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I periodically receive emails from people who insist I need to add global warming to the site because it's the "biggest hoax in human history." I don't agree with that. Actually, I think global warming is something that definitely merits being worried about. However, I did just add a global warming hoax to the hoax archive, which might make the global-warming-is-a-hoax crowd happy. Except that this hoax occurred in 1874.

It's a story that appeared in U.S. newspapers in February 1874. The premise was that scientists had discovered the earth was getting hotter and hotter. Europe was predicted to be tropical in 12 years, and soon after that the planet would become too hot to support life. The cause of this warming wasn't carbon emissions, but rather the recent laying of transatlantic telegraph cables, which were supposedly acting like giant electromagnets, pulling the earth into the sun.

This was a very minor nineteenth-century hoax. It didn't generate much interest at the time because it was pretty far-fetched. But it's more interesting to us today because of its depiction of man-made global warming. In fact, I suspect it may be the earliest fictional portrayal of global warming caused by man's technology. At least, I can't find any earlier examples.

The full article about the hoax is in the hoax archive. I've redirected comments there to avoid having duplicate threads.

Categories: Death, Journalism, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon May 21, 2012
Comments (0)
At the end of April, a news story was widely reported involving a jilted Polish woman, Anna Maćkowiak, who got revenge on her ex-boyfriend by pulling out all his teeth. Seems she was a dentist, and he made the mistake of showing up at her practice complaining of toothache. So she sedated him, and set to work. He woke up later with no toothache, and no teeth.

This got posted over at Weird Universe (though not by me), but it didn't trigger any hoax alarms in my head. But it should have. MSNBC reporter Erin Tennant was suspicious, did some investigating, and discovered it was all a hoax. Or rather, it seems to have been a case of satire mistaken as news. And it was that bastion of great journalism, the Daily Mail, that first published the story in English. More details from MSNBC:

when msnbc.com contacted police in Wroclaw, Poland, about the supposed criminal case, a spokesman said they had no record of such an incident.

"Lower Silesia Police Department has not been notified about such an event and is not investigating such a case," Pawel Petrykowski of the Provincial Police Headquarters in Wroclaw said in an email that was translated into English.

A legal adviser for Poland’s Chamber of Physicians and Dentists, which handles disciplinary matters, said the organization is not investigating and has never investigated any such case, and added that there is no dental practitioner named Anna Maćkowiak listed in Poland’s central register of dentists.

"No information about this kind of misconduct has been provided to the Supreme Chamber," the legal advisor, Marek Szewczyński, said in an email. "The Supreme Chamber is also not aware of any actions of this kind being taken by the Regional Chamber of Physicians and Dentists in Wroclaw, which would be the competent authority in case of a possible professional misconduct committed by a dental practitioner from Wroclaw."

Most online news outlets in Poland left the story alone. Polish television news channel TVN4 published an article mocking foreign media's coverage of the story, which it speculates began as a prank. "It appears that the article, written as a joke, began life on the Internet and has little to do with any truth," the translated article reads.

All the news reports about Maćkowiak published on news websites in the U.S. and elsewhere, such as Australia’s Herald Sun or New Zealand Herald, can be traced back to an article published in the online edition of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper.

The article, which has been shared on Facebook more than 75,000 times since it was published on April 27, appears under the byline of staff reporter Simon Tomlinson.

But Tomlinson said he does not know where the story came from and distanced himself from it when questioned about its origins.
"I've drawn a bit of a blank," he said in an email. "The (Daily) Mail Foreign Service, which did the piece for the paper, is really just an umbrella term for copy put together from agencies. My news desk isn’t sure where exactly it came from."
Categories: Journalism, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (0)
Craig Silverman has coined a term for a new kind of excuse popular with writers caught plagiarizing. It's the Maureen Dowd Plagiarism Defense. He explains:

In 2009, Dowd used close to 50 words from a John Marshall post on Talking Points Memo. She didn't offer any attribution. The words were presented as her own, and that led to accusations of plagiarism, and to a correction being issued. The Dowd Defense emerged when she reached out to a variety of websites to explain how it happened. This is what she told Huffington Post and others:
"I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me."

So yes, the words weren't hers. But she thought she was just copying the words of a friend.

