Harry Potter is a high-magic setting and magic is everywhere. There are very few limits on what spellcasting can accomplish, given you know the right spell. (Some of those limits are Gamp's Elemental Laws of Transfiguration or the fact that you cannot return someone from the dead, but we don't get a lot of them. Felix Felicis, the Philosopher's Stone and Time-Turners give their users terrifying power over causality, mortality and time itself, respectively.) New spells and potions are invented all the time. Magical beings range from boring Flubberworms to square-cube-law-shattering dragons, on which there don't seem to be firm limits for what is "plausible" or not.

Yet when we are introduced to Luna Lovegood at the beginning of OotP, Hermione pooh-poohs the Quibbler as a conspiracy rag. It claims the Crumple-Horned Snorkack is real! It claims Cornelius Fudge has a battalion of Heliopaths and is pursuing a secret campaign of goblin genocide! How absurd.

Still disparaging the ridiculous idea of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, Hermione climbs into a carriage pulled by carnivorous skeletal pegasi invisible to those who haven't seen death, and makes her way to the castle.

What heuristic could Hermione (and the wizarding world at large) possibly use to evaluate the Quibbler as ridiculous or not?

In a world where criminals (and enemies of the government) are sent to an island prison guarded by floating spirits of despair, why is the idea of a secret government battalion of fire spirits so silly?

In a world where prejudice against "subhumans" is depressingly widespread (as Hermione well knows) and relations with goblins remain strained since the bloody Goblin Uprising of 17-whatever, why is secret goblin murder so absurd? Especially when Hermione knows Fudge to be pursuing a disinformation campaign against Dumbledore and Harry, and generally trusts the Ministry as far as she can throw it?

In our world we develop heuristics, based on our own experience and what we are told, to sort things into "believable" and "not believable." I know the square-cube law makes big animals cumbersome, and the biggest flying animal I've ever seen is a condor, so if you told me you saw elephants flying the other day I would be disinclined to believe you. Conversely, I've ridden in airplanes before and have a rough idea of how they work, so the idea of a supersonic plane like the Concorde doesn't weird me out.

The thing is, I don't see why someone growing up in the wizarding world would draw the line at anything. Students at Hogwarts are exposed to new and wondrous spells, potions and creatures all the time, and the apparent limits of possibility are pushed further with every passing school year. So what gives?

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    Compare the Crumple-Horned Snorkack with Bigfoot or Nessie. Yes, given what we all know now a big hairy monkey or human-like person like Bigfoot could be possible, but still most people would not believe a magazine claiming that it is real. What I'm saying is that even in the magical world, people are more inclined to trust what they see for themselves. – Philipp Flenker Apr 23 '17 at 10:33
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    I'm not sure that 98% of the question is actually needed. It can be summed up in a single sentence "Given the general oddness of the wizarding world, what metric results in the Quibbler being ridiculed?". – Valorum Apr 23 '17 at 10:49
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    I'll cut it down further if the consensus is that it's truly too long, but I do think the question benefits from elaboration beyond the title/bolded part. I do appreciate the edit though, this is my first post. – The Walrus469 Apr 23 '17 at 10:57
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    @Valorum, I think question is a fabulous bit of prose and 'twould be a shame if it were boiled away to nothing. Moreover, I think it's only its highly evident cogence which prevents it from being downvoted as "unclear" or similar. – Wildcard Apr 24 '17 at 10:10
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    Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction. Zoe: We live in a spaceship, dear. – Joe Apr 25 '17 at 0:58

Magic, in the wizarding world, is certainly powerful. To us, coming from the outside, it might seem like it can do anything. But it can't, due to various rules and stipulations we only know in part. To us, they may seem arbitrary - reversing time, yes, but reversing death, no? - but the differences are probably clearer on the inside.

Consider our own technological society, and a newcomer to it, perhaps from the 18th century. We have airplanes that can cross continents in hours and rockets that reach the moons and instant video chats. But suggest to a native of the 21st century that you can teleport, or change your body's shape, and you'll be scoffed at like a crackpot? For our erstwhile time traveler, moon rockets being possible but teleports impossible must seem just as arbitrary, just like our confusion at why Ron and Hermione seem to arbitrarily dismiss some magical possibilities.

And it isn't just a question of magical/technological capabilities. Conspiracies are the same in both cases - Cornelius Fudge using Heliopaths to kill goblins is no different than the government keeping aliens in Area 51. It's not impossible, it's just ridiculously improbable.

