Martin Savidge: When we talk about da Vinci and your book, how much is true and how much is fabricated in your storyline?
Dan Brown: 99 percent of it is true. All of the architecture, the art, the secret rituals, the history, all of that is true... [A]ll that is fiction, of course, is that there's a Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon, and all of his action is fictionalized. But the background is all true.
— CNN Sunday Morning, interview with Dan Brown, aired May 25, 2003
Have you ever picked up a work by a creator who claims (or strongly implies) that his writing is based on thorough and careful research, only to discover what you are actually holding is a steaming pile of lazy assumptions or outright lies?
Congratulations, you've been Dan Browned.
Some authors and writers will admit that they take advantage of Acceptable Breaks from Reality, the Rule Of Cool, the Rule of Funny, or any of the other Rules of Whatever. Some acknowledge freely that Reality Is Unrealistic, and admit that it affects the choices they make in their works. And the audience, in turn, will forgive a Necessary Weasel or two as long as the story is engaging and the contradictions aren't too egregious. However, the Dan Browns of this world will not admit that they do this. They claim that their work is carefully researched and entirely accurate; with the exception of some fictionalized elements which will be obvious to the reader, what they offer is as factual as the encyclopedia.
Why they do this varies: perhaps a work which they can call nonfiction seems more serious than a work of fiction, or it will attract a "better" readership, or it will increase the author's standing among "real" experts in history, geology, religious studies, etc.
Some genres and media tend to be free from Dan Browning by their very nature. Comic books, cartoons, manga and anime very rarely make claims of authenticity. Advertising examples are rare, largely because of truth-in-advertising laws; companies are allowed to make all sorts of claims about their products as long as they avoid making clear statements of fact.
Named after (of course) Dan Brown, who (as the page quote should make painfully clear) is rather fond of asserting that most of the stuff that goes into his thrillers is actually true. Even though it's child's play to find errors of fact in them.
Not to be confused with Ben Drowned in any way.
See also: Critical Research Failure, Conviction by Counterfactual Clue (formerly "Encyclopedia Browned"), Based on a Great Big Lie, Technobabble. Compare Documentary Of Lies, when the Dan Browning media is marketed as a documentary, and Mockumentary, where Blatant Lies is the whole point.
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Chick Tracts claim with 100% sincerity that they expose the truth behind D&D, the Vatican, evolution, Halloween, Wicca, atheists, homosexuality and many other aspects of modern life. Needless to say, they're a source of Bile Fascination. He often tries to back up his claims by including quotations from books that he supposedly used to research the claims he makes in his tracts. Anyone paying attention will quickly notice that most if not all of these books have been published by Chick himself, making it pretty obvious that he only uses books that agree with his presuppositions.
Twenty One is supposed to be "Based on a True Story." The tagline was "The story of five students who changed the game... forever." Even aside from the libertiesnote See this. they took with the actual people involved, they also make blatant errors about gambling and math in a movie that is about how a bunch of MIT students beat blackjack. Errors like Mickey Rosa lecturing about the Monty Hall Problem in a Calculus class. What's wrong with that? This:
One student gives the answer that is correct under the usual assumptions, without actually explaining how he got to that answer. Mickey then starts asking questions like "What if he would only give you the choice to switch if you picked the right one?" Possibilities like that completely destroy the standard solution to that problem, but the student says it doesn't matter, it's a strict math problem and is praised for it.
In a later discussion, one of the players is talking about whether to split 8's against an Ace. This is a strict math problem, given that the rules of casino games are pretty standard, stated up front, and often enforced by law. The character then gives an intuitive, non-mathematical explanation and gets it wrong.
The character in question is close to graduating, and so should be in a fairly advanced Calculus course. They're being taught Newton's method, which is really some rather basic stuff covered back in the first month of Calculus 1.
Also, anyone who has ever worked in a casino will tell you that if someone is caught counting cards while playing, they will simply be escorted out of the casino and blacklisted, not beaten to a pulp.
The Day After Tomorrow is doubly Dan Browned, in that the movie was widely publicized as being based on the factual book The Coming Global Superstorm, the book even gets a credit in the film and the typical tactic of playing on current real world fears was employed and at the time there were articles of the sort of Could Ice Age occur overnight with quotes like It may just be a movie. But to environmentalists, there is more than a kernel of truth in the catastrophic scenarios depicted in the upcoming summer flick The Day After Tomorrow. However if you really want a solid night's entertainment call your friendly neighborhood meteorologist, and offer to treat him to a showing of The Day After Tomorrow. One group did; Here's the result.. Here's where the Double-Dan-Browning comes in: The Coming Global Superstorm, the "factual" book it was based on, was written by Art Bell (one of the hosts of Coast To Coast AM) and Whitley Strieber (who wrote Communion, an account of his own abduction by extraterrestrials). At one point, they reason that the latest Ice Age can be traced back to pre-historic High Tech. Damn those Atlantians and their carbon dioxide! The book's sole claim on any connection to reality is that there is a school of thought among climatologists that once CO2 emissions reach a certain critical tipping point, whatever is going to happen (and the only real consensus on what will happen is that it's really going to suck) will happen fast... but notthatfast.
Mission To Mars was supposed to have a physicist as a consultant to get the details right. It seems he was ignored.
David Mamet's Redbelt gets very little correct in its portrayal of Mixed Martial Arts. There were a number of experts consulted on the film, and this fact was touted in promotional materials, but they were mostly old-school MMA fighters, and they have little interaction with the modern version of the sport. Overall, the film gets very little right about MMA or the fight business.
There are a great many reasons why the marble gimmick could never catch on or be legally practiced in the United States. The most glaring reason is that no athletic commission would allow competitors to fight handicapped, with an arm tied down.
Chiwetel Ejiofor's character is offered an opportunity to make his MMA debut days before the event begins. There are numerous reasons why this would and could not happen.
