I'm tired and grumpy, but not sleepy. Probably not a good time to exercise mod powers. So, instead, I will have a bit of a whinge here, to see if anyone else agrees with me, or has suggestions on whether it needs fixing.
Back in February, I whined on chat:
I'm bored of "Did Einstein really say" questions.
What do I mean?
Well, these questions, to start with:
- Did Einstein talk about creating a new theory being like climbing a mountain?
- Did Einstein say "if you can't explain it simply you don't understand it well enough"?
- Did Einstein say the "if you judge a fish" quote that many are attributing to him?
- Did Einstein say "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
- Einstein: "Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind."
It turns out, I am not just tired of Einstein quotes. There are endless alleged Gandhi quotes.
- Did Mahatma Gandhi say “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians."?
- Did Gandhi say "The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork"?
- Did Gandhi call vaccination a barbarous practice?
- Did Gandhi express admiration for Hitler early in WW2?
- Did Gandhi tell this story about sugar?
- Did Gandhi trump Professor Peters in a number of interactions?
There are Hitler quotes:
- Did Hitler say "Who speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?"
- Did Hitler say "We'll work a hundred years without physics and chemistry"?
- Did Hitler say: "I would have killed all the Jews of the world, but I kept some to show the world why I killed them"?
There are Churchill quotes:
- Did Winston Churchill say "those who kneel for peace ... get humiliation and war"?
- Did Winston Churchill say that proof of alien spacecraft would threaten the Church?
- Churchill's quote: "This is just the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put."
Then there is an assortment of random celebrities that might have said something deep once, maybe:
- Did Guru Padmasambhava say this?
- Did Muhammad Ali say "Impossible is nothing"?
- Did Drauzio Varella say this quote?
- Did Horace say this quote about money?
- Did Socrates say “The secret of change is..."?
- Did Alexander the Great say the following quotation?
- Did Harbhajan Singh Yogi say "... to learn something - read about it ..."?
- Did Neil Gaiman say "A book is a dream you hold in your hand"?
- Did Thomas Edison say "If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves"?
- Did Martin Luther King, Jr. say that "I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy"?
- Did James Buchanan say there were "too many educated people in the world"?
- Did JFK say that "you can win with half the people's votes but cannot govern with half against you"?
- Did Lloyd George say, "We must reserve the right to bomb niggers"?
- Did Abraham Lincoln say "I would rather be a little nobody, then to be a evil somebody."?
- Did William Shakespeare say "I always feel happy..."?
- Did Marcus Aurelius say "Live a good life"?
- Did von Braun say "The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet"?
- Did Jonas Salk say "I have had dreams and I have had nightmares", etc.? Where?
- Did Hippocrates say "The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different"?
- Did René Descartes say “People would get rid of half of their problems if they could agree on the meaning of words”?
- Did Nikita Khrushchev make this remark about Switzerland?
- Did Matsuo Bashō compose a haiku about Matsushima where he was at a loss for words?
- Did Niccolo Machiavelli advocate to fake your own death?
- Did Eleanor Roosevelt say that the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves?
- Did Pope Gregory IX call the Holy Fire a fraud?
- Was George Washington the source of this quote equating government gun control with evil intentions?
And there are some that are a little off-colour or vulgar:
I hate these questions. They seem to be a waste of our time, and I wish the community considered them off-topic.
To start with, they are largely unfalsifiable. How do you prove someone never said something?
Then you get into messy territory, where they wrote something similar to that idea, which might have gradually evolved and misquoted over the years. How do you decide if such a speculation is true?
But wait... There are some that, curiously, I don't find dull:
- Did journalist Amber Lyon claim that the US Government paid CNN to control content?
- Did Tony Abbott suggest that men might be better suited to leadership positions?
- Did David Attenborough say that Israelis are more cruel than any animal?
- Did Bill Gates say 640k ought to be enough for everyone?
- Did Freeman Dyson say that atoms have awareness?
- Did Steve Jobs say "We've always been shameless about stealing great ideas."?
- Did CNN journalist say that Chechens are from Czech republic?
- Did Obama say the USA is "no longer a Christian Nation"?
- Did Ralph Nader say that a pound of plutonium could cause 8 billion cancers?
- Did Malala Yousafzai ever say "socialism is the only answer"?
- Did Pope Francis say that women are "unfit for political office", and merely the "helper of men"?
- Did Roger Ailes say "the truth is whatever people will believe" or something substantially similar?
- Did Taro Aso say that Japan should emulate the Nazis in amending the constitution?
- Did L Ron Hubbard say "The way to make a million dollars is to start a religion."
- Did Obama tell people to ignore those warning against tyranny?
Why are these somehow okay (to me) but the others aren't?
Is it because they are about people who are still alive? Maybe a little, but that's not the whole story.
I think it is because in the initial list, I think "Oh gaaaawd. WHO CARES?" Sure, correct attribution is nice - but the outcome of the research isn't relevant to anyone, where the latter list I feel it may have some impact on people's trust, purchase decisions, voting patterns and belief systems.
The initial list isn't about skepticism. It is about giving the right attribution in a Toast Masters speech. The second list is about checking how people are trying to influenced you.
Am I alone in this feeling? Is there a clear demarcation we can use? Should I just get over the fact that not every question can be interesting to me?