Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: Hippo Eats Dwarf

I managed to squeeze a second book into my long weekend before coming back to wrok and reality and an avalanche of scientific papers, and while it was a good deal more lighthearted than the first book I read I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

It is a collection of the most widespread and believed urban legends, hoaxes and general all-round lies throughout history and particularly thanks to the power of the internet. It was eye opening because I recognized a number of the stories, I received some of those emails, and it really makes you think about the criteria you hold for believing something. Although I am getting much better, as someone building a career as a scientist, in making sure that I have all the facts about something before repeating it as fact, I still realized there are a few things that I'm not as rigorous on.I honestly did think, for some reason, that Fargo was loosely based on a true story. Also as someone who loves to talk about things and start 75% of my sentences with "did you know that" or "have you heard", I realized that I am one of those people that give credence to these urban legends until they become so diffuse that people say "there must be some truth to it!" even if they are presented with evidence that it was made up.  Our brains just haven't caught up with this era of information and it still baffles us that something that someone just made up could become a generally accepted truth despite it being born from pure fantasy.

It is great entertainment, an easy-going lighthearted read, all the while giving you a valuable lesson in taking everything you hear with a grain of salt. While as a whole we are getting better at applying that criteria to things we read on the internet, we are not as good at assuming that people we know are just as likely to get their information wrong.

The best part is, of all the wacky stories in this, there are a few that are true thrown in there to constantly keep you on your toes. So, can you tell the difference between fact and fiction?

1. Did you know that a Republican Senator tried to change the name of Interstate 69 to something less obscene, tired of being sniggered at for wearing a button saying I-69?

2. Did you know that the state of Ohio tried to add Klingon as an official language by including it as a patient's right to have a Klingon interpretor to help Klingon speakers communicate with their doctors?

3. Did you know that in the early 20th century a scientist successfully impregnated a chimpanzee with his own sperm, demonstrating how closely related we are as a species?

4. Did you know that overly stimulating some men's nipples can cause them to lactate?

Two of those are true, two of them are fake. Cany you tell which is which?

You'll have to buy the book to find out! Or I suppose you can just do the research yourself....

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