Friday, February 1, 2013

Fact Checking

In 1979 there was a British science fiction and fantasy show called Sapphire & Steel. These otherworldly operatives worked in between the cracks in time, and one of their first missions concerned the nursery rhyme “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”. The assumption of the story was that the nursery rhyme referred to the Great Plague in England. Being an American, I had never heard that theory before. It made for an interesting story, but checking the fact behind that assumption was a bit difficult back in 1979 unless you could track down books on nursery rhymes and folklore.

Nowadays it’s much easier to check what is actual fact and what is only urban legend. There are online encyclopedias, Wikipedia and articles. The Wikipedia link for “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” mentions the link to the Great Plague. That’s when it’s also best to check urban legends sites like Snopes. Snopes points out that “Ring Around The Rosie” didn’t appear until 1881, long after the Great Plague, and that this nursery rhyme, like so many others, is just a rhyme.

So, if you are basing a story on an urban legend or if you include an urban legend as part of your story, should you take the time to check on the truth of that legend? Should you include that in your notes on the story? After all, your readers are going to check. If your story is based on the coincidences between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, you’ll want to make sure your readers won't dismiss your book as poorly researched. On the other hand, if you have a character who believes in conspiracies, Snopes would be a treasure trove.

Even for everyday life on the Internet, it helps to know where to check the facts behind stories. There are fact checking sites for politics, like and there are ones to check any of the stories you see on Facebook, such as Snopes and Sophos.

What other fact checking sites do you use?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post! I, too, had always heard the Bubonic Plague explanation for Ring around the Rosie (and never thought to check it for accuracy).

    For myself, I would absolutely do the research, but knowing something was "false" wouldn't stop me. I write fantasy, so if you're adding magicians, it's not that much of a stretch to consider history is a little different, too. Ideally, there's a way in the story to convey the "this isn't actually true, but in MY version of the world ..."