Truth by consensus and the myths and legends created by the internet

Truth by consensus and the myths and legends created by the internet

The internet is doing as much to create history, as it is to document history. In this section of the World of Questy we look at the concept of "truth by consensus" and explore the mind boggling proliferation of myths and legends.

I cringe every time I hear someone say "Google it."

There are countless numbers of websites where people can ask questions looking for answers. I frequent online forums where people share information and ideas. Inevitably some know-it-all overachiever will answer a question with a phrase such as "let me Google that for you."

The overachiever is trying to look smart by insinuating that the question being asked is so simple that a search engineer query should have been used to find the answer, rather than bother the overachievers on the forum. What the egotistical overachiever does not realize is they show their own ignorance by believing that a Google search should be considered the ultimate authority for all answers.

Google Search is the most used search engine on the World Wide Web. Because the term "Google" has become a word in the English language to describe a common action, do you assume that the answers it finds are always accurate? Google gives weight to web pages of a certain length. Sometimes the short and to the point answer is seen as less relevant that a long and rambling answer that misses the point. Ah, if only life were that simple.

Google rates and ranks websites based on popularity, not accuracy. According to Google, "Democracy on the web works." Google says, "We assess the importance of every web page using more than 200 signals and a variety of techniques, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, which analyzes which sites have been 'voted' to be the best sources of information by other pages across the web."

Google filters out websites that they decide are bad, and gives extra value to sites they decide are good. Why let them filter your answers? Do the most popular people always have the correct answers?



Putting Google into perspective

Let address the Google aspect of "truth by consensus" with a personal example. I am in search of an answer to a question. I do a Google search and sift through about 20 sites that appear to answer the question that come up in my Google search. One relatively popular site of dubious credibility makes a statement. There are 20 other popular blogs that now quote the original site that made the statement, and write a story on how this question has been answered. The twenty blogs say, wow, look at the facts. Guess what? The original site has not referenced the origin of the information. So is it a fact? I have serious doubts about the statement on the site everyone is quoting. I am still looking for validation of the answer.

Someone looking for information types a question into Google, gets 20 hits on sites that all make the same statement. Should you assume what what you read is a fact? If 20 different blogs tell a story based on using one original article, do we really know the truth?

Do you think Wikipedia can answer your questions?

Wikipedia can be a great place to start to begin to learn about something, to get a few ideas. Wikipedia should not be your only place to gather information. Wikipedia is a collective of information created by volunteers. Sometimes the folks creating the information have their own agenda. Whether it is idle curiosity, just for fun, or a high school homework assignment, no matter what type of information you are looking for, always have multiple sources. Take a moment to look at the credibility of the source.

Wikipedia tries to be an encyclopedia, and attempts to supply good references, but it frowns on the author interjecting first hand experiences. First hand experiences can lend some context to an event or an individual.

The value of crowd sourced answers

I am very focused on researching and refining a lot of our material for GeekHistory, a website that explores the history of technology and famous geeks. It really has been a mission where the more information I find, the more I want to know. I started hanging out at Quora, the question-and-answer website mixed with an online community. My goal is to learn more about geek history, as well as see what questions were commonly being asking about famous geeks.

Crowdsourcing is a modern internet buzzword to describe online communities such as Quora and Wikipedia where people come together for a common goal. Quora also has the element of social media similar to Facebooks, as members can be followed by other Quora users so their posts can be viewed in your news feed. Posts can be upvoted and downvoted by users.

The page that follows this one about famous geek Nikola Tesla is a good example of the myths and misinformation being circulated on the web. From my experiences based on the questions being asked on Quora, the Tesla legend appears to be about 90% myth and 10% factual substance. I have written quite a bit on Quora trying to cut through all the hype of what I call the Tesla fanboys, and search for the truth regarding Tesla's legacy.

What really frustrates me is when I try to put the legend of Tesla in perspective I get comments by an overzealous Tesla fan telling me why don't I do some research. I am! I spent endless hours looking through newspaper and magazine articles trying to find the original sources from periodicals of the time of Tesla. But one conspiracy theory website publishes an article with no sources listed as to the origin of the information, a dozen other sites use that article as a reference, and now the myth becomes a fact.

Truth by consensus

Google claims "Democracy on the web works." The phrase "truth by consensus" describes the philosophical theory of taking statements to be true simply because people generally agree upon them. So that must mean if the top ten hits on Google says it's true, it must be true. There's no need to check the facts. The internet doesn't lie, does it?

