Here is a question from a TV-series, if I read the comments right: Is it true that if you die in your dream, you die in real life? (Charmed).

Well - we can ask whether it is possible to dive into a bath of golden dollars (Donald Duck), whether there REALLY exists a Dr. No (James Bond), or if birds sometimes attack groups of people (Birds, Hitchcock).

Of course it would be easy to reach the x questions per day goal.

Strong opinion:

We should close such questions, and have a place at meta, to link to. This thread should be this place - maybe replaced by a sentence in the FAQ. (Because finding the FAQ is more easy in 2 months).

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    Sorta curious about the birds now... The way they watch me sometimes man, it's like they're waiting...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 1:38
  • BTW: you might want to consider chiming in here - I don't think we can exclude claims simply because someone on TV said it, but you can certainly argue that a claim should have more going for it than just this if you wish.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 1:41
  • Not someone on TV said it, but a TV-series - fantasy/fiction/soap. Or a movie. A reportage, a news broadcast would be different. But hard to cite as well - newspaper or online-news would be much better. And for the birds: 20 to 30 cats, or 2-3 seriously big cats often help. Commented Sep 7, 2011 at 1:59
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    In Australia, there are a number of species of birds which routinely attack people. Magpie attacks are by far the most common - they will swoop on anyone who they feel threatens their nest (and it doesn't take much to convince them of that). Emus and cassowaries can be very dangerous if you annoy them. So don't discount Hitchcock in such a cavalier fashion!
    – Jivlain
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 6:30
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    :) That's nice, but I guess Australia is off topic on the board. We only deal with the northern nemisphere. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 11:11
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    @user, you are lucky I am have been drinking too much Fosters while tossing shrimps on the barbie, and can no longer see past the corks dangling from my hat to find the "delete user" button :-)
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 14:12

3 Answers 3


I am not sure that a hard-and-fast "close all claims in movies" rule is appropriate here.

Upon reflection, I think the issue is whether the writers of the movie are truly making the claim.

I would hope a question asking "Does a flux capacitor make time travel possible?" would be closed pronto as not interesting - the writers of the movie are not actually making the claim; it is intended to be fiction.

However, if someone asks "Does water really drain down the toilet the other way in Australia, like it says on the Simpsons?" I would think that is a reasonable question, even though the Simpsons is clearly fictional.

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    The claim about the water is much older than The Simpsons, so it should be easy to find a more serious source. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 17:19
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    Indeed; I chose it as a claim people would be familiar with. How about the types of claims that Mythbusters have tackled in their Mega Movie Myths episode(s)? Would they be off-topic here?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 18:13
  • I don't have access to the whole american TV program, but that sounds to me a bit like a TV-variant of skeptics.se. I'm talking about soap-episodes, fantasy, science-fiction, from Harry Potter to Tom Sawyer, from Edgar Alan Poe to TNG, from Seinsfeld to Simpsons and Snoopy but maybe not Snopes. Is Mythbusters a fantasy story or a fictional movie? Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 18:21
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    Sorry; MythBusters is is a TV show that, like Skeptics.SE, tries to address common claims that people have heard. Their approach is to attempt to disprove things experimentally - preferably in a way that makes good TV. Every now and again they do an episode that looks at events that occur in movies, and ask whether it is really possible - such as having a conversation with another skydiver while free-falling. My point was that these are claims that move-makers are presenting as real (unlike the time-machine), they might be believed and they can be examined. I was asking if they are in scope.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 18:30
  • Well, I don't have the standards present, which Mythbusters uses to decide, which movie-made-claim they investigate, and I guess you don't have too. So you can deduce the rules from what you've seen, but maybe another watcher of that series will come to a different opionion about their standards, and only people who know the series can really talk about it. That is a much to vague description to rely on, I think - maybe not bad standards, but not usable. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 19:15
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    (1) You can get a feel for the type of claims they examine by looking at the synopsis I linked to above. (2) I don't know their exact rule; I don't even know if they have an exact rule, and I am not proposing we adopt the same rule. (3) I am proposing that we don't need an exact rule (it hasn't proven to be a big enough problem), and that our rough rule should be "Are the movie's writers truly making the claim?"
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 1:25
  • Movie writers don't make claims, they make movies. For example, in my experience, 10 out of 10 cars, falling down the hill, will make a huge explosion. 9 out of 10 persons leaving a car will not lock it. 9 out of 10 persons leaving a bar will not pay. And people in a film, making a claim, are not making a claim for the movie writers. Not necessarily. But I wouldn't like to see the no-movie-claim as dogma, as an exact rule, more as a rule of thumb. Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 1:45
  • @user unknown: Some authors (including movie writers) do a great deal of research to "get their facts right" (or at least partially right) so they can write a more convincing story, hence automatically discrediting all authors is not reasonable in my estimation. Instead of contributing to a scientific-oriented publication, some writers choose to make movies -- a challenge for us is that with movies we have a lot more fantasy to differentiate from fact than we do with many scientific-oriented publications. Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 17:26
  • You're confusing a) facts, which an author might have researched or not with claims, invented figures in the story do - for example, if the story tells, that Mark met Susan in the China restaurant Oxford-Street corner Harvard Av. in New York, claiming the FBI killed John Lennon. The restaurant might exist at that place, as well as a person called Mike, with said claim, and I don't discredit anybody, if I say, that fantasy stories are fantasy. You can't research said person, to find out, what the claim is in detail (did the FBI murder John Lennon, or did the FBI only pay the murderer, i.e.?) Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 22:29

