Hoaxes Throughout History
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Pope Joan (853 CE)

According to legend, Pope Joan was a woman who concealed her gender and ruled as pope for two years during the 9th Century. Her identity was exposed when, riding one day from St. Peter's to the Lateran, she stopped by the side of the road and, to the astonishment of everyone, gave birth to a child. The legend is unconfirmed. Skeptics note that the first references to Pope Joan only appear hundreds of years after her supposed reign. More…
At a time when European rulers felt threatened by the growing power of Muslim nations on their borders, a letter suddenly appeared from Prester John, who described himself as a Christian king of vast wealth and power living in the far east. Hopes were raised that Prester John would come to the aid of Europe's Christian nations, and expeditions were sent to search for him. But Prester John was never found. The letter's true author remains unknown. More…
A pamphlet published in Paris described the case of a woman who had given birth to a son, even though her husband had been absent for four years. When charged with adultery, the woman claimed innocence, explaining that her husband had impregnated her in a dream. The court accepted this argument. The report of this ruling caused an uproar throughout Paris, but upon investigation the pamphlet was revealed to be a hoax. More…
Poinsettias are one of the most popular plants in the world. They account for one quarter of the annual sales of all flowering potted plants. However, it's widely believed that they're poisonous. "One poinsettia leaf can kill a child," is a warning that's been repeated often over the years. This belief is a myth. Poinsettias, although not edible, have low toxicity. The belief that they're poisonous traces back to a rumor that surfaced in 1919, alleging that a child in Hawaii died after eating a poinsettia leaf. The death was hearsay. However, the rumor was believed by several Hawaiian doctors, and through them the story was transmitted to the broader scientific community. As a result, for decades health professionals warned the public about the danger posed by poinsettias. It wasn't until the early 1970s that the scientific community realized its error and began an effort to restore the plant's reputation. More…