Some of the Greatest Scientific Hoaxes

Eleanor Harris in New Scientist: The history of science is replete with frauds and fakers – here are (some of the) eleven of the most creative.

–At New Scientist we love a good hoax, especially one that both amuses and makes a serious point about the communication of science. So kudos to Philip Davis, a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who got a nonsensical computer-generated paper accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

–The discovery of gold in seawater in 1872, created a kind of gold rush – or gold slosh, perhaps. “The ocean is a goldmine,” the newspapers crowed. Even with an estimated gold content of less than 1 grain per tonne of water that meant a lot of precious metal just there for the taking. Prescott Jernegan’s Electrolytic Marine Salts Company promised gold from the sea, and the town of Lubec, Maine, boomed as company’s gold-accumulating machines got to work, apparently very successfully. You can probably imagine what happened next.

–An account was published in the London Magazine in 1783 by a Dutch surgeon named Foersch (his initials were variously given as NP and JN). It claimed the existence of a tree on the island of Java so poisonous that it killed everything within a 15-mile radius.

–In 1957, the BBC show Panorama broadcast a programme about the spaghetti tree in Switzerland. It showed a family harvesting pasta that hung from the branches of the tree. After watching the programme, hundreds of people phoned in asking how they could grow their own tree. Alas, it was an April Fools’ Day joke.

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