Dan Browned

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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

What happens when a creator has been making noticeable claims—or simply strongly implying—that their work is highly researched and as correct as they can make it, only for you to quickly discover it to be a steaming pile of factual inaccuracies? When that happens, you've been Dan Browned.

Some authors and writers will admit that they're producing fiction, 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.

However, the Dan Browns of this world like to claim that what they produce is accurate fact, thinking that this somehow gives them more status, or will increase their sales.

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, Based on a Great Big Lie, Techno Babble. Compare Documentary of Lies, when the Dan Browning media is marketed as a documentary.

Examples of Dan Browned include:

Comic Books

  • Jack 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.
    • Chick 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.
    • These errors are so prevalent and so easily refuted with even the most basic research that this trope could just as easily be named "Jack Chicked." For example, the earliest extra-Biblical evidence of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was Ignatius of Antioch, who was never Pope. A simple internet search will tell you that. Similarly, he attributes things to the Jesuits that predate the Jesuit order.


  • 21 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 liberties [1] 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. 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.
  • 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 not that fast.
  • Top Gun. The technical consultant, "Viper" aka Pete Pettigrew (not that one), was pretty much ignored, and sometimes even directly overruled. Pettigrew, and the US Navy, actually let the producers put cameras on actual planes during actual combat training sessions. But the footage that came from this was deemed boring, so they reshot the scenes to be more exciting and cinematic. When it came to simple points , like how technical debriefings wouldn't be done in large open hangars nor the shower room, they were paying for Tom Cruise's ass and dammit they were going to get a shot of Tom Cruise's ass.
  • 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 on 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.
    • 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".
  • 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."
    • Finally, like the meteorologist's review of The Day After Tomorrow mentioned above, 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 depiction of the fighting is only a small part of the inaccuracies. There are many others that are more important and caused the ire of historians. 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 and made the famous last stand, when in fact, the army consisted of more than a thousand men, less than a quarter of them Spartans.
    • The depiction of Persians can only be seen as a joke. Xerxes was not a giant nor a black drag queen. Almost every fact in the movie is also false. There were no corrupted ephors neither they were freaks. Ephialtes was neither a freak nor a Spartan; he did not commit suicide. The depictions of Sparta and Thermopylae are wrong. Although the number of Persians comes from Herodotus, he is regarded as unreliable by modern historians in many instances and especially with numbers. Today the Persian army is estimated to have been 50-150,000. The number of 300 is somewhat justified since this is the number that lingered in the minds of everyone; at least 1,500 remained for the final battle and the initial headcount was down to 5,000. Modern historians also argue that the reason the 1500 stayed behind was that they were trapped, as well as that the number of Greeks in the first two days might have been more than 8,000 men.
    • Probably the biggest and most noteworthy lie were where the Spartans are depicted as freedom-loving heroes of righteousness and peace and the Persians as barbarous, enslaving monsters. The Spartans held the whole of the Peloponnese as a slave state ruled over by an ultraconservative, technologically and culturally backwards military elite. (Although Spartan women were much more empowered than other Greeks.) The Persians on the other hand were well known for their enlightened and benevolent rule. The Hebrews even called Cyrus, the founder of the empire, a messiah after he freed them from exile and authorized the construction of a new temple in Jerusalem. The war started because the Athenians had sponsored an uprising in Ionia, where ethnic Greeks lived under Persian rule. Had the Persians conquered Greece, the only major change would have been the city-states would not have been allowed to wage war with each other. This would have averted the Peloponesian War which followed the Persian defeat and ended in the fall of Hellenic civilization. On the upside, this all did prepare the way for the conquests of Alexander the Great.
    • Actually, I think the most insulting thing in the movie is how the Spartans way of fighting is portrayed. I'm talking specifically about those parts when soldiers break the line with glorious CGI effects in slow motion. The reason why that battle is important in the first place it's because it showed the superiority of the hoplite phalanx against the Persian infantry and one, if not the main, reason of why it was so effective was cohesion. Heroic battles when an individual went on killing spree rage were in the past. In fact, there was a story when an hoplite did exactly that, killing a great amount of enemies as a result, and instead of being awarded for it he was punished for breaking the phalange!
    • Also, there seems to be some sort of undercurrent of western reason and empiricism triumphing over eastern religion and mysticism. If you needed to be told, yes, the real Spartans were at least as religious and mystical as anyone else the movie depicts. All prominent forms of philosophy (which Sparta had none of) would be considered very religious today, though they were often accused of impiety at the time.
    • Amusingly enough (and the reason why the comic book doesn't have an entry on this page), Frank Miller himself went on record saying that he HAD done extensive research... and then changed the facts as needed to tell the story he wanted to tell, and that if people wanted historical accuracy they should read up history books or watch a documentary.
  • In Jurassic Park 3:
    • 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 Jurassic Park II and 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 appears to be the case about the movie China Cry: A True Story. (Yes, the words "a true story" are actually in the title).
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Dale Brown, a writer known for several rather "creative" interpretations of military aircraft innovations also does this a lot. Generally it looks like he's trying to be the second Tom Clancy, but without the same efforts. Ripping stuff from 1970s - 1990s headlines doesn't help if one doesn't really know what they meant.
    • 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.
    • For someone with fixation on the Scary Eurasian Mordor, he doesn't bother to put more than a token effort into digging details - which made him a recurring star of ru-klukva-ru. For details like Russian forces using Military Alphabet and assigning friendlies color blue. Or Russia pressuring Georgia to quell the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (the conflict was between Azerbaijan and Armenia, plus the locals, but hey, right half of the continent). Or that Ukraine is barely industrial country (in 1993) which nevertheless is covered by smog ("Mordor" above was not an exaggeration). Or the antique police ranks. And of course, inevitable Gratuitous Russian. The usual pitfalls with agreement are dodged mainly via assigning randomly shuffled Russian first names and last names from news while avoiding patronymics altogether, but deviation from this path consistently leads to hilarious results.
    • For someone with fixation on nukes, he stumbles blindly on this subject as well. Tu-95 with missiles tipped with 1 kt warheads? Or 20 kt (you'd think one can at least compare that to Hiroshima and draw obvious conclusions) makes a 9 km fireball (which would be reasonable somewhere close to 5 Mt - and yes, there are calculators for this available to public, like NUKEMAP), and so on. Which piles up until it forms insurmountable mountains like:

