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December 2009
An article on smithsonian.com discusses the history of crop circles and why people believe in them. Part of the reason is the paradox of ostension. Fake evidence, even if proven fake, nevertheless tends to reinforce belief:

False evidence intended to corroborate an existing legend is known to folklorists as “ostension.” This process also inevitably extends the legend. For, even if the evidence is eventually exposed as false, it will have affected people’s perceptions of the phenomenon it was intended to represent. Faked photographs of UFOs, Loch Ness monsters and ghosts generally fall under the heading of ostension. Another example is the series of photographs of fairies taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths at Cottingley, Yorkshire, between 1917 and 1920. These show that the motive for producing such evidence may come from belief, rather than from any wish to mislead or play pranks. One of the girls insisted till her dying day that she really had seen fairies—the manufactured pictures were a memento of her real experience. And the photos were taken as genuine by such luminaries as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—the great exponent, in his Sherlock Holmes stories, of logic.

According to Jan Harold Brunvand in The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, there are a number of varieties of ostension. Ostension itself involves people inspired to act out legends. Examples of this would be "people forming satanic groups and practicing rituals based on stories they have heard, as well as carrying out mutilations, sacrifices, murders, or other crimes." Then there's pseudo-ostension, in which people pretend to act out legends. Example: "teenagers dressing as the grim reaper to scare other teens visiting a legend-trip site." Finally, there's quasi-ostension in which people use legends to explain mysterious events. Example: "observers interpret some puzzling information (such as cattle mutilations) not as a likely result of natural causes (like the work of predators) but as resulting from cult activity or visits from extraterrestrials, as described in rumors and legends."
Categories: Crop Circles, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 23, 2009
Comments (21)
Richard Heene is going to have to serve 90 days -- 30 in jail and 60 in a work-release program. Mayumi Heene has 20 days in jail. Prosecutors have asked that they also pay $47,000 in restitution. They're also barred from making any money from the incident. So no money from book deals. Link: LA Times
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 23, 2009
Comments (6)
Archaeologists have found a burial shroud sealed within a 2000-year-old tomb in Jerusalem. Comparing the newly found shroud to the Shroud of Turin adds to the evidence that the Shroud of Turin is a fake. From nationalgeographic.com:

The newfound shroud was something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles, the study found. The Shroud of Turin, by contrast, is made of a single textile woven in a complex twill pattern, a type of cloth not known to have been available in the region until medieval times, Gibson said.
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 21, 2009
Comments (44)
A new salvo has been fired in the ongoing controversy about whether the anthropologist Margaret Mead was "hoaxed" during her research in Samoa in 1925. I've got a brief article about the controversy in the hoax archive. To summarize: Mead traveled to Samoa, interviewed some teenage girls about their sexual behavior, and concluded that Samoan culture had very relaxed, easygoing attitudes about sex. Almost sixty years later Derek Freeman challenged her findings and claimed that the teenage girls had told her wild tales, which she had been gullible enough to believe. Freeman's claims were partially based on the testimony of one of Mead's interviewees, Fa'apua'a, whom he tracked down in Samoa.

Paul Shankman has now written The Trashing of Margaret Mead in which he comes to Mead's defense. Skeptic.com has posted an excerpt from his book. Shankman argues:

Freeman stated his argument so boldly and presented it with such certainty that it seemed believable. In fact, it seemed foolish not to believe him. Almost no one thought that it might be a good idea to look at the actual interviews with Fa’apua’a and to ask if Freeman’s certitudes about the value of her testimony were warranted. These unpublished interviews with her demonstrate that there is no compelling evidence that Mead was hoaxed. It was a good story — a story that many people wanted to believe. Alas, it was a story that was too good to be true.

(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Science, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 21, 2009
Comments (6)
Police are warning that a fake Salvation Army bell ringer is on the loose in Topeka, Kansas:

The "freelance ringer," as Yockey termed the man, had worked for the Salvation Army for the holiday season but began to show up late for his shifts. Then, the day before he was fired, the man placed a Santa hat atop his red kettle and told passersby that the kettle was full and to place money in the hat.
He was then fired.
But on Sunday, when ringers don't work but many of the racks holding the kettles are still out, the man went to the store at S.W. 10th and Topeka and attached a hat to the stand. He then began asking for money.
An astute shopper noticed the man and, knowing the Salvation Army doesn't ring on Sundays, called it in.

I never give to the Salvation Army anyway. (Yes, I'm a scrooge). So I'm pretty much immune to this scam.

Related posts:
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 17, 2009
Comments (19)
Thanks to Peter for drawing our attention to this strange new concept. (Link to his forum post.) Apparently side hugging is gaining popularity in the land of conservative Christians. The idea is to avoid the dangerous risk of "two crotches touching." Therefore:

Instead of face to face, you go side to side, putting your arm around the person and your hip against their’s. Still having a hard time mastering it? Pretend you’re taking a photo and you’re both looking at the camera together. The side hug, or A frame as it is also called, is safe for the whole family, friendly and above all holy.

But upon closer examination, I think this is another example of Poe's Law. In other words, it's satire. The concept of the side hug traces back to the humor site Stuff Christians Like, where it's identified as satire.
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 17, 2009
Comments (21)
The Craig Shergold rumor strikes again. Jacob is a real kid, and he really has leukemia, but he isn't dying. But somehow word got out on the internet that he was dying, and that his last wish was to get christmas cards from everyone. So now the cards are pouring in by the thousands. Link: Associated Press.