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FBI conspiracy theories and the lost files of Nikola Tesla

The strange life of Nikola Tesla often reads like a the science fiction story of a typical mad scientist.
The strange life of Nikola Tesla often reads like a the science fiction story of a typical mad scientist. The claims that Nikola Tesla's personal files mysteriously disappeared after Tesla's death and various government conspiracies surrounding the alleged the lost files sounds like an episode the television show the X-files.

Why would the FBI care?

As Nikola Tesla celebrated his seventy-eighth birthday in 1934 he made headlines by announcing he had invented a death ray that could stop at army from 200 miles away.  Convinced that he had the plan to build the ultimate defensive weapon, in 1937 Tesla sent proposals to several nations asking for financing on what called a peace beam. Of all the countries to receive his proposal, the Soviet Union seemed the most interested. According to popular stories Tesla received $25,000 from the Soviet Union.

Nikola Tesla died in January of 1943 at the height of World War II.  Tesla's estate, which possibly included the high tech plans for a weapon of war, was due to be inherited by Sava Kosanovic, an up-and-coming Yugoslav official with suspected connections to the communist party in his country.

Although the FBI did not take possession of Tesla's belongings after his death, there is documentation on the events after Tesla's death on the  FBI vault website describing the events that took place.  Near the beginning of the more than 250 pages of the FBI vault file on Nikola Tesla you will find an FBI document dated January 12, 1943, a few days after Tesla's death, that states the property of Nikola Tesla was seized by taken to Alien Property to the Manhattan Storage and Warehouse Co.

The removal of the property was done in a very orderly fashion,  in the presence of several witnesses, and a certificate of ownership was issued to his nephew Sava Kosanovic.



 Why the Office of Alien Property?
 
The description of the seizure of Tesla's property by the FBI report seems to imply that the government wanted Tesla's belongings removed before anyone else had a chance to get them, and the Alien Property Custodian was the quickest way to take possession of the property, as stated in the FBI document, "Alien Property Custodian feels that no other agency will be able to get to this property for at least two days."  Alien in this case means foreigner, not someone from out of this world.
 
The Office of Alien Property Custodian established in 1917, under authority of the Trading with the Enemy Act to assume control and dispose of enemy-owned property in the United States and its possessions arising from World War I. In 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt re-established the Office of Alien Property. During World War II  to gather the real and intellectual properties belonging to enemies. In 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson abolished the office.

 Just reading between the lines, it seems that the FBI was glad that they were not the ones who took possession of the files. If you read through the more than 250 pages of the FBI vault file on Nikola Tesla you will find numerous letters by the FBI repeatedly denying taking anything from Tesla's apartment after his death. The FBI seems happy to say, no, wasn't us, we didn't do it.

Where are the "lost files" of Nikola Tesla?

Contrary to many conspiracy theories the so called "lost files" made their way home to Belgrade, Serbia, in 1952. it's not exactly clear why it took so long for the estate to be released. A full report written by Sava Kosanović's secretary Charlotte Muzar on the disposition of Tesla's papers and personal effects documents the details of Tesla's entire estate shipped to Belgrade in 1952. The estate currently resides at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia. The museum website does not offer a lot of specific details on the contents of the archive.

You will find several references to "Nikola Tesla’s Archive" om the UNESCO website (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) which includes the Tesla archive on its Memory of the World Register.  According to the UNESCO website, "The Archive, in Belgrade, has a collection of 160,000 pages of patent documentation, scientific correspondence, scientific papers, manuscripts, technical drawings, scientific measuring data, personal documents, and legal papers and around 1,000 original photographs of Tesla’s experiments and inventions."

FBI conspiracy theories according to the cult of Nikola Tesla


People with vivid imaginations and a lust for conspiracy theories have linked the work of Nikola Tesla to numerous secret projects. The same names, with similar stories, show up on countless conspiracy theory websites.  Many of websites that talk about particle beam weapons and invisible ships, also talk about another favorite topic of conspiracy theories, UFOs and Roswell, New Mexico.

The problem with researching many topics regarding Nikola Tesla is that claims are made by fan sites, and the only references that turn up on an internet search are other fan sites repeating the same claims. Many of the claims of the cult of Tesla illustrate the truth by consensus power of the internet.

One such internet legend is that in 1945 an operation on particle beam weaponry code-named "Project Nick" was conducted by the U.S. Air Force, and was based of the "missing files" of Nikola Tesla. Since details of the alleged project were never published, "Project Nick" is another interesting story to add to the conspiracy theories about the lost files of Nikola Tesla.  According to various websites "Project Nick" was heavily funded and placed under the command of Brigadier General L. C. Craigie to test the feasibility of Tesla's beam weapons concept.