Ejiofor is offered an outrageous sum of money for a debuting, unknown fighter on the undercard. The sum is also not divided into show/win purses. It's apparently a flat fee, whether or not he wins. Only on rare occasions do headliners work out special deals that do not include win purses, and it's usually in exchange for a percentage of the event's profits.
Given that Mamet is himself a Brazilian Jujitsu blackbelt, you'd expect the pure BJJ portrayed in the film to be accurate, but it's not without implausible sections to the trained eye. When Ejiofor fights John Machado, the BJJ technical advisor for the film, his character goes for a rear naked choke from a standing position, which is a very poor tactic with a low chance of success.
Director Ridley Scott made numerous public statements about his intention to make Gladiator as historically accurate as possible. To support this goal, he hired several historians to serve as advisers. However, he made so many choices that were historically inaccurate that one adviser quit in protest and another (Kathleen Coleman of Harvard University) refused to allow her name to be put in the credits. The most aggravating thing, to many historians, is that many of the inaccuracies were completely unnecessary — getting it right wouldn't have made the film any less interesting or exciting.
Marcus Aurelius wasn't murdered.
By the time the movie is set, the borders between Germania and the Roman Empire were firmly established as the Rhine and Danube rivers and had been for over 150 years. There were raids in both directions, but not an ongoing war of conquest.
The Marcomannic Wars did rage for much of Marcus Aurelius' reign, and he was in the middle of a successful campaign in Germania when he died. This bit's really just an oversimplification rather than made up.
Even the name of the Colosseum — which Russell Crowe's character refers to multiple times — is wrong. At the time in question, what we now call the Colosseum was referred to as the Flavian Amphitheater.
Maximus's name doesn't even make a lot of sense. "Maximus" would more likely be a (somewhat grandiose) cognomen, meaning it should come after the family name (ie, Cicero being the cognomen of Marcus Tulius Cicero.) "Decimus" might be a family name but more logically would be a given name (for the tenth kid) while "Meridius" is more like a name part very few had (having to do with place of birth—Roman males could in theory have up to eight parts of their names. Maximus's name is like a jumble of those without the most common ones, given and family.)
The costuming starts out OK, and the men's outfits even stay OK, by Hollywood standards. But the leading lady's outfit, by the end, is basically "a modern dress designer's idea of what a Victorian's idea of a Roman dress would look like".
That caption, halfway through the movie, that says "Zucchabar - Roman Province"? Not so. (This is particularly egregious, since they could easily have said "Zucchabar - Roman Province of Mauretania."
Mel Gibson hyped The Passion Of The Christ as a totally accurate reenactment of the New Testament and then proceeded to make stuff up. The androgynous devil with the ugly baby, the crow that attacked the criminal for mocking Jesus, and other bits of melodrama. Some of those extra details are not in the Bible accounts; however, the Catholic Church in particular has a history of saints and mystics who claim to have had visions of the Passion, which Gibson used as source material for the movie. Some of it was just artistic license, of course.
Any work that claims to be "the true story of King Arthur"—including the 2004 film King Arthur, which includes the claim in the damn tagline, falls under this trope. The film had medievalists and Arthur buffs in tears before it was ever released. For those who aren't historians or Arthurian buffs, here's what is known about "The True Story Of King Arthur": There's lots of different stories; they were written at different times by different people; they're all popular; and nobody knows for sure if there even was a "King Arthur" for there to be a "true story" of.
The movie The Fourth Kind claims it was based on non-resolved cases of disappearance in a small village in Alaska, and use so-called archive footage of a psychologist who has done research on these cases, while in fact she never existed, and the police said the disappearances were probably related to alcohol and bad weather.
Hidalgo, about a horse race across the Arabian Peninsula, was billed as being based on a true story; that of Frank Hopkins, a self-proclaimed "three times winner of the title of 'World's Greatest Horseman'". Viggo Mortenson, the star, and John Fusco, the screenwriter have both publicly proclaimed the story is largely accurate. Research indicates otherwise.
The Longriders Guild (an international association of long-distance riders), and the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have all been unable to find any evidence of a race like the "Oceans of Fire", despite the movie's claim that it was an annual event with a "1,000-year history" and was supposedly held as recently as the 1890s.
According to Dr. Aw Al-Bawdi, director of research at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, "There is absolutely no record or reference to Hopkins, with or without his mustangs, ever setting foot on Arabian soil."
John Fusco, the screenwriter, has offered quotes from former distance-riders and friends of Hopkins, Walt and Edith Pyle and Lt. Col. William Zimmerman, however, these mostly amount to testimony about Hopkins' character and recounting of the stories as they heard them from Hopkins in the first place. The books Fusco cited are all largely discredited as they all used the same original source, Albert Harris's 1941 The Blood Of The Arab. Harris's information came entirely from Frank Hopkins.
Even Nina Heyn, Disney’s Executive Director of International Publicity, admitted (quoted from this article, page 11) "No one here really cares about the historical aspects. Once a picture has been shot, people move on to others. ... If it transpires that the historical aspects are in question, I do not think people would care that much. Hidalgo is a family film. It has little to do with reality."
Here's an Arab scholar's review of the factual accuracy of Hidalgo.
300 director Zack Snyder stated that "the events are 90% accurate. It's just in the visualization that's crazy. I've shown this movie to world-class historians who have said it's amazing. They can't believe it's as accurate as it is." and observed that the film was primarily inspired by contemporary depictions and records of warfare, which, give or take some of the fantastic elements and "crazy visualisations", it did a fair job of representing. The problem is that the "90% accurate" statement is referring to his faithfulness to his source: Frank Miller's comic book. It is quite faithful to the comic, which was based in turn on sources that are known to be highly factually inaccurate, coming as they do from highly biased authors. It's the "world-class historians who have said it's amazing" part that causes it to be an example of this, as it implies that the film has a high level of factual accuracy.
