Columnist

Dave Molter is a freelance writer and Golden Quill and Keystone Press Awards winner. He also is a freelance musician in the Pittsburgh area.

Pull up a log, kids. I’m going to tell you a very scary tale.

Many years ago – back in the 20th century – there lived a boy whose father did crazy things with a tablespoon and some matches. This kid’s dad, when he had a cold, would stick a tablespoon into a jar of Vick’s Vaporub, then strike a match and hold it under the spoon until the glob of Vick’s became almost liquid.

And then he would stick the spoon … in his mouth and … SWALLOW THE HOT VAPORUB!

BOO!

Scared ya, didn’t I?

Wanna hear something even scarier?

It’s a true story. That dad was my dad.

You don’t believe me? Why not?

“Because you didn’t see it on the internet,” Tommy?

Ah!

Well, kids, I hate to tell you … but not everything on the internet is true.

OK, Billy, your mom was right when she posted on Facebook that the Pirates stink as usual. But that’s the exception, not the rule. Let me put it another way.

A very wise singer named Marvin Gaye once said something that applies here: “Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.”

Let me give you a current example.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had to warn people last week not to drink a chlorine dioxide solution – that’s like bleach with water added – being promoted online as a remedy for autism, HIV/AIDS and even cancer.

No, Sammy, you can’t buy it cheaper from Canada.

In fact, you shouldn’t buy it at all. Why do you think they put Mr. Yuck stickers on bottles of bleach?

That’s right, Rhiannon! To warn kids that they shouldn’t drink it because it could kill you! Why do you suppose that adults would believe that swallowing even watered-down bleach would be OK?

Right again, Komali! Because they are dumb.

But no dumber than people have been throughout history.

Back in the Old West, traveling salesmen used to sell bottles of elixirs and tonics that supposedly cured many health problems – stiff joints; a bad back; a terrible cough. Some of them called their products “snake oil” because the Chinese actually did use snake oil to help with arthritis pain. But the salesmen didn’t use the Chinese formula. They just mixed water and red pepper and grain alcohol in a pot, bottled it, and called it “snake oil.” It didn’t work.

And that’s why, today, when someone promises something that is too good to be true, and people believe the sales pitch, the person making it is called a “snake oil salesman.”

And stories about miracle cures are also what people call an “old wives’ tale.”

How old a wife, Arianna? Over 30.

Here are some more:

  • Carry an acorn and you will never age. (Tell this to a dead squirrel.)
  • Dab whiskey on a baby’s gums to help with teething pain. (But you’ll have a heck of a time getting the bottle away from the kid later.)
  • Never cross your eyes or they’ll get stuck that way. (Jethro Tull wrote a song about it: “Cross-Eyed Mary.” Isn’t it amazing how singers know these things?)
  • See a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck! (Unless you drop your cellphone down a sewer while you’re doing it.)
  • Millions of illegal immigrants voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election. (Yet, strangely, none voted Republican.)

No, Hillary, I’m not sure how anyone could believe that.

So this isn’t the first time people have believed stories they should have known were false.

And not many years ago, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta had to explain that its blog post about preparing for a zombie apocalypse was not really true. The CDC said that the original post was meant to be a fun way to teach kids how to prepare for a real emergency – maybe a flood, or tornado, or hurricane.

No, Mookie, not like the Pirates winning the World Series.

No one can prepare for that.

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Thank you for reading!

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