General Laurence C. Craigie was a career Air Force officer, and the first U.S. military jet pilot in 1942, when he flew the Bell XP-59. General Craigie must have been the target of the X-files of his day, as his name also appears on some conspiracy theory websites for having knowledge of alien bodies at Area 51 in Roswell, New Mexico.

Over the years anytime the subject of particle beam weapons is mentioned the stories of the alleged secret files of Tesla are brought up.  In 1958 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a top-secret project code-named "Seesaw" at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to develop a charged-particle beam weapon. Documents that acknowledge that there was a proposed weapons system code-named "Seesaw" were declassified in 2010, but make no mention of the work of Nikola Tesla.

Even though Nikola Tesla never published any theory of magnetic resonance nor publicly discussed his principles of optical invisibility, his name is often linked to Operation Rainbow Project, also know as  the Philadelphia Experiment. The alleged military experiment that took place in October 1943 claimed to have rendered invisible the  U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge.
 

Learn more at GeekHistory.com

We have been attacking the many myths and misinformation created by the internet through out our websites.  The strange life of Nikola Tesla often reads like a the science fiction story of a typical mad scientist.

Nikola Tesla the legacy of the most interesting geek in the world 

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth

 

 

Weird science behind conspiracy theories and urban legends

Popular books about UFOs and "Strange Science." When I was in high school a friend of mine was really into the Erich von Daniken books, some of you might remember the best-selling books on ancient aliens in his "Chariots of the Gods" series. They were very popular with the geeks of my generation in the 1970s and 1980s The people who followed von Däniken's theories usually followed the overall genre of UFOs and conspiracy theories. I read all the Chariots of the Gods books, the books on Project Blue Book and UFOs, and whatever else I could find on what I collectively called strange science.

In the late 1970s I had a radio show where I discussed Project Blue Book and UFOs. Project Blue Book was one of a series of studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the United States Air Force. Its ceased operations in January 1970 with the conclusion that there was no evidence that any of the sightings were extraterrestrial vehicles. With thousands of reports to analyze and hundreds of expert witnesses, the stories and conspiracy theories went on long after Project Blue Book was shut down.

I was happy to find my stash of books from the 1970s, as shown in the photo attached to this article. One of the books you see in the photo is "Strangest of All" by Frank Edwards, an American writer and broadcaster. Frank Edwards was a pioneer radio broadcaster in the 1920s through the 1950s, and a writer of a series of popular books about UFOs and "Strange Science."

I would buy a new book every week or two, as well as read about inventors and inventions in magazines like Popular Science or Popular Mechanics. Other than to talk about these topics with my friend, and read a few magazines, I did not have any way to really explore these topics in more detail. Back in the dark ages of the 1970s we did not have the internet to share ideas.  The stories have not changed since I first read them in the 1970s. What has changed is the new vehicle of the internet where myths and legends can take on a massive cult of followers.



Why believe in pseudosciences?

Many of the books on UFOs and ancient aliens are considered pseudoscience, meaning a false science, because they represent ideas and events that can not be validated by appropriate scientific methods. People imply that you are only intelligent if you believe in true science, and often make remarks that only an idiot would read a book classified as pseudoscience.

I can believe in the possibility of many ideas outside the realm of "conventional wisdom" without having to join the cult of a madman. I can believe there is the possibility of life on other planets without believing the information on the UFO websites telling me how aliens from other planets live among us. I can believe the government withholds key information from the public about world events without believing that every strange event is part of a government conspiracy. I spend a lot of time studying the lives of famous scientists and inventors, some of them have some pretty crazy ideas. An expression you will often see used is that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. There are times when we all walk along that line.

I am a believer in the statement made by Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." There are many ideas which are considered pseudoscience that can be very interesting to study, and learning about them will definitely stretch your mind to a new dimension. That's why we are exploring myths and legends here at the World of Questy.

Spreading urban legends

Anytime someone sends me one of those amazing stories emails I often will research it. Before I tell a friend, post it to Facebook, or send it in an email, I like to know more about it. I love to hear about people doing cool things, especially something kind and generous. But if I want to hear about fictional crazy people and their wild adventures, I'll watch a Marvel comics movie. So many stores get passed off as factual, but no one ever does the simplest check of the facts.

