The Salem Witchcraft Trials and ‘Moldy Bread’: A Case Study in Fake News

Presenter: Margo Burns

On April 2, 1976, Science Magazine published an article by Linnda R. Caporeal which posited that during the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials, the visions of specters and painful physical sensations described by the girls who claimed to be afflicted by witches could have been caused from eating bread made with flour tainted by ergot, a naturally occurring fungal hallucinogen that grows on rye grain under certain growing conditions. While experts immediately debunked this claim – the historical and medical data used to support the hypothesis was cherry-picked – the claim went viral in a pre-Internet age. More than four decades later, belief in this is still pervasive. This program will unpack how this explanation about a lurid chapter in American history was born and cemented in the public imagination. It is a case study in how mass media induces people to buy into “fake news."

This program will be held both live and virtually.

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 839 8691 0641
Passcode: 838907

Event Details


Sunday, October 29, 2023 2:00pm


New Ipswich Library
6 Main Street
New Ipswich NH 03071

Hosted By:

New Ipswich Historical Society

Contact Info:

Margaret Lee, 603-878-1187