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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Science
The Virtual Milgram Obedience Experiment
Posted by The Curator on Thu Dec 21, 2006
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 actually about the effect of punishment on learning at all. It was really designed to see how long the volunteers would obey…
Categories: Psychology, Science Comments (28)
Stardust@home Project Finds Life
Posted by The Curator on Tue Aug 15, 2006
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 traffic. And a few hours after re-opening, it had a stranger problem. In among the speckled grey aerogel pictures appeared photos…
Quick Links: Bonsai Contortionist, etc.
Posted by Boo on Mon Aug 14, 2006
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 swim was surprised when it turned up in the…
Does God Love Rats?
Posted by The Curator on Sat Aug 05, 2006
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 addition to my next book, so I'm trying to track down details about it. But so far I've been unsuccessful. So I'm hoping that one of the Museum of Hoaxes readers might know something about it. The experimenters, so it was said,…
Categories: Science Comments (17)
Aquiess Weather Modification
Posted by The Curator on Sun Jul 30, 2006
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 to natural causes. According to the Aquiess homepage the technology somehow works via blasting weather systems with electromagnetic pulses:
Categories: Science Comments (6)
Beware of Hydrogen in Water
Posted by The Curator on Thu Jul 20, 2006
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 Karem, executive director of the Waterfront Development Corp., said he had the signs made in the hopes that a lack…
Categories: Pranks, Science Comments (17)
Was Franklin’s Electric Kite Experiment a Hoax?
Posted by The Curator on Wed Jun 21, 2006
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 Franklin and his Electric Kite Hoax. (I noted the publication of his book back in 2003 when it first appeared in print.) Tucker points out that a) "Franklin did not publicize the kite flight until…
Categories: History, Science Comments (26)
Florida Accountant Descended From Genghis Khan
Posted by The Curator on Wed May 31, 2006
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 common ancestor of 8 percent of Asian men. A British company, Oxford Ancestors, searched its client database to find more matches with Genghis Khan and identified Tom Robinson as one of his descendants. He is…
Categories: History, Science Comments (16)
Casimir Effect Causes Ships To Attract Each Other
Posted by The Curator on Sat May 06, 2006
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 lying close together in a strong swell because "waves with wavelengths longer than the distance between the ships would…
Categories: Science Comments (6)
Inauthentic Paper Detector
Posted by The Curator on Fri Apr 28, 2006
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 have invented an Inauthentic Paper Detector. It's supposed to be able to tell whether a paper has been written by a human or a machine. The researchers write: "The main purpose of this software is to detect whether a technical document conforms to the statistical standards…
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Science Comments (15)
Microwaved Water Kills Plants
Posted by The Curator on Fri Apr 21, 2006
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 toxic? Not necessarily. The guy notes: We have seen a number of comments on this,…
Categories: Food, Science Comments (100)
Binary King Galaxy
Posted by The Curator on Wed Apr 19, 2006
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 a clear night. So although I know what a…
Categories: Photos/Videos, Science Comments (17)
The Disappearing Blonde Gene
Posted by The Curator on Tue Feb 28, 2006
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 Times discusses his article and concludes with this observation: Film star blondes such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sharon Stone and Scarlett Johansson are held up…
Categories: Journalism, Science Comments (32)
Turkish Wrist Walkers
Posted by The Curator on Mon Feb 27, 2006
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 on the website of Turkish researcher Uner Tan. The…
Categories: Science Comments (19)
Popular Myths in Science
Posted by The Curator on Sat Feb 18, 2006
Status: Urban Legends 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 into this list of myths, such as these: Chickens can live without a head. Yawning is…
Categories: Science, Urban Legends Comments (17)
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