The way Movie!Spartans break the line. The entire basis of Spartan fighting was the hoplite phalanx, and one of the primary reasons behind its effectiveness was cohesion AKA not breaking the lines to showboat.
Spartans wore armor in a fight - not leather speedos
The depiction of the fighting is only a small part of the inaccuracies: For example, Spartans, while known for their warrior culture, were not actually famous for "never retreating, never surrendering" — The battle of Thermopylae was an exception. The film depicts the titular 300 Spartans as being the only soldiers who stayed behind for the last stand, when the army actually consisted of a thousand men, less than a quarter of them Spartans. Some historians assume that Greek army was almost 7000 strong.
The depiction of Persians draws heavy criticism, due to the demonization that occurred in order to give the heroic, freedom-loving Spartans "proper villains." In truth, the Spartans held two-fifths of the Peloponnese as a slave-state ruled by an ultraconservative military elite, though Spartan women were much more empowered than other Greek women. The Persians, on the other hand, were known by their contemporaries for their enlightened rule.
Some may see an undercurrent of Western reason and empiricism triumphing over Eastern religion and mysticism. The real Spartans were at least as religious and mystical as anyone else depicted in the movie.
The Spinosaurus being able to snap a T. rex's neck; the third movie's "dinosaur consultant" went on record claiming this was actually possible. In reality, a Spinosaurus's jaws were too weak to do so and their hands and arms were anatomically incapable of holding on to the T-Rex in the manner it does. In this case, the inaccuracies may be a result of the production crew actually listening to the technical adviser. The films' general consultant was Jack Horner, who is notorious in the paleontological community for his decades-long crusade arguing that Big T's badass reputation was overblown (specifically, he thought the animal was a big, lumbering, carrion eater rather than a relatively agile active predator), a crusade that even he is reluctantly admitting turned out to be wrong.
Lampshaded by Dr. Grant's remarks at his lecture at the beginning of the movie: he does not consider the Jurassic Park creatures true dinosaurs, but rather genetically engineered monsters. This is shown again by the completely impossible behavior of the Pteranodons. The actual inaccuracies and accuracies in the pterosaurs of the movie are too numerous to list here but anyone who would like to actually look it up can read the Stock Dinosaurs Non Dinosaurs page, which has a whole folder dedicated to describing pterosaurs.
Between The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III, Velociraptors were discovered to have been feathered. To fix this, the raptors in III were given "quill-like structures" (see The Other Wiki on Velociraptor) - apparently actual bird-like feathers would have disrupted the raptors' appearance too much.
This is briefly touched on above but everything here is perfectly justified: It's a theme park. Hammond and his team designed the dinosaurs to look exactly like what he thought people wanted to see as opposed to anything historically accurate. He's not too far wrong either; no many would have paid the doubtlessly high entry fee to see a raptor that looks like an ostrich.
Patch Adams, very much so. Not only is much of the real Hunter Adams' work about keeping good spirits to improve health flanderized into "do funny stuff to sick people", but Adams is given a romantic love interest who distrusts men due to being molested in her childhood and is later murdered by a crazed patient. Said love interest was actually a male coworker in real life, who Adams never had a relationship with and was never molested. Only the fact that they were murdered is accurate to real life.
All movie showing Vikings wearing horned helmets and claiming to represent historical Vikings would fall under this trope. Horns on the sides of a helmet would actually be quite dangerous to the wearer, as they provide a handle for an opponent to grab and use to control the wearer's mobility, making it much easier to kill them.
As the trope title shows, Dan Brown is so well known for this he gets his own example page. An alternate title for this article could almost be "Historians Hate Dan Brown" because of just how much he does this and how far off from the truth he goes.
Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh sued Dan Brown for copyright infringement of their 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail for his 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code. In this book, Baigent, Leigh, and co-author Henry Lincoln advanced the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a child and that the bloodline continues to this day. The lawsuit was decided in Brown's favor, in no small part because Holy Blood, Holy Grail was presented and marketed as nonfiction, and you can't copyright facts. They might also have been justifiably a bit sore by Dan Brown naming the book's villain (Leigh Teabing) after them.
DaleBrown, a writer known for several rather "creative" interpretations of military aircraft innovations also does this a lot.
Particularly notable was his Sky Masters which featured a wildly inaccurate portrayal of the Philippine government and the mention of the Philippine Air Force having F-4 Phantoms, whereas in real life the PAF never had any F-4s in service. Made all the worse by having all the inaccurate facts presented alphabetically in a "fact page."
Dale has an orbital weapons platform parked over the North Pole, at shuttle-orbit altitude, in Flight of the Old Dog. Unfortunately, you can't "park" a satellite anywhere except at 22,300 miles altitude along the equator, where its orbital period is the same as Earth's rotation.
Any attempt to make a stealthy B-52 would be pointless, as the combined changes would have resulted in an entirely new aircraft with nothing in common with a B-52.
Swedish author Liza Marklund published two novels about a woman abused, beaten and threatened by her Muslim boyfriend, subtitling them "true stories" and opening the books with a statement that only names and places had been changed, the rest were all fact. Like Dan Brown, she then proceeded to make this claim in countless interviews and articles, and used the books as evidence in political debates. Then in late 2008 a woman named Monica Antonsson published a book pointing out the enormous factual errors in the book (for instance, the boyfriend wasn't actually a Muslim), proving that the book was almost entirely fiction. Marklund then stated that the book was never meant to be taken as true, only loosely based on truth. The Swedes had been Dan Browned. And were mad about it. Since then, the books have been presented and sold as fiction. However, this was after Liza Marklund became famous for her crime fiction. The first book was also published as not written by Liza Marklund at all. She was a mere ghost writer.
