Is a reliable source?

Examining the credibility of a popular hoax slayer

Snopes logoToday I received a comment from someone who informed me that "most intelligent people have come to realize" that the Urban Legends Reference Pages – collectively known as – is "not a very reliable source." Rational skeptic

[a manifesto] that I am, I decided to look into it.

While I disagree with her statement about, I believe her comment does broadly relate to the crucial standard of maintaining a reasonable level of objectivity during research. If she had said the following, I would have completely agreed:

Most intelligent people have come to realize that it’s foolish to use only a single resource to determine the accuracy of a given story.

urban legend - Pop Rocks and sodaIn truth, it really is pure folly for a writer or blogger to proclaim a given story as truth before adequate due diligence has been performed on it.

Initially, I questioned whether I should invest the time necessary to compile this information. Would it even be worth it? Am I doing this merely in an attempt to deflect a veiled insult, perceived or otherwise? Then I recalled a similar post at Search for Truth regarding the use of Wikipedia as a resource. After considering the time I have spent writing and blogging during the last three years (as well as the time I expect to devote to writing and blogging in the future), I figured looking into this would be a worthwhile effort.

What is Snopes?

urban legends

Welcome to, the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation. (Source: Snopes) is an award-winning site; in 2007, Snopes won two Webby awards.

If you’re not familiar with, it’s a very informative website worth checking out. It has a singular purpose: to validate or debunk incredible claims, warnings, and tall tales that circulate around the Internet. The site examines claims such as the infamous urban legend that told us that “for every person you forward this email, Bill Gates will donate $1 towards life-saving brain surgery for a five-year old girl named Tabitha.” Yeah, right. often provides detailed back stories about how a particular myth originated in the first place, along with documented evidence debunking it. (Source: View from the Bleachers)

urban legendsIn order to determine whether what she said was true – that "most intelligent people" know that is unreliable – I decided to spend some time researching this question by reading the findings of others who have wondered about the accuracy of stories and looked into the same issue. (As usual, all of the resources I used are linked either within this post or in the Resources section at the end of the post.)

We don’t expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic, which is why our site’s name indicates that it contains reference pages. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, unsourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we’ve used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves. (As Snope creators Barbara and David P. Mikkelson reveal on their own site)

As it turns out, there is quite a bit of general interest in the level of reliability of Snopes. Finding detailed articles on this subject was certainly not a problem. There are also quite a few forum conversations about the credibility of In fact, Snopes has been critiqued and sniffed around like a stray dog in heat. The Snopes site includes a page dedicated to articles written about them.

Our safeguard is the millions of readers (including major news organizations, government agencies, universities, and authors) who value our site’s long-established reputation for fairness, accuracy, and reliability. We would not maintain such a reputation if we did not consistently apply objective standards in our reporting. (Source: David P. Mikkelson quoted in article, Is infallible?)

Searching for truth, in general

The search for truth is a theme that deeply resonates with this writer. Looking for the facts behind potential tall tales is one thing, but truth seeking has far more weight when the issues at hand relate to heartfelt beliefs: subjects such as religion, spirituality, and politics, for example.

The Good Wife - surgery photo fromThe Fetal Hand of Hope account borders on these serious topics, which is precisely why the story went viral and remains the focus of such ardent debate. On the surface, it’s merely the hand of a very young human being; however, adding dimension to Fetal Hand of Hope narrative are issues like abortion, women’s rights, playing God, claims of a miracle, etc. The chronicle thus becomes political and religious – and sides are taken.

When one has serious questions about religion, philosophy, or politics, where should one seek the answer?

If the seeker is being intellectually honest and wants to get as close to the truth as possible, then the answer must follow the careful, objective, and open-minded consultation and review of multiple resources representing all sides of the issue at hand.

If the above is true (I think most of us can agree that it is), then folks who seek their answers from a single resource – or from multiple resources within a single belief system, or holding a common worldview – are simply not seeing the whole picture. Sadly, there are hordes of people in this category: people whose minds are closed to virtually all information that does not fit neatly within the narrow confines of their belief system. (What happened to reason? Why did the Age of Enlightenment have to end?)

No intelligent objective person would rely on a single, biased source for real answers to important questions – and this is why I am urging readers to gather suggestions and conduct research from a variety of contrasting sources and viewpoints anytime the best answer to a complicated or difficult question is honestly sought. (Source: Search for Truth)

When seeking answers, carefully consider the source: Bias, belief, and objectivitySearch for Truth: Religious fundamentalism vs. truth, reality, science, and genuine spirituality

Conclusion about the reliability of Snopes

Snopes logoAs it turns out, Snopes is one of the more reliable web sites that endeavors to find and reveal the facts behind popular stories, hoaxes, urban legends, and such. is one of several hoax-busting sites that exist for the purpose of revealing the facts behind tall tales and email forwards.

