How to make a scientific rumor?

 

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My mom sent me an article recently. It says that instant noodle is very unhealthy. The harmful materials in one pack of instant noodle can last in human body for one month. The article explained a lot about how are instant noodles made, how does liver work to clean the harmful materials. As a college student, I was almost convinced by those seemingly scientific rumors!

Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is rumor which is true. Some rumors were obviously ridiculous: if you are under emergency situation, entering the password reversely on ATM, then the bank will know your situation and call the police.  What if someone has password like 12321? Does bank call the police every time he or she use ATM? However, some rumors are hard to tell. Having persimmon and yoghurt at the same time can cause death because the interaction between proteins in milk and tannic acid in persimmon will produce calculus in stomach. It sounds somehow scientific, right?

In the age of Internet, rumors are no longer the same. The spread of rumor used to depend on people who have immediate interests with the rumor. However, nowadays, rumors are mostly spread online, among strangers. People who take part in spreading rumors usually do not have immediate interest with the rumor. My grandparents always share “news” like there’s a missing child. if you see him, please call XXXXXX. Then if you call the number, you will found this is a business phone trying to promote sales. The “missing child” has nothing to do with my grandparent. If you ask them why did you share it, they would say “I just wanted to help”.

A best seller Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die explained us how to make a successful rumor. The principle of making a sticky idea is “SUCCES”, which standards for simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and stories. If decode some rumors I mentioned above, you will find those rumors follows exactly the “SUCCES” principle. The title of the yoghurt and persimmon rumor was “eat them together you will die!! Share it to your friends!! You are saving lives!!!”. Yes, many “!!!!!”. By telling a story of a little girl who died out of eating them together and using some chemistry terminologies to explain to phenomenon, the rumor was really SUCCESsful.

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There is almost no cost to make a rumor like this. However, clarifying one would cost much more than making one. Many social networking sites have started their official accounts to refute those rumors. However, scientific rumors are easy to read. Real science is not. How can scientists make truth closer to the public might be another important subject in science field.

Reference:

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. New York: Random House.

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One Response to How to make a scientific rumor?

  1. sydhavely says:

    Great post, Ria. “Made to Stick” is a great book and you make an important point about the ubiquity of the rumor mill. “Urban legends” fulfill the same desire for hot, juicy gossip. Well done.

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