Gavin Menzies for a series of books on the Chinese discovering the world - problem is nearly every piece of supposed evidence in support of this thesis is mangled, misused and thoroughly abused, including many whose history is not only known but in direct contradiction of any possible Chinese involvement including a tower in Boston built by one of the founding fathers of the city which somehow became Chinese. Perhaps the strangest nonsense is that he relies on a major east-west Pacific current travelling the wrong direction, despite having been a submarine captain who sailed the area, and where such information is central to the job (though he WAS fired for incompetence). Seemingly he had submitted a non-fiction work that was reasonably factual however the publisher rejected it and asked him to rewrite it as fiction - too bad it was then marketed as historical non-fiction. Destroyed Gavin's credibility as a historian forever.
His newest book, The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History's Greatest Mystery Revealed (pub. 2011) takes the 'country maintains intercontinental empire' theme to its logical conclusion by claiming that the Atlantean-Minoan civilisation had a half-world-spanning-empire from India to the Americas - one which nobody in the historical or anthropological communities noticed before, apparently.
Go Ask Alice is presented, and was marketed for years, as the actual diary of a teenage drug abuser who died of an overdose, but is now known to be a work of fiction by its "editor", Beatrice Sparks. Sparks has since published several other books which she claims are the real diaries of troubled teens but, although the families of the people involved admit that some of her writings might be based on actual patients she's worked with, it's pretty much generally accepted that her books are works of fiction, if for no other reason than the "this is a work of fiction" disclaimer in the beginning.
Tom Clancy books tend to go into painstaking detail on lots of things like fighter jet steering and military technology and Clancy had accrued a lot of "accuracy cred". The story goes that some of the descriptions of naval architecture and procedure were so accurate that the navy interviewed him in an attempt to find out how he got those details. The interviewers left bemused that he'd apparently just made some very accurate deductions. Of course, back then he was writing the Tom Clancy brand himself, and was working closely with navy buff Larry Bond of Harpoon fame. However, in Executive Orders where he described the makeup of an Armored Cavalry Regiment in action, his descriptions of the vehicles, and unit TO&Es are insanely off-base. He had published a non-fiction book detailing the equipment, organization, and tactics of an Armored Cavalry Regiment two years before. This reveals a major problem with the "accuracy cred" the books get: Tom Clancy has licensed his name, and the authors who hold licenses to use it vary widely in how much research they do.
Philippa Gregory, in works such as The Other Boleyn Girl, in which, among numerous other mistakes, she cuts out Mary Boleyn's promiscuous past, and portrays Anne Boleyn as an evil woman and that the charges against her (such as sex with her brother) as accurate. Gregory tends to refrain from actually claiming that her novels are perfectly accurate and is open about the fact that she invents some things, but the inaccuracies in The Other Boleyn Girl are particularly glaring, and ironic given that Gregory actually does do her research. A Tudor nut can, when reading her novels, pick out plenty of scenes she took directly from historical record. Unfortunately, with The Other Boleyn Girl in particular she did the research and then threw half of it out the window.
Michael Crichton's State of Fear is guilty of this. A researcher cited actually wrote a letter to Discover magazine to complain about how the conclusions from his paper were misrepresented in the book, and several groups have said the same.
Don Quixote hangs an Older Than Steamlampshade on this situation. In the Preface of the Author, Part I, Cervantes first denounces authors who claim that the verses they use in the preface of their books commending that work (a common literary practice at the time) were made by people claimed to be famous poets, when it is easily discovered they were not, or worse yet, they were illiterate. And then, Cervantes proceeds to make some commendatory verses of his own, and attribute them to wizards, knights and damsels of other books. The following quote from a friend to Cervantes advises him to use this trope, (and to ignore the critics):
"Your first difficulty about the sonnets, epigrams, or complimentary verses which you want for the beginning, and which ought to be by persons of importance and rank, can be removed if you yourself take a little trouble to make them; you can afterwards baptise them, and put any name you like to them, fathering them on Prester John of the Indies or the Emperor of Trebizond, who, to my knowledge, were said to have been famous poets; and even if they were not, and any pedants or bachelors should attack you and question the fact, never care two maravedis for that, for even if they prove a lie against you they cannot cut off the hand you wrote it with."
Ken Follett claimed he did a lot of research for his The Pillars of the Earth, but he appears to think medieval labor was capitalist (it was guild-based) and never to have heard about how various religious orders ran orphanages, and taking in neighbor's children was routine (hint:extended families and/or godparents), so there'd be lots of options for that baby one can't care for, apart from leaving it on its mother's grave. He also repeats the very old, long-discredited idea that Beckett's canonization was a political maneuver. He doesn't understand medieval manorialism (he seems to think rents were owed individually rather than by the village collectively, reading the Post-Reformation landlord system back into the 12th century). Maybe we should amend his claim to, "I researched the architecture."
Averted by JamesRollins. His books always include a disclaimer that states, "And as always, I must stress that any and all errors of fact or detail in this book fall squarely on my own shoulders."
Jennifer Toth's book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City is listed as Non-fiction (and its Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classifications both place it in "Social Science" rather than "Fiction") and was released amid fanfare that it was an "expose" of the living conditions of the homeless living in abandoned and forgotten tunnels of New York City.
When a New York subway enthusiast named Joseph Brennan tried to verify the locations and descriptions of many of the tunnels Toth said she visited, he concluded that, aside from her description of the Riverside Park tunnel, "every fact in this book that I can verify independently is wrong." This includes the location of tunnels, the age of tunnels, the size of tunnels, and how many tracks there are going in and out of stations. He makes no judgment about the living conditions, or the existence of orderly communities with "mayors" that Toth said exist, but concludes that the physical descriptions are virtually all bosh.
