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July 2009
The guy may be dead, but he's showing up all over the place. Michaeljacksonsightings.com has a few blurry pictures of the back of someone who vaguely resembles Jackson. They offer this as proof that Jackson faked his death.

A family in Stockton, California have noticed an image of Michael Jackson in a tree stump in their front yard. They swear the image only appeared on the day he died. (I'm not seeing anything at all.)


Then there's the ghost of Michael Jackson, which you can see in the video below. To me, it looks like someone's shadow.

Categories: Celebrities, Death, Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (10)
A new theory about the Shroud of Turin: Lillian Schwartz, a graphic consultant at the School of Visual Arts in New York, thinks Leonardo da Vinci created it. Her reasoning is that "the face on the Turin Shroud and a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci share the same dimensions."

The self-portrait of da Vinci and the face on the shroud do look similar, but I thought it was pretty well established that the shroud dates back to at least 1355, which would make it too old for da Vinci to have created, since he was born in 1452. [Daily Mail]
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (11)
Two days ago Boing Boing posted about the discovery of a pair of 116-year-old basketball shoes:

The shoes were manufactured by the Colchester Rubber Company which shut down in 1893. Vintage clothing dealer Gary Pifer paid 50 cents for them at an estate sale in Vista, California. From CafeTerra:
"In a instant, I knew this discovery would be re-writing basketball and sneaker history, as these sneakers are 25 years older than the 1917 Converse All-Stars", added Pifer. The Colchester Rubber Co. was located in Colchester, Connecticut and was in business from 1888 to 1893.

People leaving comments quickly pointed out that the story was almost certainly fake, since basketball was only invented in 1891, and it's unlikely that a) a shoe would have been made for the sport one year later, and b) that the shoe would survive in near-perfect condtion.

It turns out that the story is a marketing gimmick (hoax) to sell retro basketball sneakers. I'm not sure how long this 116-year-old basketball shoe story has been circulating around, but I don't think it's recent.
Categories: Fashion, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (6)
A new site debuted three days ago: The Con Artist Hall of Infamy. It's tagline is:

Finally there is a place to induct the champions of greed and deception.

As interesting as the site itself is the fact that it's being bankrolled by two billionaires, Warren Hellman and Arthur Rock, who decided that there needed to be a site devoted to offering the big picture on fraudsters and con artists.

Billionaires with an interest in promoting knowledge about the history of deception! In my fantasies someone like that offers to bankroll the Museum of Hoaxes. Unfortunately, in reality the only people who ever contact me with offers of large sums of money are Nigerian bankers.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (1)
It's not what you think it is. The Urban Legend Awards will honor "contributions made by volunteers, local leaders, businesses, churches, partners and community members to the urban AIDS response in Swaziland." Maybe the term "urban legend" doesn't mean the same thing in Swaziland that it means in the US and UK. [Swazi Observer]
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 03, 2009
Comments (2)
Jack Livesey claimed he was in the Parachute regiment of the British Army, did five tours of duty in Northern Ireland, and won a military medal. He was a guest of honor at the 25th anniversary commemorations of the Falklands War.

But the British Ministry of Defense says, "Jack Livesey (DOB 15/05/54) only served in the British Army in the Army Catering Corps from December 1971 until April 1974."

Livesey also claims he was a miltary adviser to Saving Private Ryan, though he wasn't paid a fee which is why, he says, there was never any public acknowledgment of his help. [BBC News]
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Military
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 03, 2009
Comments (4)
A Connecticut woman driving along Unquowa Road told police that she "almost hit Sasquatch." Upon investigation, the police discovered that Sasquatch was really "a 16-year-old boy dressed in a gorilla-like costume." He was standing at the corner in his costume, waving at cars as they passed. (news times)

Reminds me of the Little Blue Man Hoax of 1958.
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 02, 2009
Comments (3)
The glut of celebrity death hoaxes during the past week has been a textbook case of how rumors spread. It's a great example of collective behavior in action. As such, the death rumors provide an opportunity for journalists to discuss some of the things scholars have learned about the spread of rumors during the past fifty years of research. Unfortunately, the insights of social psychologists don't seem to be getting much coverage. Instead, journalists are focusing on the rumors as an internet phenomenon. See this CNN article as an example. It warns us that:

The situation is calling attention to the changing state of the news media: As information online moves faster and comes from more sources, it's more difficult to verify what's true and what may be shockingly false...
Others say the fake deaths, or "death pranks," show an inherent problem with the decentralization of news on the Internet.

This seems like a non-issue to me. Rumors are an ancient phenomenon. The internet is simply the technology people are using to communicate them nowadays. And while the internet does allow information to spread faster, from more sources, it also allows misinformation to be debunked faster. Before the internet people found many other 'decentralized' ways of spreading rumors: fax, telephone, college radio stations, letters, corner drugstores, or word of mouth. The technology has changed, but human behavior remains the same.

If I were a journalist, these are some of the points about rumors I would try to highlight:
  • Rumors spread most during situations that are confusing or ambiguous and in which there's a mood of collective excitement. People want more information, and that information isn't available. So they look to alternative sources.
  • There are always alternative sources of information. The supply of information is never centralized. Social groups (such as teenagers) tend to establish their own communication networks, and they'll turn to those if they're not getting what they want from mainstream sources. In 1969, when the Paul is Dead rumor was spreading, young people relied on college radio and college newspapers to spread the rumor. Today they rely on twitter.
  • Rumors don't spread randomly. Instead, they tend to follow along social lines. The recent rumors have spread among young people using twitter.
  • Status seeking is an important motive in why people spread these rumors. Being able to pass along new information makes people feel important in the eyes of their friends, even if the information later turns out to be bogus. Similarly, pranksters like to make up these hoaxes to gain approval from their social groups.
  • Rumors often serve as a form of entertainment and emotional release. It gives people a way to project their anxieties onto the world. In fact, rumors often spread without being believed, which seems to be the case with the recent death hoaxes. An Australian news station fell for the Jeff Goldblum rumor, but the majority of twitter users seem to have expressed doubt about the rumors as they simultaneously repeated them. Ironically, those debunking the rumors have spread them far further than have those who actually believed them.
All of these are standard observations about rumors that you can find in most social psychology textbooks. But like I said, it's not what journalists are focusing on.
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 01, 2009
Comments (3)
Holymoly.com suggests that one of the rehearsal photographs of Michael Jackson, said to have been taken the night before he died, is fake. They point out that "the backdrop mysteriously disappears in between Michael's legs." They describe this as a "classic photoshop blunder" and suggest "this could be a fake composite, with Jackson's image being super imposed on top of another pic."

It does look unusual, but I wouldn't be so quick to label it as photoshopped. That may just be how the backdrop looks in that area. (You would need to see an unobstructed view of the entire backdrop to be sure.) And what would be the point of photoshopping the picture? Is holymoly.com suggesting that Jackson didn't actually attend the rehearsal? That seems unlikely as there are other pictures of Jackson at the rehearsal, and (presumably) witnesses.

Categories: Celebrities, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 01, 2009
Comments (10)
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