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Science
The Fake Science Blog has been around for over two years, but I just found out about it. It describes itself as being "for when the facts are too confusing." Lots of great stuff! Seems to be a new post about once every 4 or 5 days. Here's a few samples:







Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 24, 2012
Comments (1)
A committee at Tilburg University (in the Netherlands) has determined that the social psychologist Diederik Stapel is guilty of fabricating data in multiple studies. Staepl has admitted his guilt, saying he "failed as a scientist". From sciencemag.org:

The panel reported that [Stapel] would discuss in detail experimental designs, including drafting questionnaires, and would then claim to conduct the experiments at high schools and universities with which he had special arrangements. The experiments, however, never took place, the universities concluded. Stapel made up the data sets, which he then gave the student or collaborator for analysis, investigators allege.

An odd touch of irony: Some of Stapel's earlier work included investigating how psychologists would react to a plagiarism scandal.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 01, 2011
Comments (3)
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 These unpublished interviews with her demonstrate that there is no compelling evidence that Mead was hoaxed.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)
Lorena writes to ask:

You seem to know a lot about hoaxes so....I am doing some
research, and I was asked if the story about Stalin sending black orchids
to Eva Peron's funeral are a hoax. Problem is, I can't even find stories
about it at all. Have you ever heard this?

I'm flattered Lorena thinks I might be knowledgeable enough to have the answer to this, but unfortunately I've never heard the story before and can't find any references to it. In a July 28, 1952 Associated Press article, "Mile-Long Lines View Remains," I found a reference to the flower arrangements at Peron's funeral:

The blonde wife of President Juan D. Peron lay in state in the hall of the labor ministry, in a glass-topped casket of mahogany, draped in white orchids, awaiting a full military funeral tomorrow afternoon. Tons of lilies, roses and carnations packed the hall and overflowed into the streets outside. Crowds of somberly dressed sober-faced mourners were first admitted to the improvised chapel Sunday afternoon and continued in an endless procession throughout the night and morning.

No mention of black orchids or Stalin.

A recent article in the journal International Affairs ["Stalin Meets the Argentine Ambassador," 3(52), 2006, 175-181], discusses a 1953 meeting between Stalin and Leopoldo Bravo, the Argentine ambassador in Moscow. During the course of their conversation Stalin apparently mentioned his interest in Eva Peron:

Other issues were also discussed during the conversation. Stalin was particularly interested in why Peron's wife—Eva Peron—was so popular, was it her personality, or the fact that she was the president's wife. Not an easy question to answer, particularly since Eva had died six months before. The ambassador's reply implied that she was popular for both reasons.

But again, no mention of Stalin having sent black orchids to her funeral.

I should also point out that while there are plants commonly referred to as "black orchids," they're not actually black. They're a dark maroon or brown. There is no such thing as an orchid that is truly black. The Auckland Museum is currently hosting an exhibit, Wonderland: The Mystery of the Orchid. According to them:

A few species of orchids have acquired the name "Black Orchid" by virtue of their very dark intense colour, while not black, which tends to the dark brown and maroon.
One of these is the Australian native orchid, Cymbidium canaliculatum var. sparkesii, a form of C. canaliculatum that has rich intense dark maroon flowers, with a touch of white and dark purple on the labellum. A species of the drier open eucalyptus forest, it grows high in the trees from hollow branches and crevices. The spikes are produced in numbers and bear many deep maroon flowers which are fragrant.
The original "black orchid", Trichoglottis brachiata (or T. philippinensiis var. brachiata), an erect monopodial species that likes to climb, is an entirely different type of orchid from the perching Cymbidium. T. brachiata is native to Borneo, Philippines and Sumatra and the many flowers are produced at the nodes along the stem. Each flower is up to 5 cm across, a rich velvety dark maroon, the lip prominently marked purple. The flowers are fragrant and long lived.
Categories: Politics, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 21, 2009
Comments (8)
A new play opening at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, Fake by Eric Simonson, is based on the Piltdown Man hoax. It looks pretty good, but I can't find any indication if there are plans for it to go on tour and come to San Diego.

In 1914, renowned mystery writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invites four guests to his English country home. Each visitor has a connection to the infamous "Piltdown Man," purported to be the missing link between ape and man—later exposed as a hoax. Swinging back and forth through time, Fake investigates how “Piltdown” rattled assumptions about evolution, faith and science—and how we are transformed by our quest for the truth.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 24, 2009
Comments (1)
The Times Online reports on a recent study by University of Helsinki researcher Markus Jokela, who found that women are getting more beautiful:

Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.