Cecil Adams, in his The Straight Dope column of March 5th, 2004, recounts talking to Cindy Fletcher, a woman who Toth herself put him in touch with when he asked her to identify someone who could corroborate her findings, who had lived in the tunnels in the early 90's (about the same time Toth was gathering the material for her book). Fletcher has this to say about the supposed Mole People: "I'm not saying the book is not true, I just never experienced the things [Toth] said she saw," and "There are no leaders down there." Adams' conclusion: "One draws the obvious conclusion: Parts of Toth's book are true, parts of it aren't, and you take your chances deciding which are which."
In the essay Individuality, which is published in nonfiction anthologies, Robert Ingersoll attacks the ignorance of the Catholic Church, so you would expect him to be knowledgeable in contrast as a leading freethinker. Yet he writes, 'I believe it was Magellan who said, "The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church."' A round earth had been the prevailing consensus within a few hundred years after the church began, we can tell this makes no sense for anyone from the age of sail to say. So it wasn't an honest misattribution from another explorer to Magellan, but a quote Ingersoll obviously fabricated, to say what he wishes Magellan had said.
In the bestselling book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, he identifies himself as a very wealthy and successful real-estate broker. However, several experts in real-estate have pointed that the deals and businesses supposedly done by Kiyosaki in the book are either extremely unlikely or impossible to happen in Real Life, or even outright illegal (plus one of his critics did the research on some of the deals done by Robert and couldn't find any reference of them even existing), in addition some of his advice, like explaining how to use an own corporation for deducting vacations, meals, travel expenses...etc. would get you into trouble with IRS for tax fraud. He does explain that his examples are simplified in the book and to consult lawyers before doing anything.
Reed also doubts that Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad" even exists ... he could find no record of any businessperson in Hawaii during Kiyosaki's childhood who matches his description (Poor Dad, on the other hand, seems to be Kiyosaki's own father).
Carlos Castaneda's books are supposedly derived from his Ph.D fieldwork with the Yaqui Indians. However, skeptical researchers have concluded that practically everything about them that is subject to verification does not check out, and the academic consensus is that he invented most of his content.
A Million Little Pieces, until that fateful Oprah interview ...
Memoirs of a Geisha. The author heavily insinuates the factual nature of the book, and then reveals it's all made up on the final page. That's not to say he didn't do his research. He just systematically ignored his findings to the point where the interviewee had to release her own book correcting all the misconceptions raised. Oh, and she contributed under condition of anonymity, which the author dutifully dismissed as a parting blow.
Unfortunately, the interviewee, Mineko Iwasaki, did the exact same thing, albeit for a different reason. While Arthur Golden pandered to his audience's expectations, she whitewashed the profession both as a pardon to the geisha community and to salvage her reputation. She effectively stated that the entire academic community in America and Japan was wrong, and sex was never once involved in the geisha history... despite listing no research materials. And, while the Gion Kobu district is highly prestigious, she trumped it Up to Eleven.
Star Wars Expanded Universe author and Promoted Fanboy professor Curtis Saxton did some impressive research on the Star Wars movies, and whose analysis led to the official length of the Executor-Class Super Star Destroyers being resized to 19 kilometers, up from 8. His fans swear up and down by him. Skeptics and critics however couldn't help but notice the numerous multiple order of magnitude overestimations, to the point where some accuse him of ignoring the setting and trying to rewrite it to win the online vs. debate which he denied being a part of, but was heavily suspected of being involved despite that. His critics don't accuse him of botching his calculations so much as deliberately using non-existent constraints that would increase his figures or ignoring anything that would involve reducing his figures even if the higher figure is literally the only example of the higher instance and there are hundreds of other instances that support a lower figure (he concluded that there are invisible light speed turbolasers and that the bolt we see is some sort of tracker because there is exactly one case of the destruction happening slightly before the bolt hits as opposed to the hundreds of other times). Another problematic calculation involved a belief that when engaging in planetary-scale scorched earth policy, the Star Destroyer must be powerful enough to burn the world within an hour, as to prevent anyone from escaping. Ignoring that there are fleet elements called Pursuit Lines that are meant to track down escaping ships, and hundred ship fleet configurations called system bombards specifically meant to wipe out planets they don't want the Rebels to claim so the Star Destroyer doesn't need to do the operation itself, the movies themselves have repeatedly shown that multiple Star Destroyers are unable to prevent even single ships from escaping planets, the Millennium Falcon doing so three times.
MichelleRemembers was a book published in 1980 by psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder detailing the satanic ritual abuse of one of his patients named Michelle Smith. According to the book, a five-year-old Michelle was tortured and abused by her mother and a Satanic cult, witnessed several murders by said cult, all of which ended with an 81 day ritual that summoned none other than Lucifer himself and the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Michael the Archangel. Then people actually started checking the accuracy of the book, and could find absolutely zero evidence that Michelle's mother was abusive or involved with any kind of cult. There was no record of a car crash that was mentioned in the book. There was no record of Michelle being absent from school for any lengthy periods, and certainly not for 81 days. Many people from Smith's past dismissed the book as "the hysterical ravings of an uncontrolled imagination" and the book itself has been criticized for helping spread the satanic ritual abuse panic aka "satanic panic" of the 1980s.
William Struse stated on his twitter account that "The 13th Enumeration" is the same genre as Dan Brown's stuff "except the 13th Enumeraiton is based on true history. :)"
According to Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Fa Mulan's parents carved their names and desires into her back. This has no basis in any existing version of Mulan's legend and was likely taken from a similar legend about Yue Fei, a male warrior. Kingston also claims that the Chinese character for woman contains the character for slave. While this is technically true, this is meant to indicate the character's pronunciation rather than to equate females with slaves.
Australian novelist Joan Lindsay suggests in the prologue that her novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, best known outside of Australia for the Peter Weir-directed film version, was based on actual police reports of a mysterious disappearance from 1900. But Valentine's Day of that year was a Wednesday, not a Saturday, and no one has been able to find any evidence of the events depicted, or even that the girls' school in the story existed (it may have been based on Lindsay's real school).
