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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Science
The Virtual Milgram Obedience Experiment — Back in the early 1960s Stanley Milgram conducted a famous experiment at Yale University. Volunteers were told that it was designed to test the effect of punishment on learning. Would a person learn a list of word pairs better if they were punished every time they got an answer wrong? The volunteer was instructed to deliver an electric shock to the learner every time one of his answers was wrong. The shocks increased in intensity for every wrong answer. Of course, the experiment wasn't…
Posted: Thu Dec 21, 2006.   Comments (28)

Stardust@home Project Finds Life — The stardust spacecraft spent seven years collecting outer-space dust in large sheets of aerogel. Now it's back on Earth and researchers have enlisted the help of internet users to find microscopic specks of dust in the aerogel. They taken 1.6 million images of the gel with a scanning microscope and are distributing these to volunteers. Already some people have found signs of life. Unfortunately it's not extraterrestrial life: On its first day, the website shut down due to heavy…
Posted: Tue Aug 15, 2006.   Comments (11)

Quick Links: Bonsai Contortionist, etc. — Bonsai Contortionist Hugo Zamoratte is known as 'The Bottle Man' and has the ability to dislocate almost every bone in his body. Playing Astronauts The Haughton Mars Project's research and development of ways to survive in space seem like a dream come true for big kids. Cardboard Office Mike, a keen prankster, pushed his co-workers too far. It was probably a mistake to then take a few days away from the office. Lobster Pinches Wallet A man who lost his wallet during a late-night…
Posted: Mon Aug 14, 2006.   Comments (12)

Does God Love Rats? — I attended an episcopalian high school, which meant that I had to sit through a chapel service every day. Thankfully the services were never fire-and-brimstone stuff. These were Episcopalians, after all. Instead, they were most often like general-interest lectures. But one service in particular has stuck in my mind, during which whoever was giving the service described an unusual experiment involving the relationship between rats and God. I think the experiment might be an interesting…
Posted: Sat Aug 05, 2006.   Comments (17)


Aquiess Weather Modification — Status: Highly questionable A company called Aquiess, led by David Miles, claims to have developed technology that can bring rain to drought-ridden areas. Sounds a bit dubious to me, but Miles has managed to convince some farmers in Geelong, Australia that this is the real deal. The farmers have hired him on the agreement that they'll pay him if it rains. So if it doesn't rain, they remain out of luck. And if it does rain, they're going to pay some guy for something that is probably due…
Posted: Sun Jul 30, 2006.   Comments (6)

Beware of Hydrogen in Water — Status: Prank Here's a slight variation on the old dihydrogen monoxide prank. The director of the Waterfront Park in Louisville, Ky placed signs around the fountains warning people of dangerously high levels of hydrogen in the water: It seems authorities, tired of swimmers splashing around in the fountains and leery of the possibility of bacteria developing in the water, were hoping the public would be scared away by the foreboding signs — even though there was nothing amiss. David…
Posted: Thu Jul 20, 2006.   Comments (17)

Was Franklin’s Electric Kite Experiment a Hoax? — Status: Scholarly debate Last weekend Philadelphia celebrated the anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's electric kite experiment (in which he flew a kite during a thunderstorm and proved that lightning was a form of electricity). They did so despite the fact that many believe the experiment was a hoax... that it never happened. The Philadelphia Inquirer provides a summary of this debate. The main proponent of the electric-kite-hoax theory is Tom Tucker, author of Bolt of Fate: Benjamin…
Posted: Wed Jun 21, 2006.   Comments (26)

Florida Accountant Descended From Genghis Khan — Status: Apparently True Tom Robinson, a mild-mannered professor of Accounting living in Florida, has been identified as a descendant of the fierce Mongol warlord, Genghis Khan. When informed of his ancestor, Robinson expressed admiration for the Mongol leader, but has not yet indicated any plans to begin a campaign of raping and pillaging. Although it sounds odd, the science behind the claim seems valid enough. It stems from a 2003 genetic study that identified Genghis Khan as the…
Posted: Wed May 31, 2006.   Comments (16)

Casimir Effect Causes Ships To Attract Each Other — Status: Myth According to Wikipedia, the Casimir Effect (which is real) is "a physical force exerted between separate objects, which is due to neither charge, gravity, nor the exchange of particles, but instead is due to resonance of all-pervasive energy fields in the intervening space between the objects." The effect is best observed with things such as parallel plates of metal in a vacuum. Another example often used to illustrate the effect is that it can be seen operating on ships…
Posted: Sat May 06, 2006.   Comments (6)

Inauthentic Paper Detector — Status: anti-counterfeit technology Last year I posted about a group of MIT students who created an Automatic Scientific Paper Generator, capable of creating "random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations." One of the papers created by this program was accepted for presentation at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. To stop something like this happening again, researchers at the Indiana University School of Informaics…
Posted: Fri Apr 28, 2006.   Comments (15)

