McMartin Mass Hysteria
In the beach towns of L.A., back in the 1980s, the McMartin Preschool molestation trial was a huge news story. I'm not sure if it got much coverage here in Northern California.
The accusations against the McMartin family grew more bizarre every day, until it turned into a sordid story of satanic ritual abuse reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. The McMartins' attorneys claimed that the child psychologists investigating the case had pressured the children into making things up. Today, more than 20 years later, one of the key child witnesses stepped forward to say he indeed made it all up to to try to please the adults in his life:
Los Angeles Times, "McMartin Pre-Schooler: 'I Lied'"
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A prime example of why one shouldn't believe everything one hears, even if "everyone" is repeating it. If it seems like mass hysteria, it's very likely it is mass hysteria. As Robert Heinlein once said: "If 'everybody knows' such-and-such, then it ain't so, by at least ten thousand to one."
A contemporary example: Lately, I've had conversations with several people that take it as given that recent hurricane activity is a result of global climate change. It's a credible speculation, but nobody knows. There is so much chaos in short-term weather trends that scientists can't draw any conclusions.