Is Snopes factually correct 100% of the time? Of course not; such a large collection of research and related material could not be completely free of error.

Among the many groups that have closely investigated is FactCheck:

FactCheck reviewed a sample of Snopes’ responses to political rumors regarding George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, and found them to be free from bias in all cases. FactCheck noted that Barbara Mikkelson was a Canadian citizen (and thus unable to vote in American elections) and David Mikkelson was an independent who was once registered as a Republican. "You’d be hard-pressed to find two more apolitical people," David Mikkelson told them.

Related: Accuracy of Wikipedia

This reminds me of comments I have heard in the past that question the accuracy of Wikipedia. Being a daily consumer of Wikipedia content, I looked into that issue and learned, according to folks who have conducted related studies, that Wikipedia is amazingly accurate. The veracity of Wikipedia is comparable to that of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wikipedia is about as good a source of accurate information as Britannica, the venerable standard-bearer of facts about the world around us, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature. (Source – Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica)

Quotes about the reliability of Snopes

photoshopped picEverything in this section apart from this sentence is quoted directly from online forum discussions regarding the reliability of

The same people who doubt the reliability of Snopes will doubt the reliability of Wikipedia… What gives me trust in Snopes on an analytical basis is that they cite the sources which led them to their conclusions, and explain the analyses they used. On an intuitive basis, their willingness to call something "unverified" or "partially true" enhances my trust. (Source: Someone was questioning the reliability of Snopes) (a Q&A website)
Q: Is Snopes unreliable?
A1: No. has a well-deserved reputation for accuracy.
A2: No.’s David and Barbara Mikkelson engage in serious, diligent fact-checking. Importantly, they cite their sources so readers can make their own decisions, case by case, whether they have reached the right conclusions.

The Straight Dope forum

  • I find both TorF [Truth or Fiction] and Snopes very reliable.
  • I find Snopes to be generally reliable. It’s a good place to look for email hoaxes and scams that people often send me…
  • Snopes seems to be pretty reliable, and is usually one of the places I look.
  • I find that Snopes is generally quite reliable. I also use Hoax-Slayer, which is a little more willing to call a spade a spade.
  • Snopes is fairly good, I admit. For a while their pop-up type ads had Malware, which is scary. And, sometimes their personal opinion goes into their “rating” but they pretty much get the facts straight.

(Source: Straight Dope)

One of the best resources I have found for verifying information on the web is Snopes is a well organized and maintained site aimed at dispelling or validating information being promulgated on the internet. It has both a search feature and categories to choose from making it very user friendly. (Source: How to check reliability of information on the Internet)

By claiming that Snopes is unreliable in one realm, you’re also refuting the thousands of other articles that Snopes is actually accurate about. By proclaiming a source to be tainted in one aspect, you may inadvertently be trying to establish that all other things produced by that source may be spun in favor of that particular taint — without even bothering to check to see whether they actually are. (Source: Debunking Forwards: Is Snopes Unreliable?


Resources:, hoax busters

Resources: Reliability of

The majority of articles about credibility concluded that Snopes is a reasonably reliable website.

  1. Someone was questioning the reliability of Snopes – Taste of Home
  2. Snopes – How Reliable is It? – Comic Book Resources (CBR) forums
  3. Snopes and Reliability (200612) – Rambles

  4. Is the reliability of information on largely an urban legend? – Quora
  5. Debunking Forwards: Is Snopes Unreliable?
  6. Checking facts with Snopes, Factcheck & Politifact – Teachable Moment
  7. How to check reliability of information on the Internet – a Helium article
  8. E-mail Discredited, Validated – Reflections
  9. More On Snopes’ Reliability – Dean’s World: Defending the liberal tradition in history, science, and philosophy
  10. controversy – TrustLink
  11. Better Business Bureau (BBB) – Rating of (Rating: B+)

Resources indicating is NOT reliable

(NOTE: Unless listed in this section, the conclusions reached by the articles about the reliability of referenced in this post were generally positive; that is, they supported the reliability and credibility of Snopes.)

  1. SNOPES Internet Site Lacks Credibility
  2. The Scoop on – Georgia Outdoor News (GON)
  3. Is infallible? If website calls Obama eligible, then he must be, right? – WorldNetDaily – an article from the far-right, largely discredited birther movement

Other hoax-slaying websites

There are quite a few websites in the vein of Snopes; I mention several of them here, generally those that happened to turn up during my research.

