“Blue it” (Huggy Wuggy and Disney hysterias)

Today we will consider two recent moral panics, one comical and the other crossing into dangerous territory. For the former, we take a look at the hullabaloo surrounding Huggy Wuggy, the titular character from a video game. That particular entertainment form has been panicking parents since around the advent of Pong.

The latest menace is a blue-tinted, fanged monster who sings about hugging people until they breathe their last and other fatal notions. The online universe if full of warnings about this deceitful teddy bear who fixates on physical embraces and murder. These are accompanied by anecdotes of children emulating Huggy Wuggy’s wayward example. Other rumors have the terrible teddy encouraging patricide and suicide, while less alarming stories focus on his obscenity and alcohol abuse.

Huggy Wuggy also appears in the video game Poppy Playtime, which centers on a former toy factory worker who returns to his place of employment. There, Huggy Wuggy and other anthropomorphic toys stalk the former employee. Additionally, there are fan-made videos featuring Huggy Wuggy that would upset some preschoolers. But these do not target children and are, in fact, rated as Teen or Mature.

A Rolling Stone investigation found no Huggy Wuggy videos on YouTube but some on TikTok, which is aimed at those 13 and over. Some of those show Huggy Wuggy videos, though none encourage harm to self or others.

Like previous moral panics, the warnings are being repeated without the speaker first having ascertained that the phenomenon exists. Those warnings are then treated as the proof in future retellings.

Now onto the dangerous. When Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill was signed, Disney’s too-little, too-late response was to object once the legislation became law. The collective response from the right has been an unending chorus consisting entirely of “groomer.” This word refers to someone who targets a child for sexual abuse and works his or her way into their life and eventually begins molesting them. It does not refer to objecting to a specific piece of legislation. Reason writer Scott Shackleford has been labeled a pedophile and child molester by online commentators, based on his having contrary opinions to the posters. This is what passes for political dialogue in 2022. In these circles, saying “groomer” is considered reasoned discourse and the claim is itself presented as its own proof.

Vice noted that right wing walk show hosts now label anyone opposed to anti-LGBT legislation to be a groomer or even a pedophile. Much like Robin DeAngelo labeling all whites to be racist, this groomer/pedophile umbrella is so massive that it encompasses 60 percent of the population and thus loses all meaning. In the most extreme corners, far-right agitators are doxing school officials, Disney officials, and Democratic politicians, claiming without any evidence, that they are facilitating the sexual abuse of children or committing the acts themselves. These rants include posting the address of the targeted, along with calls to torture them or subject them to an extrajudicial execution. That’s a lot scarier than any blue fanged monster.

“Branch Floridians” (DeSantis deaths)

Florida governor and national embarrassment Ron DeSantis hosted a parade of lies and misinformation masquerading as a COVID roundtable. Only doctors selected by DeSantis were allowed to attend. While “roundtable” connotes an open exchange of views, this panel featured doublespeak and allowed no deviation from the script.

The farce was dubbed “Closing the Curtain COVID Theater.” Theater is a rather innocuous term to describe the spread of an airborne virus that has killed 5 million people – a number that would be markedly lower if everyone had taken known preventive measures.

Skeptic leader Dr. David Gorski reviewed the heavily-orchestrated spectacle, which was led by DeSantis and his henchman, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Though an appointed position, surgeon general is one government role that should always be apolitical and should certainly not promote the anti-health, anti-science positions favored by the head of state government.

But that’s what Ladapo has done, even going so far as using the forum to announce that Florida advises against vaccinating minors against COVID-19, a virus that has killed more than 1,000 American children. Some of you Kindergartners may die but that’s a risk Ladapo is willing to take. DeSantis chimed in with, “We are not just going to follow the CDC in the state of Florida. … We’re going to do our own stuff.” Ain’t no science gonna tell him what to do. And while he has sometimes advertised himself as a champion for choice, his actions bely that claim. Witness his childish berating of mask-wearing high schoolers as an example.

One phrase heard throughout the roundtable was “Urgency of Normal,” a euphemism for abandoning all coronavirus mitigation measures. No masks, no vaccines, no social distancing, no remote learning. Makes you wonder what their stance on hand-washing is. Orwellian claims that lockdowns are more dangerous than the virus were trumpeted and panelists insisted the nation should let COVID spread unchecked in order to pave the way for herd immunity. As to the immunocompromised and elderly, screw them, DeSantis needs to get a haircut.

