All of us, at some point, have fallen prey to an urban legend, a rumor, or a mixconception. Everyone. This has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s just human nature.

Why we’re so susceptible to believing what our friends tell us, what we see on Facebook is beyond the scope of this article (although there are some interesting theories here, here, here).

This trait is so pervasive that we accept even the impossible as common knowledge; I can only

  • Catherine the Great had sex with a horse
  • Your fingernails continue to grow after you die
  • A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill you
  • The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object that can be seen from space

A moment’s reflection on our knowledge of the physical world should tell us that these popular legends , ridiculous even. Perhaps our desire for the world to be interesting, shocking supercedes our common sense. Generally speaking, if you hear something shocking or titilating passed off as fact, it’s likely to be false.

We’re also trusting. When we read or hear something stated as fact, we tend to believe it. Many of us believe the following (totally false) legends simply because we heard them in passing somewhere:

  • Water swirls down a drain in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere
  • Handling a baby bird will make its mother reject it
  • People only use 10% of their brains
  • Women who live together develop synchronized menstrual cycles

This tendency to trust is charming, even essential for the success of our species. And most of the time it’s harmless. Believing that chameleons change color according to their surroundings will not affect your life one jot. Posting on Facebook about Hillary Clinton’s $12,000 Armani jacket might embarrass you; a belief that everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day could cause some inconvenience, but still, innocuous.

Things become a little more serious when you waste money on products

The tenancy to trust, our desire to be ahead of the curve, and our deep-set faith in our own intuition also drives our decisions about what we eat, whether or not to vaccinate our kids, and how to protect ourselves from cancer and other diseases. This site is about beauty, not vaccinations (thank God), but the goal is the same: Everyone should know how to distinguish fact from fiction.

Just because someone said it doesn’t mean it’s true. If a site doesn’t contain references don’t believe it. Try not to succumb to the lure of statements beginning with “Many experts agree” or “Scientific studies have shown”.

Rethink the word “chemicals”. A chemical is “a substance produced by or used in a chemical process”. Water, formed by two hydrogen atoms bonding with an oxygen atom, is a chemical. So is air, so is everything in your body, and let’s not even get started on the list of chemicals contained in, say, a banana. Stating that a substance is dangerous because it contains “chemicals” is like saying it’s dangerous because it exists.

The name of an ingredient means nothing. Organic compounds are named according to international convention based on the number of carbon atoms and the kinds of bonds they make. Since the name is intended to capture the configuration of every atom in the molecule, you’re going to see some wicked long names on the back of your shampoo bottle. This is because scientists want to attend international conventions where in every language, the name for each compound is the same. It’s not because your shampoo is made of poison.

Find sites you trust. You probably already have a preferred source for news, be that the New York Times or Fox. Use this same discernment for other kinds of information.

Wikipedia and Snopes: Your Truth BFF’s. Many people don’t trust Wikipedia because “anyone can write an article”. This is definitely true, but what makes Wikipedia unique and utterly trustworthy is that the editors insist on citations for every statement in every article, and if there’s no citation or if the citation doesn’t meet their standards, Wikipedia will flag it. If you still can’t bring yourself to trust the articles, at least trust the citations. Wikipedia is a great way to find, say, scientific studies published in reputable journals about vaccinations eyelash lengthening treatments and other essentials.

“Snopes it before you post it” is one of my personal mottos. Described as “the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource” and dedicated to finding the truth behind urban legends and internet rumors



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