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The Greatest Scientific Hoaxes? 496

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the april-fools-one-of-the-best-holidays dept.
Ponca City, We love you writes "The New Scientist has an amusing story about the seven greatest scientific hoaxes of all time. Of course, there have been serious cases of scientific fraud, such as the stem cell researchers recently found guilty of falsifying data, and the South Korean cloning fraud, but the hoaxes selected point more to human gullibility than malevolence and include the Piltdown Man (constructed from a medieval human cranium); a ten-foot "petrified man" dug up on a small farm in Cardiff; fossils 'found' in Wurzburg, Germany depicting comets, moons and suns, Alan Sokal's paper loaded with nonsensical jargon that was accepted by the journal Social Text; the claim of the Upas tree on the island of Java so poisonous that it killed everything within a 15-mile radius; and Johann Heinrich Cohausen's claim of an elixir produced by collecting the breath of young women in bottles that produced immortality. Our favorite: BBC's broadcast in 1957 about the spaghetti tree in Switzerland that showed a family harvesting pasta that hung from the branches of the tree. After watching the program, hundreds of people phoned in asking how they could grow their own tree but, alas, the program turned out to be an April Fools' Day joke." What massive scientific hoaxes/jokes have other people witnessed?
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The Greatest Scientific Hoaxes?

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  • E-Meter? (Score:5, Funny)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:34PM (#25532863) Journal

    What massive scientific hoaxes/jokes have other people witnessed?

    E-meter [wikipedia.org] comes to mind.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:35PM (#25532891) Journal
    I saw a discovery channel special on the Piltdown Man, it was quite interesting. They had a very romantic story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle striking back at the scientific community by way of this hoax as he wished to point out just how clueless they often were [bbc.co.uk].

    Hilariously enough, it bit L. Ron Hubbard in the ass too [wikipedia.org]:

    Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard met less fortunate timing, listing Piltdown Man as one of the ancestors of humanity in his book Scientology: A History of Man, and describing him as having "enormous" teeth and being "quite careless as to whom and what he bit." Piltdown Man would be exposed as a hoax just months after the publication of Hubbard's book.

    I am not a historian but I find it hilarious that British, German and French scientists were rejecting claims of early human fossils in Indonesia or Africa on the grounds that their pride in being the origin of life. Instead they were pointing at anything and everything they could find on their own soil as the beginning of life. What made the Piltdown Man such a great hoax is that because of the mounting tension between European super powers leading up to World War I the British were grasping for anything to prove that humans originated in the UK (which, of course, is far from true). And here was this convenient find, an anomaly in the fossil record--but who cared? The British now had evidence of early humans on UK soil with large cranial regions (which they associated with intelligence). Prime minister, we must not allow an origins of our species gap!

    All this stupid pride of who stood on the birthplace of humanity blinded so many intelligent people. If I recall correctly the Piltdown Man fragments were hilariously rudimentary painted lower jawbone of an orangutan combined with the skull of a fully developed, modern man. Let this be a lesson to anyone who lets emotions, national pride & religion get in the way of science.

    • by puppetman (131489) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:55PM (#25533219) Homepage

      Funny that you should mention Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (though I thought he was only suspected as being behind the hoax). If he was behind it, it would be quite ironic - while he made some members of the scientific community out to be fools, he was made a fool in an equally amusing spiritual hoax (he was quite a spiritualist).

      The Cottingly Fairies [wikipedia.org] ranks up there as one of the longest running hoaxes (with some still claiming today that they were real), and ACD was a believer to the extent that he published a book on the subject, called, "The Coming of the Fairies".

    • by piltdownman84 (853358) <piltdownman84@m[ ]com ['ac.' in gap]> on Monday October 27, 2008 @06:32PM (#25535115)
      Piltdown Man is alive and well Sincerely, Piltdown Man
    • by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday October 27, 2008 @07:54PM (#25535841)
      Prime minister, we must not allow an origins of our species gap!

      The British aren't alone in this. China, for instace, tries to make the case that Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis), a real hominid, is the direct ancestor of the modern Chinese race, while the rest of us are lower on the tree, coming from Africa.

      Japanese also have an exaggerated sense of their own antiquity and separateness. Shinichi Fujimura made a career out of planting and then "discovering" Stone Age artifacts and fossils.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        China, for instace, tries to make the case that Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis), a real hominid, is the direct ancestor of the modern Chinese race, while the rest of us are lower on the tree, coming from Africa.