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    I'm going to wait til tomorrow morning before doing so in case others answer, but I intend to mark this as accepted. I think this is as close to a satisfactory answer as I'm going to get. Though for the record, the comparison to the government hiding aliens isn't quite accurate. It's as though it was claimed the government was hiding red aliens, while everyone knew that Guantanamo Bay was administrated and guarded by green aliens, and readily accepted that latter fact. But the rest of your point is well taken. – The Walrus469 Apr 23 '17 at 20:53
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    @TheWalrus469 I think the point is that magical creatures are not considered out of the ordinary as we would consider aliens. Everyone knows what a dementor is. They are even taught about in school. But it appears no one has ever found reputable evidence for the existence of crumple-horned snorkacks, or (I assume), heliopaths. The claim that the government has an army of creatures no one has ever seen and uses them to murder the staff of the largest bank in the world would seem to be cause for a little skepticism. – gandalf3 Apr 23 '17 at 21:49
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    To re-use your analogy, I think it's as if everyone in the muggle world knows about the prison guarded by trained bunny rabbits (a creature everyone knows about), but no one believes the stories about the government-funded program to weaponize unicorns (a creature no one has ever seen, except in click-bait tabloids). – gandalf3 Apr 23 '17 at 21:55
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    @TheNate Not really. Getting time travel right is quite hard, but the book doesn't seem contradictory on this point - the time travel didn't change what happened, it already happened that way the first time around, the protagonists just didn't realize that (given their limited POV). There was no death that could be reversed, since X was saved before his execution. Considering just the original books, it doesn't seem that time turners can be used to change time - they just allow some interesting self-consistent loops in causality. It was done surprisingly well :) – Luaan Apr 24 '17 at 9:21
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    No need to talk to a 18th century newcomer. Sometimes, it's hard to tell your boss where the limits of our technology are :) (mandatory xkcd link) – xDaizu Apr 24 '17 at 12:47

Little that is in real tabloids and conspiracy theories is 'impossible'. Instead, it is dismissed because there is no evidence for it, and a simpler solution, for which there may be indicative evidence. The existence of magic does not invalidate Human Nature, Occam's Razor, or the Experimental Method.

Someone tells you that Hogwarts has creatures only visible to those who have seen death. People advanced a hypothesis, and provide a not too difficult way to falsify their hypothesis. It is disprovable, and therefore, people assume if it was not true, people would have disproved it by now.

By contrast, the Crumpled Horned Snorkack has, presumably, not been seen by 99.9% of the population, and there is no known method to make it reasonably likely to see it. As a comment above put it, this is the same as bigfoot. It's not particularly impossible that there would be one or more large primates. The absence of evidence means that a high degree of skepticism should be assumed.

Most conspiracy theories in this real world are not dismissed as 'impossible'. They are dismissed because they fail Occam's Razor - the simplest solution is likely correct. The '9/11 was fake' theory, for example, could be correct. But, lacking a clear motive, and with the explanation being too complicated, people dismiss it as nonsense.

Similarly, until someone can answer why Fudge wants to exterminate goblins, and why he needs to resort to a secret heliopath army instead of easier solutions, the fact that it is not impossible will not matter, and it will continue to be ridiculed.

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    I think this is the real answer. Presumably the articles read like a conspiracy-theory tabloid, which is something you can notice regardless of familiarity with the wizarding world. Also, the paper probably has a reputation which Hermione is familiar with, even if she hasn't read it much herself. – Peter Cordes Apr 24 '17 at 0:17
  • This makes more sense. A publication is only as good as its sources and that it determined by its past record of accuracy. If it is regularly wrong and does not properly research leads, any story, no matter how possible, is immediately suspect. – Jammin4CO Apr 24 '17 at 20:18

Because it is.

Let's look at some of the articles:

  • SIRIUS BLACK: Villain or Victim?

    This ridiculous article claims that Sirius Black is a pop singer. Everyone who's met him knows that he's real, is not a singer, and is innocent. It's ridiculous that they would print something that claims something so ridiculous. (OotP, ch 10)

  • Article about Fudge

    Let's quote:

    he's had them drowned, he's had them dropped off buildings, he's had them poisoned, he's had them cooked in pies..."

Fudge was in pretty common communication with Dumbledore at one point. Do you think that Dumbledore would have somehow missed this? Or put up with it?