Below is one of the youtube videos spreading the rumor.

Categories: Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 17, 2009
Comments (3)
Outrageous! A young boy was suspended from school for drawing a picture of Jesus on the cross! Let's all get worked up about this.

Oh, wait a second. Turns out the story was mostly b.s. cooked up by the boy's father. The boy wasn't suspended, though a teacher did order a psychological evaluation of the boy: "She said the drawing was seen as a potential cry for help when the student identified himself, rather than Jesus, on the cross, which prompted the teacher to alert the school’s principal and staff psychologist. As a result, the boy underwent a psychological evaluation."

Link: boston.com (Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 17, 2009
Comments (5)
A version of the Gospel of St. Mark, once thought to date from the Byzantine era, has now been determined to be a late-19th-century fake. From the Chicago Sun Times:

The manuscript, written in Greek, originally was believed to have been written as early as the 14th century. But strong suspicions that it might not be nearly so old surfaced in 1989, after it was discovered that a blue pigment on one of the pages wasn't available until 1704, Mitchell said.
It took carbon dating, advanced microscope technology and good sleuthing to discover the faker's crafty handiwork.
Through analysis of parchment, ink and paints used in the book, Joseph Barabe, a senior research microscopist at Westmont-based McCrone Associates, determined the book was created after 1874 using materials not available until the late 19th Century.

More support for Jean Hardouin's Theory of Universal Forgery.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 16, 2009
Comments (2)
The UK Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that an advertisement featuring Twiggy is misleading. The ad has Twiggy claiming that "Olay is my secret to brighter-looking eyes." In fact, the brightness of her eyes in the photo is due to digital manipulation. Link: sky.com

Real Twiggy Fake Twiggy
Categories: Advertising, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 16, 2009
Comments (6)
Irish company Steorn is back in the news with their perpetual motion machine. Having had their claims dismissed by a jury of scientists earlier this year, they're now appealing directly to the public by staging a demonstration of their machine in Dublin.

I still can't figure out if these guys really think they've developed a new, revolutionary technology, or if it's all a cynical publicity ploy.

Links: herald.ie, steorn.com/orbo



Related entries:
Categories: Free Energy, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 16, 2009
Comments (9)
Through a series of fake press releases and websites, the Yes Men briefly made it appear as if Canada had pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 40%. From the Globe and Mail:

Canada's "Agenda 2020" set a goal of a 40-per-cent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. It was a dramatic change from the current goal of 3 per cent. It also created a new fund, for which Canada pledged a whopping $13-billion next year, to help developing nations deal with climate change.
"We believe all people will benefit from an equitable climate deal that truly energizes the world economy," read a quote attributed to Mr. Prentice.
The news lit up the Bella Center, the vast Copenhagen convention hall where the climate-change negotiations are taking place. A story popped up on an apparent European affiliate of The Wall Street Journal. In a video on what looked to be a UN site, a Ugandan official congratulated Canada for its change of direction after "holding a loaded gun to our heads."
Soon after, "Canada" renounced the announcement, saying it was a fake. Though this second statement was correct in identifying the first so-called announcement as false, it too was a fake. As were the apparent WSJ article, Twitter account and the UN video.
Lost yet?
The hoax was an elaborate series of fake statements and articles meant to draw attention to Canada's lagging emissions-reduction targets. It left Prime Minister Stephen Harper's staff scrambling to set the record straight.

More details at gawker.com. (Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 15, 2009
Comments (2)
Yesterday the GOP debuted its own URL shortener. Wired.com describes the results:

Almost immediately after it launched yesterday, pranksters began using the service to link to controversial or ironically-intended websites such as the official site of the American Communist Party, a bondage website and a webpage advertising a sex toy in the likeness of Barack Obama. GOP.am started blocking such links apparently at some point Tuesday morning, and the GOP.am homepage is now offline.

Possibly the first branded URL shortener (Google also launched its own URL shortener yesterday afternoon), GOP.am was designed by the R.N.C.’s new media consultants, Political Media, to work somewhat like bit.ly in that it shortens URLs so that they can be more easily exchanged via short messaging services like Twitter.

But unlike bit.ly, GOP.am includes a toolbar at the top of the screen that follows the user as they click through to see whatever page the link goes to, and an animation of Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele walking around on the lower right as if he’s showing off the website — particularly awkward when that website is the alt.com bondage site.

How could they not have foreseen this would be the result if they created a URL shortener that made it look as if the GOP was endorsing any link a user entered?
Categories: Politics, Pranks, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 15, 2009
Comments (1)
A help wanted notice recently appeared on the website of the University of Leeds for a research officer whose job would be to research "The rise and regulation of lap dancing and the place of sexual labour and consumption in the night time economy."

Sounds like a hard job. But is it real? Gill, who sent me the link, writes, "It LOOKS like a hoax, it SMELLS like a hoax, but....?"

I don't think it's a hoax. It's legitimately on the University of Leeds site, and sociologists definitely study the sex industry. Anyway, anyone who was thinking of applying is too late. The deadline was November 27.

Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 03, 2009
Comments (5)