Craig notes a more recent use of this defense. A piece by Josh Linkner on Fast Company was found to contain parts of a blog post by Chris Dixon, unattributed. Linkner apologized to Dixon and explained:

A friend of mine sent me that excerpt and I had no idea it was yours or anyone else's so I didn't attribute it when I wrote my post. As an author, VC, and entrepreneur I hold myself to the highest standards and I'm deeply sorry this happened.
Categories: Bad Excuses, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 10, 2012
Comments (2)
Another famous hoax has made its way onto the stage. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is staging a production of the "Great Wall Story" from March 16 to April 22. The play tells the story of the Great Wall of China Hoax from 1899, in which a group of Denver reporters cooked up a story claiming that China had decided to tear down the Great Wall, and was inviting American firms to bid on the demolition project. The play gets a good review from the Denver Post. Check out a scene below.

Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 03, 2012
Comments (0)
Former media hoaxer Stephen Glass, whose exploits were depicted in the movie Shattered Glass, is back in the news. It seems that his career since getting fired from the New Republic has been a bit rocky. He made $140,000 from his 2003 semi-autobiographical novel, The Fabulist, but that money didn't last too long. In recent years, he's been trying to become a lawyer. According to SFGate.com, he passed the bar exam and applied for an attorney's license in 2007, but the State Bar of California turned him down on the grounds that he was morally unfit to practice law. He appealed the decision, and the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear his case.

Morally unfit to practice law? That seems like a contradiction in terms. Given his past, Glass should fit right in to the legal profession.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 11, 2012
Comments (1)
Way back when, in the mid-1990s, the hoax that initially got me hooked on studying hoaxes was the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. I remember coming across a brief reference to it in a book — I can't remember which book anymore — and being so intrigued by it that I immediately started tracking down more information about it. Then I decided to devote a chapter in my doctoral dissertation to it. I never finished the dissertation. Got a bit sidetracked. But I did spend a lot of time researching the moon hoax, and writing up notes about it, before I gave up on the dissertation.

However, all that information then sat on my computer. It never made its way to the Museum of Hoaxes, where I had posted only a short article about the moon hoax — and that article actually had some errors in it.

But recently I was cleaning up the Hoax Archive, and as I was doing so, it occurred to me that I really should have a better article about the moon hoax on the site. After all, I spent a couple of years researching it (though, of course, that wasn't the only thing I was doing during that time), but all I had to show for that effort was a short, error-filled article. Why not take all my moon hoax notes, organize them into a coherent form, and put them online, where they might be of interest to someone. And where they'd definitely be of better use than sitting on my computer, inaccessible to anyone but me.

So that's what I spent the last few weeks doing. I got a bit carried away. My new moon hoax article is, by far, the longest article posted on the site, coming in at around 17,000 words — or about 60 pages, if someone were to print it out, though I've got the entire thing on a single page.

It's definitely more information about the moon hoax than most people want to know. I go into detail analyzing questions such as how many people actually fell for the hoax? Why did people believe it? Did the hoax really cause the NY Sun's circulation to rise dramatically? And why was there speculation that Richard Adams Locke wasn't the only author?

But I feel good that I finally got all that material out there. Like I said, maybe it'll be of use to some future researcher of the moon hoax.

Oh, and one more thing: I noticed that someone is selling an original copy of the moon hoax on eBay. That is, they're selling the actual copies of the NY Sun from 1835. They're asking $488. I thought an original copy of the moon hoax would fetch more, but the copies they're selling are in pretty bad condition, and they're not complete pages. Someone cut out the text of the hoax, so none of the surrounding material is preserved.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 16, 2011
Comments (1)
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)
There's a long history of hoaxers finding ways to slip fake stories into newspapers. Back in 1864 Joseph Howard tried to manipulate the New York stock market by sending fake Associated Press telegrams to newspaper offices. The telegrams claimed Lincoln had decided to conscript an extra 400,000 men into the Union army. Several papers printed the fake news. The stock market panicked, because the news suggested the Civil War was going to drag on for a lot longer, and Howard (who had invested heavily in gold) made a nice profit.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Joseph Mulhattan (a very odd character) made a kind of career out of tricking newspapers into printing fake stories. One of his more notorious hoaxes was when he fooled papers into reporting that a giant meteor had fallen in Texas. And on April Fool's Day 1915, a worker in the printing press of the Boston Globe surreptitiously made a minor alteration to the front page of the paper, lowering its price from Two Cents per Copy to One cent.

