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October 2011
This one goes into the 'hoaxes as educational stunt' file. Last week a rumor raced around the campus of Smith College in Massachusetts, alleging that the administration was planning to ban meat from the campus, as well as any food not grown in New England. It was going to become a vegetarian/locavore campus.

There were protests on campus, and counter-protests. Students posted their thoughts on facebook and twitter. Some wrote them in chalk on the sidewalk. A lot of students said they were worried the change would mean they'd have to go without coffee.

But the rumor turned out to have been a hoax organized by two philosophy professors, Jay Garfield and Jim Henle. They told the students in their Introductory Logic class to convince the campus that the rumor was true. The professors hoped the assignment would teach the students about rhetoric and argument in a fun way.

This isn't the first time the professors have assigned a hoax as a class project. From the Boston Globe:

There was the time the professors planted the rumor that Smith, a women’s college, was planning to fire all of its male faculty members, including themselves. The president was deluged with angry letters.
There was the year of the alleged merger with nearby Mount Holyoke College, a proposal lots of students at Mount Holyoke took seriously, even as Smith’s scoffed.
And then there was the year of the supposed grass-roots attempt to start an ROTC program. Most of the campus didn’t fall for that one, but the president, Carol Christ, did.
Categories: Education
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 27, 2011
Comments (0)
The Telegraph recently listed the beach on Queensland's Fraser Island as among the most dangerous in the world. The reasons: sharks, jellyfish, strong rip currents, deadly spiders, the odd saltwater crocodile, and dingoes. But people around Fraser Island disagree. They don't dispute the presence of the sharks, jellyfish, rip currents, spiders, and dingoes. (Though they don't think dingoes are dangerous). But they do insist there are no crocodiles there, except for one — which is fake.

One of the locals owns a fake, but realistic-looking crocodile that he sometimes puts on the beach. Back in 2006 this crocodile made headlines in the Fraser Coast Chronicle when it scared some Korean tourists. And this seems to be where The Telegraph, five years later, picked up the notion that Fraser Island's beach is croc-infested. Links: Media Watch, Sydney Morning Herald.
Categories: Animals, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2011
Comments (4)
Apparently Bethel College in Kansas has a history of pranks. Enough so that there's now a website dedicated to collecting all the pranks perpetrated there. The site has a great name: CowsInTheLibrary.com. The name refers to an actual prank at Bethel, but also (perhaps unintentionally) gives a nod to Neil Steinberg's classic book about college pranks, If At All Possible, Involve A Cow.

Bethel's most famous prank is Herman Bubbert, a fictional student "who began appearing on class rolls and in the pages of local newspapers sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s." Bubbert is now the curator of Cows In The Library. (via mennoweekly.org)
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2011
Comments (1)
An albino, one-eyed shark, an image of which started circulating online back in July, has been confirmed by scientists to be real. (Link: livescience.com). Which shouldn't have been a surprise. Like the case of Cy the one-eyed kitten (from back in 2006), the mutant shark suffered from cyclopia. According to messybeast.com, this is a genetic abnormality in which, "the eyes are fused into a single enlarged eye that is placed below the nose (the nose may or may not form, if it forms it resembles a proboscis)."



One-eyed creatures are one of those phenomena that fit into the rule that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. In fact, off the top of my head I can't think of any hoaxes involving fake cyclops, unless you count this old Weekly World News story from 1989:

cyclops
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 24, 2011
Comments (3)
There's a new hoax-related book out that sounds interesting: The Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adore Floupette and a Secret History of Australian Poetry by David Brooks. From the Sydney Morning Herald review:
At the heart of the book is the famous Australian hoax, the Ern Malley affair, in which two young, still-forming poets, McAuley and Stewart, fabricated the raw, working-class identity Ern Malley, only to have him die tragically young, leaving behind his book of experimental poems, The Darkening Ecliptic (1944).
Equally - and this is where the detective work really kicks in - the book is also about a late- 19th-century literary hoax that produced the wonderfully foppish Adore Floupette, ''poet of the decadent school … with nothing but scorn for the public''. Floupette, whose voice ''could be heard from one end of the cafe to the other'', reciting the ''ternaries that he had composed over dinner: 'I would love to be gaga/With my heart adrift/On the syringa flower.'
'''Gaga!' came from one of the ladies who until then had kept the profoundest silence. 'But my poor dear, you are already.'''
It's Brooks's achievement to compel us into considering the (improbable, possible) links between these two hoaxes.
I'm not sure if it's being published anywhere but Australia, though this won't be an issue if you're willing to pay international shipping.
Categories: Books, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 24, 2011
Comments (4)
An article recently appeared in various British newspapers telling the story of one Tom Boddingham who ordered a size 14.5 slipper from Monster Slippers. But due to a translation error, the factory in China that makes the slippers sent a size 1450 slipper instead.

monster slipper

Polly Curtis at the Guardian thought the story smelled a bit fishy. And with the help of some people on Twitter, she soon figured out that "Tom Boddingham" coincidentally looked identical to Joseph Jennings, the online retail manager for Monster Slippers. In other words, the entire story was a PR stunt.