        This is one of these things that I can't see how anyone can believe. Humans are all one species, given that humans of all races can interbreed. If we had more than one origin I can't see how this could be true. Different origins to me imply different species and different species mean no interbreeding.

  • Cold fusion (Score:3, Funny)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:36PM (#25532901) Journal
    It's such a great hoax that there are still people who believe it! :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BigGar' (411008)

      While cold fusion may not work there's nothing in the Wikipedia article, at least, to indicate that it was a hoax. Perhaps Pons & Fleischmann could have been more rigorous in their methodology and waiting for other labs to reproduce their results certainly would have been a good idea. there doesn't seem to have be any malice on their part to perpetuate a hoax. Sloppy science or perhaps not accounting for all the possible ways energy could be leaking into the system certainly, but it does not appear to

  • by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow.wroughtNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:36PM (#25532903) Homepage Journal
    But, then again, I guess its not actually science...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      No, it isn't science, it's philosophy and as such isn't a hoax.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ArsonSmith (13997)

        No, it's fiction attempted by some to be passed as fact. Therefore a hoax.

        • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday October 27, 2008 @08:53PM (#25536309) Homepage
          A hoax requires the intent to present something one knows to be false. The folks promoting Intelligent Design believe it to be true. They're not lying... they're merely mistaken.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by atraintocry (1183485)

            The ones making the arguments know that ID is unfalsifiable. So by asking for it to be put in science class (unfalsifiable means not science), they'd have to be liars.

            The everyday people who repeat the arguments (but usually unfashionably old ones, there's a very Emerald City vibe to the whole thing) are perhaps sincere and misguided.

            I hope.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rrohbeck (944847)

        No, it isn't science, it's philosophy and as such isn't a hoax.

        It pretends to be science, so it pretends to be a hoax, which means it isn't really one, so it is true.
        Don't dare to dispute me, I remember my Mathematical Logic classes!

    • by c6gunner (950153) on Monday October 27, 2008 @05:00PM (#25534127)

      How the hell did that get modded "troll"?

      "Intelligent design" is the biggest "scientific hoax" ever devised. These people have literally taken creationist ideas and literature, and re-packaged them to look like a scientific theory.

      Now, if we were talking about creationism, then ok, it's not a scientific hoax because it doesn't pretend to be scientific. But ID? It should be at the TOP of this list!

  • by EWAdams (953502) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:37PM (#25532919) Homepage

    Barnum tried to buy the Cardiff Giant off its owners, but they wouldn't sell. So he had one of his own carved, and traveled around exhibiting it. Barnum was showing a fake fake.

  • Thiotimoline (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:37PM (#25532921) Homepage Journal

    Odd that NS didn't mention the hoax that started the story, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 [wikipedia.org] where it was revealed (incorrectly of course) that Sir Walter Herschel had found evidence of life on the moon.

    My favorite wasn't really a hoax; it was a humorous science fiction story by Isaac Asimov who was a grad student studying biology when he wrote about thiotimoline [wikipedia.org], a substance that, when added to water, dissolves before it reaches the water.

    The story of the genesis of this spoof was one of Asimov's favorite personal anecdotes, one he retold a number of times in print. In the spring of 1947, Asimov was engaged in doctoral research in biochemistry and, as part of his experimental procedure, he needed to dissolve catechol in water. As he observed the crystals dissolve as soon as they hit the water's surface, it occurred to him that if catechol were any more soluble, then it would dissolve before it encountered the water.

    By that time Asimov had been writing professionally for nine years and was shortly to face the challenge of writing up his research as a doctoral dissertation. He feared that the experience of writing readable prose for publication might have impaired his ability to write the prose typical of academic discourse, and decided to practice with a spoof article (including charts, graphs, tables, and citations of fake articles in nonexistent journals) describing experiments on a compound, thiotimoline, that was so soluble that it dissolved in water up to 1.12 seconds before the water was added.

    Asimov wrote the article on 8 June 1947, but he was uncertain as to whether the resulting work of fiction was publishable. He finally offered it to John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, his preferred publication outlet. Campbell was delighted with the piece, and accepted it for publication, agreeing to Asimov's request that it appear under a pseudonym in deference to Asimov's concern that he might alienate potential doctoral examiners at Columbia University if he were revealed as the author.