"We estimate it was a point seven-five kiloton thermonuclear blast -- a so-called 'backpack nuke,' actually about the size of a very large suitcase, with approximately ten kilos of fissile material, comparable to a Soviet-era one-hundred-and-thirty-millimeter tactical nuclear artillery shell. The double-pulse characteristic of a small but potent thermonuclear blast was detected from space by our thermal and nuclear detectors. [2]"

  • 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, 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.
  • 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 claims that there is "doubt" in these areas and that she is merely giving her own "interpretation," while in reality few if any historians would agree with her. The real kicker about Gregory is that she 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. And didn't admit it.
  • 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.
    • Crichton did that a lot. In The Great Train Robbery, he goes to great lengths to make it seem as if the novel is basically a non-fiction dramatization of the historical case; he quotes from courtroom documents and makes comments such as "the record does not state ... but we may reasonably assume that ...". Yet most of the novel's plot is pure fiction and happily ignores the historical facts.
    • Crichton also included realistic footnotes, end notes and a bibliography in his Eaters of the Dead, implying it is a translation of a real ancient manuscript. The reader will slowly recognize the story as a clever retelling of Beowulf.
  • Don Quixote hangs an Older Than Steam lampshade 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."
  • 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 5, 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."' But since History Marches On, and we now know that 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.
  • 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 ...
  • World War Z:
    • Even though a Zombie Apocalypse scenario is hypothetical, the author of this book called it a "realistic portrayal of a Zombie Apocalypse" and claimed that he did extensive research on what would happen during one, yet got many things wrong, among them basic human biology, the mechanics of infection, and mob psychology.
    • There's also his extremely inaccurate portrayal of firearms. Namely, Max Brooks (the novel's author) seems to believe in the myth that the .22 Long Rifle round (an extremely small and underpowered round used for shooting cans off your back fence) can penetrate the skull and "bounce around" inside the brain, killing targets in one hit. It's brought to extremes when the .22 round becomes "standard issue", even though most Americans would have larger calibre weapons, and there are much, much more powerful rounds in common use produced in large numbers (like 5.56mm/.223, the standard military cartridge for practically every military in the world). Oh, and then there's the 5.56mm round that could penetrate into the brain and then explode, frying the ENTIRE BRAIN with one shot.
    • There's also his extremely inaccurate portrayal of military doctrine culminating in the allegedly 'realistic' Battle of Yonkers—which has a 1,000 words long entry on the Hollywood Tactics page for good reason.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe author and Ascended 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 (invisible light speed turbolasers because there is one case of the destruction happening slightly before the bolt hits).
  • Michelle Remembers 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 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.

