim Moran said in December that, “only 20 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision have athletic departments with revenue exceeding expenses.” PolitiFact rated the statement as true — and also offered a lot more information about colleges, sports, and money.

The Washington Post also has a fact-check blog focusing on politicians and their statements. Especially noteworthy: their March 2014 round-up of presidential deceptions from Eisenhower onward.

Medical and health-related lies abound on the internet and on television. Dr. Oz has been thoroughly debunked, but he’s still on the air. Vox calls Dr. Ben Goldacre the “anti-Dr. Oz:”

“At a time when health journalism is clogged up with self-serving peddlers of bogus diets and magic miracle cures, Goldacre, a physician and former Guardian columnist, has made it his mission to “skewer the enemies of reason” and bring research and evidence to bear on the big — and small — health questions of our time.”

Goldacre has several books out, including Bad Pharma, Bad Science, and what he calls a “statistics toilet book” — I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

People excuse all kinds of phony science, medicine and stories by calling them a matter of opinion. Whether or not you need to wear a hat when the temperature outside is 10 above zero may be a matter of opinion. Whether water will freeze at that temperature is not a matter of opinion — it’s a fact, and facts matter.

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