Snopes and CPSIA

by Walter Olson on February 15, 2009

How wrong — and how seemingly unembarrassed about being wrong — is the popular urban-legends site? After I raised the question on Friday, reader Meredith Wright wrote the site and got a highly unsatisfactory response, which I’ll reprint here (and have also printed in comments):

Comment (MW): First of all, I LOVE your website, and usually find it well-sourced. But your inboxer article on CPSIA is just incorrect. CPSIA is a poorly written law (and apparently a poorly READ law – most of the representatives and senators who voted for it never bothered to read it – kind of like the PATRIOT Act), but it IS going to impact a LOT of people who shouldn’t have to suffer, mostly small business owners and LIBRARIES.

Go to Overlawyered.com and check it all out. I have no ax to grind here
(although my representative is Waxman, one of the morons who wrote this stupid bill) and just want you to take a look at the other side of the
issue. At the very least, your article should be labeled “undetermined” not “false.”

Kind regards,
Meredith Wright

And the response:

From: snopes.com [email redacted]
Subject: Re: snopes.com: Page Comment
To: Meredith Wright [email redacted]
Date: Friday, February 13, 2009, 6:43 PM

It’s covered in our FAQ at http://www.snopes.com/info/faq.asp

Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity, and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single “True” or “False” rating. Therefore, an item’s status is generally based upon the single most important aspect of the text under discussion, which is summarized in the statement made after the “Claim:” heading at the top of the page. It is important to make note of the wording of that claim, since that is the statement to which the status applies.

Urban Legends Reference Pages

http://www.snopes.com


* * *

So [this is W.O., editorializing, now, not Snopes or Wright] it doesn’t matter how often people read the Snopes item and conclude that the alarms over resellers and CPSIA are unfounded, hysteria, far-fetched, etc. The posting was narrowly accurate when it came to refuting one particular false sub-rumor, and so there’s no need to apologize for, let alone correct, the dismissive tone and poorly informed opinionizing on prospects for enforcement that led many readers into a wider and more serious error, namely thinking that children’s resellers who don’t “blatantly take a cavalier attitude” about customer safety would have no trouble living with the law’s requirements. If you believed Snopes on that, you would have been grossly unprepared for the convulsions in the children’s resale business that began making headlines in recent days.

Incidentally, for those keeping score, the Snopes entry gets other facts about the law wrong too. For example, it announces that “children’s products made after [emphasis added] February 10, 2009″ face lead certification requirements. This was not true either before or after the CPSC’s 11th-hour stay of certification enforcement: it was and is the date of sale or distribution, not of manufacture, that triggers the requirements. A small maker or dealer relying on the Snopes piece might have concluded that its pre-2/10 stocks were not affected by the certification controversy — big, big mistake.

(Public domain image: Grandma’s Graphics, Margaret Tulloch).
More research next time please

{ 4 trackbacks }

Advice Goddess Blog
02.19.09 at 12:26 pm
CPSIA chronicles, February 19
02.19.09 at 4:26 pm
CPSIA: “What’s so sad is that books aren’t dangerous”
03.05.09 at 8:04 pm
H.R. 875, Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009
04.13.09 at 9:59 pm

{ 13 comments }

1 Deb 02.15.09 at 2:55 am

I have relied on Snopes for determination of the validity of facts versus urban myth in the past. Now I seriously wonder how may times I’ve been misled.

Sorry Snopes, but you’ve been demoted to a lower position in my favorites/bookmark folder. Your site won’t be one of the first places I visit when doing research.

2 Xmas 02.15.09 at 8:10 am

That response from Snopes appears to be a “form letter”. I got the same response when I sent an email to them in January:

It’s covered in our FAQ at http://www.snopes.com/info/faq.asp

Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity,
and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single
“True” or “False” rating. Therefore, an item’s status is generally
based upon the single most important aspect of the text under
discussion, which is summarized in the statement made after the
“Claim:” heading at the top of the page. It is important to make
note of the wording of that claim, since that is the statement to
which the status applies.

Urban Legends Reference Pages
http://www.snopes.com

—– Original Message —–

Comment: In your article about the CPSIA and the resale of childrens
clothes and toys, you’re understating the liability of the resellers a
little bit too much. A $100,000 civil penalty hangs over the head of any
thrift store that sells ONE item that contains too much lead or
phthalates. That’s a very heavy penalty for a small store.

Also, it’s not just the CSPC that can go after resellers, the CPSIA allows
states Attorneys General to go after resellers also. These AGs can
enforce the law differently than the CSPC.

