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May, 2012

Snooping with Snopes

by Larry

Heard about those expensive pens NASA spent a huge amount developing so astronauts would have something to use for writing while in space, only to be shown up by the more practical Soviets whose cosmonauts just used pencils? It turns out that is false. A private inventor and businessman, Paul Fisher, unasked by NASA, did spend about a million dollars developing a successful writing instrument for use in space, the Fisher Space Pen, which had advantages over the pencils previously used by both astronauts and cosmonauts. After testing revealed its superiority (for instance, it did not rely on pencils' graphite, bits of which would break off and float around in the zero gravity of space and get into people's eyes and noses, short out electrical equipment, etc.) it came into wide use for a few years among personnel in both American and Russian space programs.

For the often more interesting real stories surrounding popular rumors, check out the facts behind the latest urban myths with

Here is another example: "snake survival guide." This bit of newspaper nonsense was published as true, but is actually false. Among other implausible aspects of that story, anacondas normally grow up to about 20 feet, not 35, and cannot move faster than the average person can run, so hanging around while one slowly attacks and swallows you "feet first" (?) is not particularly good advice, even if you happened to have a sharp knife handy. has an easy to navigate site with multiple categories of rumors that may be checked for veracity. It typically gives both the popular myth followed by the truth, cites its sources, and provides related information. It is thus a good resource to use whenever one gets another e-mail suggesting a scandalous or dramatic tale that sounds a little too good, awful, or ridiculous to actually be true.

One may also check out for its frequently updated "Hot 25" currently circulated rumors and the reality behind them. There are also "Odd News," "Randomizer," "Daily Snopes," and "Message Board" site categories. There is a very useful search function too. In short, give a try. Unless you prefer to be gullible and enjoy falling for the latest internet or e-mail circulated falsehoods, I think you'll like it!

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