Debunkers R Us

Among my friends and colleagues, i seem to have taken on the role of official debunker of nonsense. Sometimes all it takes is responding to an email with a link to the relevant snopes or straightdope article, and sometimes it requires a little more digging. Generally, it’s just amusing. To give you an idea of the kind of fluff I end up responding to, here are two examples just from today.

Firstly, I had to respond to an email claiming that you can use keyless remotes across cellphone lines. The general idea is that if you have one of those cars that use a keyless remote to unlock, and you’ve locked your remote in the car, then if someone else has a spare you can just call them on their cellphone, hold your cellphone near the car lock, and have them depress the remote. Hey, Presto! The car unlocks.

Except… it doesn’t. Anyone with two braincells should be suspicious of that one. The transmission signal that those remotes operate on, i.e. radio signals, is not the same as the transmission signal that cellphones transmit i.e. sound in the range of human hearing. It’s not like it’s just different frequencies, it’s electromagnetic vs. sound! You might as well be expecting your cellphone to transmit light because your friend is holding his cellphone close to a lamp. If the remotes used a signal that could be transmitted by cellphone call – and this is the very important part so read carefully – you would be able to hear your remote sending the signal every time you push the little button. Can you? No. Case closed. If you don’t believe me, go check out the snopes article.

Secondly (and for the second time), someone received an email announcing that on August 27, 2006 Mars would make its closest approach to earth in thousands of years, and that it would be so big it would look like earth had two moons. Naturally they asked me if this was true.

Well, the answer is twofold, and the two answers are no, and hell no.

Mars and the full moonFirstly, Mars was at its closest approach to earth on August 27, 2003, so it looks like this is just a recycling of an email that may have gone around at the time. So, sorry, you’re two years late. Secondly, on August 27, 2003 Mars most certainly was not the size of the moon in the sky. It was the size of Mars in the sky, only a teensy bit bigger, brighter and redder. See the image alongside, taken a couple of days later. The little twinkle on the top left is Mars. The big blob on the right is the moon. If you think that image looks like the earth has two moons, you need to get your eyes checked, or your head read.

In actual fact, on August 27, 2006 Mars will be about as far away from us as in can be, as it’s currently on the other side of the sun from us. Way to go, chain letter accuracy.


4 Responses to “Debunkers R Us”

  1. I’m an IT manager and I get so many bullshit emails forwarded to me from employees here. i can;t tell you how many times I’ve received one of the “I’m a little boy who is dying” type emails. I’ve got a couple of pre-wrtten responses to send back that explain why its a load of Bovine excrement and hint at their stupiduty for believing such crap.

  2. It’s a heavy burden, but you heft it with grace and style. As the old cliche goes: “No-one can be given responsibility. Responsibility is something that a person has to accept”

  3. Reverend: this stuff used to get spammed all over the office by people; now it’s all relegated to a public mail folder. Sometimes administration is useful that way!

    kyknoord: well, i’ve certainly accepted it; grace and style are still questionable 🙂

  4. I get a lot of those messages promising me a case of beer / champagn / Asian hookers (please choose one) if I send it on to 10 of my friends. They usually come from nice people too, but nice people who cannot be bothered to punch in a frikkin’ Web address to check or, for that matter, just do the maths!

    For some reason, I have assumed the responsibility of educating these poeple about the error of their ways. You know what? It does not ever work. Expect to be asked about Mars again in 2009.

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