News stories are often more about the shock factor than the actual relaying of information. The news media is in and out quicker than a high school kid on prom night, hyping up the most outlandish elements of a story and then dropping it like it's an infant (for the sake of this simile, the news media is the parent of a future TLC reality show star). And apparently, that's just the way we like it.
That's too bad, because these stories look very different when you hear how they ended ...
Scientists seem to take a perverse sort of pleasure in trying to prove Albert Einstein wrong, we guess because calling the smartest man in history out on a mistake means that everyone else moves up one notch. So it created a huge buzz in the fall of 2011 when a group of scientists at CERN and OPERA revealed that, when they science-blasted neutrinos from Switzerland to Italy, the tiny particles had broken the universal speed limit predicted by Einstein, traveling almost 4 miles per second faster than the speed of light.
Good call, dumbass.
Yeah, eat that, Einstein! FTL drives and awkward extraterrestrial interbreeding, here we come!
But They Forgot to Mention ...
Do you have a GPS unit in your car, or perhaps your phone? And when you turn it on, does it find your location? Well, congratulations, because you just proved that the theory of relativity is correct. Of course it's correct, just like it has been for the 93 years scientists have been trying to poke holes in it. If it were wrong, your GPS' margin of error would be so bad that every single family vacation would end with banjo music and rusty shotguns.
What many of the news outlets neglected to emphasize when blasting this story from the headlines was that the researchers were themselves extremely skeptical of the results -- not to mention the rest of the scientific community, whom the OPERA team practically begged to look over their data and find the mistake. That didn't stop every news source and website on the planet (including, ahem, us) from declaring it to be the harbinger of sci-fi technologies that we've been dreaming about (read: masturbating to) for years.
"Awww yeah, dial that tachyonic antitelephone, you dirty bitch."
This made it all very anti-climactic when the OPERA team revealed that their Earth-shattering discovery was actually the result of a loose fiber-optic cable. And just to put a nail in the hyperspace coffin, another team replicated the experiment and confirmed that the neutrinos did in fact obey Einstein's speed limit like the good little conformists they are. The OPERA team was so embarrassed about the news of this fuck-up becoming such a big story that the two team leaders ended up resigning over it. But it's also possible that they were just upset because their dreams of traveling back in time to thumb their noses at Einstein had been shattered.
In September of 2004, pharmaceutical giant Merck's pain pill Vioxx was taken off the market after it was discovered to have caused serious heart-related side effects in up to 140,000 people. Since then, Merck has paid out approximately all the money in settlements to affected patients and their families. What a surprise, right? Another Big Pharma company that couldn't care less about the people they're supposedly serving, so long as they buy some expensive pills before they die.
"This one's still alive! Quick, jam a few more pills into her!"
But They Forgot to Mention ...
Vioxx was a freaking amazing drug, and no more dangerous than what you can buy at the grocery store.
In fact, it was so effective at relieving arthritis and back pain that when patients found out it was being taken off the market, they began squirreling their pills away and rationing their stashes to last as long as possible. And after Merck took their ball and went home, review panels by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada encouraged Merck to bring Vioxx back, stating that the benefits outweighed the risks for many patients.
"What's more important to you? Pain relief or a slim chance of stigmata?"
But what about the 140,000 people with heart problems, you ask? Well, considering that Vioxx was prescribed to over 84 million people during its tenure, your odds of dying from the side effects are only slightly higher than your odds of choking to death on the pill. Indeed, it was found that Vioxx is only marginally more dangerous than aspirin and that all non-steroid pain pills carry nasty possible side effects like gastrointestinal hemorrhaging, heart disease and, if we remember House correctly, making you act like a dick. But patients are willing to accept these slight risks because the drugs allow them to function like normal human beings.
So to recap: Merck made a drug that's so effective that patients are literally hoarding pills, drug safety panels are asking them to bring it back and it's no more dangerous than over-the-counter ibuprofen. Yeah, fuck you, Big Pharma!
In 1978, the hilariously named Love Canal, New York, had a somewhat less hilarious problem: Much like the house in Poltergeist, their elementary school had been built on top of something unholy that was going to come back to haunt them. Only instead of an Indian burial ground, it was a toxic waste dump. And instead of children getting sucked into TVs, they were getting birth defects and cancer.
The culprit was Hooker Chemical, the previous owner of the school property, who had sold it to the school board in 1953 fully knowing that toxic waste was stored there. It remains one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, and it prompted the creation of the Superfund Act, which would hold companies accountable for their blatant disregard of public health.
"Seriously, your breath is just awful."
But They Forgot to Mention ...
In the furious rush to blame the evil corporation for putting children at risk, a couple of facts conveniently got overlooked. First, the chemicals were all properly stored in accordance with regulations. In fact, the EPA said in 1980 that Hooker had even managed to comply with the current, much stricter regulations decades ahead of time. Still, that's like a burglar relocking the door as he leaves -- it's a nice thought, but it doesn't change the fact that you got screwed.
The second (and far more important) fact is that the school board totally knew the chemicals were there when they bought the land. You see, when the school board came calling, Hooker laughed them off and said it was an incredibly toxic site fit only for the creation of Batman villains, or maybe some of those three-eyed Simpsons fish. The school board persisted, so Hooker actually took them to the site and showed them some of the 21,000 tons of chemicals stored there, presumably in neon barrels with skulls and crossbones painted on them.
But that just seemed to make them want it even more, and the school board decided to play hardball: They threatened to seize the land by eminent domain. So Hooker finally relented and sold it to them for the princely sum of one dollar, with a 17-line cover-our-ass caveat mentioning all the horribleness entombed there and further repeating that the land should most definitely never ever be used for a school (ever).