Henry H. Goddard's 1912 book The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness was considered one of the key documents of the eugenics movement. Goddard worked with a mentally challenged woman whom he gave the pseudonym Deborah Kallikak. Looking at her family history he discovered that a Revolutionary War veteran (Martin Kallikak) had two families of descendents: his legitimate family, who were upper class, and the descendents of a son (Martin Kallikak Jr) he fathered in an extramarital fling, who were poor with alleged criminal tendencies and mental deficiencies. Well-received when it was released, the book was eventually discredited along with eugenics itself. Goddard renounced it later in life. Even so, modern studies of the Kallikak family show that, eugenics aside, the book was, in one writer's words, "fiction woven from the fabric of half-truths and hearsay." Goddard exaggerated the good and bad qualities of the two families, and much of the research was based on vague second-and-third-hand accounts and faulty memories. One genealogist has even suggested that the very core of Goddard's thesis was based on an error: Martin Jr wasn't Martin Sr's son at all, he was a cousin who happened to have the same name. Furthermore, Deborah Kallikak (who spent 81 of her 89 years institutionalized) showed plenty of signs of intelligence and the extent of her "feeble-mindedness" was probably what would now be called a learning disability.
Snow Crash, while it never actually claims to be a work of non-fiction, intersperses all the cyberpunkery and action scenes with lengthy infodumps and author filibusters on three principal subjects: linguistics, religious history, and computer science. The principles presented in all these cases are presented by the author as factual, but tend to be wildly inaccurate on all three subjects.
Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper - Case Closed where crime novelist Patricia Cornwell zeroes in on British painter Walter Sickert as the world's most notorious serial killer. Evidence that Sickert was in Paris during four of the five Ripper killings is rather blithely brushed aside by Cornwell, among other things. Other "Ripperologists" have blasted the book and Cornwell's research methods and conclusions. Read historian and novelist Caleb Carr's excoriating review of the book here.
This trope is parodied, played for laughs, or perhaps deconstructed by William Goldman in his book ThePrincessBride. From the foreword to the ending, and the various afterwords in later editions, the author continually insists that the book is an abridged form of a much older literary work. He cites communications with the estates of the original author, S. Morgenstern, as well as with the governments and citizens of Florin and Guilder. Despite the absurdity of many of his facts, the glaring inconsistencies between the autobiographical information he provides and his real life, and the fact that anyone with a small knowledge of the currency of the Netherlands would very quickly catch his lie, there are still some who read this book and believe that these places exist.
Live Action TV
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: At least they've stopped trying to claim it's accurate. In fact, the technical advisor invoked the MST3K Mantra (not quite in so many words) in an interview, saying essentially that the show focuses more on the character drama than the tedious, painstaking, underfunded work that is real life forensics.
Bones: After a few biological anthropology and forensic courses, the science portion of the show just becomes too ridiculous and outright silly. Sadly, this has led to quite a few hopeful forensic anthropology undergrads taking the show's "facts" as, well, fact, when most of the storylines are exaggerated for drama. What makes this a Dan Browning rather than simple research failure is that the fact that Kathy Reichs (a former respected forensic anthropologist) is a producer of the show was highly touted as an implied mark of accuracy. In this case, there's evidence that it was the marketing department that did the Dan Browning, and it wasn't intended by the creators: An executive producer, responding to a question about Kathy Reichs's involvement in the show, said this: "Somewhere we got rated as the most accurate of the forensics shows — it was Popular Mechanics or Popular Science... We Just laughed." and Reichs has acknowledged that forensics shows in general are usually incredibly misleading about what actually happens and about how reliable existing methods are.
Numb3rs: The show often forgets little things like uncertainty, noise, statistical significance, common sense, and the most important problem with statistics: interpretation of the results.
House's Dan Browning is notable because of all the obscure medical information they get right, but then they make basic mistakes like shocking a flatline. The blog Polite Dissent devotes an entire section to Medical Reviews of House. Probably the best Take That was when it was pointed out it was far, far more likely for unusual symptoms to just be a common illness displaying unusual symptoms rather than being some obscure disease that no one has ever seen before. House has gone both ways, depending on the episode.
Doctor Who script editor Donald Tosh once went on record as claiming the story The Gunfighters, set around the 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral, was historically accurate. Even though it gets such minor details as who was killed during the shootout and who was there wrong, along with making up fictional family members for the real-life participants.
Deadliest Warrior and its many accusations deserve mention here since it boasts the presence of "experts" to justify the experiments, and because it claims that the computer simulations are sound. Questions have been raised about the level of expertise the experts have; the validity of the weapons testing procedures (especially using two different scenarios to test comparable weapons, for instance, using a pig carcass to test the Bowie knife and a ballistics gel torso to test the stiletto in Jesse James vs. Al Capone); how much weight is assigned to the weapons as opposed to the tactics the various warriors used, and whether the simulation-program algorithm produces results that would translate accurately to Real Life. The last is a big-deal...one of the most important principles in science is repeatability, and the program is a black box. Nobody knows how it works except the guy who runs it!
One of the hosts is known to have lied about his background in the military, leaving the show as a result. This puts into question the rest of the show.
The level of Dan Browning was at its worst in season one (for example, 75% of William Wallace's arsenal wasn't invented until centuries after he died), and they tried to avert this trope more and more as the show went on. That said, season three does have one glaring case: Joan of Arc was a Badass Pacifist, not an Action Girl*
although one could argue this was done for fairness and/or theatrics
Some of the History Channel's programs (ones dealing with conspiracy theories and such) are notorious for this. One example:
The pre-Columbian "golden flyers" are known to be stylized depictions of flying fish. The program only showed the most stylized, leaving out those that were undeniably fish.