Live Action TV

  • CSI: 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 simply Did Not Do the Research 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 (which does happen since different people can have very different reactions to the same thing) 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, but 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.
  • Some of the History Channel's programs (ones dealing with conspiracy theories and such) are notorious for this. One example:
    • Ancient Aliens:
      • 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.
  • On the QI panel game, (You know, the one that centres its entire premise around dispelling common misconceptions) Steven Fry very gleefully stated as outright fact (in the Christmas special, no less) that the whole of Christianity is based on the Mithraic Mystery Cult Quite apart from the fact that we know almost nothing about the cult (well they were a mystery cult), everything we do know contradicts each and every single claim made on the show (and by very, very, many others besides them). However, John Lloyd, the show's creator and co-producer, has often stated that QI stands for 'Quite Interesting', rather than 'Quite Correct'. Viewers often write in to report in any under-researched "facts". This actually resulted in guest-panelist Dara O'Briain having points removed from him for incorrectly quoting the value of the triple point of water a whole season after said mistake was made.
  • The Daily Show had astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson on for an interview, at the start of which he pointed out that the Earth is spinning the wrong direction in their opening sequence.
  • 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.
  • Try watching Criminal Minds with a layman's knowledge of psychology. Take a first-year psychology course, then watch it again. You'll be able to refute 90% of what appears on the show.

Newspaper Comics

  • The Kwanza arcs of Curtis are stories presented as adaptations of African folk tales, although they are not. They are fiction written by the cartoonist, much like the rest of the strip.

Tabletop Games

  • 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) 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).

Video Games

  • 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.

Web Original

  • 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.
  • In this Spoony Experiment video, Spoony and his brother do an almost hour long Vlog on the Dan Browning in Deadliest Warrior.
  • The Mechanical Contrivium on thesurrealist.co.uk - it just minces up the given term with common "tabloid factoids" (whether true or not in the first place). Naturally, of 10 results some are probably sort-of-meaningful and actually funny:

7. Jackrabbit once came third in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest!
9. Jackrabbit can use only about ten percent of his brain.
1. It can take duct tape several days to move just through one tree.
5. Thirty-five percent of the people who use personal ads for dating are duct tape.

  • Political Twitter feeds are an inexhaustible source of this — twitchy.com team figured out long ago and made shooting fish in the barrel their job. For some really stunning ones, try:
    • Talib Kweli educates people on the "fact" that Nazi built Berlin Wall and it "didn't work" for the intended purpose (sadly, he didn't elaborate on the latter, instead opting to attack anyone who disagreed).
    • A little history exercise from David Hogg on "gun violence prevention movement" (jokes about Harvard abound, also some references to Billy Madison).
  • The Fake Science blog by Phil Edwards parodies pompous triviality vendors (as he explains in an interview, it was inspired by clumsy attempts at Appeal to Authority), usually in the form of a bullet-point poster with obviously nonsensical "trivia" and Comically Missing the Point as a punchline. He also have published compilation of some entries as a book (Fake Science 101). It was banned in some schools, maybe because the parody hit too close to home (it comes in the format of dumbed-down posters for a reason, after all). The main result was more mockery explicitly focusing on the educrats themselves, like this:

Angstrom’s controversial claim that “the only way to beat gravity is through missiles,” was, while true, enough to get him banned from public schools.


  • 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. Ignoring the fact that vampires aren't real, 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 Kuche, a Bermuda Triangle author who did do the research, showed (in his 1974 book, 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.
  • Cracked.com's article "6 Things From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly" when dealing with the Big Bang.
  • 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.

  1. See this.
  2. Which is why it must have been thermonuclear, obviously.