    Some months later Asimov was shocked to see the piece appear in the March 1948 issue of Astounding under his own name. In later years Campbell insisted that this was an oversight, though Asimov maintained a suspicion that Campbell had acted deliberately out of greater worldliness, for, in Asimov's words, "The Columbia Chemistry Department proved far less stuffy than I had feared" and his examiners effectively delivered their favorable verdict on his dissertation by good-naturedly asking him a final question about thiotimoline. In Opus 100 (1969) Asimov called the thiotimoline article "an utter success", and noted that the New York Public Library "was pestered for days by eager youngsters trying to find the nonexistent journals so they could read more on the subject".

  • by cosmocain (1060326) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:39PM (#25532965)
    ...missing option in FA:
    • CowboyNeal

    Why...this is no poll? Dammit.

  • by stevew (4845) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:41PM (#25532981) Journal

    This from Wikipedia -

    "The myth of lemming mass suicide is long-standing and has been popularized by a number of factors. In 1955, Carl Barks drew an Uncle Scrooge adventure comic with the title "The Lemming with the Locket". This comic, which was inspired by a 1954 National Geographic article, showed massive numbers of lemmings jumping over Norwegian cliffs. Even more influential was the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness in which footage was shown that seems to show the mass suicide of lemmings. The film won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature."

    I think this one deserves honorable mention at least!

  • Audiophile cables (Score:5, Informative)

    by andreyvul (1176115) <andrey.vul@NosPAM.gmail.com> on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:41PM (#25532995)

    Denon's $500 ethernet cables, those $9000 "vacuum chamber" cables, etc.

    Oh, this is science, not technology.
    Still, they use edge cases of science to make $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ off of rich fanboys.
    In practice, the cable I mentioned are hoaxes.

    • Re:Audiophile cables (Score:5, Informative)

      by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:19PM (#25533511)
      Time again to post a link to Roger Russell's excellent site [roger-russell.com] debunking "audiophile" speaker wire once and for all. The "cable elevators" about 2/3 down the page (just below the $8,900 / pair speaker cables) are a personal favorite of mine. ;-)
      • by pavon (30274) on Monday October 27, 2008 @06:24PM (#25535041)

        The "cable elevators" about 2/3 down the page are a personal favorite of mine. ;-)

        Good Lord, I had to read that three times before I realized my mind was inverting those two words. I expecting to scroll down that page and see a story about audiophiles who had been duped into using elevator cables for low loss speaker wire.

    • Re:Audiophile cables (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@@@wumpus-cave...net> on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:24PM (#25533601)

      A while back, my roommate at the time and I considered making an audiophile cable company ourselves, on the theory that if you can't convince audiophiles that they're wrong (and I've certainly done my part to try), you can at least make money off of them. Setup is simple enough; make a little box to put a sine wave through a cable for 72 hours as a "break-in" procedure, or cryo-treat cables by pouring liquid N2 (easier to get then you'd think) over them and letting the N2 boil off. (Care has to be taken that the cables don't shatter from heating up too fast, though I never got far enough into the plan to try it.)

      I eventually dropped the plan after deciding that I wasn't quite that evil, but before that, my roommate had a discussion with one of his coworkers at the retail shop he worked at (don't remember the exact exchange, but it went like this):

      Roommate: I'm setting up a cryo-treatment and burn-in service. Should make lots of money off stupid people.
      Coworker: What does cryo-treatment do?
      R: Absolutely nothing, but people pay for it thinking it does.
      C: Sounds interesting. I might buy a few cables from you to try it out.

      So my roommate had flatly stated that it's just a big ripoff, and the guy still wanted it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LihTox (754597)

        Technically speaking, the coworker was being a good scientist: he could have taken your word that the cryo-treatment did nothing to the cables (based entirely on your say-so with no evidence), but instead he was skeptical, and wanted to prove it for himself. Good for him.

  • ... proof given by empirical research (rather than evidence, as an explanation, if necessary).

    CC.
  • Windows (Score:2, Funny)

    by viljun (1267170)

    har har

  • Obviously (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MarkGriz (520778)
    Man landing on the moon. Duh.
  • by R2.0 (532027) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:43PM (#25533039)

    The fraudulent research showing that high dose chemo followed by marrow transplants was an effective treatment for breast cancer. It was an experimental procedure, so insurance companies wouldn't cover it. But this study showed it worked, and it got some play in the media, and Congress actually passed a law requiring that insurance companies cover it.

