The Pugwash Effect

Today’s false memory syndrome in relation to dates supposedly appearing in the Back to the Future films reminded me of the Captain Pugwash urban myth.

You’ll probably have been told at some point that the risqué names “Master Bates”, “Seaman Staines”, and “Roger the Cabin Boy” all featured in the popular children’s TV show of the late 20th century. The only slight problem with this hilarious story is that it isn’t true. Master Mate, Barnabas and Tom the Cabin Boy are the closest you’ll actually find. This minor inconvenience didn’t prevent the story from spreading like wildfire when I was a student – it might even still be going around today. The truth was a very poor substitute for the lurid fiction.

Hence the Pugwash Effect: the inherent believability of any old rubbish that invokes childhood nostalgia.

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting that it’s not the, say, Ivor the Engine effect – I think that for the Pugwash Effect, the fact has to be from a familiar but not over-familiar source (Back to the Future) but not in itself memorable (so a name or a date, rather than a key plot point).

    The reality also has to be less memorable than the fiction to prevent accurate corrections from taking over the viral spread – imagine if the date in Back to the Future had been Sept 11th 2001.

  2. Xavier says:

    Pishtakuff, pishtakufff..

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