Information Cancer

Incorrect news and information starts in one location and then metastasizes like cancer, spreading out and lodging in secondary sites, then spreading further until it overwhelms the body or common sense and becomes something “everybody knows.”

Cancer cells
A 3D illustration of cancer cells. (Photo by crystal light/

Snopes, the website that exposes scams and fake news, lists among the lies that have gained credence recently, “Human Meat Restaurant Opens in Tokyo,” “Palestinians Recognize Texas as Part of Mexico,” and “Pedosexual Added to LGBT.”

Incorrect information, even lies, are sometimes hard to stamp out. FDR for example, was diagnosed with polio in 1921 during a vacation near a lake, and years later, in 1958—five years after Jonas Salk announced a vaccine for polio—my parents kept me and my brothers and sister from swimming because we might get polio. My mother got rid of her aluminum cookware because of a rumor it might cause cancer. That rumor was started, according to Snopes, by competitors of aluminum cookware, and hyped by the death of Rudolph Valentino, which was wrongly attributed to cooking with aluminum pans.

Do vaccinations cause autism? Is global warming real? Can cancer be cured by eating only raw vegetables? Was the moon landing faked? The answer depends on who you listen to.

Proctor and Gamble had to change its logo, a man in the moon looking at 13 stars when, according to Wikipedia, Amway, a P&G competitor, started a rumor that the logo was a satanic symbol, and P&G’s sales fell.

KFC sign
Photo by Philip Lange/

When Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its logo to KFC to eliminate “fried” from the title, a rumor began that the change was because they were no longer using chicken, but genetic monstrosities engineered to have several sets of drumsticks.

In the age of the internet all that should be old news. A rumor is instantly exposed as false and bang! Gone. Right? Sorry—no. The rumors move on social media and once rumors dig into social media, even sites like Snopes have a hard time uprooting them.

Sadly, today many pieces of information are false or true depending on which political party you join, which news network you listen to, or how closely you look at data.

Do vaccinations cause autism? Is global warming real? Can cancer be cured by eating only raw vegetables? Was the moon landing faked? The answer depends on who you listen to.

Rev. Moon
Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han

We have been relying on news media, broadcasts, websites and streaming information of all kinds. But some controversial subjects cannot be taken at face value. Take new religions for example. I read in the newspapers that the Moonies were a dangerous crazy bunch of brainwashers. But when I spent a weekend with a number of them, I found something entirely different: sincere hard-working people who were under constant attack by bigots and so-called “deprogrammers.” I wrote a newspaper article detailing what I found and it was one of the few positive articles ever written about them. Positive press was so unusual in fact, that my article was sent to Reverend Moon himself. Why? Because reporters would never dare to come back to the newsroom with a positive story about a new religion. That’s not the media line—they’d be laughed at or fired.

As a 42-year Scientologist, I have heard all kinds of lies and distortions about my church. It’s fairly easy to debunk them with people who have the guts to look for themselves, but many people are afraid or lazy or too wrapped up in the “everybody knows,” of what they have heard, that they don’t or won’t do so.

In Scientology we have a very useful principle: “What is true for you is what you have observed yourself. And when you lose that, you have lost everything.” That’s an important part of personal integrity. “Integrity” essentially means “wholeness.” It’s easy to evaluate the fairness or correctness of a news article if you are familiar with the subject. But if you are not familiar, there are some things you can do to find out what is true for you. Perhaps the most important is to—as Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard said—“Look don’t listen.”

With such an overt appeal to the salacious, the controversial, the sensational, would you believe what the media says about a religion?

If you’ve ever had the experience of watching a movie you liked and then read a review that trashed it, you’ve both looked and listened. Do you change your opinion of the movie because the reviewer is the authority on movies and you must have been mistaken to like it? Or do you stick with your opinion and discard the reviewer’s opinion because you saw it for yourself and your opinion is what matters? The answer has to do with integrity.

There’s a very cynical quote that could be the anthem of the popular media today: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Social media, email, chats—and, unfortunately, what passes for news these day—are little more than gossip. Fake news, distorted information, doctored data, spread from a primary source, and like cancer, lodge in multiple websites, social media feeds and worst of all, in the minds of thousands of individuals.

Photo by Thinglass/

Today’s news on my email provider’s site, for example, contains headline phrases such as “drops jaws,” “slams accusers,” “cruel slaying” “breaks down in tears,” “shocks,” “stunned,” and so forth. With such an overt appeal to the salacious, the controversial, the sensational, would you believe what the media says about a religion?

The way forward? Look don’t listen. If you hear rumors, withhold judgment or look for yourself. How many who worry about Islam have walked into a Mosque or downloaded and read a copy of the Quran, or talked to a Muslim about his or her faith? That’s looking, not listening. Your reality is too important to let it be corrupted by rumors and hidden agendas or soured by social media trolls.

An adventure by definition, is exploring unknown, possibly hazardous territory. One could say, at its best, life is an adventure, a quest, a search for enlightenment. But many are satisfied to take their place with those “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat” as Theodore Roosevelt termed it.

Gossip was once scorned, its perpetrators punished. Today it passes for news. Propaganda is thought to be a remnant of the Cold War. Today its perpetrators are hard at work employing its techniques to fill our ears with their “reality,” and blind us to opportunities for a new and better life. But you and I can do something about that: look don’t listen.

Wayne Hanson
I'm a writer and Dianetics counselor who lives in Sacramento, Calif. I have a wonderful life, a creative career, a loving family, and I would not trade places with anyone. I do have a dog who poops on the rug.