The thing about stories like this, which pop up with amazing regularity, is that the debunker actually can't help but publicize the PR hoaxer even more by repeating the story. Which plays into their hand. For instance, I'm now aware of Monster Slippers, and I never would have been if it weren't for the Guardian article. P.T. Barnum was very aware of this phenomenon. He would sometimes purposefully spread rumors debunking his own hoaxes in order to generate renewed media interest.

So you have to wonder, would it be better simply to ignore these PR stunts, and thereby not give the PR people the publicity they're looking for? It's a bit of a dilemma. Though my feeling is that the debunkers should never be blamed for doing their job. (Thanks, Laurie!)
Categories: Advertising, Products
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 20, 2011
Comments (5)
Singer Beyonce Knowles announced she was pregnant in August. But video of a recent interview with her on an Australian TV show has led to rumors that she's faking her pregnancy, because as she walked out and sat down for the interview her stomach appeared to bend and fold in a weird way.

beyonce

The theory is that she's wearing a prosthetic baby bump, while a surrogate mother carries the actual child. This way, Beyonce will avoid the stretch marks and discomfort of pregnancy — and she'll look fit and toned immediately after "giving birth".

I think the conspiracy theorists are reaching a bit here. And Beyonce, of course, has denied the rumor.

But one question the controversy raises is why do people like to come up with these conspiracy theories about their favorite celebrities? It recalls the Paul Is Dead debate, though the Beyonce theories are nowhere near as elaborate as the Dead Paul theories. At least, not yet. Maybe fans will start finding fake baby clues in Beyonce's albums.

One reason for the theories is that they have some entertainment value. They provide fans with something to discuss about the celebrity. Also, psychologists argue that those who tell such rumors gain status by appearing to be privy to special information. And perhaps, in Beyonce's case, some of her fans don't want her to be pregnant. They prefer the image of her as a youthful "single lady", so they're fantasizing away her pregnancy as a hoax.

Links: tmz.com, US Magazine.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Celebrities, Conspiracy Theories
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 12, 2011
Comments (3)
I use Google news alerts to find out whenever various keywords I'm interested in appear in news stories or on websites. One of these keywords is "Cardiff Giant". This particular keyword search doesn't usually generate many results. Perhaps one or two a week. But on friday night my patience was rewarded when I got a google news alert about the creation of a new site: cardiff1869.com.

The site is the creation of a Pasadena-based artist who chooses to remain anonymous, using the alias "Cardiff1869". Inspired by the Cardiff Giant of 1869 (which I posted about just a few days ago), he (or perhaps she) is creating a limited series of small-scale replicas of the Cardiff Giant. And he's leaving these miniature giants at various public locations around Pasadena. He explains:

These Cardiff1869 art installations are meant to be found at random by lucky passers-by (known as “Finders” on this web site) who then become a special part of the Cardiff1869 Free Art Project by discovering their own little “Cardiff Giant”.

The primary goal/intent of the Cardiff1869 Project is to allow people to experience the unique joy and wonder of discovering a free and anonymous gift of hand sculpted art, and to allow them the rare opportunity to ponder its mysterious origins and significance, just as the public did back in 1869 when the original Cardiff Giant was discovered.

In the past, I've actually searched quite extensively to find out if anyone had ever created small replicas of the Cardiff Giant, because while it would be impractical for me to keep a full-scale, ten-foot stone giant in my house, I very much wanted to have a smaller version of the giant to call my own. So to find out that little Cardiff Giants were being placed around Pasadena, which is only 2 hours away from where I live, seemed too good to be true.

I briefly wondered whether it was all a hoax. I also wondered whether it would be cheating to purposefully look for the statues. So I emailed Cardiff1869 who assured me that, "Purposefully looking for an installation is common in Street Art. No worries. There is a large sub-culture of Street Art fans who are always on the lookout for new works by their favorite artists - especially the 3D/Sculpture type 'Street Installations' they can actually take and keep."