    Then it turns out that the researchers left out negative results which, when compiled with the rest of the data, showed a slightly WORSE outcome for this procedure. It seems that the researchers believed that the procedure SHOULD work, and since it was so important to get insurance companies to cover it, they simply modified the data to get the results they wanted.

    Of course, insurance companies stopped paying for it, and the procedure isn't used, and Congress has moved onto other things. But I still need to ask: how many women had months or years removed from their life because 2 "scientists" thought they knew better than the data?

  • What!? (Score:5, Funny)

    by CyberLord Seven (525173) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:44PM (#25533047)
    No Fermat's Last Theorem?

    This list is incomplete. I would provide a proof but this comment box is too small to hold it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by quanticle (843097)

      Fermat's last theorem was proved by Wiles [wikipedia.org] in 1994.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by steelfood (895457)

      Fermat's last theorem was proven true by Andrew Wiles in 1993/1994. But Fermat probably didn't have a proof for it, so the "theorem" portion really was a misnomer, maintained that way by mathematicians, I suspect, for romantic reasons. So it's not a hoax per se.

  • Stem Cell Research (Score:3, Informative)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:44PM (#25533053) Journal

    Of course, there have been serious cases of scientific fraud, such as the stem cell researchers recently found guilty of falsifying data

    Unless I'm mistaken, the fraud committed in this instance was that the photos taken were adjusted in photoshop to make them clearer (i'm not sure if they were brightened or darkened), which had no affect on the actual data or conclusions of the study. Please point me in the right direction if I'm wrong.

  • Laugh at the silly people all you want, but this happened to me as a kid. Some local new station ran a story on the "donut harvest," showing people picking donuts from plants ("These raw donuts will now be sent to a plant to be glazed"). When you're a small kid and don't know anything about how donuts or other pastries are made it seems logical enough. And is spaghetti really all that different from a lot of kelp and other seaweeds that come from nature? I can see where someone who knew nothing about pasta
    • Re:Spaghetti tree (Score:5, Informative)

      by Myrddin Wyllt (1188671) on Monday October 27, 2008 @05:19PM (#25534369)

      Back in 1957, even the word 'pasta' wasn't widely used in the UK. There was only 'spaghetti' and that came in tins with tomato sauce (generally served on toast or with fry-ups as an alternative to Baked Beans). This was decades before full ingredients had to be displayed on packaged food, so all the tins used to say was 'Ingredients - Spaghetti, Tomato Sauce'. Widespread use of dried pasta (popularised by the ubiquitous Spaghetti Bolognaise beloved by students) didn't occur until the '70s, and fresh pasta was uncommon until the '90s.

      The unfamiliarity with anything remotely resembling 'real' spaghetti, and the fact that the story was broadcast by the BBC on it's flagship documentary programme in it's normal time-slot years before television April Fools pieces were common makes the fact that it was widely believed much less surprising than it would appear to 21st century pasta-eaters with a healthy skepticism towards TV news.

  • Project Alpha (Score:4, Informative)

    by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:47PM (#25533105)

    Well, some of these hoaxes, like the hilarious Sokal hoax, weren't really scientific hoaxes moreso than exposing the idiocy of certain groups.

    So, if you want to go down that route (and I see no reason not too!) then you MUST bring up the venerable James Randi.

    Project Alpha humiliated a bunch of paranormal researchers and parapsychologists because of how easily fooled they were.

    Banachek has a good article on his website:

    http://www.banachek.org/nonflash/project_alpha.htm [banachek.org]

    The most interesting thing is that some people were such True Believers in the supposed "powers" of Banachek and Edwards that they continued to believe in them even after revealing it was all just an exposé. The most important thing was that it reveals that while many scientists in this area just didn't properly account for outright fraud; I would guess it is because most experiments do not have to worry about participants purposefully trying to mess with the results.

    • Re:Project Alpha (Score:4, Interesting)

      by c6gunner (950153) on Monday October 27, 2008 @05:34PM (#25534517)

      The most important thing was that it reveals that while many scientists in this area just didn't properly account for outright fraud; I would guess it is because most experiments do not have to worry about participants purposefully trying to mess with the results.

