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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Science
Sailing Stones Explained
Posted by The Curator on Thu Aug 28, 2014
The Sailing Stones of Death Valley are the real-life counterpart of Dan De Quille's 1867 hoax about the "traveling stones" of Pahranagat Valley. The sailing stones mysteriously move across dried mud, leaving tracks behind them. For a long time, no one knew exactly what made the sailing stones move. But now researchers have figured it out. [Discover]
Categories: Science Comments (1)
Fossil Poop Controversy
Posted by The Curator on Wed Jul 23, 2014
I.M. Chait auctioneer will soon be taking bids on what it describes as the "longest example of coprolite [i.e. fossil poop] ever to be offered at auction." At 40 inches, it's definitely quite long. A number of sites described this as dinosaur poop, which it can't be, since it's 40 million years too young to have come from the rear end of a dinosaur. But gawker's antiviral notes that it may not be a coprolite either. The object comes from Washington's Wilkes formation, and according to Whitman College Professor of Geology Patrick K. Spencer, there's nothing that would "suggest an organic origin" for this object, or any of the…
Categories: Science Comments (0)
Fishy Research
Posted by The Curator on Wed Jul 23, 2014
Many media outlets (such as NPR) recently ran a feel-good story about how a sixth-grader made an important scientific discovery. The discovery was that lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water, such as that found in estuaries. This is important to know since lionfish are highly invasive. The young scientist made this discovery as part of a science-fair project on lionfish. But it now looks like there's a seamier side to this story. It turns out that this information had been discovered before, as far back as 2010, by a marine biology grad student, Zach Jud. And Jud had worked with the sixth-grader's father, who's also a marine biologist. …
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The ‘We only use 10% of our brains’ myth
Posted by The Curator on Tue Jul 22, 2014
In an article in The Atlantic, Sam McDougle traces the origin of the often repeated belief that "you only use 10 percent of your brain." He writes: "According to Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton and the author of Welcome to Your Brain, the catalyst may have been the self-help industry. In the early 1900s, William James, one of the most influential thinkers in modern psychology, famously said that humans have unused mental potential. This completely reasonable assertion was later revived, in mangled form, by the writer Lowell Thomas in his foreword to the 1936 self-help bible How To Win Friends And Influence People. ‚ÄúProfessor William James of Harvard used to say that…
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An Igorot With A Tail, 1925
Posted by The Curator on Tue Nov 05, 2013
Here's a case of a fake "viral" image that made its way into the scientific literature back in 1925, demonstrating that the phenomenon of strange, doctored images circulating around existed long before the internet, although the internet certainly boosted the phenomenon to new levels. The 1925 case: In the fourth edition of his book I Believe in God and in Evolution, published in 1925, William Keen included a short account of "Human Beings With Tails": Human Beings With Tails The literature as to tails in human beings is extensive. Cases have been reported from every continent, and, including the United States, from almost every important nation in the world.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Science Comments (2)
The Oldest Ear of Corn—a fake that fooled science
Posted by The Curator on Fri Oct 18, 2013
From 1914 to 1934 the Smithsonian had on display an object that it described as the "oldest ear of corn" in the world. It was believed to be a piece of fossilized corn, several thousand years old, which had been acquired from a "collector of curios" in Cuzco, Peru. The fossil corn wasn't considered to be just a curiosity. It was regarded as having real scientific importance because, as G.N. Collins noted in a 1919 article about it in the Journal of Heredity, it provided "the first tangible evidence of the geological existence of this important cultivated plant." ("A Fossil Ear of Maize," Jour. Heredity, April 1919). It was also believed to be…
Categories: Science Comments (1)
Open-Access Hoax
Posted by The Curator on Sat Oct 05, 2013
A report of a scientific hoax appears in the latest issue of Science. Researcher John Bohannon wrote a purposefully bad scientific paper — one with glaringly bad errors that any peer reviewer should be able to spot. He then submitted versions of that paper to 304 open-access journals, using aliases such as "Ocarrafoo M.L. Cobange," supposedly a biologist at the Wassee Institute of Medicine in Asmara. The result: "More than half of the journals accepted the paper, failing to notice its fatal flaws." Bohannon says this raises "questions about peer-review practices in much of the open-access world." But defenders of the open-access system (such as here and…
Categories: Science Comments (1)
Hermeneutic Hoax
Posted by The Curator on Tue Sep 24, 2013
The most recent issue of the Romanian journal Metalurgia International contains an unusual article titled "Evaluation of Transformative Hermeneutic Heuristics for Processing Random Data." If that title doesn't make much sense to you, neither will the rest of the article. But that's intentional on the part of the authors, who submitted a nonsense article to the journal, which obligingly published it — apparently without bothering to read it first. The intent of the hoaxers (three professors at the University of Belgrade) was to "draw attention to the hyperproduction of quasi-scientific works by Serbian professors that are published in the magazines of dubious quality" as the website In Serbia puts it. The…