The article doesn't mention where Jokela published his study, so I'll have to go by the article's description of his work. But on the basis of that, his claim is absurd. Beauty isn't something like height that can be objectively tracked and measured over time. Standards of beauty change over time and across cultures. Which makes it meaningless to say that women are getting more beautiful.

The Gene Expression blog also criticizes Jokela's claim, pointing out that "males and females inherit half their genes from an opposite sex parent." Which means that if gorgeous women are mating with ugly cavemen, their children will be half ugly caveman, which contradicts Jokela's thesis.
Categories: Fashion, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 28, 2009
Comments (13)
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)
In its current issue, the Journal of Biogeography has published an article whose authors use ecological niche modelling software to predict the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America. The authors write:

We were stimulated to write this piece as a tongue-in-cheek response to the increasing prevalence of ENMs in the literature and in papers presented at professional meetings. As in any rapidly developing field with the promise of exciting applications, there is the potential for the empirical acceptance of new approaches to outpace conceptual understanding. The point of this paper has been to point out how very sensible-looking, well-performing (based on AUC and threshold tests) ENMs can be constructed from questionable observation data.

The authors then created an ecological niche model for the black bear, Ursus americanus, and discovered that the two models (for Bigfoot and black bear) were remarkably similar, leading them to conclude that "many Bigfoot sightings are, in fact, of black bears." (via New Scientist)
Categories: Cryptozoology, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 07, 2009
Comments (11)
Cornell grad student Philip Davis describes on Scholarly Kitchen an experiment he designed to test the peer-review process at Bentham Science, a publisher of "open-access" journals. (Open-access journals charge authors for publication, but make the articles available for free.)

He used software to create an article full of computer-generated nonsense, such as, "we discuss existing research into red-black trees, vacuum tubes, and courseware [10]. On a similar note, recent work by Takahashi suggests a methodology for providing robust modalities, but does not offer an implementation [9]."

He told Bentham the manuscript had two co-authors from the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology (CRAP). Four months after submitting it, a Bentham representative told him the manuscript had passed peer-review and would be published in The Open Information Science Journal... assuming he paid the $800 publication fee. He declined the offer. New Scientist has more details.

Four years ago a group of MIT students pioneered the "computer-generated article" hoax when they submitted a nonsense paper that was accepted for presentation at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics Conference. Though you can go back to 1944's Ern Malley hoax for an example of hoaxers submitting nonsense for publication.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 11, 2009
Comments (5)
The Science Channel has a list of the Top 10 Science Hoaxes. I'm giving it a thumbs down, because it's a pretty feeble list. It's the kind of thing someone who didn't know much about science or hoaxes might put together by surfing the web for a few hours.

It starts off with Harold Miner's analysis of the Nacirema tribe at #10. This is a famous anthropological satire (Nacirema is American spelled backwards), but I wouldn't consider it a hoax, unless any comedy or fiction can count as a hoax.

El Chupacabra comes in at #3. (Should El Chupacabra even count as science?)

A better list was put together by Tim Radford and published in the Guardian back in 2003.

One of these days I need to write a Top 10 Science Hoaxes list of my own. I'll add it to my list of things to do.

Thanks to Bob for the link!
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Fri May 29, 2009
Comments (6)
Science has determined the funniest whoopee cushion sound, based on a survey of 34,000 people. It is a long, whiny fart, lasting at least seven seconds. Young, European women tend to be most amused by fart sounds, relative to other demographic groups. And the noise of flatulence gets funnier the more you listen to it. The research was conducted by acoustics Professor Trevor Cox of the University of Salford, working in conjunction with the charity Comic Relief.

My theory is that farts were the very first form of jokes. Cavemen sitting around and farting to make each other laugh. So by this time, our brains are pretty much hard-wired to find them amusing. (via The Telegraph)
Categories: Pranks, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 18, 2009
Comments (12)
A new study published in Psychological Science reveals that women are far more skilled at faking romantic interest than men. The experiment involved a speed-dating session. Observers were asked to guess how the men and women felt about each other. Turns out it was easy to guess how the men felt, but no one had a clue how the women felt. The researchers could have simply asked any average guy who would have told them that, most of the time, we have no clue what women are thinking. That's the feminine mystique. Link: Chicago Tribune.
Categories: Psychology, Science, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 03, 2009
Comments (3)
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