This isn't so much a question but commentary, and it struck me as relevant to this site. Feel free to delete it if it doesn't belong in the meta -

Truthiness. I was goofing around and in my goofing I kind of blundered onto how easy it is to arrange facts and data around a completely BS claim, starting at the conclusion.

The local radio station has a thing where they play what one of the DJs deems to be a horrible, but popular song form the past. They talk about the song, play a snippet, and then leave it up to the listeners to decide whether to play the entire song or not.

This week, it was "A Horse With No Name" by the band America, from 1971. The female DJ hated it especially for it's absurd abuse of the English language, riffing on the line:

In the desert you can remember your name, 'cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain

Being a fan of double-meanings, I thought to myself "What if it was '1 4,' not 'one for'?" I came up with a narrative built around that and posted it on their FB site -

Well, clearly Kitty's dislike of the song is based more on ignorance that some sort of grammatical superiority. This is a song about a frustrated football fan. The line isn't "because there ain't no one for to give you no pain," it's "because there ain't no 1-4 to give you no pain." The song came out in 1971, the singer is obviously a New Orleans Saints fan.

Their backup QB to Billy Kilmer during the 1970 season was #14, Ed Hargett. He started games 4 through 7 that season. The Saints were 2-11-1 that year. The first two games he started he was a combined 20 of 59 with 3 interceptions. After those two weeks/games, the singer of this song was screaming at the TV set, completely apoplectic, causing his wife to ask "It's football. You get so crazy I don't even recognize you. Who ARE you?" To which he had no coherent reply ("in the desert you can remember your name" as opposed to his home). The singer decided he had to completely get away, and rode out into the desert (game five was played in San Francisco, where the weather almanac states it there was rain and drizzle – "it felt good to get out of the rain") where there were no TVs or games to watch until the football season was over ("after nine weeks I let the horse run free" – left after game five, stayed away during games 6 through 14 then returned).

So, clearly, the lyrics are deep, relevant and meaningful. You know this is a true story because you just read it on FB, on the Internet.

If someone were to "fact check" my post, they'd find that the New Orleans Saints did suck in 1970, their backup QB was #14, his name was Ed Hargrett, his first two of four starts did have those horrible statistics, did occur those weeks, that far from the end of the season, and it was rainy and drizzly in San Francisco on that day.

They'd also find that the singer talks a lot about the mood he was trying to build with the imagery and his use of horrible English, but never the actual story the song is trying to tell.

I built, I think, a sell-able Urban Myth. What if it wasn't raining in SFO? I'd check the weather in New Orleans. Or maybe wouldn't reference that line. What if I couldn't find a bad NFL team with a #14 as their QB that year? There are hundreds of college teams. Thousands of high school teams that can't be fact-checked ("the singer was a high school star, and his son, not measuring up to his glory days, was ruining this legacy while wearing his father's old #, 14").

We see so many claims that make a lot of statement as fact, and make a lot of attributions, and many of them gain credibility because, upon a pretty cursory examination, things seem to check out. This is just a commentary on how easy it can be to sell snake oil to people who know just enough to scratch the surface.

This experience is a cautionary tale when we (I do it myself), complain about how stringently the standards of what qualifies as "real" backup are enforced here.

FYI, their initial response was "Wow, we did not know that!"

1 Answer 1


I like to think the Skeptics.SE community standards would protect us in a few ways from these Just So Stories.

First Line of Defence:

The question "What did lyricist, Dewey Bunnell mean by the line ''?" is essentially a question about motivation. That makes it off-topic here, because there is not way of proving an individual's motivation.

There may be other ways of asking the question that avoid that trap, but then we come to the second part:

Second Line of Defence

Posting such an answer, as is, would be considered Original Research. It isn't enough to link to a whole lot of facts, and, in the answer, draw your own conclusion from it. We want to see the significant conclusions be drawn in the references.

This is a problematic area - mainly because it is a spectrum, and ultimately, you can publish your conclusion somewhere else, and just link to that.

Third Line of Defence

Which brings us to the hard-work part of being a skeptic - checking other people's references, and commenting/downvoting if they are weak.

So, if you were to reference the radio's FB page where someone random person had posted this theory, it would be a legitimate answer on Skeptics.SE, that the mods would avoid deleting. Hopefully enough people would comment that it is pure supposition and there is no evidence from the singer that this is any more correct than any other, and the downvotes would flow.

Fingers crossed!

The Realisation

The real message I took from your question is that you realised just how easy it is to come up with a hoax. One of the factors that separates the Skeptics, I believe, is a different understanding of:

  • How easy it is for misinformation to spread without being checked.
  • How common misinformation springs up from simple misunderstandings and people accidentally misspeaking, and
  • (Most relevantly for this question) How many people enjoy sitting down and coming up with spurious "Just So Stories" to prank others.

With very different priors to how false stories are started, we have a different way of processing information from others... or so I like to tell myself.

  • That was the real message of my post. I thought I'd be able to assemble some semi-plausible sounding facts to fit the narrative, but was shocked at how quick and easy it was. Oct 10, 2016 at 14:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .