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July 2009
In 1940 Curtis MacDougall wrote in his book Hoaxes about a journalistic hoax involving dissolving bathing suits:

Webb Miller in I Found No Peace revealed that the story from the French Riviera of a British millionaire who embarrassed his guests by inducing them to swim in bathing suits which dissolved in salt water was a pure fake. The reporter inventing it was ordered by his managing editor to ship several of the suits to the United States; he complied with an hermetically sealed box containing some finely pulverized breakfast food to create the impression that, despite precautions, the suits had dissolved in the salt air.

But according to the Austrian Times, a dissolvable bikini has now been invented for real.

The saucy thong swimsuit - sold as the perfect present for dumped boyfriends - looks like a real bikini but disappears completely after just a few seconds in water.
Sellers in Germany bill the Get Naked costume as a chance for men to get their own back after a break-up.
But women's rights campaigner Rosmarie Zapfl stormed: "It is an absolute insult to women that this has been invented."

They're being sold on racheshop.de as the "water soluble bikini".
Categories: Fashion
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 31, 2009
Comments (8)
New Michael Jackson pareidolia (jackodolia). A 43-year-old builder from Stafford "who happens to be a bit of a skeptic" took this picture of his car. He intended to send the picture to a car sales magazine, until he noticed the image of Michael Jackson formed by the reflection of clouds on its hood. (youtube)

Categories: Celebrities, Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 31, 2009
Comments (8)
On the Raffaele De Ritis' Novelties and Wonders blog I found an old video of Kuda Bux, a performer who claimed to have x-ray eyes. He would cover his eyes with putty, cotton wool, and gauze bandages. Then he would challenge people to write any word, in any language, on a blackboard, and he would be able to magically reproduce what they had written.



Kuda Bux claimed it was psychic ability that allowed him to see while blindfolded, and according to Wikipedia his act inspired Roald Dahl to write the short story of Henry Sugar. Of course, it was really just a standard magic trick. The explanation I've heard for the trick is that it's done by means of the "nose peek." Even though the layers of gauze, cotton, and putty might seem like they would prevent Bux from seeing anything at all, he could actually use his facial muscles to adjust the putty upwards, thereby creating a small space at the side of his nose through which he could peek out. The outer layer of gauze would actually conceal this adjustment from the audience.
Categories: Magic, Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 29, 2009
Comments (16)
DC's Improbable Science has posted a pdf file of the exam given to those studying medical acupuncture at the University of Salford. Fans of acupuncture have long been lobbying for it to get more respect from the medical community, but as the DC Science blog points out, this exam appears to be nothing but gobbledygook. Here are several of the questions that exam takers must answer:



Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 29, 2009
Comments (14)
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 something like height that can be objectively tracked and measured over time. Standards of beauty change over time and across cultures. Which makes it meaningless to say that women are getting more beautiful.

The Gene Expression blog also criticizes Jokela's claim, pointing out that "males and females inherit half their genes from an opposite sex parent." Which means that if gorgeous women are mating with ugly cavemen, their children will be half ugly caveman, which contradicts Jokela's thesis.
Categories: Fashion, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 28, 2009
Comments (13)
DJ Steve Miller claims that he is allergic to Wifi. Being caught near a Wifi connection causes him agonizing pain. From the Daily Mail:

The condition, known as electromagnetic sensitivity, affects two per cent of the population, and this is set to grow as more people opt for wireless internet signals. Steve navigates normal daily chores with the help of a ‘wi-fi detector’ which spots areas he should avoid. But the sensitivity has made moving house a real mission for Steve, who has needed to avoid homes close to a connection. He said: ‘I can’t live within 50 yards of anyone. I wouldn’t be able to stand it feeling ill in my own house. In his current home, in a remote area of Cornwall, he is shielded from the ‘electrosmog’ by sturdy 18-inch walls.

There are a growing number of people who complain that they're allergic to WiFi. Last year there were reports of a group of "electro-sensitive people" trying to stop the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico from creating a wireless internet network, claiming it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ian Douglas, of the Telegraph, explains why no one is allergic to Wifi:

Wifi consists of electromagnetic waves, just like light or radio waves, with a frequency of 2.4GHz, giving it a wavelength of around 12.5cm. There is some variation but not enough of a range to make any difference. 2.4GHz is on the long end of microwave, getting close to radio, rather similar to mobile phone signals. It transmits at much lower power than a mobile phone mast, so even if those signals were harmful, Wifi would be less so.
Mr Miller makes no mention of mobile phones, he is only bothered by Wifi. If it is electromagnetic radiation in general he’s sensitive to, he’s in real trouble as radio waves and visible light flood our atmosphere every minute of every day.

However, there is one group that is well known to have an extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic waves such as light: Vampires! Intriguingly, Steve Miller's stagename is "Afterlife." So I'm betting he's a vampire.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 28, 2009
Comments (14)
A rumor is circulating alleging that a) Michael Jackson wore a prosthetic nose, and b) someone has stolen that nose from the Los Angeles morgue.

The rumor about Jackson wearing a prosthetic nose dates back to at least 2002, when Jackson appeared in Santa Maria Superior Court wearing a large bandage on his nose. But this latest addition to the rumor means that Michael Jackson's nose joins that select group of human body parts that acquire a life in legend following the death of the person to which they were originally attached. It's almost inevitable that years from now something alleged to be Jackson's prosthetic nose will show up at auction.

Other body parts in this select club include Rasputin's Penis, the foreskin of Jesus, the head of Oliver Cromwell, Geronimo's skull, Napoleon's penis, and John Dillinger's penis.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Death
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 27, 2009
Comments (7)
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 in the Nov 2008 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences (vol 53, no. 6), "Analysis of Suspected Trace Human Remains from an Indoor Concrete Surface."

Their conclusion: Yes, it's a human decomposition stain, although the stain has been made more prominent over the years by attempts to remove it:

Margaret’s body was probably in contact with the area of the stain for a period of 4–5 weeks. During this time, significant decomposition is known to have occurred, indicating that the room was apparently warm enough to facilitate bacterial degradation. During this time, anaerobic bacterial decomposition could have taken place in the contact areas between the concrete and the heavier, fatty areas of Margaret’s body, such as the buttocks, back and shoulders. Bacterial action is supported by the oddnumbered fatty acids found in the residues. Such decomposition, facilitated by the moisture naturally present in Margaret’s body, formed free fatty acids from the lipids in her subcutaneous tissue. This process may have been accompanied, in part or in whole, by the basic conditions provided through contact with the concrete. During the 4- to 5-week period in which the free fatty acids were being formed, and in any subsequent washing over the years, at least half of the sodium ions were displaced by calcium ions from the concrete. The result is a waxy residue of mostly calcium palmitate which is up to 2 mm thick in certain areas of the stain.In most areas of the stain, the waxy residue also resides in surface pores in the concrete, consistent with the suggestion that removal of the stain was attempted on at least one occasion.

At some point since the removal of Margaret’s remains in January of 1979, the floor has likely been treated with an acidic chemical— probably Blu-Lite (20.5% phosphoric acid)—to lighten the color of the waxy residue and of the concrete. The chemical etching was not uniform across the entire floor surface, however, but was selectively restricted to a shape that resembled the apparent outline of a human body.

What a great way to be remembered -- by the stain you left on the floor. (via Legends & Rumors)
Categories: Death, Pareidolia, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 27, 2009
Comments (10)
Cranky Media Guy drew my attention to a list of the "Top 10 Hoaxes of all time" posted by Kelvin Lynch on examiner.com. Cranky asks: "Haven't we seen this exact list before... recently, in fact?"

I can't recall if this list had been posted elsewhere recently, but as I was reading through it, I felt that a lot of the language was strangely familiar. And then I realized why this was so. Much of the text has been lifted directly from the print version of The Museum of Hoaxes, published back in 2002.

For instance, here's part of what I wrote in my book about the Surgeon's Photo:

A highly respectable British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, was driving along the shore of the loch on April 19, 1934, early in the morning, when, he said afterward, he noticed something moving in the water. He happened to have a camera with him, so he quickly stopped his car and snapped a photo. The resulting image showed the slender neck of a serpent rising out of the loch. For decades this photo was considered to be the best evidence ever obtained of the existence of a sea monster in the loch.

And here's what Kelvin Lynch writes:

Colonel Robert Wilson, a highly respectable British surgeon, said that he noticed something moving in the water and took a picture of it. The resulting image showed the slender neck of a serpent rising out of the Loch. The photo came to be known simply as "The Surgeon's Photo" and for decades it was considered to be the best evidence of the monster.

What I wrote about the Hitler Diaries:

On April 22, 1983, the German magazine Der Stern announced that it had made the greatest Nazi memorabilia find of all time: a diary kept by Adolf Hitler himself. And this was not just one thin journal. It was a sixty-two-volume mother lode, covering the crucial years of 1932-1945.

What Kelvin Lynch writes:

On April 22, 1983 the German magazine Der Stern announced that it had made the greatest Nazi memorabilia find of all time: a diary kept by Adolf Hitler himself. And this was not just one thin journal.

And it goes on like this for a number of the other items in the list. Strangely, Kelvin Lynch doesn't cite the Museum of Hoaxes as a reference. So I guess he just coincidentally came up with the exact same words as I did to describe these hoaxes!

I've had this problem before with finding my writing posted on associated content and examiner.com. (My list of the Top 100 April Fool's Day hoaxes has been a popular source of content.) The people who write for those sites seem to think that if they slightly shuffle other people's words, that makes it their own, and there's no need to give any credit. What makes this not only rude but illegal is that they're getting paid to post these articles.

Update: Looks like examiner.com took down the article. I never even got around to complaining directly to them.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 24, 2009
Comments (20)
Robert Capa's photo of a soldier falling backward from the impact of a shot to his head is one of the most famous images in the history of photography. But for decades people have argued that Capa staged the shot. In the hoax photo archive I have a brief summary of the controversy. I come down on the side of those who feel the photo wasn't staged.

