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Too Good to Disbelieve

September 13, 2004

The renowned Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University did not issue a fascinating research report the other day showing that the individual IQs of married couples plummet dramatically as soon as they have a child. The nonexistent study of 400 couples purports to document that new parents always become dumber upon their little darling's arrival.

So sure was the respected Kinsey Institute about not conducting this study that it placed a pretty clear disclaimer on its website: "The Kinsey Institute is NOT involved in a study about IQ; we have no reason to believe that IQ changes after childbirth."

Never mind. Millions of people who received convincing multiple e-mails about this report and heard it read on radio stations have turned this false story into a "true" one by forwarding and discussing its fictitious results as if they were true.

This is a phenomenon of the Web Age. Rumors and hoaxes have existed since the invention of whispers and the widespread realization that, in fact, the world is flat. Because cave gossip nuances were hard to send in smoke signals, those old-fashioned untruths took forever to spread by word of mouth, generally collapsing on themselves over time.

The Web, though, enables easy transmission -- and re-re-transmission -- of anything to millions of anyones instantly. This places a responsibility -- an unaccustomed one to many -- to independently verify those amazing details before forwarding. Think of these unsolicited missives from friends of friends of well-meaning friends as printed whispers. Entire websites have evolved to debunk or verify such yarns and doctored photos. One,, offers verification tips: Was the e-mail written by the sender or passed on a gazillion times with the urgent plea "Forward to everyone you know"? Also, beware of lots of UPPERCASE EMPHASIS and way too many exclamation marks!!!!!!

The trouble with many hoaxes is that their creators are so creative. What they write could be true. And it's fun to read. TV has trained modern Americans that nothing is more important than appearances; if you see it, it must be true. So recipients routinely fall for convincing hoaxes.

Truth is, we all have longtime friends and relatives who seem fairly normal, rational and stable with admirable IQs until the visit to introduce their first baby. Before our very eyes these adults become blithering idiots with cutesy-poo voices, volumes of paraphernalia many times the infant's size and a pastel arsenal of rubber toys.

By the way, did you know there were originally Fifteen Commandments? One clay tablet slid off the papyrus boat and was lost forever.


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