Naturally, the school board immediately proceeded with the construction of Thalidomide High. When construction workers found the chemicals and again told them not to build there, the school board assuaged concerns by moving the school's location a whopping 85 feet north. Then, just to wag their genitals right in fate's face, they took some of the clay from the waste dump to use in the construction -- that is, the clay that was meant to prevent the chemicals from seeping into the soil.
"There's a draft coming through the window? Here, I'll just use the condom to plug it."
In 1962, fate had finally had enough: A ridiculously rainy year, coupled with additional holes punched through the clay liner for sewer pipes, allowed rainwater to drain away with oodles of nastiness in tow, which wound up in residents' backyards.
It wouldn't be until 1976 that two reporters discovered that something was wrong, which ultimately led to the EPA investigation and the subsequent relocation of residents. Hooker was forced to pay for the cleanup, relocation costs and a hefty fine, totaling $129 million, serving as the EPA's bloody head on a pike to any other would-be polluters. The school board, being obvious supervillains, presumably escaped to appear in the sequel.
In November of 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that the Chevy Volt's lithium battery had a nasty tendency to murder your entire extended family with fire if you looked at it the wrong way ("looked at it the wrong way" in this context meaning "wrapped it around a telephone pole at 20 mph").
Hybrid haters nationwide leaped at the opportunity to point out just how terribly unsafe these newfangled hippiemobiles are. Oh, and also to remind us that anyone looking for a form of transportation that isn't reliant on burning dinosaur goop is a goddamn communist.
"Da, comrade. Da."
But They Forgot to Mention ...
If you smacked into the Volt at just the right spot, and then flipped it at just the right speed, the battery would indeed catch fire ... three weeks later, which Volt head developer Bob Lutz wryly noted was probably plenty of time for passengers to exit the vehicle. And that fire only occurred because the NHTSA didn't follow GM's recommended handling procedure for post-crash Volts. But that still didn't stop critics from declaring the Volt to be a liberal-funded crematory on wheels.
"This car will literally eat your children! And Obama is doing nothing to stop it!"
That's because prior to going all Hindenburg, the Volt was already controversial for the $7,500 tax credit its buyers received to offset the high sticker price, on top of the GM bailout screaming matches that continue to this day. News of the Volt's pyromaniacal tendencies quickly became a huge political story, helping to tank its sales in the process.
For GM's part, they offered to buy back Volts from worried customers while the issue got sorted out. And sorted out it got, when two months later the NHTSA completed their investigation and declared the Volt to be just as safe as its fossil-chomping cousins. Volt sales recovered (though are still a tiny fraction of those of its all-gas peers) and it remains the most fuel-efficient full-size car in production.
Narrowly edging out the Yocto Gas Miser.
Oh, and that $7,500 tax credit that was the root cause of turning a news story about a broken freaking battery into yet another left-versus-right political shit-fling? That was actually President Bush's idea.
It was one of the truly inspirational stories that came out of the horrific Japanese earthquake/tsunami and subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant: A group of heroic workers colloquially known as "The Fukushima 50" stayed behind to try to bring the reactors under control. It was reported that the workers had received lethal doses of radiation, but that -- although they expected to die within weeks -- they would carry on as long as necessary to try to protect Japanese citizens.
"There's at least a 20 percent chance that some of us will get superpowers instead of dying slowly and horribly."
But They Forgot to Mention ...
You have a right to be surprised; to provide a point of comparison, during the cleanup of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the 1980s, 134 "liquidators" were diagnosed as having radiation poisoning, and 28 of them died within two months of the accident. On the other hand, over a year after the Fukushima disaster, the number of workers who have died from radiation poisoning is ... zero.
Not a single worker has died from radiation-related causes, and in fact none of the workers have even shown symptoms of radiation poisoning. But what about the report from the workers that they were prepared to die from radiation poisoning? Well, that claim came from a single worker who yanked his hypothesis straight out of his ass and told his mother about it, who then passed it on to reporters. That's right -- all the news reports you heard about Fukushima workers expecting to die within weeks or months literally stemmed from the claims of one worried mom.
"They're not even cutting the crusts off his sandwiches! It's barbaric!"
But that's just short-term risks. Surely we can expect to see that Big C asshole popping up over the long term, right? Probably not. A panel of experts found that the average cancer risk for the workers is 0.002 percent higher than the normal population. Even the most exposed worker (who received a dose of 670 millisieverts, over twice the emergency limit of 250 mSv) only has a 6.7 percent higher chance of getting cancer.
So why all the panic? Well, the effects of different types of radiation are difficult to explain to the layperson, and when you have the queen of the Uruk-hai (aka Nancy Grace) belching out a cloud of undiluted, pants-shitting sensationalism, it's easy to see how misinformation can spread so quickly. But while the press had a field day comparing the accident to Chernobyl, in reality it wasn't nearly as bad. As a matter of fact, Japanese officials are already starting to permit people to return to their homes and businesses, and looking back now, it turns out that the workers were never really in much danger.
Wall Street Journal
Except from Godzilla.
Now, don't get us wrong -- each and every one of those workers is a hero and stood tall in the face of disaster. But why not reward them by gaping in awe of their badassery and not by looking at them with solemn pity, waiting for the next one to keel over?
For more slight exaggerations, check out 7 Clearly Fake News Stories That Fooled The Mainstream Media and The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Non-Fiction.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 People Who Cheated Death Using Cartoon Physics.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn what really happened to Amelia Earhart.
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