Gorski noted this mindset’s similarity to a Brady Bunch episode favored by anti-vaxxers since it treats measles as no big deal – an annoying but harmless rite of passage. Yet Gorksi noted that before the vaccine, 48,000 people a year were hospitalized for the measles, 4,000 of those developed encephalitis, and about 450 patients died. Gorsksi argued that treating pre-vaccine measles or COVID as minor issues – since most who contract them survive – is akin to eugenics.

Gorski wrote, “Our response to COVID-19 uses the familiar blueprint of eugenics, with predictable consequences for the captive and vulnerable, who are pushed to the side, ignored, or sacrificed for the ‘greater good.’ This devalues the lives of those who are less than perfect, less than healthy, by in essence telling everyone who is healthy that they don’t have to worry and shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice anything to protect who are less than healthy and at high risk.” To be sure, the “pro-life” crowd has been anything but on this one.

“TikTok Sheeple” (Attorneys Generals social media investigation)

More than a half dozen state attorneys general are investigating TikTok to try and determine if the social media giant is violating consumer protection laws. Their main concern is whether app is harming them there young’uns, and what the company’s executives know about this. Expressing concern for the entire throng, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey lamented that TikTok “may harm their physical health and mental wellbeing.”

But as Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out, if use of TikTok or another social media product is leaving kids to careening out of control and undergoing psychological torment, it is likely the result of negative interactions with other users. It is probably a correlation/causation error or post hoc reasoning to necessarily blame the site. People can be cruel in person, on the phone, or in a text. It is hardly confined to social media. A user, especially a tween or teen, may feel left out, scorned, or jealous after an hour on TikTok, but they might be in the same situation after experiencing negativity elsewhere.

“These are issues of human nature, not technological issues,” Brown wrote. “You could feel it looking through magazines, attending school, or walking down the street, seeing an ad that makes one self-conscious, or a video game you keep losing.”

Detractors will tie TikTok use to subsequent negative behavior, but Brown noted that it is probable that “self-doubt, sadness, or social isolation may drive young people to partake in more” of the regrettable behavior. Youth who are balanced, centered, extroverted, and active are more likely to demonstrate positive traits, but their being so after using TikTok would never be used to site the app as the reason for their emotional wellbeing. It is likewise just as erroneous to blame TikTok for undesirable traits and negative behavior.

So when politicians or others talk of mandating changes to algorithms or restricting certain types of advertisements, they are putting a Band-Aid on a decapitation. Such actions are failing to address the cause of the issue and these measures would do little if anything to fix it. If an anorexic young girl feels overweight no matter what the scales say, a ban of diet food advertising won’t change this. The same precept applies to trying to social media usage.

“Let them eat fakes” (Vegan bashing)

Atheists and vegans have a commonality. Both are reviled minorities who are despised for what they do not do: Believe in any gods or consume animal products. While this would seem to be an avenue for atheists to feel rapport with vegans, or at least be neutral toward them, this is not always the case. The Facebook page Atheists Against Pseudoscientific Nonsense (AAPN) makes vegan-bashing at least a monthly occurrence.

This seems strange to me, for in the same way that someone not believing in a god has no impact on anyone else, a person favoring fake butter to the authentic version is harming no one. Of course, the maintainers of AAPN are far from alone in their vegan-loathing, which permeates those of all religious stripes. Why does 0.3 percent of the population, doing something that doesn’t affect anyone else, engender such venom?

BBC reporter Zaria Gorvett tried to get the root of this disdain. She wrote that one volley lobbed at vegans is an accusation of hypocrisy. For example, bugs or mice will be unintentionally killed when a farmer harvests corn or plants soybeans. But, first, as vegan law professor Gary Francioine noted, by being vegan, one is taking the most proactive stance and the one that will cause the least cumulative harm to animals. By contrast, if one eats meat or drink milks, the fatal impact on animals is unquestioned. (Male offspring of dairy cattle are often killed at birth, the same fate that awaits male chicks).

Moreover, appealing to hypocrisy is a logical fallacy and in this case, not a genuine reason for the loathing. Further, the hypocrisy charge is similar to the one lobbed at proponents of church/state separation for using money emblazoned with “In God We Trust.” But there is no inconsistency since those proponents would prefer the motto come off. Similarly, vegans would prefer that no living creatures be killed or harmed when their food is produced. AAPN could surely see the logic behind the former, so why not the latter?