  • Truth or Fiction
  • Fact or Fiction blog – Dispelling popular myths, misperceptions, and urban legends with logic (and humor); identifying misleading arguments and statistics and searching for pragmatic solutions; the place for critical thinkers, skeptics, and political centrists
  • The Straight Dope – the site of Cecil Adams, who has apparently been fighting ignorance since 1973! Excerpt: He deals strictly with factual questions. Questions you’ve always wanted to know the answers to. Questions like: What are the real lyrics to “Louie Louie”? When they execute a guy by lethal injection, do they swab off his arm first? How do the astronauts go to the bathroom in space? We wanted to make that last one the title of one of the Straight Dope books, but Ballantine wouldn’t go for it. They also wouldn’t go for: “THE STRAIGHT DOPE – Third Book of Revelations.” Said it was too long to fit on the computers. Sure. We say they were scared of the religious right.
  • Hoax-Slayer – Excerpt: Hoax-Slayer is dedicated to debunking email hoaxes, thwarting Internet scammers, combating spam, and educating web users about email and Internet security issues. Hoax-Slayer allows Internet users to check the veracity of common email hoaxes and aims to counteract criminal activity by publishing information about common types of Internet scams. Hoax-Slayer also includes anti-spam tips, computer and email security information, articles about true email forwards, and much more. New articles are added to the Hoax-Slayer website every week.
  • Urban Myths – If this site had an ‘About’ page, they’d get more traffic…
  • American Folklore – This site has a lot of emphasis on ghost stories, which I think is great as a fan of supernatural horror; the site contains retellings of folktales, myths, legends, fairy tales, superstitions, weatherlore, and ghost stories of the Americas; learn answers to folklore questions…
  • The Darwin Awards: Urban Legends – The urban legends section of the Darwin Awards website; these apocryphal stories are included as examples of Herculean Darwinian efforts; be glad these people don’t exist.

Political hoax-slaying websites

  • PolitiFact Truthometer – Excerpt: PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times to help you find the truth in politics. Every day, reporters and researchers from the Times examine statements by members of Congress, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in Washington. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-MeterTrue, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire. We also rate the consistency of public officials on our Flip-O-Meter using three ratings: No Flip, Half Flip, and Full Flop.
  • FactCheck – Excerpt: We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding… is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state and federal levels.

Still looking for more? Other sources for myth-busting websites

Tossed in for good measure

NOTE: Linking to a website does not denote agreement with all of the statements, opinions, and other content on the given website.

Original draft written on Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Another story about the fetal hand of hope urban legend: looks like someone is cashing in!

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Add your two cents here

  1. Thank you for all the resources I’ll be using these big time. My family believes Snopes is a far left site. I’ll send this article hope it helps them… But most of the time they don’t care what the truth is.. Again thanks so much

  2. They sound like far-right religious fundamentalists. Believe me, I understand… I was raised in the Church of Christ but finally opened my eyes. Thanks for reading.

  3. \Having used since it came online some years ago, I have found it to be a very useful resource. HOWEVER, regarding a number of controversial topics with political overtones, tends towards cherry-picking the issues that support the “establishment viewpoint”, while ignoring issues that highlight problems with that “establishment viewpoint”.

    Cherry-picking the evidence surrounding subject matters that are in dispute or contention, for whatever reason, is a hallmark of biased reporting, where political correctness trumps scientific transparency. A mainstream website will tend to garner more support, especially if funded by advertising, if it conforms to convention, and doesn’t explore dark places where revelations might tarnish the reputation of otherwise respected institutions and well connected power brokers.

    This is just human nature at work, and we are all at fault here; is not unique by any stretch.

  4. @ Michael: Wait, so if someone thinks that snopes is “far left” site they “don’t care about the truth”? lol

    @Stephen: “opened his eyes”? Goodness.

  5. If you can be more specific in your objections, I will respond. Thanks for commenting in any case!

    I will also admit that I have NOT even visited Snopes since the writing of this review… I prefer to get my information from more official news outlets these days.

    (I guess that says something.)

  6. Snopes is a useless site. Quoting what Mikelson says about himself and his site is NOT proof of anything, by the way. I have no bias against them but I have learned to mistrust them completely regardless how many citations they cite. I used to go to their site to check out truths regularly until I begin to read how anything negative they were verifying about their favorite liberal ideologues (ie. yes, Obama and Hilary and the rest)seemed to always be accompanied by their “evaluation” of the “truth” of the “facts”!! Lots of rationalizations, plenty of subjective suggestions as to how one should interpet the facts. Pursuing it further, I noticed how their suggested interpretaions of “facts” that lauded their liberal preferences were always much less critical. And it seemed to never find anything that was written that was negative towards conservatives to be False. I never use the site anymore – and I suggest that the only people who do are liberals who want to try to prove themselves right and their political opponents wrong.