Categories: Education, Science Comments (1)
Myth: Pearls are made from a grain of sand
Posted by The Curator on Tue Sep 17, 2013
Came across this in a Guardian article about a new exhibit opening at the Victoria & Albert Museum: V&A dissolves myths around pearls in major new show The Guardian [Marilyn] Monroe and [Elizabeth] Taylor are represented in a show devoted to pearls, opening at the V&A on Saturday. Neither probably knew the grimmer truth of what they were wearing. "The pearls are formed around the larvae from a tapeworm coming from the excrement of other animals," said the show's co-curator, Hubert Bari. "The people marketing them prefer to say 'it is so fantastic: your necklace was made from a grain of sand'. It is better to…
Categories: Science Comments (2)
Questions about the Milgram experiment
Posted by The Curator on Thu Sep 12, 2013
Gina Perry has authored a new book about Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiment (Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments) in which she argues that Milgram fudged his data and conclusions. Boing Boing reviews it. Perry suggests the fudging happened in several ways: First, although Milgram claimed his experiment always followed a set script, Perry reviewed the original audio tapes and found this wasn't the case. Instead, Milgram's experimenter "wheedled and nagged the subjects into turning up the shock dial."Second, she argues that a substantial portion of the experimental subjects saw through Milgram's ruse and realized that they weren't actually shocking someone. I'll have…
Categories: Psychology, Science Comments (0)
Mammoth Hailstone Hoax, 1911
Posted by The Curator on Tue Aug 27, 2013
I found this photo in the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. It shows a Mr. O'Mahony (of Pipestone, Minnesota) proudly showing off a "mammoth hail stone" — size: 6" x 6" x 8" and weighing 5½ lbs. A note attached to the photo reveals that the hailstone was a fake: Mr. O'Mahony was the victim of a hoax. This large chunk of clear icebox ice was dropped through a skylight in a public building where it was found and assumed was fell from the sky during as a huge hail stone. The instigator of the creative prank confessed many years later - after…
Categories: Science Comments (0)
Gullibility sometimes increases as people grow old. For which reason, the elderly are victims of financial scams in disproportionately high numbers. New research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, has now linked this age-related gullibility to deterioration of a specific area in the brain — the vmPFC (ventromedial prefrontal cortex). The researchers showed a series of ads to 18 patients with damage to the vmPFC. Some of the ads were deceptive (and contained clues to that effect). For instance, one ad for a (fictitious) product named NatureCure described a 'natural' pain reliever that supposedly provided headache relief "without the side effects of over-the-counter pain relievers." But a disclaimer at the bottom…
Categories: Science Comments (1)
Is lying bad for your health?
Posted by The Curator on Thu Aug 09, 2012
Bad news for hoaxers -- A new scientific study reports that lying less results in better health. (Links: apa.org, eurekalert.org) The study hasn't been peer-reviewed/published yet, but preliminary results were reported at the 120th Convention of the American Psychological Association. The study tracked 110 people, half of whom were instructed to tell fewer lies for 10 weeks, and the other half received no special instructions about lying. At the end of 10 weeks, the non-liers reported significantly better health. What I wonder is how the researchers could know that the no-lying group wasn't lying about lying less. The researchers said they gve the participants regular polygraph tests, but those tests…
Categories: Science Comments (2)
Use your left ear to detect lies
Posted by The Curator on Fri Aug 03, 2012
image source: megafonA study reported in the journal Laterality (Mar 2005) found that people are significantly better at detecting lies with their left ear than their right ear. The reason is that left-ear information is processed by the brain's right hemisphere, which apparently is better at detecting deception than the left hemisphere. (For instance, studies have shown that people with right-hemisphere damage have trouble detecting lies.) In the ear study, 32 participants listened to 112 pre-recorded statements, using either their right or left ear, and then were asked to determine which statements were true or false. The results, from the study: Participants were significantly more accurate when…
Categories: Science Comments (4)
The Mystery of the Burnley River Skull
Posted by The Curator on Wed Jul 11, 2012
Back in May, a Lancashire couple, Mick and Elaine Bell, found a human skull in a shallow section of the Burnley River while out walking their dogs. They gave the skull to the police, who initially suspected that rain had washed it down from a nearby cemetery. But as forensic experts examined it, they grew puzzled. The features of the skull indicated the person had been a man who was either an Australian aboriginal or from a South Pacific Island. How had he ended up buried in Lancashire? Elaine Bell with the skull Carbon dating the skull produced no results. Initially the scientists thought this was because the…
Categories: History, Science Comments (5)
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