A second accusation is that vegans are militant and adopt an in-your-face approach. Consider the lame joke, “How do you know if someone is vegan? They will tell you.” This is an instance of survivor bias, as people meet vegans all the time without knowing it since the person doesn’t mention it. To think that all vegans spout off about it because some of them do is like finishing a hearing test and, before being told the results, thinking you aced it because you heard all the beeps.

The militant accusation is also comical when considering such an approach is more frequent among meat eaters. Think about the Heart Attack Grill or the promotions which bestow a free dinner on the diner who finishes an outrageously-sized cheeseburger or T-bone in a certain timeframe. I have seen animal welfare videos given a retort video consisting entirely of the creator eating chicken nuggets. I have ever seen the equivalent, whereby a hunting video is answered by a vegan recording themselves chomping on a salad. Social media ads for veggie burgers yield derisive comments in the threads; those for hamburgers do not.

Again, this should be a case for common ground between the atheist and vegan. The punchline “They will tell you” has been directed at atheists, even though it is Christians who wear a religious symbol around their necks, who dress in unmistakable nun and priest garments, and who have multiple church options in any square mile nationwide. It is de rigueur for GOP presidential candidates to announce that the Christian god told them to run. By contrast, no Democratic candidate has cited atheism as their impetus.

So with hypocrisy or aggressiveness not the answer, Gorvett deduced that disgust of vegans has its roots in psychological discomfort. She writes, “If you bring your cod and chips home to eat in front of your beloved goldfish, or tuck into a rabbit stew mere moments after cooing over various #rabbitsofinstagram, you’re likely to encounter cognitive dissonance, which occurs when a person holds two incompatible views, and acts on one of them. In this case, your affection for animals might just start to clash with the idea that it’s OK to eat them. The tension that results can make us feel stressed, irritated, and unhappy. But instead of resolving it by changing our beliefs or behavior, it’s quite normal to blame these feelings on something else entirely.”

Encountering a vegan triggers this cognitive dissonance by serving as a reminder of one’s inconsistency so vegan-bashing often follows. As Gorvett explained, “Motivated reasoning might lead people to find explanations for why eating animals is the correct decision. And one of these is that vegans are bad.”

Once more, this should be where an atheist finds common ground with a vegan. After all, some religious types who detest nonbelievers do so as a way of trying to compensate for their faith’s abuses and to keep their lingering doubts repressed.

About the only justification I can find for AAPN’s spite is the vegan-friendly nature of the communion offerings of bread and wine.

“TikdOff” (School shooting rumor)

Last month, TikTok was awash in rumors of an imminent school shooting set for Dec. 17. Skeptical Inquirer Deputy Editor Benjamin Radford investigated the phenomenon and learned that no law enforcement agencies found any of the threats credible. Rather, they were ambiguous and not tied to a specific person, place, or intent to act. And indeed, the day came and went without a school shooting.

Radford found that nearly every mention of the potential shootings had come in the form of warnings, shares, or with the user expressing their fear and worry. In other words, persons were communicating about the threats, not making them. Like earlier social media scares and their ancestors, the urban legend, the focus was on persons reacting to it, not on persons perpetrating it. We have seen this act before, in Internet warnings about T-shirts and zip ties being part of a human trafficking ploy, and in decades past with chilling tales of kidney thieves and drunk-driving victims embedded in car grills.

Radford wrote that the common folkloric themes between many urban legends and today’s social media hoaxes are that they mirror social anxieties, highlight threats to vulnerable populations, and reflect concern about technology gone bad.

Verge journalist Mia Sato interviewed University of Ontario Institute of Technology associate professor James Walsh, who told her, “Adult society has always been concerned about how new media content or new media technologies are going to corrupt young, impressionable minds.” Walsh points out that panic around a particular medium predates TikTok, previously occurring with comic books, board games, and music.

The difference now is that the misinformation gets out much faster and can me much harder to corral. Access to correct information is likewise readily available, but persons all too often to go with an untruth that fits their preconceived notions instead of accepting what to them is a less-familiar reality.

“Hit for teacher” (TikTok challenge)

When my oldest children were toddlers and preschoolers, moral panics which targeted parents such as myself focused on the likes of satanic kidnappers and human traffickers. While there are rare instances of children being snatched by strangers, there are no recorded cases of it being done to funnel the victims to a diabolical den. And while human trafficking is real, it is usually done by someone who knows the family and grooms the child. It if not committed by someone camping out in a Wal-Mart restroom or scouring social media pages to find when school releases for the day so they can have a victim smorgasbord to choose from.

