We Fact-Checked Snapple's 'Real Facts'

With 30 seconds and a web connection, you can, too.
Carolynn Primeau/Flickr

Of course a duck’s quack echoes.

But claims to the contrary are so often repeated that the BBC has aired audio proof of the echo, Mythbusters has investigated the acoustics of a quack’s reverberations, and others still have uploaded Internet videos of waterfowl in sound studios selected to amplify the effect.

No matter. The myth persists. It’s the kind of claim that's repeated as fact but shared like superstition—forwarded in chain emails, published and republished among ZOMG-mindblowing facts, even printed on the cool undersides of bottle caps.

Another “Real Fact” of dubious veracity (jeremyfoo/Flickr)

“Real Facts,” they’re called. And though the quotation marks are Snapple’s, not mine, they’re fitting.

Since 2002, the tea maker has been slinging bottle-cap factoids. Some are true, some are outright false, and plenty others are incomplete or ambiguous to the point of absurdity. But it’s easy to pluck out the spurious ones with a search engine and the right kind of bullshit detector.

“Real Fact” #70 claims “Caller ID is illegal in California.” Wrong. And it takes all of 30 seconds to find this on the FAQ section of the California Public Utilities Commission's website: “Is Caller ID legal? Yes, it is.”

We’re just getting started.

Elephants actually sleep three to seven hours a night, not two (#35), according to the San Diego Zoo. The Statue of Liberty wasn't the first electric lighthouse (#179); that distinction belongs to the Souter Lighthouse, according to the UK National Trust. And the average American doesn't walk 18,000 steps a day (#89), not even close. The real tally is more like 5,116 steps, according to a recent study.

Other “Real Facts” are misleading or outdated. A mosquito doesn’t really have “47 teeth” (#50); it has a serrated proboscis — the sharp tube used to suck blood. Pennsylvania isn’t really misspelled on the Liberty Bell (#300) because “Pensylvania” was an accepted spelling in the 18th century, according to the National Park Service. And while the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows (#85), it’s not necessarily because she was painted that way. They just eroded, some art historians now believe.

Plus, it's been nearly two decades since the world's largest pumpkin weighed in at 1,061 pounds (#209) in 1996. Last year's record-setting pumpkin grew to be nearly twice as heavy, clocking in at more than a ton, according to the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth.

“We go through a process every year of looking over the facts,” Snapple's vice president of marketing, David Falk, told me when I asked him about the discrepancy. “If a bigger pumpkin was created, we evaluate and see if that makes sense.”

Though Falk says some “Real Facts” have been retired, it's not clear from the website which ones are no longer in circulation.

There are even contradictions. Snapple claims in separate “Real Facts” that both Manhattan (#399) and Philadelphia (#662) were the first capital of the United States. (Really, the U.S. Senate explains, the first Continental Congress met in Philly and the first Congress under the U.S. Constitution met in New York.)

Murkier still are the claims that are simply unverifiable, like the vague idea that “grapes are the most popular fruit in the world,” (#371) or that the “most common name for a pet goldfish is ‘Jaws.’” (#471)

All this could seem a diabolical marketing ploy by Snapple: Present something as fact but make it just outlandish enough to spark doubt so your consumer spends that much more time engaging with your product.

But that's not what they’re doing. At least, not according to Snapple.

“They are real facts, and we have teams here that fact-check everything,” Falk told me. “We go through a pretty vigorous process.”

Pretty vigorous? Google “Did Thomas Jefferson invent hangers” (#868) and you're one click away from this top-result Monticello website: “Claims that Thomas Jefferson invented the clothes hanger are unfounded.”

Debunking the idea that San Francisco cable cars are “the only mobile national monument” (#23) was as simple as sending a single email.

“It depends on what you mean by mobile. And it's not a monument,” National Register of Historic Places Archivist Jeff Joeckel told me. “The San Francisco Cable Cars (as a group) is a National Historic Landmark. National Monuments are a different designation. There are many ships that are National Historic Landmarks, as well as a few roller coasters. There are also a few railroad cars.”

It might be argued that if ever there was a time to relish being a skeptic, this is it. Not necessarily because people used to be more careful with what they said, but because we're way better equipped to call them on it. The Internet is lambasted as an abyss of lies, when really it’s a place to organize around the question of what’s real.

Fact-checking Snapple's claims is relatively easy now that all 928 of them are listed on the company's website. In bold typeface across the top of the screen: “Sip On Some Knowledge. These Are The Real Facts.” Okay.

But go down the rabbit hole of proving Snapple wrong and you'll find a scattered trail of heartbroken, tea-swilling bloggers who have attempted the same—only to discover that many of the “Real Facts” they've been sharing are bunk.

Presented by

Adrienne LaFrance is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Technology Channel. Previously she worked as an investigative reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat, Nieman Journalism Lab, and WBUR. More

Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gawker, The Awl, and several other publications.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In