I think a good litmus test in these cases would be:

Would a reasonable viewer have reason to believe the claim is true?

Whether the writers of the movie/program intend to be making a factual claim or not often has little bearing on whether or not viewers perceive the claim as such. And as many false claims are started or propagated by movie and TV[citation needed], it seems to be drawing an arbitrary distinction to require that such a claim first be re-published somewhere else before it is subject to scrutiny here.

  • The problem is, that not everybody watches the same movies, and if you have to watch the film, before answering the question, that seems wrong to me. You should be able to understand the question by reading it, or by reading a text which is linked to. But to watch a series, to know, what kind of claims random characters in that series do ... Commented Oct 21, 2011 at 13:26
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    If you cannot explain the claim out of context of the entire movie/episode/series, then it's probably not much of a claim in the first place, and rather an integral part of the plot. I think the same problem is true of any claim this site ever addresses. If you have to quote an entire article/book/documentary/speech/whatever to explain your claim, then it's not really a "claim" but a "thesis."
    – Flimzy
    Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 0:19

Verisimilitude vs Conceit

The facts presented in fictional works generally fall under what might be described as verisimilitude or conceit.

Conceit consists of the basic fictional building-blocks of the universe as well as specific details of the universe, characters, or actions. For example, the year in which Gimli was born, the length of the Starship Enterprise in meters, or the badge number of Agent Mulder are conceits in their respective universes.

Verisimilitude, on the other hand, consists of those things that connect us to a story and help us to understand it by virtue of connections with our own lives or worlds. For example, Star Trek's Starfleet is well-known to be largely inspired by the real-world US Navy and British Royal Navy. We can fill in the blanks and connect with the story because we are seeing something that seems familiar to us and not some completely made-up social structure invented from whole cloth. Various aspects of police procedure as portrayed in various police procedural television shows would also count as verisimilitude, especially if the same elements come up in multiple media.

So, some examples:

Conceit (off-topic):

  • Is Agent Mulder's badge number really JTT047101111?
  • Does Captain Picard really have no children?
  • Is the One Ring really capable of turning someone invisible?

Verisimilitude (on-topic):

  • In The X Files, Fox Mulder has an FBI badge number of JTT047101111. Do FBI agents really carry numbered badges?
  • I've seen numerous cases on Star Trek where a starship captain disobeys the order of an admiral with no consequences if the order relates to the running of the captain's ship. Do captains in the US or Royal Navies have similar authority or was this made up by Star Trek writers?
  • In episodes of these three independent police procedural television shows (cite), it is mentioned that Sergeants of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) have the authority to summarily strip badges from their beat officers without convening a disciplinary tribunal. Do NYPD sergeants really have this authority?

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