My children are now old enough that the moral panics are focused on them as the potential perpetrator, not the targeted. In an article for Vice, David Gilbert outlined a recent example, which holds that tween and teen TikTok consumers are being urged to slap their teacher and upload the videotaped results. Like the Luciferian lurkers, these pedagogue poundings are the stuff of urban legend.

For decades, these legends have been spread by school districts, law enforcement agencies, and local media doing shallow reporting. This trio seems to again be the panicky purveyors this time.

Gilbert cited California Teachers Association President Toby Boyd, who warned of this threat and the legal peril those who partake in it will find themselves in. Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called for TikTok executives to outline what steps they are taking to halt this unruly usurpation of their platform.

This is not to say that no student has assaulted a teacher anywhere at all during this school year. But if this happened, it was likely the result of anger, immaturity, or loss of control, not a premeditated assault in hopes of gaining social media followers.

Gilbert interviewed Abbie Richards, whom he described as “a disinformation researcher who focuses on TikTok.” She said, “As far as I’m aware, not a single story has actually included evidence of an initial threat. And when I looked into this, I couldn’t find a single TikTok actually endorsing this behavior. All evidence indicates this is a hoax turned into reality by local news and school districts reacting to completely unconfirmed rumors.”

For example, the CTA highlighted an instance in Lancaster, S.C., where a TikTok teacher assault allegedly happened. The school district’s director of transport and safety, Bryan Vaughn, claimed an elementary school student perpetrated this as part of the TikTok challenge.

However, Gilbert noted some inconsistencies with this assertion. First, elementary school students are usually too young to have a TikTok account. Second, there was no mention that the assault was recorded and uploaded to TikTok, which is a necessary element of the alleged phenomenon. In other words, there may have been a student assault on a teacher, but it was unrelated to this putative challenge.

While urban legend origins are usually lost to time and space, the starting point may be known in this case: An online document which lists supposed monthly TikTok challenges. However, there is zero evidence this list exists outside of the document decrying it, and there is no reason to suspect it has ever been acted upon.

Indeed, there is a dearth of reports confirming tween and teen arrests for teacher assaults. Like most moral panics panics, no name is ever associated with these alleged occurrences. There are just breathless warnings about the happenings and the stiff consequences for those who perform them. Gilbert noted there are no videos showing students striking teachers, and even if there were, that would be insufficient evidence of a social media connection.

So this is just another hoax. Besides, if satanic kidnappings and human trafficking had been as widespread as advertised, there would be no teenagers left to take up this challenge.

“Fueling a rumor” (Rising gas prices)


Last post, we took the far left to task, so in the interest of being nonpartisan, we will today call out the right wing. Specifically, we will look at the insinuation that Joe Biden is responsible for rising gasoline prices. This is not a true partisan issue, as some left-wingers have blamed Republican presidents for pump pain, and there are plenty of conservatives who understand that the White House doesn’t set gas prices.

But those that do think that are the focus of today’s post. Expect for some negligible indirect influence, the commander in chief has nothing to do with whether one shells out two dollars or five for their gallon of mid-octane.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the key factors in the price gasoline consumers pay are: Taxes; crude oil cost; refining costs and profits; and distribution and marketing costs. The executive branch positions on infrastructure, civil liberties, national defense, Brussels sprouts appreciation proclamations, and anything else are nonfactors.

Writing for the New York Times, Richard Thaler explained that the U.S. consumes 20 percent of the world’s oil while owning just two percent of the reserves. That means the Middle East has us by the collective balls in perpetuity.

Thaler wrote that while this leaves the U.S. little say in the price of oil, the country could help itself by reducing consumption, using oil more efficiently, and prioritizing alternative fuel sources. But this would be tedious even if everyone was on board with the ideas. And that is not the case, as evidenced by the ostentatious souped-up trucks which double as moving platforms for oversized U.S. and Confederate flags (pick a side, dude).

And even those Americans not in the redneck subset love their automobiles. Further, alternative energy has seen only lukewarm results. Therefore, Thaler opines a better approach would be to gradually raise gasoline taxes to what they are in Western Europe. Because those taxes are high, fuel-efficient automobiles are far more common in Germany than in Georgia. The high taxes could be more than offset by the drop in demand.