      Not really - the big problem with "researchers" in those fields is that they go in expecting to see certain results. Even if we could expect 100% of participants to be totally honest (a silly expectation), the bias of the scientists themselves can easily (and often does) influence the results of the experiment.

      The biggest point that Randi makes is that proper scientific controls and double-blind experiments are ESSENTIAL in determining the validity of a theory. There are countless examples of scientists (even well-established ones) conducting experiments which seemed to yield a certain result, only to be completely demolished once the experiment was repeated with proper controls. Perhaps the most famous was Jacques Benveniste's study of "homeopathy", which yielded positive results and was published in Nature - but under the condition that he repeat the experiment and allow a select team to observe and guide his experiment. Now, since the experiment already included control-samples of plain water, the only change that the team made was to re-label the test-tubes using a random code in order to remove any selection-bias on the part of the people performing the experiment. That simple procedure was all that was needed to show that Benveniste's earlier results were invalid - the new experiment showed the homeopathic "cure" being tested to have no effect whatsoever.

      We see the same thing with all the other hoaxes - whether intentional or unintentional. The theory is initially accepted by those who WANT to believe it, only to be later disproven by properly controlled analysis or experimentation. As an example, the piltdown man "fossil" was only accepted by a small number of scientists - those who had pre-existing biases (about the supremacy of caucasians) which made them less critical of that fossil than they would be of others.

      That's why the scientific process is so important - it forces all theories to undergo examination by other qualified individuals, and ensures that all supporting experiments are fully documented so that they can be repeated by anyone. This allows us to minimize the effect that personal credulity and bias have on the acceptance of theories, which is the only way we can ever really make any discoveries about our world. It's also why I think critical thinking and rational skepticism should be a major part of early-childhood education, but that's a topic for another time ...

      • Re:Project Alpha (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Monday October 27, 2008 @07:18PM (#25535535)

        That's true of most of the things that Randi "debunks" (for lack of a better word), but not really in Project Alpha. Project Alpha involved deliberately deceiving the researchers to show that their scientific controls were not strong enough.

        For example:

        During one type of telepathy test, a subject would be given a sealed envelope containing a picture drawn from a target pool. Left alone with the envelope, the subject would subsequently surrender the envelope to the experimenter, who would examine it for signs of tampering. The subject would then announce his selection for the target pool. This series of tests was quite successful â" though not overly so, because the boys realized that 100 percent might be suggestive of trickery. They purposely minimized their success. The method was easy. Since the envelope was âoesealedâ only with a few staples, they removed them, peeked, and then replaced the staples through the original holes! In one case, Michael lost two staples, and to cover this he opted to open the envelope himself upon confronting the experimenter. The breach of protocol was accepted. The subject had been allowed to shape the experiment.

        Project Alpha was more about finding weaknesses in the testing protocols of the researchers. In fact, if you read the link, Project Alpha largely began because the researchers in question did not take Randi's advice on how to properly control for fraud and deception in such experiments. It is true that experimenter bias is a factor, but the spotlight here was on the shoddy test designs and poor protocols.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:48PM (#25533117) Homepage Journal

    Please someone tell me it's a hoax.

  • Evolution (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:53PM (#25533185)
    It was thought up by Charles Darwin and it goes something like this: In the beginning we were all fish, okay, swimming around in the water. And then one day a couple of fish had a retard baby, and the retard baby was different, so it got to live. So retard fish goes on to make more retard babies, and then one day a retard baby fish crawled out of the ocean with its... mutant fish hands, and it had butt-sex with a squirrel or something, and made this retard fish-squirrel, and then that had a retard baby which was a monkey-fish-frog, and then this monkey-fish-frog had butt-sex with that monkey; that monkey had a mutant retard baby that screwed another monkey and that made you. So there you go. You're the retarded offspring of five monkeys having butt-sex with a fish-squirrel!! Congratulations!
  • by hotdiggitydawg (881316) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:53PM (#25533191)

    My personal favorite is the gibberish computer-generated journal article [theregister.co.uk] that actually got accepted and published...

  • by gillbates (106458) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:53PM (#25533193) Homepage Journal

    There are still people who wish it weren't a hoax. It's an interesting tale in the ways people will ignore evidence of the contrary when it comes to something they want to believe. The signs were obvious - found in a shop with stone cutting tools, yet ignored for years afterward...

