I’ve received an email. Very amusing.
It said that in 2007, when we were threatened by bird flu, it was the Year of the Chicken in China.
In 2008 when we were all terrified of equine flu, it was the Year of the Horse.
This year the swine flu pandemic has got us in its grips and it’s the Year of the Pig.
And guess what: next year is the Year of the Cock and we should all be very worried (the blokes, anyway).
The message has obviously gone viral because so far I’ve heard it from England, America, Fiji, Japan and Western Australia. It’s probably being repeated in bars from Beijing to Bermuda.
Er… actually, not Beijing. They’d know better. Because they know it’s a lot of rubbish. A lot of cock, in fact.
Because, in fact, none of the above is correct, and especially not the Year of the Cock, which was in 2005 and will not come again until 2017 (they come round every 12 years).
Next year is the Year of the Tiger. Maybe we’ll all go down with tiger flu.
How did this happen? I put it down to the two Gs: Google and gullibility.
The scary thing with the internet superhighway is that among the zillion quadrillion facts it’s possible to source at the click of a button – there are a few trillion that aren’t.
Last year the whole of Australia was bombarded with emails (and images) that warned of necrosis from spider bites. The emails came with gruesome pictures of people’s flesh rotting away in a matter of weeks. The emails warned of the horror of going near Australian spiders.
I even got it from friends in England who were afraid for my safety. The whole thing must have resulted in a sudden spike in spiders flattened under shoes or drowned in insecticide.
And while the recipients of this information were busy decimating Australia’s spider population, they probably never saw the follow up email from a leading Australian arachnid expert who said it was all rubbish: there aren’t any spiders in Australia (not Australian ones anyway) that can cause necrosis.
So we now have access to the biggest reference library in the history of the world, even if you shovelled up all the other libraries into one big heap. And there’s not just Google; there’s Yahoo and others.
If the kids are doing a school project on China, Google will present them with 692 million bits of information, at least four of which (see the Year of the Cock above) will be wrong. And if four, then why not four million?
And that’s the trouble. Reference libraries used to have standards, including a certain reassuring interest in accuracy, but internet search engines (or the links they send you to) have no such scruples.
I’ve been sucked in myself, by an indignant petition to the British government, because it had caved in to Islamic pressure and removed details of the Holocaust from British school curriculums.
Except that they hadn’t. It was an utter furphy, with absolutely no foundation in fact.
So how do you avoid being sucked in? I have no idea. Except that maybe the trick is to maintain a healthy scepticism about everything.
Einstein said: “Anyone can be a genius. You just need to think for yourself.” (Of course, he might not have said it at all – I got it off the internet!)
But to get your sceptical brain cells moving, here’s a few facts roaming around the internet that aren’t facts:
Jamie Oliver didn’t have his new cook book poached (‘scuse the pun) and published on the internet. It was only bits from his old books.
Powergen, the British gas and electricity company, hasn’t chosen the name “Powergenitalia.com” for its Italian division. It doesn’t have an Italian division.
Four thousand Jews did not avoid going to work at the Twin Towers on the day they were destroyed, because they had prior knowledge of the event, nor was an unburnt bible found in the wreckage of the Pentagon.
And Elvis isn’t alive, is definitely not well, and he’s not living anywhere.