If you’re a regular follower of this blog — and I hope you are — you’ve probably noticed the inclusion of a few little facts at the end of each post. “Did you know…” has always been one of my favorite sentence starters.
I enjoy hearing those words; I enjoy saying those words.
Knowledge is power. We’ve all heard that a time or two, I’m sure. It’s true. Or, as another wise saying tells us, “The more you know, the farther you’ll go.”
Yesterday, I wrote about “the entirety of information known to man”. OK, so not everything is on the internet, and life really is about more than cat pictures. Right on both counts. Still, no one can deny that the internet is a source for fascinating facts — as well as cat pictures — and as I’m researching various topics for my stories, I’m always coming across zingers.
The one that shocked me most and inspired me to begin including a little “factoid” at the end of each post was learning about the age of consent in the United States. In 1880, the legal age of consent was between 10-12 years in all states except one. Delaware, incredibly, set the age of consent at 7.
Knowing this certainly makes me realize how much attitudes and ideas can change over time. Of course, I was skeptical when I first came across that bit of information. That’s why I did a little fact-finding on my own. It’s important that we question the facts we’re told.
FWIW, no, Bill Gates isn’t giving away $5,000 to Facebook users who click a link, nor did Walt Disney leave a substantial bequest for the first man to become pregnant and bear a child, and we can safely use public toilets without worrying about venomous “two-striped telamonia” spiders lurking beneath the seats.
A great adage to keep in mind is: When in doubt, check it out. Snopes comes in handy, so I hope you’ll keep it in mind too, although you’ll probably find a lot of people don’t really appreciate the truth when you point it out on their Facebook posts.
Just so everyone knows, most of the “fun facts” I post will be ones that I’m fairly certain are true. As much as possible, I’ll verify those little facts before posting them. Some, though, I’m willing to take at face value.
For example, when I read that chocolate was once used as currency, I accepted it. Why? It sounds logical. Knowing how many people love chocolate, I immediately saw its value. Going back now for a bit of “after-the-fact” research, I’ve learned that it was actually cacao beans that were a form of currency, but I suppose that’s close enough to count…at least on the internet, right?
And what of yesterday’s “Did you know…” fun fact that a hairball is called a “bezoar”? Fans of Harry Potter might quickly recall this helpful information:
“A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons.“
Actually, a “bezoar” can be any undigested mass that’s lodged in the stomach, not necessarily a hairball. So, as with the chocolate currency, my little factoid is basically true but doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Again, let’s say it’s close enough to count…on the internet.
Of course, the internet is not the only source of misinformation. It happens in every medium. A recent example is the retraction by Rolling Stone magazine of the story published about a sexual assault on the University of Virginia campus.
Because I read a lot of history and do a lot of research, I’ve learned not to accept a “fact” simply because it appears in a newspaper, magazine, or book. Even textbooks contain inaccuracies. A valuable practice I’ve learned in doing research is to look for three sources that agree before considering a fact to be true. It’s a good practice.
Another thing I’ve learned is that where history is concerned, there are many times where we have to accept the fact that we’ll never have a definitive answer. Sometimes the best we can do is research a topic fully, consider all the sources we’ve read, add in our own personal thoughts, and come to a conclusion that satisfies us.
Which is why I don’t believe that Aaron Burr carried away the body of his slain commanding officer:
Burr…helped Montgomery to storm the heights of Quebec, and nearly reached the upper citadel when his commander was shot dead and the Americans retreated. In all this confusion Burr showed himself a man of mettle. The slain Montgomery was six feet high, but Burr carried his body away with wonderful strength amid a shower of musket-balls and grape-shot. Lyndon Orr – Famous Affinities of History
You’ll find that “fact” in many history books, and you’re welcome to believe it if you choose. I choose to believe it’s more likely a fabrication, a way of aggrandizing Burr, and a bit of misinformation that’s been picked up and copied by so many historians that it’s become accepted as the truth.
Truth is, you see, a rather strange commodity. Facts are not always facts, and clever people know how to manipulate them to make us believe things that “ain’t necessarily so”.