Technology changes, but the hoaxes remain much the same. And so yesterday a group of pranksters calling themselves The Script Kiddies (or TH3 5CR1PT K1DD3S) managed to hack into the Twitter feed of NBC News and posted a series of fake newsflashes. The first of these announced: "Breaking News! Ground Zero has just been attacked. Flight 5736 has crashed into the site, suspected hijacking. more as the story develops."

Obviously NBC News didn't much appreciate this. Their Twitter account was soon taken offline and the fake messages deleted.

The Script Kiddies perpetrated a similar stunt back in July when they hacked into the Twitter account of Fox News and posted tweets claiming President Obama was dead.

According to an interview they conducted with Think magazine, The Script Kiddies see themselves as anti-corporate activists, and they intend their pranks to embarrass and annoy the corporations they target.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 12, 2011
Comments (1)
Fox News reminds me of William Randolph Hearst. They're no longer even trying to be subtle about falsifying the news. In particular, the latest from Fox News reminds me of something Hearst's New York Mirror did back in 1932. Here (in the words of Curtis MacDougall) is the 1932 incident:

In 1932 the New York Mirror ran a picture allegedly of hunger marchers storming Buckingham Palace in London. It was revealed that the scene actually was of a 1929 crowd gathered anxiously during the illness of King George V.

And here's what Fox News did recently, in the words of the Huffington Post:

The tea party protests continued last week, as Congresswoman Michele Bachmann held an anti-health-care-reform rally on the steps of the Capitol. While she estimated that 20,000-45,000 people attended the event, the Washington Post reported it was actually more like 10,000.
Still, that is a sizable number of Americans exercising their right to free speech and assembly, and that warrants news coverage. But Sean Hannity and his team did more than cover the event. They not only inflated the number in attendance with their words, but actually used footage from a heavily-attended protest this summer to make this health care rally appear more popular. Hannity even pointed out that this was a huge crowd for a Thursday, when the protest footage they used was from a Saturday.
Jon Stewart and his team caught this discrepancy and ran with it, pointing out neither the color of the leaves nor sky in the tacked-on video matched that of the actual footage.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 11, 2009
Comments (32)
I wrote about Greg Packer, aka the phony Man on the Street, in Hippo Eats Dwarf:

In 2003, media critics noticed that the same man kept popping up time after time in “man on the street” interviews. Greg Packer, a highway maintenance worker from upstate New York, was quoted by The New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the London Times, and other publications. He also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. But he was always described as nobody special, just a random person.

Apparently Packer is still going strong. The Philadelphia Daily News admits that they were the latest paper to fall for his act.
(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 05, 2009
Comments (1)
A news story is circulating claiming that an Indian man, 26-year-old Vaibhav Bedi, has sued Axe deodorant (aka Lynx in Europe) because he failed to land a single girlfriend after using their product for seven years. It's in The Australian and the Daily Record, among other news sources.

This is an example of satire being mistaken as news. According to Asylum.com:

Axe spokesperson Heather Mitchell sent Asylum this statement:
"We've been following the news reports from India where a man was allegedly planning to take legal action for the Axe Effect not working for him personally. We can confirm this is a hoax. In fact the story originated from TheFakingNews.com. While the story is not true, we have to admit that it's pretty funny and the joke itself is very much in line with our brand tone -- playful, with a wink and a nudge. While Axe grooming products can help guys look, smell and feel great, there is only so much we can do; the rest is up to guys themselves."
Categories: Journalism, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 02, 2009
Comments (2)
Satire mistaken as news: On Monday, August 31 The Onion published an article claiming that Neil Armstrong had been convinced, after watching a few "persuasive YouTube videos," that "his historic first step on the moon was part of an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the United States government." A few days later this claim was picked up by a Bangladeshi newspaper, the Daily Manab Zamin, and run as fact. The paper has now apologized for its mistake, noting "We've since learned that the fun site [The Onion] runs false and juicy reports based on a historic incident." (Thanks to Tom Littrell)
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 04, 2009
Comments (3)
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