So the one indirect impact a president could have would be to suggest charting this corrective course. But that would be political suicide in the United States. So they do nothing and we are left with the bizarre, indefensible spectacle of praising or condemning the executive branch for something beyond its control. We might as well blame it for my leaky faucet.

Thaler wrote his piece in 2012 but nothing has changed since then. For a specific look at today’s Biden Blame, we consider the writings of Jonathan Oher on thejostle.com. He highlights some social medial posts which insist the president is responsible for the rising prices and others which portend an even more frightening fuel future.

On Biden’s inauguration day, the average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $2.37. The posts that Oher cited had prices being 30 percent lower than that, but beyond the factual error is the mistaken insinuation as to who is to blame if the price becomes 4, 5, or even 6 dollars per gallon. Tellingly, none of the posters seem ready to heap praise on the president if the prices plummet to $1.50 a year from now.

The posts also play loose with the facts, showing prices a few days before and after inauguration day, but posting them from different parts of the country. Different locales will always pay different prices because of state taxes and distribution costs. Using this disparity to make the point would be like comparing the January temperatures in Minneapolis to those in Miami and blaming the president for global warming.

But, again, the key point here is not the actual price or the fluctuation but the party responsible.

The rise seen over the past two months is primarily due to a correction of gas prices that dipped during the pandemic, which created an artificial drop in demand. With the country somewhat opening up, full tanks are needed for these trips to the now-open malls, sports arenas, and restaurants.

Beyond fuel usage, crude oil cost plays a role, as the slick substance is likewise recovering from the pandemic. The cost went down more than 10 percent from January 2020 to January 2021. As that price corrects, gasoline prices will rise, as will the number of misinformed memes about who is responsible.

“Doesn’t add up” (Math racism)

While the loony far left dominates colleges, the rigid, absolute mathematics field would seem like an area that would provide a, how shall we say, safe space, from all this.

Alas, that is no longer the case, with the advent of, “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics.”

This pompous pamphlet thunderously asserts that the following are racist acts: Expecting students to meet benchmarks; Teaching math in a linear fashion; Focusing on how to get the right answer; Showing one’s work; And raising your hand to be recognized.

While ostensibly meant to somehow bolster Black children, the tract instead belittles them by assuming they should never be expected to gain mathematics proficiency. As Columbia University Linguistics and Music History Professor John McWhorter wrote, “It claims to be about teaching math while founded on shielding students from the requirement to actually do it. This is not pedagogy; it is preaching.”

Mathematics rests on explicitly-formulated definitions and facts. Were this not the case, bridges would collapse, planes would never go airborne, and monetary transactions would be a gibberish nightmares. It would be literally fatal if engineers and mechanics were to adopt such notions as new geometry, woke algebra, or calculus of color.

Math is the same everywhere. There is no German Geometry, Algerian Algebra, or French Fractions. There is no “White Way” of getting the answer and, in fact, the field serves as one of the world’s great equalizers. In math class, there are no essays where one can con their way to an answer without ever saying anything constructive. The answers, and how they are arrived at, are uniform worldwide. But this supposed math handbook, McWhorter notes, “says very little about how to actually teach kids of any ethnicity math. In fact it is detrimental to teaching math by urging the elimination of practices, like having students show their work.”

For while showing work is painted as an instance of White supremacy, the process is essential to correcting errors, it shows students understand the process, and it ensures the answer was not purloined from the kid one desk over.

As to arriving at the correct answer, this entirely reasonable and logical goal is considered a weapon in the White supremacist toolkit. This offensive, paternalistic absurdity assumes that most Black children are incapable of conquering the discipline.

Like McWhorter, Princeton mathematics professor Sergiu Klainerman is pained by this development: “I have witnessed the decline of universities and cultural institutions as they have embraced political ideology at the expense of rigorous scholarship. I had naively thought that the STEM disciplines would be spared from this ideological takeover.”

This now-seemingly complete takeover represents a soft totalitarianism where dissenters are not extra-judicially executed or exiled to Siberia, but are fired, doxed, picketed at home, and have a pound of their flesh extracted by the virtual mob.

Nothing in historical or contemporary mathematics suggests that it should be done in a different way based on geography or that it is race-dependent. To the contrary, math enjoys a long and rich history across the cultures, with major developments and contributions from Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, and Arabs. Schools throughout the world teach the same principles and math serves as a universal language.

