There was a time not too long ago when my email inbox would be filled daily with people sharing a link to some bizarre story, rumor, or conspiracy — often the same one, as I was on lots of my listeners’ mailing lists. The vast majority of the stories (95%+) turned out to be garbage, which I verified simply and quickly by checking Snopes.com, the website run by David and Barbara Mikkelson. For awhile, I had Barbara on as a regular guest to debunk the latest viral silliness, and I told e-mailers that before forwarding a story to me, they should first check it on Snopes themselves.
Those e-mails now come in much smaller numbers, but the Mikkelsons are still investigating and debunking. David recently did an interview with Cheryl Eddy of io9.com, which ended with the most outrageous story that turned out to be actually true:
Back in the early days of the Internet, there was this text that used to circulate via email that was supposedly a medical journal article. It had to do with a doctor who treated a patient whose scrotum was all swollen, and discolored, and had metal bits in it.
They eventually coax the story out of the patient: he worked in a machine shop, and when everyone else went to lunch, he would use the belt sander or some piece of machinery to pleasure himself. He ended up catching his scrotum in the machinery and it tore open, but instead of going to the emergency room like most other people would, he picked up an industrial stapler and stapled his scrotum back closed, and didn’t seek medical treatment for several days after that.
So, since this was way back when, I had to track down the medical journal to verify that the article had actually been published — which meant trekking out to UCLA, because those things weren’t online yet. But once I verified it was a real article, I still had to eliminate the possibility that it was just something published as a joke, or something like that. I had to track down the doctor who had written it, who was retired back in Pennsylvania. I sent him a letter and he replied, saying that yes, he’d treated that patient, and that he’d seen the article tacked up on bulletin boards all over the world. That was one of the ones I did not expect to be true!