Ironic unintended consequences
Famous earlier examples of ironic unintended consequences have been discovered by social scientists and criminologists. These include Merton's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Wilkins’ Deviancy Amplification, Tannenbaum and Lemert's Labelling Theory, Young and Cohen's Moral Panics and Clark & Weisburd's Diffusion of Benefits Theory.
What are supermyths and braced myths?
Supermyths, of which braced myths are a sub-type - are ironic unintended, or else a deliberate and disingenuous, consequences of fallacy dissemination. Supermyths have three very specific components:
the creation of a fallacy, myth or error by an orthodox expert
it being used by another expert who in turn promotes it as being ‘true’ and
whilst still thinking that it is true, promotes it as a good example of the need to be healthily sceptical of bad scholarship. Moreover, fourthly:
Braced myths are supermyths that have been pointedly deployed by orthodox scholars in order to bust another specific myth or fallacy. The braced myth hypothesis is that using one myth as a specific mythbusting device in this way braces the supermyth to make it further entrenched and therefore more difficult to prevent it being credulously disseminated as veracious knowledge.
I suspect that braced myths are likely to be quite rare. But once found, each one will most certainly be a case of the most exquisite irony.
A growing number of popular science and other non-fiction books seek to bust myths and conspiracy theories and encourage the public to be more healthily sceptical of news reporting. This is to be applauded, but does this movement present us with any risks?
I hypothesise that the growth of the informed healthy skeptic movement increases the risk of supermyth creation. And these myths may well prove more likely to become orthodox authority, that is in turn particularly difficult to debunk, because it is more socially entrenched.
Do Supermyths Matter?
In order to determine whether the study of braced myths is something with which we should concern ourselves there are several questions that I wish to explore. Here are just nine of them to be getting on with:
(1) What is it about some myths that are so compellingly believable that even sceptics, writing about the need to be sceptical, unwittingly, or disingenuously use them as self-defeating examples of the need to be sceptical?
(2) Are there any myths that have been disingenuously (as opposed to unwittingly) promoted as true by respected sceptics using them as examples of the need to be healthily sceptical?
(3) Are supermyths and their braced myths sub-type harmful, and if so are they more harmful than ordinary myths?
(4) Is there anything about supermyths, other than the fact they have been unwittingly or disingenuously compounded by skeptical authorities, that will help us to uncover them?
(5) What other supermyths can we identify?
(6) Will the growing myth-busting movement of healthy orthodox sceptics publishing scholarly books lead to the ironic unintended consequence whereby supermyths inevitably increase in number?
(7) Is academic pressure on academics to publish results and disseminate results and publishing industry pressure on sceptics to finish books sooner than they would wish in any way creating supermyths?
(8) Is the fact that myths and many 'debunking industry' books are published by respected publishing houses in any way to blame for the creation of supermyths and their being braced?
(9) What is the role of the media and popular press in creating myths and in facilitating the creation of super myths?
The Most Famous Decimal Error Of All Time
To date, I have found two examples of supermyths being braced: 1. the Spinach, Popeye, Iron, Decimal Error Story (SPIDES) and 2. the Beat Policing Myth.
Along with everyone else in the world I once believed in both of these myths.
I first discovered and developed the supermyths concept in 2010 while fact checking the origin of the famous story that a misplaced decimal point in the recorded iron content of spinach led to its nutritional value being erroneously promoted. The story goes that because nobody checked the original data it became the most influential and famous decimal error of all time, which led to generations of children being needlessly forced to eat spinach. Seeking a valid reference to support this ‘knowledge’ for a paper that I was writing on the impact of bad data on policy making I discovered that the story was completely untrue and had been disseminated and supported for decades by influential orthodox scientists.
Popeye never once ate spinach for iron
The Spinach Popeye Iron Decimal Error Myth
The Beat Policing Braced Myth
The criminological ‘knowledge’ that only once every eight years will a foot patrol beat police officer in London pass within 100 yards of a burglary taking place is a myth. The original Home Office publication containing it clearly reveals that this beat policing model is based on false premises.
The Beat Policing Myth
Other related counterknowledge: