I work in an office. As such, it is simply not possible to survive for more than a week without receiving at least three mass e-mail fowards. I received the first one the second day I worked here — it involved the carcinogenic danger of microwaving plastic containers. I clicked “Reply to All” and wrote, “Actually, that’s an urban legend. You can find out more here: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cookplastic.asp .” I hit send, and then held my breath. It suddenly occurred to me this may not be the best way to make friends in a very small department.

The response from the coworker who sent the e-mail was refreshing: “Thanks, I’m always looking for a site that can help figure out whether or not this stuff is for real.”

Whew.

I’ve been at this job for a year now, and my coworkers and I have the kind of relationship that I enjoy — one in which we cheerfully give one another hell and few jokes are off-limits. The running joke is whenever I openly wonder about something, such as who is that character actor in all those Wes Anderson films, the reply is invariably a sarcastic, “Why don’t you look it up on the Internet?” And usually, I do. I’m a curious person.

Someone may pipe up with, “Did you know that they drilled a hole in the ground and heard the screams of hell coming through?” My response pretty much always starts with, “Um, actually,” meaning the word “actually” is now a Pavlovian cue for the rest of the office to groan. One coworker likes to complain that I ruin everything. “What, did you just look that up on the Internet?” Her chagrin, obviously, only encourages me to further rile her up with delicious fantasy-destroying facts. The argument over whether or not bottled water is safer than tap water was particularly enjoyable.

At times, some of the complaints are real — she really didn’t want to know that the money she spent on bottled water was possibly wasted. For the most part, though, they’ve come to rely on me to be the one to stick up for the truth, no matter what. It’s my thing. A few months ago, we had an intern who no one really liked. She wasn’t very bright and not only was she nearly anorexic but she went out of her way to make others feel bad for eating anything more than carrot sticks. “Oh, yogurt?” she’d tsk. “That’s all sugar, you know.”

So the day she told us that one could contract malignant breast cancer through receiving repeated impacts to the chest, the office turned to me to shoot her down. I asked where she heard that: “The radio, I think.” I did a bit of research and found nothing supporting her claim. I gave her a list of all known causes of breast cancer, which did not include her theory. She got a little angry.

“Where’d you get that list?”

“The Susan G. Komen Foundation.”

“Well I don’t trust that source.”

” . . . but you trust ‘the radio?'”

Victory. My coworkers seemed pleased that I was using my powers for the purposes of good. (On a side note, if anyone else out there has heard this claim, please let me know. It was a first for me.)

Anyway, the most recent forward: Watermelons and Eggs. In case you haven’t received this one, it shows photos first of watermelons that have shapes carved into them. Pretty cool. Then we get this:

These egg shells below were cut with a high intensity precision Laser Beam. This gives a very good idea of what can be achieved with a Laser Beam. From this can be surmised what laser surgery performed on one’s eye is all about. Is it any wonder how one’s vision can be improved in just a few moments? Science is sometimes wonderful, and it’s still on the frontier of gaining new knowledge.

Huh. This is followed with very neat photos of egg shells with intricate patterns cut into them. They’re very cool looking, and it’s nice to see a forward that is pro-science, as opposed to the bulk that are usually touchy-feely crap about the power of prayer and whatnot. But of course, I am somewhat skeptical.

The girl who sent it is the person who is the leading offender of the company email forwards. She leans into my cubicle (yes, I have a cubicle) and says “I swear I checked the photos to see if they were Photoshopped. But I think they’re real . . . ” An uncertain pause. ” . . . are they real?”

“They do look real,” I said, “not Photoshopped at all. But something about it doesn’t ring true. Give me a second.”

She groans. I Google.

Shortly thereafter, I clicked “Reply to All,” and wrote:

I went looking for more (I CAN’T HELP IT, I GET CURIOUS), and I found some really cool sites, like this: http://cherukatheeggman.com/cherukatheeggman/page2.html But here’s the craziest thing — they’re not done with lasers at all. I’m not sure why someone would make that part up, because it’s even more amazing that the eggs are carved by hand with little dentist drills and other tools, and a crap load of patience

The bottled water-drinking coworker responded first.

Neat!

So despite all the sarcastic banter, I’d like to think that they appreciate their resident skeptical pedant. It’s not actually about ruining all the fun — it’s about showing people how much fun reality is.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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13 Comments

  1. scubajim
    April 28, 2006 at 7:10 am —

    Here's some research. What do women of varios beliefs say in the throws of great sex? Do devote Muslim women say "Allah Akbar" (sp)?

    Do born again Christian women say "Oh Jesus!" or "Oh God"?

    What about Budhists, Hindus, Agnostics, Athiests etc?

  2. Sam Whiskey
    April 28, 2006 at 7:15 am —

    I'm sure it's laser and/or dentist drill egg carving that causes breast cancer. Receiving repeated impacts to the chest causes one to be self-righteous about yogurt. There have also been instances of the impacts causing one to forward inane emails that deserve ridicule and a reply with the Snopes URL.

    By the way, it's the repeated impacts to my head that make me so certain.

  3. Rav Winston
    April 28, 2006 at 7:55 am —

    As a former English-Teaching pedant–

    "THROES," and "DEVOUT," and "BUDDHIST!"

    *Whew!*

    Just had to get that off my chest.

  4. Mechalith
    April 28, 2006 at 7:58 am —

    I want to know on what planet yogurt is all sugar. I suppose you could make that claim about most of the flavored stuff out there, given that there IS a ton of sugar in it…

    Maybe I'm just weird for buying the plain unsweetened stuff and mixing fruit and a tiny bit of honey in myself?

    I used to perform the 'local bullshit detector' function, but my friends have long since stopped sending me lame email chains after I went off at one of them for sending me 4 'OMG! Obviuslee Fake Offishul Viris Warmning' emails in one day.

  5. NH_Guy
    April 28, 2006 at 8:01 am —

    I'm forever debunking the calims people send me through e-mail. Interestingly, one was about the Athiests who were trying to get one of those "religious fantasy" shows (whose name escapes me…Heaven's something or other) canceled. I pointed them to Snopes, but the one who sent me the story is a hard core bible thumper who's always trying to "enlighten" me. Kinda makes me wonder who I was really helping that time?

  6. Avatar of Rebecca Watson
    April 28, 2006 at 8:14 am —

    Rav, you forgot "various" and "atheist," as well . . . I think our dear scubajim has been drinking and posting. But in answer to the question, speaking as an agnostic atheist sort of thing, my answer is: whatever intelligible word that happens to tumble from my lips is just fine.

  7. April 28, 2006 at 8:47 am —

    Most excellent post. I too am the email-hoax-anti-fairy at work. Constantly referreing to snopes .com to pi$$ off those that forward the crapola :)

    Cheers!

    sean

  8. Rav Winston
    April 28, 2006 at 11:29 am —

    "VARIOUS?!" "ATHEIST?!"

    *Hangs head in shame*

  9. April 30, 2006 at 7:36 am —

    I work in a tiny office, and, interestingly, it's only the two other women in that office the regular forward emails warning me of getting breast cancer from using antiperspirant, being attacked by perfume-wielding pyschopaths in parking lots, or the benefits of coughing while having a heart attack. And my mom. My mom sends them without questioning, not even bothering to clean up the pages and pages of forwarding messages.

    I immediately to to Snopes and send an email back. They've pretty much started leaving me alone…

  10. elaine
    May 3, 2006 at 4:17 am —

    I almost no longer get sent this crap. I guess I've replied too often, with links to snopes and other like sites.

    One co-worker, the worst e-mail offender, said to me

    "Snopes, doesn't want to believe anything"

    To which I responded,

    "just the stuff that's not true".

    She no longer tries to enlighten me with her vast knowledge of crap.

  11. Jacob
    May 15, 2006 at 7:47 am —

    I also am the office anti-hoax and truth teller… I think every office needs one. Once you train those around you to check things before sending them on it's not so bad. We still share a lot of emails around the office though. Mostly it's funny videos and jokes now… the hoax's have been cut down, but I still get about 1 a week to go debunk.

    What I don't understand is why people make stuff up for real things that are pretty cool. The eggs being hand crafted is amazing… why not tell the truth about that?

    Maybe you've seen some of these as well:

    Tunnel/Bridge that goes underwater that claims to be in Norway… it's in Virginia.

    Tiny baby figurines made out of marzipan… actually clay and mohair.

    They are all fantastic things to see and learn about… I just don't understand why people lie to get them sent around.

    Anyway to all of you who are the anti-hoax person of your office, Keep it Up! Your co-workers need you. =)

  12. Tim
    June 5, 2006 at 9:00 pm —

    I was sent the email about the eggs being lasered and found this site; http://www.ridentalassociates.com/services.htm who calms the picture of the eggs in your article were actually lasered.

  13. Avatar of Brian G
    September 29, 2009 at 8:07 pm —

    I thought it would be fun to put a comment on an old, old thread. Just for fun. Do do do…

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