Another example of an "alien spacecraft" that looked vaguely birdlike, it could never be a bird because "no bird has a vertical rudderlike tail". Behold, the Greater Antillean Grackle◊ found all throughout South America and the Caribbean islands.
Tiwanaku/Tiahuanco is 1,400 years old, nowhere near the 17,000 they claim.
The oldest Sanskrit document is 1,700 years old; the oldest work (the Rig Veda) is roughly 3,400 years old. Sanskrit as a language didn't even exist 6,000 years ago; the precursor language Proto-Indo-European did, however, but it would be just as accurate to call that language "Old English" or "Latin" or "Bulgarian" as "Sanskrit" — they're all equally removed from it on the development tree.
One show argued that a carving of a flying bird found in an Egyptian tomb was really a model of an ancient glider, and "proved" it by taking a flight simulator, programming in the aerodynamic characteristics of the model, and demonstrated that it did have some flight capability. Think about it: because the model of a flying bird in a gliding position showed some gliding potential, it therefore wasn't a bird at all but an aircraft. Because apparently gliding birds can't fly, or something.
In the 2012 episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded, they frequently refer to an "ancient Hopi prophecy" that's "thousands" of years old. Said "prophecy" was never even heard of before 1959, and the Hopi have even stated that it's not theirs.
Also, the Hopi are maybe 700 years old, as a distinct people, and probably only about 500.
Both Roots and Roots: The Next Generation are supposed to have been based on the true biographical and autobiographical works of Alex Haley who claimed to have written the two books (later turned into mini-series) about his family. In one part, Alex himself travels to Africa and finds a Griot (storyteller) who connects him with his past. After some research, it's discovered that much of the information about the original African slave, Kunta Kinte, is "borrowed" from another book, called The African and the Griot who confirmed the story was heavily coached.
Earlier editions of the roleplaying game Ninjas and Superspies and later supplement Mystic China had great detail about a large number of martial arts, claiming to have come from exhaustive research. Much of this information was either wrong or changed radically to serve the goals of creating interesting plot hooks in the game world; nonetheless, to this very day the descriptions from the original game appear verbatim in discussions of real-life martial arts styles. This includes such pieces of fallacious trivia as the "fact" that Wing Chun, one of the more popular kung fu styles available and one of the original/core styles first studied by Bruce Lee is only taught to women.
The Revised Edition, Eighth Printing copy of Ninjas and Superspies has as Quiet Disclaimer number one that the martial arts described therein are not to be confused with those of the real world and that the author has made stuff up. This disclaimer is found on the first page after the table of contents.
FATAL. FATAL claims to be "the most difficult, detailed, realistic and historically/mythically accurate role-playing game available." (Emphasis added.) That was followed by this statement from the author of the game: "The odds in FATAL are that if you attack a character with a weapon, then they are likely to die. By the way, this is an obvious attempt at realism", because, of course, most attacks with any weapon in real life are likely to be fatal. Except that, statistically, they aren't now, and they weren't in the Middle Ages, either. Or, again, the author's own words: "I searched for information on sexually transmitted diseases in the Middle Ages. Although I did not search with vigor, the few times that I have searched, I have failed to find any information." A Google search on ["sexually transmitted disease in the Middle Ages"] (including the quotes but without the brackets) produces 3 sites directly addressing the subject in some detail on the first page of results, including one that was a review of a book on "Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages". He certainly "did not search with vigor" if he missed those references. Let's not even go into the "mythologically accurate" claim.
Women, in FATAL, are arbitrarily worse than men at some things and better than men at others. He uses Aristotle as backup for these shifts, which include morality changes that make women more toward the Chaotic Evil end of the spectrum. He might have gotten away with it if he hadn't then said, "these are our justifications assuming [Aristotle] isn't wrong."
Further Aristotelian insights upon which you might like to base your own highly-realistic RPG: Flies have four legs. Men have more teeth than women. Oh, and the brain's purpose is cooling the blood - it's the region around the heart that's responsible for thinking.
FATAL characters of low intelligence get to roll for bonus "Retard Strength". Byron Hall answered criticism of this mechanic with anecdotes about nursing sourced to "some females I knew in college".
FATAL Also claims that the medieval diet consisted almost exclusively of bread and beer, completely omitting the critical nutritional role played by legumes. The importance of legumes is mentioned in the very first page found when searching "medieval diet" on Google. The equipment section lists prices for food, again completely leaving out legumes of any sort.
Anything that is thoroughly disproven gets retconned (like the original name) or tossed into the "controversial humor" bin (which is an increasingly large list of things).
Music Quiz 2 on the iPod has at least two questions where the so-called "correct" answer is wrong:
"How many great composers called Bach were there?": the "correct" answer is 2, but according to That Other Wiki the correct answer is at least 3 — Johann Sebastian, and his sons Carl Philip Emmanuel and Johann Christian. The Harvard Dictionary of Music has six different Bachs listed, and considering the whole family was full of musicians and composers, there may be more, but it depends on what the definition of "great" is.
"Which of these composers were not from the Classical era?": the "correct" answer is Strauss, which is OK as far as it goes (the two Johanns were from the Romantic era, Richard was from the Modern), but another of the possible choices is Bach, and the most famous Bach was from (indeed, almost defined) the Baroque, which predates the Classical.
In-Universe Example: Oblivion has Quill-Weave, who claims to have found no magic in the Doom Stones, and is writing a novel on it. This, of course, is completely wrong, as they clearly use magic.
The Elder Scrolls being the Elder Scrolls, a few hints scattered in-game and by developers on the official forum (before and after the game's release) indicated that Quill-Weave not finding magic in the Doom Stone might not necessarily be a proof of her not having done research: the Doom Stones are suggested to have a connection to prophecy and the Heroes of Events, to the point that they might only activate for such people - which the main character is, but Quill-Weave isn't.
