The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question.
palaeontologist and biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)
How true, I thought.
These range from stories we heard when we were young, to stories spread that are deliberately misleading, but plausible enough to pass. When young, we either took them to heart without question, or slightly changed them, as people do, to lose the meaning.
Sometimes when I’m writing, especially in science fiction, I think about misleading my characters by design. It’s the placing of threads to lead them into danger, or just to catch them unawares. Maybe I should let them fall into traps by themselves more often, simply by not questioning what they ‘know’.
Factoids are things we should question
Are we becoming far more aware of this as a technique used to manipulate us? Or is social media so busy we don’t know how to find the truth any more? After ‘fake news’ first appeared, I was surprised to find that the definition of ‘factoid’ was not, as I assumed, a snippet of information, a useful fact, but a fact thought to be true by custom and practice that is actually false. I had never questioned the use of the word. I should probably check the definitions of ‘meme’ and ‘trope’ as well, as I think I use them incorrectly!
There might be a more concrete example I can use, and I know I’ve had one recently, but I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind again.
I wonder why Stephen Jay Gould said this. I have some of his excellent books on my non-fiction reading challenge list. Was he guarding against accepting the prevailing scientific theories? Maybe I should read his books to answer that question!
Have you any stories you think you should question?