Scientific hoaxes


CDNBear
#1
These fall quite nicely into the definition of a hoax, as they were perpetrated to garner fame and or financial gain. As apposed to peoples individual faiths, which are for their benefit and their benefit alone.

Scientific Hoaxes, Part I
Copyright 1993 by Edward Willett

Science progresses not only when scientists have brilliant ideas, but also when they're wrong. A wrong idea faces testing through experiments, and those experiments sometimes not only disprove the wrong idea, they uncover the truth.
Because of this, science has always been susceptible to hoaxes. A well-executed hoax appears to have solid evidence behind it, and therefore to be worthy of discussion.
A history of scientific hoaxes would take up a book -- and has. Having only a small column, I, alas, must limit myself to the most famous hoax of all: Piltdown Man.
In 1908 an English lawyer and amateur archaeologist, Charles Dawson, wrote to his friend Arthur Smith Woodward, head of the department of geology at the British Museum, that a crew of laborers had turned up an ancient fragment of human skull in a gravel pit near Piltdown, England. Dawson said further excavations had turned up more skull fragments, animal bones and flint tools. He invited Woodward to come take a look.
Woodward accepted, and after studying the skull fragments, concluded Dawson had stumbled on some of the oldest human fossils ever found. A few days later he and Dawson came up with an ancient lower jaw, some teeth, and a bunch of bone fragments.
Woodward publicly announced this "monumental" discovery before the Geological Society of London in December, 1912, where he exhibited a complete skull, reconstructed from the fragments he and Dawson had found. He estimated it to be 500,000 years old and said it could be the "missing link" between humans and apes, because although the skull was completely humanoid, the jaw was very ape-like.
Java Man, Peking Man, Neanderthal Man, Cro-Magnon Man and other famous folk had recently been uncovered, but all the same, many scientists were skeptical of Piltdown Man, or "Eanthropus dawsoni" (Dawson's Dawn Man). If his jaw were that primitive, and he really had lived 500,000 years before, he didn't fit at all into the evolutionary tree they'd been drawing up for humankind. They argued the jaw was not just ape-like, it was pure ape, and had ended up next to the human skull only by coincidence.
Woodward and Dawson, however, pointed to the molars found with the jaw, which were flat like human teeth, not pointed like ape teeth. In 1915 an identical skull-and-jawbone set turned up not far from the original, and seemed to clinch things. An ape jaw and human skull might be found in close proximity once by coincidence, but twice, within two miles of each other? Not likely.
A year later, Charles Dawson died, knowing Eanthropus dawsoni enjoyed general scientific acceptance. Woodward continued excavating, but found no more fossils.
Other fossils from other places, however, made Piltdown Man increasingly hard to fit into evolutionary theory, leading, in 1949, to a re-examination of the original fossils. New dating techniques showed the skull was only 50,000 years old, not half a million.
Four years later the most exhaustive tests ever carried out on any fossils confirmed the skull was only 50,000 years old, and revealed that the jawbone wasn't ancient at all: it belonged to a recently deceased orangutan and had been stained brown to look like a fossil. The flat teeth were actually pointed ape teeth that had been filed down.
That settled it: Piltdown Man, enshrined in textbooks and museums for 40 years, was a hoax, perpetrated, further detective work proved, by Charles Dawson.
The moral of all this isn't, as the rabidly paranoid might think, that you can't trust scienctists. The moral is, keep questioning, keep experimenting, keep thinking.
Science sometimes confuses people because findings announced with great fanfare are often called into question by other findings shortly thereafter. But contradiction and argument, for science, aren't weaknesses: they're strengths. It's through testing and re-testing ideas that new knowledge is uncovered and old knowledge is refined.
The point of Piltdown Man isn't that Dawson fooled science for 40 years; the point is that, even after 40 years, an idea could be tested, a hoax uncovered, and truth revealed.
In science, more than any other endeavour, you learn from your mistakes.

Scientific Hoaxes, Part II
Copyright 1993 by Edward Willett

Last week's column on Piltdown Man was supposed to be about scientific hoaxes in general, but my prolixity defeated me: I had a bunch of left-over hoaxes. In the spirit of Hollywood, therefore, I now present Scientific Hoaxes 2: Lost in My Research.
Piltdown Man wasn't the only fossil hoax. Faking fossils is a tradition in the hoax field, going back to the early 18th century in Wurzburg, Germany, where the recent discovery of mammoth bones had prompted a huge debate. The notion that fossils were the remains of prehistoric life was not yet generally accepted; Dr. Johann Beringer, head of a committee from the University of Wurzburg that investigated the fossils, declared they weren't bones at all, but "capricious fabrications of God" hidden to test mankind's faith. He proceeded to write and lecture on the subject for several years, until a couple of colleagues got fed up with his pomposity and decided to take him down a peg or two.
They made fake fossils in the shape of birds, beetles, butterflies, comets, moons, stars and more and planted them for Beringer to find. When he accepted them as genuine, they threw in several tablets inscribed in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin with a single word: God.
Beringer took this as proof of his ideas and wrote a book. The hoaxers confessed, but he wouldn't believe them. His book came out in 1726 and caused a sensation -- but then he uncovered a tablet with his own name on it, and knew he'd been had.
Beringer, his reputation ruined, spent every pfennig trying to buy all the available copies of his embarrassing book, which ironically made it a collector's item. (A second edition brought out in 1767 as a humorous curiosity sold thousands more than the first!)
Another hoax in the same mineral vein was the Cardiff Giant, the 10-foot figure of a nude man, twisted in agony, carved out of a slab of gypsum in 1868 by George Hull, a cigar maker from Binghamton, N.Y. He wanted to make a fool of a clergyman he'd argued with who'd insisted that giants once walked the Earth because "it's in the Bible."
Hull buried the giant on his cousin's farm near Cardiff, N.Y., and a full year later arranged for it to be "accidentally" found by well-diggers. News of the giant's discovery spread and crowds thronged the site. As Hull hoped, some religious people thought it was a fossilized Biblical giant, although others, along with some scientists, claimed it was a statue. Some also came right out and called it a fraud, but two distinguished Yale professors declared it to be a real fossil. Crowds grew huge and Hull grew rich.
But then P.T. Barnum tried to buy the giant. Rebuffed, he exhibited a plaster copy of it as the real thing. When taken to court, he argued he was only exhibiting the hoax of a hoax. The public demanded an inquiry, and after a few days' study, one of the Yale professors who had earlier called the giant genuine said it was a "decided humbug."
Hull later offered the best explanation for why any hoax works: "I suppose it worked because people wanted to believe in it. I completely underestimated public gullibility."
Combine public gullibility with mass media and you've really got something. In 1835 the New York Sun took advantage of public fascination with astronomy (because of that year's reappearance of Halley's Comet), and presented a seven-part series on the astonishing new discoveries of respected astronomer Sir John Herschel, who just happened to be in Capetown, South Africa, where no one could easily contact him.
Reporter John Locke wrote that Herschel had invented a powerful new telescope to observe the Moon, and with it had discovered evergreen forests, rolling meadows, oceans , animals, and, finally, Man-Bats -- bat-winged creatures that walked upright like men!
Circulation skyrocketed. A special pamphlet came out containing all the details, plus drawings, and soon the stories were even being reprinted in newspapers across Europe.
Locke finally confessed the hoax to a reporter from a rival paper who demanded to see the "40 pages of calculations" Locke had claimed been appended to Herschel's original publication of his findings in the (actually defunct) Edinburgh Journal of Science.
Herschel himself finally received a copy of the pamphlet and is said to have been amused until he received a letter weeks later from a Springfield, Mass., women's club asking how they could contact the man-bats in order to convert them to Christianity.
Man-bats on the Moon, indeed! We are fortunate to live in an age when no newspaper would dare print such far-fetched tales.
By the way -- seen Elvis recently?

www.edwardwillett.com/Columns/sciencehoaxes2.htm (external - login to view)
 
Libra Girl
#2
Quote: Originally Posted by CDNBearView Post

These fall quite nicely into the definition of a hoax, as they were perpetrated to garner fame and or financial gain. As apposed to peoples individual faiths, which are for their benefit and their benefit alone.
Scientific Hoaxes, Part I
Copyright 1993 by Edward Willett
Science progresses not only when scientists have brilliant ideas, but also when they're wrong. A wrong idea faces testing through experiments, and those experiments sometimes not only disprove the wrong idea, they uncover the truth.
Because of this, science has always been susceptible to hoaxes. A well-executed hoax appears to have solid evidence behind it, and therefore to be worthy of discussion.
A history of scientific hoaxes would take up a book -- and has. Having only a small column, I, alas, must limit myself to the most famous hoax of all: Piltdown Man.
In 1908 an English lawyer and amateur archaeologist, Charles Dawson, wrote to his friend Arthur Smith Woodward, head of the department of geology at the British...

Quote has been trimmed, See full post: View Post
An amusing, but very interesting post...
 
hermanntrude
#3
This stuff goes on all the time. A friend of mine while writing his thesis, based a lot of his work on research performed by one guy who was publishing at a fantastic rate. This guy was considered to be the king of his field, and everyone else was in awe of him. One or two people were having trouble reproducing his results though and people became further in awe of his groups experimental prowess. Then it hit: Someone discovered that two graphs in separate publications by this man, were supposed to represent different results, but in actual fact were the same graph, superimposed on a new set of axes. An investigation resulted in most (all? i can't remember) of his work being discredited. Hundreds of PhD's undermined. He's not a popular man now.

edit: although having said that, CDN is right. hoaxes always show themselves as such eventually. science still wins out
 
#juan
#4
Computer Programme Debunks Pianist
Status: Debunking.
English pianist Joyce Hatto had risen to some prominence over the year preceding her death. Whilst she never played in public, recordings of her performances of works by artists such as Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov and Dukas, produced by her husband from a private studio, had her hailed as an unknown genius.

