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.”
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
* * *
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).