A frequent problem with open wikis is that anyone can edit them — regardless of their actual knowledge or intent. Blatant misinformation once presented as "fact" on The Other Wiki includes a claim that Abba's Mamma Mia is a "cover" of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (apparently on the grounds that the Abba song immediately followed the Queen one to the UK number 1 slot, and that both include the phrase "Mamma mia"). More appear (and are caught) every day.
The worst thing is how many people are prepared to believe what's on Wikipedia without question- even people who should know better. One of the worst examples was the 2007 death of British TV composer Ronnie Hazlehurst, where many supposedly respectable sources, including several national newspapers and even the BBC itself, reported he'd written an S Club 7 song, based on nothing but a joke Wikipedia edit made a couple of days before his death.
A great majority of Expert Village's videos. Because of its name, we are expected to see how-to topics covered with a good sense of mastery, but it really is a mixed bag. Every other video seems to teach the wrong techniques or completely fall against common sense, as many commenters point out the mistakes that the instructors/presenters do.
Chris Bores, who reviews video games online as The Irate Gamer, claims to do research on everything. He peppers his shows with some variation of "After doing some research..." and claims that he only reviews games from the late eighties and early nineties because he's supposedly been playing said games for 20+ years and knows them forward and backward. However, he often makes literally dozens of mistakes in a single video.
Bill Schnoebelen, who claims to be an ex-Mason, ex-Mormon, ex-Catholic, ex-Wiccan, ex-whatever-du-jour, has released a nine hour interview in which he talks about how he was an ex-vampire. It's easy enough to do some basic research and find out that almost everything he says comes from 20th century vampire movies, not traditional vampire folklore. For example, Bill claims that when he was a vampire, the sun made his skin blister. While the idea that sunlight physically harms vampires is widespread nowadays, it was actually made up for the 1922 film Nosferatu.
Christian comedian Mike Warnke claimed to have been a satanist, a satanic high priest with his own coven, and to have participated in several satanic rituals involving rape and possibly murder. His testimony was featured prominently in his speaking/comedy tours, and for a time in the mid-1980's, he was considered one of the foremost experts on satanism in the US and worked as a consultant for a number of law enforcement agencies. Then in 1992, Cornerstone Magazine did some digging and found out that Warnke's stories and dates simply didn't add up and found major discrepancies between different tellings as well as several witnesses who flatly denied Warnke's claims. Not to mention that there is, to date, no evidence whatsoever that any of the wildly hedonistic satanic rituals claimed by Warnke have ever taken place in the United States.
In Germany, Newspapers which are usually expected to do their research and claim to have done so often just copy stories from other newspapers or websites that had the story earlier. Even if those newspapers they copy from are newspapers notorious for getting stories wrong all the time, like "Bild".
A notable example was when they got a new minister's name wrong - because they just copied it from Wikipedia.
This is not limited to Germany.
An Australian TV show called Media Watch is devoted to tackling this trope in the media.
Lawrence David Kusche, a Bermuda Triangle author who did do the research, showed (in his 1975 book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved, which exposed the Triangle as the biggest and most elaborate hoax ever) that many Triangle authors just plagiarize earlier books, so that the same errors (including accounts of "incidents" which are partly or wholly fictional) keep being repeated throughout such books; the most notable probably being the tale of the Mary Celeste (one of the few genuinely mysterious stories of the area), reports of which in Triangle books usually have few if any of the details of the real incident, instead substituting details from Arthur Conan Doyle's "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" (a fictional story based on the real episode), starting with the name of the fictional ship therefrom — the Marie Celeste.
Thanks to an inaccurate description given by a 19th Century English source, the Italian card game Calabresella ended up having an simplified description in virtually every English source up to the end of the 20th century.
Science Illustrated is a particularly aggravated example. Although the magazine presents itself as a credible science journal (or at least used to,) the articles are written by journalists, and are almost never fact-checked or reviewed. At times, the articles descend into a Documentary Of Lies territory. There are articles that are correct, but for the articles dealing in subjects less familiar, personal research is strongly advised. They have openly stated that they are not a peer-reviewed scientific document, and should not be used as source material like one. The magazine simply reports about scientific articles dumbed down for general audience, usually without gross errors, but a lot of omission and ambiguities should be expected. For its credit, it usually corrects mistakes when pointed out by attentive readers.
Immanuel Velikovsky is interdisciplinarianily guilty of this trope.
Carl Sagan: Velikovsky has called attention to a wide range of stories and legends, held by diverse peoples, separated by great distances, which stories show remarkable similarities and concordances. I am not expert in the cultures or languages of any of these peoples, but I find the concatenation of legends Velikovsky has accumulated stunning. It is true that some experts in these cultures are less impressed. I can remember vividly discussing Worlds in Collision with a distinguished professor of Semitics at a leading university. He said something like “The Assyriology, Egyptology, Biblical scholarship and all of that Talmudic and Midrashic pilpul is, of course, nonsense; but I was impressed by the astronomy.” I had rather the opposite view.
Cosmopolitan magazine whenever they give advice about men is often hilariously inaccurate, adding unnecessary psychology as to what men want in bed. It's worth noting that it virtually never ever mentions the importance of communication regarding relationships and sex. This is understandable, of course - if the magazine's readers actually talked with their lovers about what they were thinking about or what they wanted, instead of secretly reading about it in Cosmo ('gaspshockhorror!' whomever could bear the shame of talking about such ''un-lady-like'' matters with their beloved?), they'd probably lose sales figures.
Gavin Menzies has determined through original research that the Chinese were the first to discover the Americas. Except almost all of his 'evidence' is either patently false or ambiguous, and the date he gives for the discovery, while before that of Columbus, is still after at least three other confirmed landings by different nations.
Chatoyance claims that her stories are perfectly accurate hard science fiction. However, critics have pointed out numerous inaccuracies, misused technical terms and wholesale fabrications in her stories.