Prairie Doc Lies, myths, and the Alligator Woman

Edgar's picture

It was June 10, Old Settler’s Day in De Smet, SD, and the carnival was in town. As a fifth grader, I had been doing odd jobs for a month to save up money for that day. For the price of 25 cents, I filed through a trailer to see a “real alligator woman, half human, half alligator.” Of course, it was fake. Sitting there on a table was a dried-up, stuffed, alligator body connected to a live human woman’s head (who was chatting with us). The table had mirrors to cover the hollow box that held the woman’s body underneath. It was an amusing ruse, a trick, an intentional untruth that benefited the marketer exactly 25 cents per viewer. That was, by definition, disinformation.

By contrast, misinformation happens when people believe some ineffective treatment helps or some effective treatment harms, and they spread that misinformation. For example, in the 1980s, we noted that people who were having heart attacks had more premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) and these people were more likely to die. Researchers found drugs that suppressed those PVCs thinking to save lives. It took us about ten years to discover that those drugs increased deaths rather than lessened them. We thought we were doing right but were, by mistake, harming people instead. That is misinformation.



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