Sometimes the answers, or the truth in the matter, is not clear cut. Sometimes a different story told from a different perspective can have a totally different look and feel to it. We can understand that. But some stories have nothing to validate them as being authentic, but for some reason they keep being told, simply because they are crazy or absurd.

Topics such as UFOs and conspiracy theories that were popular in various books and magazines in the 1970s and 1980s, are now generating a new wave of cult followers on the internet. Websites like YouTube can be an amazing place where you can learn a lot. People spend a lot of time creating great videos on how to do many things. On the other hand I have seen many videos on YouTube that were downright crazy in the amount of misinformation they were putting out. I can find thousands of YouTube videos on perpetual motion machines, 200 mpg carburetors, UFOs and aliens

Television shows like the X-files took topics like UFOs and conspiracy theories and carried them from themes followed by a few special interests into popular culture. We all now use the tagline "The Truth Is Out There", thanks to shows like the X-files.

The internet does not always record history, sometimes it creates it. Recently we added the page to Geekhistory.com, "Urban legend: I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." It is a topic I researched years ago as one of the many examples that gives merit to the point that the internet is a place that writes and recreates history based on public opinion, rather than just the facts. That is a major flaw in the artificial intelligence of search engines, specifically Google, who equate value with popularity. If thousands of websites tell us that IBM Chairman Thomas Watson said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers," in 1943, then it must be true. Doesn't it?

Learn the truth: "Urban legend: I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Delusional inventors plagued by conspiracies

Over at the website GeekHistory we look at inventors and inventions, exploring when visions became reality. There are a few cases where the myths and legends go deep beyond the history technology become crazy stories of cult followers and bizarre claims. Here at the World of Questy we look at methods and the madmen that take a question where where people have some doubt and create a sermon to answer the question. We look at the many scammers and false prophets that run off and turn an idea into a cult.

Sometimes it is hard to separate the theories of delusional inventors from their fanatic cult of followers who often rationalize the failures of their heroes with various legends of some conspiracy against them. Sadly, I see many people in search of answers who become members of various cults, and don't even realize it. I shake my head while reading comments on an online forum, I ask "can you tell me the exact source of your information." The commenter replies back, "I read it on the Internet."

There is a category of hucksters and outright frauds who we call the snake oil salesmen. In our next article we we explore the scams and hoaxes common in the old west that gave birth to the phrase Snake Oil as an all purpose cure for any problem.

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Why Nikola Tesla has become a cult hero

Why is the world so damn obsessed with geek folk hero Nikola TeslaEvery great epic story needs a hero and a villain. In the romanticized story known as the War of Currents, Thomas Edison is the villain. He is the guy everyone loves to hate. Nikola Tesla represents the hero we can identify with, the dreamer in all of us.

Nikola Tesla was a handsome well dressed fellow. He hung out at New York's finest restaurants rubbing elbows with the rich and famous. Tesla was an entertaining guy, he had cool party tricks, he invited the rich and famous back to his lab so he could shoot lighting bolts at them. He was a very interesting character.

Thomas Edison is portrayed as the cranky old fart with no sense of humor. Edison symbolizes the establishment. He is your high school science teacher who yelled at you for screwing up your lab assignment. He is the guy that your mother told you to be, why can't you be more successful, you know, why can you be more like Edison. But you never wanted to be like Edison, he looked like he was always working, and would be no fun at parties.

Tesla and Edison were both very influential during their lifetimes. Both men also had a wide variety of personality issues, both men were obsessive compulsive inventors who deserved to be respected, but not necessarily worshiped. If you read about Tesla, you will notice he was interviewed often for magazine articles during his lifetime. He was also a bit of a rebel. He poked fun at the scientists of his day, even dared to call Einstein names. He was an easy guy to like, and it was easy to portray Tesla as the underdog unafraid to take on the establishment.

The internet loves a good story, and the battle of good versus evil makes for a good story with Tesla representing the good, the forgotten misunderstood geek, and Edison representing the evil man who took advantage of the innocent Tesla. It is very sad that to make someone a cult hero, you need to tear someone down as well. Some of the remarks made about Edison are very disrespectful of his contributions to the world of technology. Likewise, men like George Westinghouse who worked with Tesla, as a partner not an adversary, are equally disrespected.

It is the classic story of good versus evil, and everyone roots for the good guy underdog to defeat the evil bad guy. Much of what is written about Edison being the Devil, and Tesla being a God, is based on myths and legends, not facts.



