3 Feb – There’s a sucker born every minute. Although this remark is widely attributed to the showman PT Barnum, RJ Brown reports that it was actually said by a banker named David Hannum, who sued Barnum in 1869 for promoting a fake exhibit. When Hannum lost, his name was forgotten and Barnum was linked to the quote.
For most of us, bad stories require some evidence to be believed. But if the story is good or repeated by many sources, it rarely needs facts. “They said” implies credibility, while “everybody knows” suggests that – if you don’t know – there’s probably something wrong with you. As Solomon Asch demonstrated, we often conform to avoid conflict or looking foolish.
Policemen and courts rely on evidence and what epidemiologists call the five W’s. To them, until someone establishes WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHEN, and WHY, hearsay is meaningless.
Unfortunately, many Americans are too busy to care.
Imagine that you are sitting at a restaurant counter and a waitress has brought you the menu. Below the various offerings you see the following disclaimer:
Sam’s Café makes no express or implied promises or warrantees that any of the information contained in this menu is accurate; and will not vouch for any meal delivered. If you suffer stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, or hallucinations, seek medical treatment immediately. Sam’s Café assumes no responsibility if you become sick or die from the meals or drinks delivered.
Although we’d think twice before ordering, people who seek reliable information about diseases and treatments from federal and state agencies generally believe what’s on the menu even when they receive similar disclaimers.
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