If you're reading this there's a good chance you're fan of Snopes.com, and I certainly count myself as the same. However, an issue recently came up a with particular Snopes article that was invoked on this very site to explain where the belief that everyone eats eight spiders a year comes from.
Fear not. This "statistic" was not only made up out of whole cloth, it was invented as an example of the absurd things people will believe simply because they come across them on the Internet.
In a 1993 PC Professional article, columnist Lisa Holst wrote about the ubiquitous lists of "facts" that were circulating via e-mail and how readily they were accepted as truthful by gullible recipients. To demonstrate her point, Holst offered her own made-up list of equally ridiculous "facts," among which was the statistic cited above about the average person's swallowing eight spiders per year, which she took from a collection of common misbeliefs printed in a 1954 book on insect folklore. In a delicious irony, Holst's propagation of this false "fact" has spurred it into becoming one of the most widely-circulated bits of misinformation to be found on the Internet.
That sounds credible, but Lisa Holst, the magazine (or newsletter?) PC Professional, and the text of the article are nowhere to be found on the web. At all. Other than links and references to the Snopes article there's just nothing. It's proving hard to verify that the author or the magazine existed at all! This seems to contradict Snopes' entire thesis that the Holst column was the source of the spider belief in the internet age. How could something so influential disappear without a trace?
The full citation given by Snopes is:
Holst, Lisa Birgit. "Reading is Believing" PC Professional 7th January 1993 (p71.)
The other two citations given in the article do seem to be real, though the Chicago Sun-Times story has the wrong author attributed. I checked it out to see if it was the source of the Lisa Holst information, and it isn't. The other citation is for a book that pre-dates email, so it can't have anything to do with Lisa Holst.
So what's going on here? I see three possibilities
Snopes had in their possession the Lisa Holst column when they wrote their article and had a good reason to believe it was so influential, but somehow every trace of it has disappeared from the internet.
Snopes made some mistake in the citation, as with the Chicago Sun-Times article, and that's making finding the Holst column darned near impossible.
Snopes made up the Holst column out of whole cloth, perhaps as their own version of a "trap street," the fake streets map makers supposedly put on maps to catch other companies copying their material.
So, can anyone find evidence that Lisa Holst and PC Professional existed, outside of the Snopes article? Or that a column by Holst was source for the internet belief in spider consumption?