During international sports competitions, players on both sides may speak nary a word of their opponent’s language, but they are bonded by common rules they all follow. Similarly, race is no barrier to mathematics and this equality makes it the antithesis of supremacism.

“A lot of bull” (Pit bull hysteria)

Pete the Pup of Our Gang fame and Spuds MacKenzie were both pit bulls, a designation which refers not to specific breed but a collection of related ones. These include the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American bully.


A Little Rascals sidekick and a party-loving beer pitchdog contrasts mightily with the bloodthirsty, intimidating image of pit bulls held by many and promoted by some media
.


But while pit bulls have been implicated in fatal attacks, the notion that they by and large are dangerous is a misnomer. Some pit bulls were bred by unscrupulous sadists for bull-baiting and dogfighting, while others were bred to hone their friendliness, loyalty, and attentiveness.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning noted that the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that from 1979 to 1998, 238 Americans were killed by 403 dogs, with pits bulls and Rottweilers accounting for more than half of the tragedies.


However, the authors noted that the study failed to account for the antics and personalities of the owners. Some societal outcasts prefer the image and street cred that comes with owning an animal with a dangerous reputation and they are only too happy to promote this. So while there may be a correlation between dog bites and some breeds, there may not be causation.


The study also fails to adjust for the percentage of American dogs that each breed represents. Further, reliable numbers are unavailable because the American Kennel Club registry includes only canines whose masters have registered them, and that is primarily done by serious owners who prefer purebred, pedigreed show dogs.


Additionally, fatalities are not the only factor when assessing dog dangers. Dunning wrote that a study in Pediatrics found there were 30,000 dog bites for every fatal dog mauling. German shepherds were the most bitey breed and there are no statistics to support how likely pit bulls are to bite relative to other breeds. In fairness, however, pit bull attacks may inflict more damage or be more likely to be fatal than most breeds.


The Pediatrics study also showed that dogs are more likely to chomp away if they are male, unneutered, less than five years old, weigh more than 45 pounds, live with elementary school age children, and kept chained outdoors. All those are more likely factors to dog danger than whether the animal is a pit bull.

“Indolent bystander” (Kitty Genovese)

When an assailant raped and murdered New Yorker Kitty Genovese in 1964, The New York Times reported that dozens of people witnessed the attack and did nothing to stop it.

But in the early 2000s, another Times piece found the claims in the 1964 article were exaggerated and sensationalized. Probably less than 10 people had knowledge of the attack, with three of them intervening.

But at the time, the tragedy and the supposed apathy that surrounded it, led to a burgeoning field looking into a possible Bystander Effect, including the Smoke Filled Room study of 1968. Social psychology researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley ran a series of experiments testing their hypothesis that when other people are around, bystanders are less likely to intervene.

In the best-known of their studies, the pair recruited subjects to fill out a questionnaire. The first group consisted of subjects who answered questionnaire by themselves, while the second group involved several persons filling out the form.

A few minutes into the experiment, thick smoke pored through a vent. Those by themselves, for the most part, left the room immediately and informed Latane and Darley.


Subjects in the second group, however, responded differently. Only one was an actual subject, the other persons were in on the experiment and had been instructed to take no action. Most of the time, the subject likewise failed to act.


In all, 75 percent of solo subjects intervened in the smoke, while just 10 percent of the subjects surrounded by confederates did. This seemed to confirm Latane and Darley’s hypothesis. Similar experiments yielded similar results, though not all of them as pronounced. But the differences were consistent enough that the duo concluded that there was a casual effect to the number of persons present and the likelihood of intervention.


But then in 2019, publications reported that the Bystander Effect was largely nonexistent, that a review of public conflicts showed that most people do intervene.


This research focused on public altercations captured on video. More than 1,200 conflicts were examined, in Lancaster, UK, Amsterdam, and Cape Town. In each city, intervention occurred nine times out of 10. Further, stepping in was most likely to occur if there were more bystanders.


As to the opposite conclusion being reached in the Smoke Filled Room studies, that can be explained by the study’s flawed methodology. Other than a lone subject, participants were instructed to not act. Had smoke began filling a room of 20 persons not in on the charade, some of them would have almost certainly taken action, as the results of the 1,200 public altercations demonstrate.


Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning wrote that a better-designed experiment would have had no confederates and, indeed, that would have produced a more authentic result. The test, he noted, served as an experiment on peer pressure, but not the bystander effect it was presuming to examine.