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This is my first stackexchange question, please let me know if it needs changes:

Context: The basic action in my world-building project is that magic is being brought back into our world -- even if it kills most of us, i.e. a magical apocalypse. The process isn’t instantaneous; it ramps up from isolated X-files strangeness to apocalyptic within a couple years. So the starting context is our current time, here on earth as we know it.

If an anomaly -- something widely believed to be impossible -- were to be reported, what specific factors are most influential for people hearing/reading/watching to believe it truly happened, versus disbelieve? (Not why it happened, but whether or not it really did happen, vs. being an exaggeration, disinformation or outright hoax.)

Example factors: Number of independent reports, reputation of reporter/institution reporting, harm/potential harm, how grossly it violates natural law.

I’d like to include factors that influence likelihood of people who’ve seen this “news” spreading it to family, friends and colleagues. Bonus points for credible, non-obvious factors influencing belief/non-belief and spread/non-spread.


Here are some example Anomalies, as food for thought/imagination:

  1. A recurring dust devil brings presents (flower petals) to its friend, but showers a too-persistent reporter/photographer team with dried cowshit from miles away.
    (Yes, this basic concept is {ahem} ‘borrowed’ from Heinlein’s story, “Our Fair City.”)

  2. A would-be Prophet strikes a rock out in the desert, and a new spring of fresh water suddenly flows forth (just like in the bible), enough water for a small new town (or camp of reinvigorated zealots.) Geologists and hydrologists can’t figure out where the water’s coming from; no signs in previous surveys.

  3. Swarms of earthquakes begin in areas that have been seismically quiet for millennia or longer. (Possibly also a volcano or two; I just like volcanoes ;-)

  4. The core of a disassembled nuclear weapon spontaneously detonates (in a secure facility; no breach detected.) The radiation pattern is significantly asymmetric.

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    $\begingroup$ You missed one item: the 2016 US presidential election... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 30 '16 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @user6760: The forces causing my anomalies are rather amoral, but they're not that bad -- or so I hope! $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Nov 30 '16 at 14:48
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Ubiquity and unambiguity are the keys. Isolated mystical/paranormal/weird stuff happening far away is the stuff of the Discovery Channel, History Channel and similar (once-fact-based) TV outlets that now seem to focus 100% of their line-ups to magic, myth and alien intervention. If, however, these events were happening in every town and village in every country - and covered live by local news outlets - it would become harder and harder to ignore or dismissed with convenient explanations. Also, the events would have to be stark, in your face and difficult to otherwise explain away. Climate change happens everywhere but the effects are, for now, subtle and thanks to some well-funded counter-propaganda it is roundly ignored and/or disbelieved outright.

One way that public awareness would be increased (if not misdirected) would be through established (and new) religions - those that could initially exert control or influence on the emerging magic. They would exploit magic as proof of their deity's preference to them and displeasure towards non-believers. Your build-up to an apocalyptic event could start with various religions engaging in new holy wars with each other.

(Edit/Addition) Governments all over would initially try to suppress "magic" from the public dialogue to the extent that they could while simultaneously trying to bottle up the sources for their own use, study and of course, weaponization. How successful they would be would depend on how magic is pouring back into the world. If it is too "all over the place", they would not be able to contain it indefinitely - but they're really try to!

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  • $\begingroup$ regarding religion, something like that is going to happen: the Prophet who finds/creates the freshwater spring gets lots of publicity and new followers; starts pushing his own, aggressive agenda. But his main conflict is with the Federal government.... $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Nov 30 '16 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Catalyst - Added a bit more for what the Fed might do $\endgroup$ – Jym Nov 30 '16 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Catalyst Why would the main conflict be with the federal government? It's tiny in comparison to all the Christians/Muslims/Jews/Buddhists/etc teachers/preachers/imams/etc that are suddenly faced with a prophet that is taking their adherents away. $\endgroup$ – Tim Nov 30 '16 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Tim, At the risk of getting into too story-related things, the Prophet can occupy Federal land (and the odds are good the Feds will delay or back down; as with the Bundy clan in Oregon.) This will be a much bigger land grab, but the Feds have worse problems on their plate, by that time. $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Nov 30 '16 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Every established religion would try take action to survive, but it can go two ways: a) to try to tell people that its a heresy or b) to claimed it as the prove of the religion itself. The hardest hit will go to scientific world and established government rule. $\endgroup$ – Hariz Rizki Nov 30 '16 at 19:35
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If an anomaly -- something widely believed to be impossible -- were to be reported, what specific factors are most influential for people hearing/reading/watching to believe it truly happened, versus disbelieve?

There are a people who refuse to believe actual events that are believable (eg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_denial). And I would bet dollars to donuts that I could find 10 people in the world that would believe monkeys just flew out of my butt (sure they may have an IQ of 55, but the question is about believing something happened). In short, there is never a 100% consensus regarding events. I think you might want to consider what makes people believe versus disbelieve to get a general idea of how many or what percentage of people will believe an anomaly actually occurred.

The overall level of cultural paranoia seems to have the biggest impact: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/moon-landing-faked-why-people-believe-conspiracy-theories/

Followed closely by the general education level of the society: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.3301/full

And neatly packaged by the ability to rapidly disseminate countering opinions: https://www.bing.com/search?q=does+the+media+lie

So, to try to actually answer your question: I think to get the most people to believe something, it has to come from a variety of competing sources. If Breitbart, Huffpost, the NY Times, and my bat-sh*t crazy neighbor down the street all report its raining, I'm not likely going to believe I'm being peed on (but I still might).

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  • $\begingroup$ Did monkeys just fly... um... never-mind. Can I have a dollar? (Or a doughnut, either way would make me happy.) $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Nov 30 '16 at 17:01

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