  • Flying to the moon on a broomstick

    He flicked through the rest of the magazine. Pausing every few pages he read an accusation that the Tutshill Tornadoes were winning the Quidditch League by a combination of blackmail, illegal broom-tampering, and torture; an interview with a wizard who claimed to have flown to the moon on a Cleansweep Six and brought back a bag of moon frogs to prove it;

This is, quite simply, nonsense.

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    I think the Sirius article is a strong candidate for explaining Hermione's skepticism (thank you), but unlike Hermione, 99.9% of the Wizarding community hasn't met Sirius since his escape. I also don't see what's absurd about flying to the moon on a broomstick in a world where broom propulsion is ambiguous and lots of environmental-protection charms exist. I think Rowling is clearly relying on our conceptions of where the moon is and how hard it is to get there to communicate that it's a silly story, but I don't know why a witch/wizard would automatically consider it absurd. – The Walrus469 Apr 23 '17 at 11:10
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    This is a little off-topic, but given that we know a Firebolt can accelerate 0 to 240kph in 10 seconds (PoA), which is about 7 m/s^2 (despite air resistance!), a wizard riding a Firebolt could make it to the moon in only 4 hours given a constant-acceleration burn pattern, well within the capabilities of Quidditch-standard brooms designed for possible days of constant play. Given a good enough Bubble Charm for protection, I think moon travel is eminently achievable! – The Walrus469 Apr 23 '17 at 11:56
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    @TheWalrus469 - Yes, page 51 of the Scholastic edition says "150 miles an hour," which is interesting as it's my only American edition of the books. And yes that equals 241kph. – ThruGog Apr 23 '17 at 14:18
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    @Luaan -- to me, brooms seemed to be modeled to be neither Aristotelian, nor Newtonian, but rather Plotonic, that is to say, they act as the plot demands them to in any given situation, much like the damage done by Bludgers. Hence I will headcanon a Firebolt moon journey as I well please. ;) – The Walrus469 Apr 24 '17 at 11:01
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    @AnthonyGrist Wizards have Bubble-head charms and Warming charms, that's all the protection you need. We need protection when passing through the atmosphere, but that's only because we need to fly very fast, and use the atmosphere to brake - neither is a problem on a broom. Moon frogs are obvious to us, but not necessarily to wizards - indeed, wizards seem to be very ignorant of many things muggles find entirely trivial. Of course, it's a joke aimed at the audience, but not an in-universe reason for the ridicule. – Luaan Apr 24 '17 at 11:53

Because The Quibbler is a tabloid.

By their very nature, tabloids are for entertainment, not for breaking real news. They exaggerate or lampoon the world they're written for and aren't held to the same expectations as news publications.

That being said, they have been known to break real stories.

An example of this in the Wizarding World is when Harry Potter is interviewed by The Quibbler about the return of Voldemort. The Daily Prophet would not take the story, but The Quibbler ran with it, producing one of their most popular issues to date.

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    But what makes Quibbler a tabloid? I feel that's the actual question OP is asking. – Gallifreyan Apr 23 '17 at 20:25
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    I mean, the real answer is that Rowling was parodying a tabloid. – Michael Apr 23 '17 at 22:29
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    Right. It's intentionally written as a tabloid, clearly not meant to be taken as "real" news unlike the Daily Prophet. Of course, the Prophet also had Rita Skeeter on staff, so it's fair to say they didn't have a squeaky clean reputation. – mcmahoniel Apr 23 '17 at 23:52
  • "Tabloid" has negative connotations but really only refers to the size of the paper (contrast with "broadsheet"). The Guardian has been printed as a tabloid since 2018. – Jay Mar 29 '18 at 21:40

Even in a magical world, certain things are still beyond the realms of plausibility.

Despite the existence of magic, there are still certain things that are impossible and implausible. For example, Gamp's Law says that you can't conjure food. It's possible to do things like read minds and fly, but even the best wizards can't magic themselves a sandwich. However, it is possible and relatively simple to conjure drinkable water with Aguamenti. On another question, I attempted to figure out the likelihood of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack existing.

It's the same reason we on Stack Exchange can reject certain theories about the wizarding world. Figuring out what's logical and illogical in a magical world is what we do here all the time. We know the wizarding world pretty well, and we've only read about it in books. They actually live in it.

Imagine if some of the Quibbler articles were written as questions and asked here. "Was Sirius Black living as rock singer Stubby Boardman?" Picture seeing that as a question.