The National Associate of Resale and Thrift Shops has a informational page
about the CPSIA that may be worth looking at:

http://www.narts.org/CPSIA_Info.htm

3 Lynn K. 02.15.09 at 8:40 am

I’ll be honest, I never read snopes. I don’t know much about the site. What I want to know is what the heck is the CPSIA doing on an urban legend site in the first place? It is most definitely NOT an urban legend.

4 John Hochfelder 02.15.09 at 10:18 am

This reminds me of that old maxim about how it takes such a long time to build a good reputation and it can be lost in a moment’s time. I have often relied upon Snopes to debunk or verify rumors (especially those dreaded forwards advising that one must or must not do something). Snopes made a mistake and was given a chance to rectify it but instead dug a deeper hole for itself. Disappointing. I no longer feel that Snopes is a reliable source of information.

5 L. C. Burgundy 02.15.09 at 12:15 pm

They maintain the outward appearance of not having any bias, but in reality, Barbara and David Mikkelson are dyed in the wool lefties. Keep that in mind when you read anything that they post that has any remotely political ramifications.

6 John Beaty 02.15.09 at 9:47 pm

Even if it is true that Barbara and David Mikkelson are “dyed in the wool lefities” (which, I submit, is both unproven and has little to do with the current discussion), it is also true that they are, in my opinion, loath to correct even egregious errors. It’s very hard to get them to take actual notice, and when they do, it’s usually of the “Buzz off, kid, you bother me” variety. Again, my opinion. YMMV.

7 John Burgess 02.16.09 at 12:03 am

My experience has not been that of John Beaty. Over the years–though admittedly some years ago–Barbara Mikkelson has been courteous and informative in our correspondence. I don’t recall a situation in which I was pointing out an error (my mail was chiefly pointing out new urban legends), but I’ve no real bone to pick yet.

That a correction wasn’t issued over a long holiday weekend should not be taken as evidence of malfeasance, just yet IMO.

8 L.C. Burgundy 02.16.09 at 9:06 am

John, spend a little time on the snopes forums and you’ll understand what I mean.

And the fact that they are lefties is important because their simultaneous affinity for the extension of state power and willingness to obfuscate about it leads to the sort of “errors” that you see in this entry that they just can’t be bothered to fix.

9 E.C. Gendron 02.16.09 at 11:17 am

“Barbara and David Mikkelson are dyed in the wool lefties.”
This I’ve found to be true, true to the point of their ignoring the truth.

Their FOCA article is astonishingly inaccurate, insisting that PBA would remain illegal under the new legislation. No way. The third provision of FOCA is the right to terminate pregnancy AFTER viability when necessary to protect her right OR HEALTH. “Health” as defined by Roe and Doe include any reason, such as “Our family would be better off with a male child, not a female child.” This has held up in court. Post-viability abortions land in the D&X, PBA arena. FOCA easily puts the health clause above the PBA ban.

Look at their FOCA page, and imagine a similar page of predicted negative outcomes from the Patriot Act (and notice there isn’t such a page on this urban legend site). If the Mikkelsons were to refute predicted consequences of the Patriot Act with the loaded wording of the Act itself (“protection, freedom, terrorism”), the PA would look benign, too.

An urban legend website is not the place for confirming or denying potential outcomes of political policy, no place to assure the public, “Hitler very explicitly stated that we’re just relocating the Jews. Relocating. Those scary rumors are false.”

10 Anonymous Attorney 02.16.09 at 2:26 pm

I third L.C. and E.C.

Snopes has gone from near-infallible to hobbled by its own left-wing bias in the minds of many, and not for no reason. As an example of its preachiness, just read the intros to its “racial rumors” section…

http://www.snopes.com/racial/racial.asp

11 Todd Rogers 02.16.09 at 3:43 pm

Snopes it appears, is going the way of Wikipedia.

12 seething 02.17.09 at 9:21 am

Why not try to update their Wiki entry or at least get this into the “discussion” page of Wiki?

Better yet, get into their message board and help them out http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=40752&highlight=cpsia

13 Heather Idoni 03.03.09 at 8:41 am

“People BELIEVE what we say, yes they do!
Whatever we say they’ll believe that it’s true!

They won’t check their own facts; they’ll rely upon us –
We’ll lull them to sleep and they won’t make a fuss!…”

http://www.easyfunschool.com/snopes_is_wrong_about_the_cpsia_spoof_seuss_story.html

Comments on this entry are closed.