So early the next morning I dragged my wife out of bed (she was quite willing to humor me and go along, which is one of the reasons I'm so lucky she married me), and we headed up to Pasadena to search for Cardiff Giants.

According to the Cardiff1869 site, six giants had been placed, and four of them had already been found. That left only 2. We quickly confirmed that one of these was also gone, and then spent a fruitless hour-and-a-half searching for the other one, which was supposed to be somewhere on Magnolia St.

I was feeling pretty downbeat, thinking I wasn't going to find a giant. But then my wife and I checked the Cardiff1869 site again and discovered that, just that morning, two more giants had been placed. We must have looked like contestants from the show Amazing Race as we sped toward the new locations. I jumped out of the car at an intersection and sprinted across the road to the WWI Veterans Memorial where one of them was placed. It was still there, placed on a piece of slate surrounded by a circle of stones!

giant


Within half an hour we had located the second one, which was placed on the Colorado St. Bridge. Here I am, moments after finding it. Note that I wore my Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum t-shirt for the hunt, since Marvin's Museum has a Cardiff Giant replica on display. (Kind of nerdy, I know, but I was having fun.)

giant


So I'm now the proud guardian of two little Cardiff Giants. Here's a photo of one of them meeting some of the other residents of the Museum of Hoaxes.

giant


Cardiff1869 tells me that one of the giants — the one on Magnolia St. that I searched for but couldn't find — is still there waiting to be found! Plus, he'll soon be placing more giants. So if you live in the LA area and you're interested in a treasure hunt to find a Cardiff Giant, now's your chance. Keep watching his site to find out the new locations. I had great fun searching for the giants, and I want to thank Cardiff1869 for taking the time to put together such a great project!

So what am I going to do with my giants? One of them I'd like to send on a round-the-world tour — like a traveling gnome adventure. A while back Nettie tried to organize a MoH traveling gnome project, but I completely botched the project. She sent me the gnome, Bumpkin, which I then passed on to a friend of mine here in San Diego who was doing a driving tour of the midwest. Unfortunately my friend lost Bumpkin's legs somewhere in the midwest. So that ended Bumpkin's adventures. I've felt responsible for killing Bumpkin ever since.

So anyway, to partially make up for that previous disaster, I'm happy to send you the Cardiff Giant first, Nettie, if you're interested. And anyone else who wants to participate in the Cardiff Giant's world tour, let me know. We'll put together an itinerary for him.

As for the second cardiff giant — I plan eventually to relocate him somewhere. When I find him a new home, I'll post the details.
Categories: Art, Exploration/Travel
Posted by Alex on Sun Oct 09, 2011
Comments (9)
Serbian media reported Thursday that one of their own countrymen, writer Dobrica Cosic, had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, he hadn't. Soon after, the Swedish Academy announced the real winner: Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.

The Serbian media reported Cosic as the winner because they had all received an email, seeming to come from the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, announcing Cosic as the winner. The email linked to a website, nobelprizeliterature.org, that seemed to confirm Cosic as the winner. However, both the email and the site were fakes. (link)

Apparently Cosic is a strong Serbian nationalist. The Economist describes him as, "the intellectual godfather of the Serbian nationalism which played such a decisive role, not just in the destruction of Yugoslavia but in the military drive to create a greater Serbia from its ashes." According to the Montreal Gazette, Cosic writes, "lengthy tomes about the suffering of the Serbs through the ages." The hoax was perpetrated by some people who don't like him. Its basic purpose was to annoy him. The group, describing themselves as a "non-profit, self-organized group of web activists," have now posted this explanation on the site:

The purpose of our activity is to bring to the attention of the Serbian public dangerous influence of the writer Dobrica Cosic, who has been, again this year, proclaimed by some as a serious contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dobrica Cosic, author and public political figure, active for decades, always close to the highest political power and those who exercise it, from the Communist Party of former SFRY, inspirators of their manifest of Serbian nationalism, infamous Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of sciences, former president of the Milosevic's wartime SR Yugoslavia, to present alliance with reactionary and most dangerous Serbian pseudo-democratic circles in the new era.

We have registered the domain of this obviously hoax site on the 5th October 2011, as a symbolic reminder of that day eleven years ago, when Serbia missed a historic opportunity to create a different and better world. Today again, Serbia turns to war, terror and deadly kitsch of the nineties, violence towards diversity, nationalist conservatism and dishonest orthodoxy. We believe the political activity of Dobrica Cosic is still deeply intertwined with this hazardous value system, which does not cease to threaten us all.

Terrible consequences of decades of Mr. Cosic's political, literary and public activity are felt to this day, both by his own country and throughout the region.

