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From The Globe and Mail:

"All my wife said was, well, that's weird," recounts Damon, shaking his head. "Then she reminded me that the same thing had happened to George [Clooney] a few years ago. What amazed me even more was that the calls we were getting were from [news groups] that were very reputable. I asked them did you even read the story on the Internet? It read like the lyrics to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The truth of the matter is all these mother [expletive] are lazy [and didn't do their homework to verify if the story was real]. There I said it."
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 14, 2009
Comments (11)
A short video that appeared on youtube a week ago showed someone resembling Michael Jackson getting out of the back of a coroner's van. Evidence perhaps that Jackson faked his death? Nope. German television station RTL subsequently admitted they faked the video as an experiment "to show how easily users can be manipulated on the Internet with hoax videos." An RTL spokesman said: "Unfortunately, many people believed it was true, even though we tried to create the video in a way that every normal user can see right away that it is a fake."

Hoaxes designed to demonstrate the gullibility of the public are an old phenomenon, going back at least to HL Mencken's 1917 bathtub hoax. The public invariably lives up to expectations.
Categories: Celebrities, Death, Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 02, 2009
Comments (6)
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)
Magazines have begun to note the 40th anniversary of the Paul is Dead rumor (although they're two months early... the rumor began to circulate widely in September 1969).

Contact Music managed to get a quotation from McCartney about the rumor. He claims to still be laughing it off. But interestingly, he also get the details wrong about how the rumor started:

MCCartney's barefoot appearance in the photo [on the cover of Abbey Road] sparked wild rumours the rocker had died in a car crash - and the 67 year old admits he still has to reassure some fans he's not an impostor.
He explains, "The idea was to walk across the crossing, and I showed up that day with sandals, flip-flops. It was so hot that I kicked them off and walked across barefooted, and this started some rumour that because he's barefooted, he's dead. I couldn't see the connection.

McCartney barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road was one of the major clues that fueled the rumor, but it didn't spark the rumor. The event that really launched the rumor was when Detroit DJ Russ Gibb played the song "Revolution Number Nine" backwards on his show and claimed to hear the words "Turn me on, dead man."

There's been several books and a number of scholarly articles written about the Paul is Dead rumor. I wonder if McCartney has ever read them.
Categories: Death, Music, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 17, 2009
Comments (10)
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)
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)
The fake celebrity death toll following Michael Jackson's death continues to rise. The body count so far:

Rick Astley (found dead in a Berlin hotel room), Natalie Portman (fell off a cliff), George Clooney (fell off a cliff), P. Diddy, Jeff Goldblum (fell off a cliff), Harrison Ford, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, Louie Anderson.

The media is describing this death rumor craze as an internet phenomenon. Of course, the internet is the medium through which the rumors are circulating. However, such death rumor crazes are not unique to the internet. There have been similar crazes in the past. The only difference now is that, thanks to the internet, the rumors can spread faster, but also can be debunked faster. Consider this April 14, 1945 report from the New York Times, excerpted below:

Flood of Rumors Gives City Jitters
Legitimate and Ludicrous Calls Swamp the Switchboards in Wake of Roosevelt Death


Widespread jitters bordering on mass hysteria seemed to sweep New York yesterday in the wake of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, as rumors of killings, accidents and deaths involving prominent persons flooded the city.

Newspapers, radio stations, government offices, banks and corner drugstores were deluged with thousands of telephone calls asking "is it true?" that such and such a person had been killed. The telephone calls in some cases followed patterns so closely that some harassed switchboard operators were convinced the wave was organized as a possible attempt to hamper communications. But the prevailing theory was that irresponsible and flighty persons had fallen prey to their own gullibility.

The names of Van Johnson, film actor, and Comdr. Jack Dempsey were linked by the majority of callers, including two that Commander Dempsey and the actor had been killed together in an automobile accident. Other names mentioned were those of Mayor La Guardia, Harry Hopkins, Robert Taylor, Herbert H. Lehman, Charles Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Errol Flynn, Babe Ruth, Jack Benny and Jimmy Walker.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 30, 2009
Comments (5)
It's been the week of the celebrity death hoax, triggered by the real-life deaths of a string of celebrities (Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays).

The recent celebrity death hoaxes have included: Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford, Louie Anderson, Ellen DeGeneres, Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus.

In the case of Jeff Goldblum and Louie Anderson, the fake deaths were simply old rumors that were recycled. But in the case of Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, and Miley Cyrus, pranksters hacked into their twitter accounts to post false death announcements.
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 29, 2009
Comments (2)
In the wake of the news of the death of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, a rumor that Jeff Goldblum had also died began to circulate. Reportedly he died when he fell off a cliff while filming a movie in New Zealand.

Then a rumor surfaced that Harrison Ford had died on board a yacht cruising off the coast of St. Tropez.

Both Ford and Goldblum are still alive. In fact, the Goldblum rumor was simply a rehash of a three-year-old rumor that originally involved Tom Hanks falling off a cliff, and later Tom Cruise.

Maegan has posted more details in the forum.

Some links:
Harrison Ford not dead either
Goldblum NZ death hoax latest in a trail 
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 26, 2009
Comments (0)
It appears that Michael Jackson has died, which is only worth mentioning here because in addition to being the "King of Pop," he was also the King of the fake death rumor. Even The Onion satirically predicted his death back in 2005. But this time, it seems to be for real.

Now the "he faked his death" rumors can start.
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 25, 2009
Comments (10)
ABC News has a report on the village of Bama, "China's Fountain of youth." People there are said to live unusually long lives. Out of the population of 500, six people are over 100 years old.

The locals attribute this longevity to pure water (which is "a striking blue because of low alkilinity"), simple home-grown food, and a special magnetic field.

Bama has become a big tourist destination in China. Billboards promote its special powers. New hotels are being constructed there. And you can shop at a store that sells products labeled "The 100-year-old Man."

But the key phrase in the report is that "there are no birth certificates to prove age." This immediately makes me think of the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, which in the 1970s was heavily promoted as a village of supercentenarians, until researchers examined the age claims more closely and realized the locals were exaggerating their age.

If the old folks in Bama don't have any birth certificates or documentation to prove their age, then I'd be very doubtful they really are over 100, because age exaggeration among old people is an extremely common phenomenon. It's a way for them to increase their social status by claiming to have done something remarkable (lived a very long time).
Categories: Death, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 15, 2009
Comments (9)
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