Facts and Falsehoods (ESA)


Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir's picture

Keeping one’s facts straight can be tricky. Rumors float around that one takes to be the truth, the media picks them up, a myth is created, powerful people and companies start using them to support their agenda and suddenly debunking a falsehood gets nearly impossible.

One of the biggest companies in Iceland, Icelandair, plays a classy video about Iceland’s wonders on the screen in front of every seat onboard its aircrafts. To many people, these are probably some of the first things they learn about the nation and country.

On the backdrop of awesome landscape shots, a number of ‘facts’ are listed, among them, that more than 50 percent of the Icelandic population believes in elves.

I’d like to know where this ‘fact’ comes from—did Icelandair poll it recently?—because I’m inclined to believe that this is a myth foreigners find so amazing that Icelanders eagerly use it for marketing purposes, never mind that it isn’t exactly true.

I’ve received many enquiries about the subject and have therefore researched it a bit. Below is part of my answer to one such enquiry.

“According to the University of Iceland’s science web, daily newspaper DV reported in 1998 that the majority of participants in an opinion poll said they believed in fairies, or elves, around 50 percent of men and 60 percent of women. The poll only gave participants a chance to answer yes or no, while older polls show that the majority of Icelanders are uncertain whether elves exist or not.

“In a more recent and detailed study from 2007 folklorist Terry Gunnell at the University of Iceland concluded that 37 percent of participants said elves possibly exist, 17 percent found their existence likely, 13 percent said elves could not possibly exist and five percent had no opinion on the existence of elves.”

The elf myth may be rather harmless, even though it can be annoying. But when the prime minister of a country decides to make a serious public statement about another, he should keep his facts straight.

Prime Minister of Iceland Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson maintained at the meeting of the Progressive Party’s central committee last Friday that 99 percent of meat produced at large-scale farms in the U.S. contained growth hormones.

Inevitably, representative of the U.S. Ambassador to Iceland, Paul Cunningham was quick to object, telling Fréttablaðið on Wednesday that studies have shown on more than one occasion that meat and meat products made in the U.S. are safe.

Costco Wholesale Corporation, from the U.S., which has expressed interest in opening a branch in Iceland, stated that the meat carried in its stores has been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that it is organic and doesn’t contain growth hormones.

The Progressive Party’s politicians have a habit of making false statements, it seems.

MP for the party, Vigdís Hauksdóttir, said in a debate on Stöð 2 in February that Malta was not an independent state and Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir, who secured a seat on Reykjavík City Council in the municipal elections in May, commented during the party’s campaign that there were no churches in Abu Dhabi.

I guess most of us are guilty of making sweeping statements sometimes without checking the facts first, thereby contributing to resilient rumors, and could benefit from learning more about a topic before engaging in a discussion about it.

It’s important for everyone to keep this in mind, especially politicians commenting on serious issues as their false statements can easily prove harmful to a lot of people.

The tourism industry too should be careful not to paint a glossy picture of a destination and further stereotypes. I believe most tourists would rather experience authenticity than leave with the feeling of having visited a theme park.

Keeping one’s facts straight can truly be tricky and there are often many truths to a story. But we should at least make the effort.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.