  7. I really need to add a note to the top of that old post to the effect I have not visited Snopes since I wrote it. These days, I am more interested in relatively reliable resources for political fact checking these days (e.g., PolitiFact) as well as critiquing some of the sillier ‘only we are correct’ statements coming from religious fundamentalists and hyperpartisans.

    Thanks for your comment!

  8. Want to know if the claim of purchasing gas in early morning is a better time to buy. According to a article the gasoline is denser and gives more to a gallion when cooler. Is this a truth or farce.

  9. Snoopes uses media outlets for sources the media is not a viable source for truthful information in any way shape or form. The media is bought and paid for to provide the public with false propiganda

  10. The ground temp where the gas is stored underground is a fairly stable temperature and does not change very much at all over a 24 hour period. There would be no measurable difference in the volume of gas.

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  12. endorsing Snopes? You do know that factcheck is funded by Annenberg, who have actually provided jobs and funding for Bill Ayres and Barack Obama.. Not an indicator of any objectivism.

  13. Excellent point… admittedly, my research was cursory as only a few hours were spent on research and writing. Furthermore, this post was most likely written after a couple of Long Island Iced Teas.

  14. I enjoyed the article, very informative. If I may, Snopes is a good tool but thats all it is, like most sites in this category they are far from reliable. Reliability defined if I recall is describing something consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted. The problem is to repeatedly deliver a similar/familiar result ongoing is usually achieved by either reading or referencing a number of reasearch sources or by following a pre set guideline of criteria to get an percieved unbias result. This is why no site should proclaim or present itself as a truth verifier but instead as a information source. Reason is it assumes the truth is made available, how can any author say their source(s) are credible, most blogs, news sites, forums, etc similar in category can only be as accurate as the authors ability to decipher the info they reference combined with any personal knowledge on the topic. Since an author is unlikely be able to evaluate all the info online/offline on a topic how can you be sure the 3, 7, 9, 10, 30, or how ever many sources were used are themselves accurate. Especially In this so called age of information when in reality we are in a time where misinformation is created, manipulated & altered then by using massive money, resources, and power to create truth and deliver it to the masses by media outlets turning us into a society where truth is taught and engrained in most people,very seldon is truth really sought and when a real truth seeker tries to spread awareness on something like whistleblowers are often ridiculed and personal lifes/carreers often destroyed rather than being protected/praised for a selfless act to inform even when knowingly aware of the repercussions. JFK once stated in his Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961 “That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.” When society adopts a culture where opinions or statements differ from popular belief especially when the topic is of a nature we have believed for so long & identified with you can’t realistically expect to get the truth from a site like Snopes.

  15. It strikes me as hilarious that people keep stating that snopes is far liberal every time they state a truth that supports someone they see as liberal – they don’t care that what was reported was truth – they want a news source that will only slam liberals and anything less is not acceptable to them. Now, for why I find this hilarious – snopes is run by a husband and wife team. The wife is Canadian, so she has not US poltiical affiliation. But, the husband is American, and he is a conservative Republican and votes Republican. And, I’m not saying this from the viewpoint of a liberal. I’m not liberal – but I’m not going to slam everyone and anyone who shares a truth that might show that liberals have a good point here and there. Too funny!

  16. Just because a person is not from this country does not mean that they are Apolitical. The very idea is just plain naïve. Many Canadians are very left leaning. I checked a story that I thought had a ring of inaccuracy to it and I did not disagree with the opinion Snopes gave and I have often used them and think they are very good most of the time. That being said, they do have a lean to the left, regardless of their claim not to be connected to a part. You can be completely independent politically and still vote very conservative or liberal. My opinion of them comes not from their accuracy, but the way they report the outcomes of their studies. Also, I would say in their approach to the studies. I see that they often report items that support the left with more passion than those on the right. If they are able to show any inaccuracy in a right supporting result, they often call it partially true and when it is liberal results, it is reported as true.

    The report I spoke about above concerned a story about an incident in a prison where a man challenged a Muslim about his belief that unbelievers should be killed. I think the report was ok, but then snopes decided to include a version where a Christian minister was being asked the same question based on the Old Testament. The way that version was done shows the reporters ignorance of Christianity and the Bible in general, just as much as they were ridiculing the jail minister for lack of knowledge concerning Quran. The law requiring death for not observing the Sabbath was Old Covenant, not New Covenant. The issue however is the manner of the report.

    I still consider Snopes a useful site to check accuracy, but I can see their slant just as easily as I saw through the story I spoke about above. I don’t forward those stories, I find to be untrue, but I also know that to be apolitical either right or left is just plain ridiculous.

  17. How do I know I can trust the Information Here OR the above referenced websites untill I’ve fact checked YOU? Who are your contributors? What is your background? Have you been arrested? Convicted of Internet related fraud,pending? Etc,etc,etc,…It looks like I will be up for a while.Political affiliations? The list goes on.