What's behind the cult following for Nikola Tesla?

I often get asked if the fascination with Nikola Tesla is a recent event. I have studied famous inventors and scientists since the 1970s. Different topics seem to rise and fall from time to time over the years. Topics such as UFOs and conspiracy theories were popular in various books and magazines in the 1970s and 1980s, are now being created as websites on the internet. It would appear that Tesla was equally popular in books and television shows, the things we amused ourselves with before the internet, by those who followed conspiracy theories and UFOs since at least the 1980s when I can personally reference the fascination with Tesla.

Even television shows like the X-files took topics like UFOs and conspiracy theories and carried them from themes followed by a few special interests into popular culture. We all now use the tagline "The Truth Is Out There", thanks to shows like the X-files. In the links below I have references to television shows from the 1980s and 1990s that cover Nikola Tesla.

But there is also an increase in the "cult following" of various types thanks to the internet, and especially websites like YouTube. YouTube can be an amazing place where you can learn a lot. People spend a lot of time creating great videos on how to do many things. In that regard I think YouTube can be amazing. On the other hand I have seen many videos on YouTube that were downright crazy in the amount of misinformation they were putting out.

I can find thousands of YouTube videos on perpetual motion machines, 200 mpg carburetors, UFOs and aliens. Likewise, I can search dozens of websites on these topics. Interesting that most of these, what I call "strange science" websites, have something about Nikola Tesla on them. He fits the mold of the mad scientist.

The internet does not always record history, sometimes it creates it. "The Truth Is Out There"

Nikola Tesla covered before the internet

The majority of books and movies made about Tesla are created by people who have a preconceived notion of Tesla, and are trying to prove their point. I am not condemning everyone who believes in conspiracy theories and the possibility of life on other planets, but the information that many of these sites provide is more in the quality of supermarket tabloids rather than non bias documentary journalism.

If you search for videos about Tesla on the internet you will also run across " Tesla - The Eye Of The Storm" produced around 1983. Many of the Tesla fanboy websites have links to calling it a "rare documentary" on U.S. Government conspiracies. It is rare only in the sense that you can't find any first hand information on it.

"Tesla - The Eye Of The Storm" is hosted by Stan Deyo, a host of similar shows on Australian television over the years on UFOs and what he calls "flying saucer technology." Unfortunately, every blog that talks about The Eye Of The Storm video references the Website of Stan Deyo, which currently looks like he is selling supplies and advice to prepare you for Armageddon.

I am cynical about a lot of the claims, I would love to see some references and resources for the origin of much of the so-called "facts" about Tesla's secrets. It appears that Tesla's story has been promoted by the same crowd who follows the UFOs and conspiracy theories for many years.

Leonard Nimoy hosted a "In Search of" television show (1976–1982) that investigated various mysteries. According to IMDB the "In Search of" television show was inspired by von Däniken's work. "This series was created after two successful television documentaries: In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973) based on the book Chariots of the Gods, and In Search of Ancient Mysteries (1973)."

As far as I can tell Tesla's name never came up on the Leonard Nimoy "In Search of" television show, but Tesla's name was used in a book pitched at the same crowd who followed the UFOs and conspiracy theories. The book "In Search of Nikola Tesla" was originally published in 1983 by F. David Peat. It was reprinted again in 1997.

Book Reference: In Search of Nikola Tesla https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10650961-in-search-of-nikola-tesla

Television Show Reference: In Search of... (TV Series 1976–1982)| http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074007/

In 1998 the television show "Phenomenon: The Lost Archives " another show similar to "In Search of" aired two episodes related to Nikola Tesla. The show only aired 14 episodes in total. The two episodes on Tesla were:

- Season 1 | Episode 3 - H.A.A.R.P: Holes in Heaven (discusses Tesla's theories)
"Phenomenon: The Lost Archives" H.A.A.R.P: Holes in Heaven (TV Episode 1998) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412201/?ref_=ttep_ep3

- Season 1 | Episode 9 - Lost Lightning: The Missing Secrets of Nicola Tesla
"Phenomenon: The Lost Archives" Lost Lightning: The Missing Secrets of Nicola Tesla (TV Episode 1998) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0898736/?ref_=fn_al_tt_9

Learn more at GeekHistory.com

We have been attacking the many myths and misinformation created by the internet through out our websites.  The strange life of Nikola Tesla often reads like a the science fiction story of a typical mad scientist.

Nikola Tesla the legacy of the most interesting geek in the world  (link is external)

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth (link is external)

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