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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Science
The ‘We only use 10% of our brains’ myth — 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… Continue…
Posted: Tue Jul 22, 2014.   Comments (0)

An Igorot With A Tail, 1925 — 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…
Posted: Tue Nov 05, 2013.   Comments (2)

The Oldest Ear of Corn—a fake that fooled science — 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…
Posted: Fri Oct 18, 2013.   Comments (1)

Open-Access Hoax — 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…
Posted: Sat Oct 05, 2013.   Comments (1)


Hermeneutic Hoax — 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…
Posted: Tue Sep 24, 2013.   Comments (1)

Myth: Pearls are made from a grain of sand — 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…
Posted: Tue Sep 17, 2013.   Comments (2)

Questions about the Milgram experiment — 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,…
Posted: Thu Sep 12, 2013.   Comments (0)

Mammoth Hailstone Hoax, 1911 — 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.
Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2013.   Comments (0)

New study shows how damage to a specific region of the brain can cause gullibility — 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…
Posted: Mon Aug 20, 2012.   Comments (1)

Is lying bad for your health? — Bad news for hoaxers -- A new scientific study reports that lying less results in better health. (Links: apa.org,
Posted: Thu Aug 09, 2012.   Comments (2)

Use your left ear to detect lies — 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…
Posted: Fri Aug 03, 2012.   Comments (4)

The Mystery of the Burnley River Skull — 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…
Posted: Wed Jul 11, 2012.   Comments (5)

A Global Warming Hoax from 1874 — I periodically receive emails from people who insist I need to add global warming to the site because it's the "biggest hoax in human history." I don't agree with that. Actually, I think global warming is something that definitely merits being worried about. However, I did just add a global warming hoax to the hoax archive, which might make the global-warming-is-a-hoax crowd happy. Except that this hoax occurred in 1874. It's a story that appeared in U.S. newspapers in February 1874.…
Posted: Mon May 21, 2012.   Comments (0)

The Fake Science Blog — The Fake Science Blog has been around for over two years, but I just found out about it. It describes itself as being "for when the facts are too confusing." Lots of great stuff! Seems to be a new post about once every 4 or 5 days. Here's a few samples:
Posted: Tue Apr 24, 2012.   Comments (1)

Social Psychologist Fabricates Data — A committee at Tilburg University (in the Netherlands) has determined that the social psychologist Diederik Stapel is guilty of fabricating data in multiple studies. Staepl has admitted his guilt, saying he "failed as a scientist". From sciencemag.org: The panel reported that [Stapel] would discuss in detail experimental designs, including drafting questionnaires, and would then claim to conduct the experiments at high schools and universities with which he had special arrangements.…
Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2011.   Comments (3)

Margaret Mead Redeemed? — A new salvo has been fired in the ongoing controversy about whether the anthropologist Margaret Mead was "hoaxed" during her research in Samoa in 1925. I've got a brief article about the controversy in the hoax archive. To summarize: Mead traveled to Samoa, interviewed some teenage girls about their sexual behavior, and concluded that Samoan culture had very relaxed, easygoing attitudes about sex. Almost sixty years later Derek Freeman challenged her findings and claimed that the…
Posted: Mon Dec 21, 2009.   Comments (6)

Stalin, black orchids, and Eva Peron — Lorena writes to ask: You seem to know a lot about hoaxes so....I am doing some research, and I was asked if the story about Stalin sending black orchids to Eva Peron's funeral are a hoax. Problem is, I can't even find stories about it at all. Have you ever heard this? I'm flattered Lorena thinks I might be knowledgeable enough to have the answer to this, but unfortunately I've never heard the story before and can't find any references to it. In a July 28, 1952 Associated Press…
Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2009.   Comments (8)

The Piltdown Man: The Play — A new play opening at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, Fake by Eric Simonson, is based on the Piltdown Man hoax. It looks pretty good, but I can't find any indication if there are plans for it to go on tour and come to San Diego. In 1914, renowned mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invites four guests to his English country home. Each visitor has a connection to the infamous "Piltdown Man," purported to be the missing link between ape and man—later exposed as a hoax. Swinging back and…
Posted: Wed Sep 23, 2009.   Comments (1)

Are women getting more beautiful? — The Times Online reports on a recent study by University of Helsinki researcher Markus Jokela, who found that women are getting more beautiful: Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors. The article doesn't mention where Jokela published his study, so I'll have to go by the article's description of his work. But on the basis of that, his claim is absurd. Beauty isn't…
Posted: Tue Jul 28, 2009.   Comments (13)

Margaret’s Stain — A stain, shaped like a human body, can be found on the concrete floor of the Athens Mental Health and Retardation Center in Athens Ohio. According to legend, this stain marks the location where the body of a patient, Margaret Schilling, lay undiscovered for several weeks back in 1979. A team of forensic scientists recently tested the stain to determine whether it's a genuine human decomposition stain, or if it was created artificially. They published the results of their investigation…
Posted: Mon Jul 27, 2009.   Comments (10)

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