Date: Tue, 2 Jun 1998 08:38:22 -0400
From: Gregory {Greg} Downing
Subject: Re: bogus anecdotes

At 08:16 AM 6/2/98 -0400, you wrote:
>Someone questioned the veracity of the RH elevator narrative. (Sorry, I
>deleted before I noted who wrote it.) Certainly, some of the
>Metropolitan Diary entries are bogus. Recently, I read there the old urban
>legend about the nun who bought the package of cookies, encountered a man
>who helped himself, etc. -- she, of course, later finds her package of
>cookies in her bag and realizes that she was the one who helped herself
>to somebody else's cookies. My point: I do not recall reading any
>published research about the hallmarks of bogus narratives, about what it
>is I know that lets me know that a narrative is bogus. Is there
>something? Is someone working on this?

There's been a lot of collecting of "urban folklore" or "modern folklore,"
as well as a good deal of research analysing it and debunking it and, in
some cases, tracing how a particular idea or story arose.

Here are a couple of things that sometimes give folklore away -- (1) As a
prior poster mentioned, various elements in the story seem unlikely or
impossible when you start to examine them. (2) The story seems to have a
cultural agenda of some kind, which gives it the momentum it needs to get
over the hurdles that might be raised by its lack of realism. In fact, it is
probably this agenda which is responsible for why the story was designed the
way it was, and why it resonated and got retold.

A very common "authentifying" feature of such folklore is either "I was
there" or "I heard it from someone who was there." I imagine that, as
journalists, NYTimes writers are more likely to say that they themselves
have obtained the information at first hand.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or gd2[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]