Brian's Blogs

It must be true - I read it in the paper!

On a recent trip to Dubai I attended a debate held during an education conference in which students argued with their professors the pros and cons of researching on the Internet. One of their contentions was that sites such as Wikipedia were ideal for research because if anything it contained was wrong, someone sooner or later would be bound to spot the mistake and make a correction.

Not so, said a professor in reply. The problem with the Internet is that with the huge amount of copy-and-pasting, mistakes get proliferated – sometimes with information going viral – to the point where when enough sites carry the same information its status becomes regarded as truth. The fact that one mistake can be the source that ends up affecting thousands of other sites is something many people fail to appreciate.

This week there was one of those lovely stories carried by China Daily that was guaranteed to raise a smile. Quoting the Dalian-based Bandao Morning Post, where the story originated the previous day, we learned that a 68-year-old grandmother had wasted 98 tons of water in 2 months by flushing the toilet at her son's house in Dalian. Apparently Granny Song found the flush toilet quite “miraculous” and enjoyed flushing the toilet every five minutes, not realizing that water costs money, unlike when she used the well in her country home. The family, the report says, was dumbfounded when they received the water bill.

Naturally China Daily website then carried the story; not to mention China Daily’s Mobile News service a day later. Singapore’s Asia One News then picked up the story from China Daily ... and I’m sure it will not be long before this amusing “isn’t life funny in China” story is carried by agencies around the world, who of course will feed it to their national dailies.

But just stop a minute. She wasted 98 tons of water in two months? That’s an awful lot of water! Actually it is 98x269 = 26,362 US gallons. So we are meant to believe that every day she wasted 425 gallons (26,362/62)?

Let’s say this sweet old lady was awake from 6am to 10pm each day. That’s 14 hours per day. So by my reckoning she would have to waste some 30 gallons of water every hour. Let’s assume the WC cistern holds an average 1.5 gallons. That means she would have to flush the toilet every three minutes nonstop for 14 hours every day for two months.

Now, does this not beg a question or three? Did her son really leave her alone for 14 hours every day in his home? Thoughts of the true meaning of filial piety immediately spring to mind. And did she not eat at all, watch TV, go out for some fresh air or have anything else to amuse her? And don’t you think that if she was enjoying the flushing loo so much that it might just possibly have come up in conversation? You know the kind of thing:

Did you have a good day while I was at work Mum?

Oh, I sure did, son. Thanks for asking. I flushed the loo 280 times today. What fun!

Alas the Bandao Morning Post was short on any further details of how this granny spent her day. But what are the chances of anyone using their brains for just a second and pondering the chances of the story being a bit fanciful to say the least?

By the time you have finished reading this post, the story will probably have surfaced in a whole load more “news” outlets until such time that it can be found in so many places that it takes on a truth all of its own. “Oh, it must be true – I read it in The Washington Post / The Hindustan Times / The Melbourne Herald / The Daily Telegraph / China Daily ...”

But then, let’s not worry over-much ... just so long as we don’t allow the facts to get in the way of a really good story!

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