However, an iTunes programme that compares recordings with an online database has thrown her abilities into doubt (external - login to view).

A critic for the classical music magazine Gramaphone was surprised to find that, when he loaded into his computer a recording of the pianist playing Liszt, the programme identified it as the work of the pianist Laszlo Simon on BIS Records. The critic tried again, this time using a disc of a Hatto recital of Rachmaninov. Once more, his computer listed it as the work of another pianist, Yemif Bronfman.

The critic was aware of certain rumours doubting Hatto's performances which had been floating around the internet, so he sent the recordings to audio expert Andrew Rose, who confirmed that the soundwaves of the Hatto recitals were identical to the ones of the other pianists.

Gramophone reports how Rose produced a section on his website that allows listeners to compare the pattern of soundwaves of Hatto's recordings with other pianists. When Rose went on to compare the Rachmaninov recital with the Bronfman recording, they also matched.
 
Sparrow
#5
I agree that science in the end wins but that brings up other questions. How many scientific hoaxed are out there. What about this "humans are responsible for global warming" that people are eating hook line and sinker?
 
hermanntrude
#6
that is such an important issue that it's being tested simultaneously in many different ways. I suspect if it were a hoax it would have been revealed by now. If it hasnt it soon will be. I'd say it's safe to assume it's not a hoax- certainly a lot safer than assuming it IS
 
Sparrow
#7
There are scientists who are trying to get the message out there but nobody is listening because they do not want to hear. There has been as great fear mongering apparatus at work that too advantage of the peoples anxieties about state of world affairs and their security. Today's people were ripe for the picking. How many of these scientists have actually gone out in the field to do their studies instead of sitting in the cozy office, studying paper written by other people who believe they are right, and never gotten down into the dirt to either prove or disprove the truth. The worst is that they are calling those that do not agree with them crazy and dangerious (my term not theirs).

If and when this a proved a hoax or not, how much damage will be done. I agree that the polution is bad and that we must clean it up for our own health, it is making us sick period. If they had said it was because of our health and not climate warming I would be more inclined to believe them. If their big conventions were about sharing the causes of diseases and prevention I would believe them. There are conventions about disease and their prevention but they never never get the publicity these doom preacher have be able to muster. WHY?
 
lieexpsr
#8
Quote:

These fall quite nicely into the definition of a hoax, as they were perpetrated to garner fame and or financial gain. As apposed to peoples individual faiths, which are for their benefit and their benefit alone.

I have no interest in this thread other than I should make a polite response to the opening by CDNBear. As most will know, he is referring to my thread which the moderators chose to close because they decided that it was causing too much trouble. I opposed that decision but I no longer argue it as I accept it as their decision. But when someone chooses to make reference to the assertion that religion is a hoax, I believe it opens the door to a quick defence of the assertion. It is my contention that religion is every bit as much of a hoax as is the examples in science. And frankly, I have to wonder why this individual needed to preface his thread with a comment which IMHO is designed to get the whole thing brewing again. Nuff said for now.
 
tanakar
#9
Quote: Originally Posted by lieexpsrView Post

I have no interest in this thread other than I should make a polite response to the opening by CDNBear. As most will know, he is referring to my thread which the moderators chose to close because they decided that it was causing too much trouble. I opposed that decision but I no longer argue it as I accept it as their decision. But when someone chooses to make reference to the assertion that religion is a hoax, I believe it opens the door to a quick defence of the assertion. It is my contention that religion is every bit as much of a hoax as is the examples in science. And frankly, I have to wonder why this individual needed to preface his thread with a comment which IMHO is designed to get the whole thing brewing again. Nuff said for now.

Dude, why are you so hung up on religion? What the hell do you care what people believe or don't believe.
Does it rot your socks if people go to church on sunday or not?
 
El Barto
#10
how would someone convert a man bat to christianity?
Hoaxes are really a good thing , for those who have learnt anything, you question everything.
We still haven't found big foot but we keep talking about it. lol
 
CDNBear
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by lieexpsrView Post

Nuff said

From you??? Oh absolutely, thanx!!!
Quote: Originally Posted by El BartoView Post

how would someone convert a man bat to christianity?
Hoaxes are really a good thing , for those who have learnt anything, you question everything.
We still haven't found big foot but we keep talking about it. lol

Very true EB, the creation of cynicism. The bain of hoaxters the world over.
Last edited by CDNBear; Feb 24th, 2007 at 05:30 AM..
 

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