  • Not too hard... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Vexler (127353) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:56PM (#25533227) Journal

    Judging from this recent /. article [slashdot.org], perhaps one shouldn't be surprised that we are this gullible.

  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:57PM (#25533239)
    The memory of water was a famous hoax, at least in France, 15-20 years ago, although I'm not sure it's exactly an hoax. Another famous hoax was when a government-appointed researcher declared in 1986 that the radioactive cloud coming from Chernobyl had stopped at the eastern French borders, and thus the official policy was to not take any of the precautions that other countries took regarding grown food or the prevention of cancer. Isn't spoon bending a hoax as well?
  • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Monday October 27, 2008 @03:59PM (#25533257)
    Who can forget this guy who claimed to be able to boost the speed of data transmission across plain copper wires by 1000x, even 4x faster than fiber? [jacksonville.com] He'd "prove" his invention by apparently streaming perfect, full-motion video across ordinary modem lines, and received millions in funding. Later, it was found out that he was simply using VCR playback on a very long cable. :-)
  • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:01PM (#25533281) Journal
    Could be the biggest one of all. That or alchemy (dead) and astrology (still alive).
  • Color TV! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ninjeratu (794457) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:01PM (#25533293)
    One of the greatest April's Fool jokes of all time must be the one Swedish state television ran in 1962: Place a nylon stocking over your black and white TV screen and get color reception! http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/Hoaxipedia/Instant_Color_TV/ [museumofhoaxes.com]
  • Goat Glands (Score:5, Informative)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`Satanicpuppy' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:03PM (#25533321) Journal

    Nothing beats the perpetual search for...ahem...male enhancement.

    The scientific pioneer was a guy around the Great Depression who made a mint selling an operation in which he would implant goat testicles into his patients, many of whom claimed dramatic improvement.

    In the process he managed to revolutionize modern radio and advertising.

    Linky linky: John Brinkley [wikipedia.org]

  • How about (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Joe Snipe (224958) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:11PM (#25533413) Homepage Journal

    Anything mentioned on the new Fox show Fringe. [fox.com]

  • HeadOn (Score:4, Funny)

    by Thaelon (250687) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:14PM (#25533447)

    HeadOn [wikipedia.org]

    I almost died laughing when I woman I work with bought some at lunch.

    I stopped laughing when she put in charge of operations during our busiest time of year.

  • by taustin (171655) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:25PM (#25533621) Homepage Journal

    That nobody has mentioned the Museum of Hoaxes [museumofhoaxes.com], which documents all these and more. Much, much more.

  • The Turk? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RyoShin (610051) <tukaro@gPLANCKmail.com minus physicist> on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:45PM (#25533939) Homepage Journal

    While perhaps it was more of a parlor trick than a scientific hoax, The Turk [wikipedia.org] was still peddled as a thinking machine that could play chess. Not only did its creator succeed, but subsequent owners did, as well.

    The Turk or Automaton Chess Player was a chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century, and exhibited from 1770 for over 84 years, by various owners, as an automaton but later explained in January 1857 as an elaborate hoax.

    ...playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.

    Really interesting stuff, well before any modern computer (even beating Charles Babbage's [wikipedia.org] work by almost half a decade). In fact, Babbage was another opponent [thefreelibrary.com] of the turk, and was reportedly inspired by it.

    (If you're a CS major and don't know who Babbage is, you really should read up.)

  • Fairly obvious... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thethibs (882667) on Monday October 27, 2008 @04:46PM (#25533953) Homepage
    They left out more modern scientific hoaxes, including AGW and "a high-carb, low-fat diet prevents heart disease".
  • by grandpa-geek (981017) on Monday October 27, 2008 @05:04PM (#25534179)

    I know of at least two documents, the Vinland Map and the Paraiba Inscription, that were declared "hoaxes" by experts but were later found to be authentic.

    In both cases the documents contained messages encyphered in a manner common for many years. Cyrus Gordon discussed both in his book Riddles in History. Gordon was an expert in ancient languages who also had worked at Bletchley Park during World War II, giving him a knowledge of encryption.