Adding new fuel to the controversy, a Catalan newspaper now claims to have found evidence that Capa staged the shot. From The Independent:

The so-called "falling soldier" was not photographed near Cerro Muriano in Andalusia, as has been claimed, but about 50km to the south-west, near the town of Espejo far from the frontline on a day when there was no military action, a Catalan newspaper claims.
"Capa photographed his soldier at a location where there was no fighting," wrote the daily El Periodico on Friday. The paper carried out a detailed study of Capa's pictures taken in September 1936, three months after the conflict broke out.
"The real location, some 10km from an inactive battle front, demonstrates that the death was not real," the paper says. The claim is backed with photos taken very recently on a hillside near Espejo that show a mountainous skyline that appears to match exactly that of Capa's photo.

I haven't seen El Periodico's evidence, but I'm skeptical of their argument. After all, hasn't the soldier in the photo been identified?
Categories: Military, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 22, 2009
Comments (2)
Yet another cancer hoaxer unmasked. Jonathan Jay White claimed to be a 15-year-old from Idaho suffering from Anaplastic Astrocytoma (a kind of brain cancer). He gained a lot of supporters online, including Lance Armstrong, who sent him a number of gifts. But it now appears that Jonathan Jay White never existed. Details at news.sky.com and jonthanjayisafraud.blogspot.com.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 22, 2009
Comments (1)
The Manhattan Airport Foundation is a hoax site purporting to promote the conversion of New York's Central Park into an airport.

Clues that the site is a hoax: a) it's registered anonymously; and b) the foundation lists its address as "233 Broadway, 58th Floor, New York, New York." 233 Broadway is the Woolworth Building, which only has 57 floors.

Apparently, the Huffington Post didn't realize the site was a joke, and posted a link on its front page about the plan to build an airport in Central Park. (via gawker)
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 22, 2009
Comments (4)
Every few years I post an update about the Vinland Map (a map, supposedly from the early 15th century, showing part of North America). In 2002 I posted that an analysis of the map's ink proved it was a fake, but in 2003 I wrote that a new study indicated it might be genuine. And in 2004 I linked to a Scientific American article that described historian Kirsten Seaver's theory that the map was created in the 1930s by a German Jesuit priest, Father Josef Fischer, in order to tease the Nazis by "playing on their claims of early Norse dominion of the Americas and on their loathing of Roman Catholic Church authority."

Now a scholar, Rene Larsen of the School of Conservation under the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, says that the map is genuine:

Larsen said his team carried out studies of the ink, writing, wormholes and parchment of the map, which is housed at Yale University in the United States.
He said wormholes, caused by wood beetles, were consistent with wormholes in the books with which the map was bound.
He said claims the ink was too recent because it contained a substance called anatase titanium dioxide could be rejected because medieval maps have been found with the same substance, which probably came from sand used to dry wet ink.

I don't expect Larsen's arguments will end the debate, since the opposing sides in the controversy seem to be pretty well entrenched.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 20, 2009
Comments (5)
On May 13, 2009 the Ahwatukee Foothills News ran an article about Vinayak Gorur, a local guy who, at the age of 21, had become the youngest ever sous chef at the upscale Compass Restaurant in downtown Phoenix. But a few days ago, the paper ran an apology, admitting that Gorur wasn't really a sous chef at the Compass. Gorur had invented the entire tale. Why isn't clear.

A few things evidently went wrong in the paper's fact checking process. First, they never called the Compass Restaurant to verify Gorur's claim. Instead, the reporter interviewed someone (whose phone number was supplied by Gorur) who claimed to be Gorur's boss. It's not known who this person was.

Second, when the paper asked Gorur if they could take some photos of him at work, he said it was too dark there and convinced them to take photos of him preparing food at home. That should have set off their b.s. alert, but instead the paper agreed to send a photographer to his house.

The reporter, Krystin Wiggs, wrote:

I may be a young and relatively inexperienced reporter, but the other reporters in my office have never come across a scenario quite like this one. Not one reporter in my office could think of a time in their careers when a source had made up such an elaborate hoax and then conned a reporter.

Cranky Media Guy comments: "From personal experience, I can tell you that when you bullshit a reporter who is too lazy to do any fact-checking, it's always described later as an 'elaborate hoax.'"
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 20, 2009
Comments (14)
About two weeks ago, rumors began to spread online about a flesh-eating robot created by the military. The robot, named the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™), would be a reconnaissance droid that could survive for long periods behind enemy lines by foraging for fuel. This fuel would include virtually any kind of biomass: twigs, branches, apple cores, stray cats, or even human bodies.

The robot, it turns out, is real, but the claim that it will be able to feed on human bodies is false. The companies building the robot, Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technology Inc., issued a press release addressing the rumor:

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.
Categories: Food, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 20, 2009
Comments (6)
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