Dobrica Cosic is not a recipient of the Nobel Prize, although the general public in Serbia, and he himself, believed he is for 15 full minutes.

We find some solace in that fact.
Categories: Journalism, Literature/Language, Politics
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 06, 2011
Comments (0)
The Huffington Post reports that FakeGirlfriend.co is a texting service that has joined the ranks of fake-girlfriend providers:

you need to save the Fake Girlfriend number into your phone under her fictitious name. Then, when you're out with friends or a woman you're trying to make jealous, just text that number. You'll shortly get a text and then a pre-recorded call.

fake girlfriend

In a similar vein, Cloud Girlfriend is a service that allows you to create a fake Facebook girlfriend.

I wrote a bit about the history of imaginary online girlfriends in Hippo Eats Dwarf. The idea started on eBay back in 2003, when a 22-year-old Texas college student, Judy, posted an auction offering to become the highest bidder's imaginary girlfriend. The idea proved so popular that soon imaginary girlfriend companies were popping up, such as ImaginaryGirlfriend.com, which debuted in early 2004 (but which no longer exists).

However, I don't know anything about the history of imaginary girlfriends in the pre-internet days before the 21st Century. Were there companies that, for a fee, would send you love letters? Or are imaginary girlfriends a creation of the internet era? Perhaps I'll have to waste a few hours researching that.
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 06, 2011
Comments (3)
The legend of Out-Of-Control Government Expenditures is alive and well. Back in the 1980s, reports of the US government paying $400 for a hammer and $600 for a toilet sparked outrage. And now, late last month, came the news that the Justice Department had paid $16 a piece for muffins at a 2009 conference. But just as the hammer and toilet weren't really as expensive as they seemed, it turns out that the price of the muffins was an artifact of accounting. The $16 included the entire continental breakfast, service, and taxes. Of course, while the government may not be paying premium price for muffins, those bailouts to the bankers did seem a little steep.
Categories: Business/Finance, Politics, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 06, 2011
Comments (2)
Time magazine offers a list of the Top 5 Disney World Urban Legends:
  1. Walt Disney built a special suite for himself in Cinderella's castle at the Magic Kingdom. (Apparently this wasn't true while Disney was alive, though there is a suite there now in which special visitors can stay.)
  2. Cinderella's castle can be disassembled or made to sink into the ground to protect it from natural disasters such as hurricanes.
  3. In the case of a death at a Disney park, no one can be declared dead until their body leaves the park itself.
  4. There's a whole other park beneath the Magic Kingdom. (No, but there are utility corridors beneath it.)
  5. Disney's body was cryogenically frozen and is kept beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney Land.
The list focuses specifically on legends pertaining to the amusement parks, which I guess is why it doesn't include the most persistent Disney urban legend, about the satanic messages hidden in their movies.

But about the last legend — Disney's body being kept frozen beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. While this isn't true, apparently some people have been suspected of dumping cremated human remains at the ride, as posted by Tah in the hoax forum back in 2007.
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 04, 2011
Comments (10)
live forever juiceLive Forever Juice is a fake product that was created for educational purposes by FDAImports, a consulting company that specializes in advising companies how to comply with FDA regulations. The idea was to make a food product whose packaging was full of illegal claims, then walk people through why the claims are illegal. (via: The Food Watchdog).

The company handed out samples of Live Forever Juice at a recent trade fair in Baltimore. They also have an accompanying website, liveforeverjuice.com, on which they have some videos that explain what kind of claims companies are legally allowed to make on the packaging of their food products, and what claims they can't make. Of course, all claims have to be "true, adequately substantiated, and not misleading." It's the latter category, misleading claims, that are the most interesting, since companies come up with all kinds of ways to make claims that are technically true, but nevertheless misleading. And the FDA has regulations to try to prevent this.

For instance, labels often declare that the product is a "great source" of a nutrient, such as Vitamin C. But if the label says this, then the food must contain at least 20% of that nutrient's recommended daily intake (RDI). Sometimes labels will use more ambiguous language, such as boasting that the food "contains" a nutrient, which could be technically true even if the food only has a tiny amount of it. But the FDA feels that even this more ambiguous claim implies the food is a good source of the nutrient. So the food still must offer at least 10% of that nutrient's RDI in order to make that claim legally.

FDAImports also created a Live Forever Juice party video that offers a "High-Octane Motivational Video Loop with Unicorns." They caution that you shouldn't watch it if you're prone to seizures.

Categories: Advertising, Food
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 04, 2011
Comments (1)