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The other answers are excellent, but in short, the Quibbler presents a view of reality that differs from the worldview held by most of the wizarding world.

It doesn't matter that the worldview held by wizards is so different (and so much more fantastic) than the worldview held by muggles, it simply matters that to wizards, the claims of the Quibbler seem fantastical, exaggerated, conspiratorial, or otherwise inconsistent with their own idea of how the (wizarding) world works.

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There'd be a few guidelines that can be followed to judge the relative quality of the Quibbler, or any other news source.

Firstly, the general quality of grammar, spelling and presentation. While quality newspapers will sometimes fail here, consistent problems in this area would indicate a lack of talent among those working for the paper. Opinion/Editorial content should be well argued, rather than relying on fallacious arguments.

Structure. You'd expect a serious newspaper to include 'dry but significant' content. This would include business, politics, science etc. Less serious journals would have a much greater percentage of fluffy news, such as entertainment and social/gossip pages.

Staff numbers. The wider (and more specialized) the content, the more people you need to give decent coverage. If you have the same people covering sport and business, you'd get less expert content.

Relationships. The newspapers of record would often be able to get interviews with a wide range of major figures (politicians etc), and ask more challenging questions. A paper that has a fawning relationship to one group would be less well regarded. One that is ignored by all the serious players will be starting with a disadvantage.

Peer groups. If the people in your circles have a low opinion of something, you'll be exposed to a lot of criticism regarding it.

The accuracy of the facts in the Quibbler are almost irrelevant. A newspaper that is trusted can feed its audience a diet of half-truths and complete lies. One that isn't trusted would be hard placed to convince readers of anything they haven't been told by a trusted source.

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Please note that this is an out-of-universe answer.

Unlike other posters, I consider the idea of secret goblin genocide perfectly believable. In our world, we have had thousands of forced sterilizations, unethical medical experiments and other scary stuff, some of which may have been brought to the public by tabloids:

  • Tuskeegee syphilis experiments (Washington Star, of all papers!)
  • San Quentin
  • Edgewood Arsenal
  • sterilizations in Peru, Uzbekistan, California, India

By claiming through JKR's alter ego, Hermione, that the Quibbler is ridiculous, JKR amply demonstrates her own (and, by extension, Hermione's) narrow-mindedness.

Provably working memory modification techniques (the Obliviators) can go a long way; the goblins' fear and inability to face the truth, as well as wizards' contempt for 'lesser magical races' (cf. house-elves) are all that is needed to make secret genocide perfectly plausible.

You can ask yourself: how many children disappear each year without a trace in our world? Why?

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    Well … rather than post my own answer, which would inadvisable, I'll comment on this. It isn't an out–of–universe answer, nor is JKR necessarily being narrowminded. We are presented with evidence that many of the things which Luna sees are actually there, yes? Or, at least probability, that she is privy to information which others do not see. Doesn't she know where Harry is while under the invisibility cloak by seeing something which she describes as Wrackspurts? Perhaps JKR was showing simply that people will believe what they want to believe, and damned be the logic? – can-ned_food Apr 23 '17 at 23:25
  • The more ridiculous bits in the Quibbler are evidence that people see all manner of things which they can't explain, but are willing to pretend that they can — just as some people not believing in things like Thestrels and Nargles shows that people are also usually never inclined to consider the possibility of something until it slaps them in the face, i.e. simply because the evidence is not altogether obvious. – can-ned_food Apr 23 '17 at 23:30
  • As an experiment, throw 50-100 darts at a dartboard as fast as you can without trying to aim. There should be a bullseye or two. However there will be many more that miss the board altogether. If you claim, without further proof that any random throw results in a bullseye I'd laugh it off. Now, nothing says tabloids cannot report true news, in fact since the kind of proof other news organizations wait for is hard to come by, they can often outrun the careful fact checkers of mainstream media. – kleineg Apr 25 '17 at 16:59
  • @kleineg Or, like how the demagogues of ancient Greece were described once: the fact that they ever came up with any ideas that bear some resemblance to experience is because they came up with so many ideas, they were likely to land one or two of them. Besides that, though, I can't help thinking of how in the Men in Black movies, the tabloids are their means to hide the reports from their investigative agents in plain sight. Most people don't take the tabloids seriously, so they can write whatever they want in there and yet keep their secrecy. – can-ned_food Apr 25 '17 at 23:48

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