Microwaved Water Kills Plants — Status: Undetermined I've posted before about theories that microwaved food is bad for you, but this is slightly different. Some guy has posted pictures of his granddaughter's science fair project in which she tested the effect microwaved water would have on a plant. The result: the plant died. (Yes, the water had been cooled before she watered the plant with it.) But the plant given water that had been boiled on a stove did just fine. So what does this prove? That microwaved water is…
Posted: Fri Apr 21, 2006.   Comments (100)

Binary King Galaxy — Status: Fake Dave forwarded me this email he received (which, he noted, was dated April 1, so it seemed a bit suspicious to him). The subject line of the email reads: DEEP-SPACE PHOTO: EP_4277. The text reads: The subject of this photo is a very rare one indeed - taken by NASA with the Hubble space telescope. This is the only documented existence of a binary king galaxy in our known universe. Astronomy is definitely not my expertise. I wouldn't even be able to find the Big Dipper on…
Posted: Wed Apr 19, 2006.   Comments (17)

The Disappearing Blonde Gene — Status: Hoax reported as news Peter Frost has an article in the current issue of Evolution and Human Behavior in which he argues that the trait for blonde hair evolved 10,000 years ago in northern Europe because men found blonde women to be attractive--and because there were more women than men, the women had to compete for the men. (I'm simplifying his argument a lot.) But I'm not bringing this up to make a point about Frost's article. Instead, I'm bringing it up because the London…
Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2006.   Comments (32)

Turkish Wrist Walkers — Status: Real I've received quite a few emails about the following story, presumably because it seems like something lifted from Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. A family in Turkey contains five siblings who have apparently never learned how to walk on their feet. They still walk on all fours, with the weight of their upper bodies supported by their wrists (wrist walking, as opposed to knuckle walking, which is what apes do). You can check out a video of one of these wrist walkers
Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2006.   Comments (19)

Popular Myths in Science — Status: Urban Legends LiveScience.com has a list of the 20 Most Popular Myths in Science. Included in the list are classics such as these: It takes seven years to digest gum. Hair and fingernails continue growing after death. A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian. Humans use only 10 percent of their brains. You get less wet by running in the rain. Eating a poppy seed bagel mimics opium use. Oddly enough, they also throw a few strange-but-true items…
Posted: Sat Feb 18, 2006.   Comments (17)

Fighting Dinosaurs Fossil — Status: Real Zkato wants to know if the fossil of fighting dinosaurs found on the website of the Nakasato dinosaur Center is real. The fossil does sound a little too good to be true: One Protoceratops, a herbivorous (plant-eating) dinosaur, perished in the struggle with a carnivorous theropod, Velociraptor. After their death 80 million years ago, both skeletons were fossilized, then finally unearthed in 1971 in fully articulated forms without having been smashed. However, not only is…
Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2006.   Comments (12)

Fictitious Patients in Cancer Study — Status: Scientific fraud A Norwegian doctor, Jon Sudbo, who published an article in the Lancet last year suggesting that aspirin could reduce the risk of oral cancer, has been accused of making up the data in his study. Specifically, he invented almost all of the 900 patients in the study (or at least half of them, by other accounts). The director of the hospital where he worked said: "he faked everything: names, diagnosis, gender, weight, age, drug use." Richard Horton, editor of the…
Posted: Mon Jan 23, 2006.   Comments (2)

Healing Power of Prayer Study — Status: Pseudoscience Last night ABC News had a segment about a study being funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine if prayer can help cancer patients heal faster. Or more specifically, whether a stranger's prayers can help a patient heal faster. (The people running the study have invented the bs term 'distant healing' to make what they're studying sound more legitimate.) My jaw was on the floor as I was watching this. I couldn't believe the government had been suckered…
Posted: Mon Jan 09, 2006.   Comments (30)

Supercooled Water — Status: Real On December 7th, Matt Sparks went to get some bottled water out of his garage. The temperature in the garage was below the freezing point of water, but he noticed that the water in the bottles was still liquid. However, when he moved the water, it instantly froze. He has some videos on his site showing what happened. They're pretty cool, and if you're not aware of the phenomenon of supercooled water (as I wasn't), you might think there's some kind of trickery involved. But…
Posted: Tue Dec 13, 2005.   Comments (34)

Top 10 Apollo Hoax Theories — In honor of the anniversary of the moon landing, Space.com has an article listing (and debunking) the top 10 Apollo Hoax Theories. Below are the top 10 points raised by those who believe the moon landing was a hoax. You'll have to read the article to get the explanation of why these points DON'T prove that the moon landing was a hoax. #10. Fluttering Flag: The American flag appears to wave in the lunar wind. #9. Glow-in-the-Dark Astronauts: If the astronauts had left the safety of the…
Posted: Wed Jul 20, 2005.   Comments (134)

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