    The encypherment was what Gordon called "acrostic/telestic". The first and last letters of a line are treated as a count into the line and the appropriate letters marked. Then the pairs of letters are rearranged according to a pattern. The usual message was the name of the author (by the rearranged front count letters) and a religious message (by the back count letters). An example of this encypherment was found in a scribe's practice attempts in Turkey.

    One item of hoax "evidence" was a spelling error in the Vinland Map. It turned out that the author had forced a letter into place, which resulted in the apparent error.

  • Inadvertent Hoax? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Monday October 27, 2008 @05:29PM (#25534467) Journal

    Not fraud, because they truly believed what they saw and their publications supported it. And then it went far beyond the source.

    Binaural Beat, or EEG "beat frequency" brain stimulation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_frequency [wikipedia.org] (see Binaural Beat section), as originated at The Monroe Institute http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_institute [wikipedia.org] (TMI).

    In acoustics, two beats of nearly the same frequency interfere to produce a change in summed volume of a period equal to the difference between the two frequencies. At TMI, they found that if they played sine waves into each ear of a slightly different frequency, they could detect an increase in EEG power at the beat frequency. I was so taken with an article in OMNI on TMI that I saved it for over a decade until I started studying EEG research under Karl Pribram.

    Once I started studying it, a glaring error came to mind. We had to put subjects in a Gaussian cage to shield them from stray signals from the heaters and pumps for the swimming pool elsewhere in the building our lab was at. These caused induced currents in the EEG. If that was necessary, how could they justify putting electromagenticially driven headphones on top an EEG cap?

    To first pull things apart, I tested a single subject -- a styrofoam head (a wig stand) with EEG cap and headphones on it. I was able to show power increases at precisely the same frequencies as the beat signal. (I'd first suggested using a bowl of Jell-O. Karl suggested not to, since he'd found increases in alpha waves in a bowl of Jell-O when shaken. No, I don't know why. Neither did Karl. We just thought it was extremely cool.)

    To make it more official, I helped teach some students at University of Virginia at Wise to run EEG research. Their EEG system could produce sound remotely in a closed box and transmit it via air conduction up long plastic tubes into the ears -- no electromagnets anywhere near the head. They ran it this was as well as the traditional Monroe way (headphones on top of EEG cap). In the each of the same subjects, the traditional method produced power increases at the beat frequency. With air conduction stimuli, no changes were observed.

    My two greatest joys in science are having undergrads produce results presented at international conferences, and in bursting the bubbles of old farts in the field. This particular project resulted in both. Not only did TMI present several pieces of research as valid, but many other people used the same set up and got stuff published elsewhere. Go to PubMed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez [nih.gov] and put in "binaural beat" to get the relevant results (and some not relevant, but they're easy to tell apart).

    Now, you'd think that once results are presented that show it's bogus, people would quit. Not so. We did the work on 2002. Check the dates on the PubMed results. Now, that's kind of fraudulent, but more a sign that there's way too many people publishing way too many things in way too many places to be able to keep track of everything. OTOH, our work isn't in PubMed because it was a conference presentation.

    What is fraudulent is the many places that produce all sorts of new agey junk based on binaural beat, claiming there's scientific evidence, but not ever quoting any, whether the original well done but slightly fatally flawed TMI work, or any subsequent. Also fairly fraudulent by TMI and all the others is claims that specific frequency differences can be used to produce specific changes such as, oh hell, here's just a sampling from TMI: http://monroeinstitute.com/store/home.php [monroeinstitute.com]

    I try to go easy on the scientific community when it comes to possible fraud claims in this area. To their credit, there used to be many more people producing work in this field, including some at U. Va. itself. In fact some from U/

  • Kensington Runestone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kherr (602366) <kevin AT puppethead DOT com> on Monday October 27, 2008 @07:53PM (#25535835) Homepage

    The Kensington Runestone [wikipedia.org] is an intriguing item in my neck of the woods. It's largely considered a hoax these days, but there will always be believers. It's pretty elaborate for a hoax if it is one, causing a century of controversy.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday October 27, 2008 @08:44PM (#25536221)
    Isaac Asimov's fake thesis paper from his college days: "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline".

    In it, he described a substance that would actually dissolve just before it touched the solvent. This is a great one, well worth the read if you can find it.

    This prank was not actually "pulled" on anyone, but when the professors who were to judge his real thesis caught wind of it, he was strongly reprimanded and apparently there was some question about whether he would be given his doctorate.

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