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Education
The most recent issue of the Romanian journal Metalurgia International contains an unusual article titled "Evaluation of Transformative Hermeneutic Heuristics for Processing Random Data."

If that title doesn't make much sense to you, neither will the rest of the article. But that's intentional on the part of the authors, who submitted a nonsense article to the journal, which obligingly published it — apparently without bothering to read it first. The intent of the hoaxers (three professors at the University of Belgrade) was to "draw attention to the hyperproduction of quasi-scientific works by Serbian professors that are published in the magazines of dubious quality" as the website In Serbia puts it.

The problem is that academic advancement in Serbia is tied to publication. So Serbian professors have been padding their CVs by publishing articles in bogus journals that will publish anything, for a fee. And that's the practice the hoaxers were trying to expose.

The hoax article gives several nods to Alan Sokal's similar academic spoof from 1996, citing Sokal both in the text of their article and in the footnotes. Also cited are academic heavyweights such as M. Jackson, R. Jeremy (Ron Jeremy), and A.S. Hole.

The author photos, which shows them in wigs and fake mustaches, is also a nice touch. [via Retraction Watch]

Categories: Education, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 24, 2013
Comments (1)
Prof. T. Mills Kelly teaches a class on hoaxes at George Mason University titled, "Lying About the Past." It's a study of hoaxes throughout history (the Museum of Hoaxes is on his syllabus!), but also uses hoaxes to teach critical thinking and historical analysis. As part of the class, the students have to create a historical hoax of their own and launch it on the web. I could have sworn that I'd posted previously about Kelly's class, but couldn't find where I did so.

Back in 2008, his students crafted a successful hoax about Edward Owens, a supposed Chesapeake pirate. This year they tried to create a tale about a possible 19th-century New York serial killer. But when they tried to ensnare redditors by posting a link on reddit asking "Opinions please, Reddit. Do you think my 'Uncle' Joe was just weird or possibly a serial killer?" -- their hoax was exposed in just 26 minutes. Redditors noticed that the supporting wikipedia articles had all been recently created by the same people.

This leads Yoni Appelbaum, in an article on atlantic.com, to ponder why the students' hoax succeeded in 2008 but failed so quickly this year when it encountered the reddit sleuths. He concludes (rightly, I think) that it all comes down to a question of trust. If the source of the information doesn't seem trustworthy (which it didn't, to the redditors), then the hoax isn't going to succeed. In other words, it's the old lesson that "Information is only as good as its source" -- which I identified as the golden rule of hoax-busting in Hippo Eats Dwarf. So if you want to perpetrate a successful hoax, you've got to make it difficult for people to trace the original source of the info back to you.

How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit
atlantic.com

T. Mills Kelly encourages his students to deceive thousands of people on the Web. This has angered many, but the experiment helps reveal the shifting nature of the truth on the Internet.
Categories: Education, History
Posted by Alex on Thu May 17, 2012
Comments (0)
Teacher Larry Wilson offers up these gems, all of which really were told to him by tardy students:
  • "I had too much homework in my important classes."
  • "I'm having a baby this weekend, can I turn it in later."
  • "I turned it in, and I guess you lost it."
  • "Glee was on."
  • "I'm a crack baby."
  • "I'm working on my essay at home."
  • "My allergies are extremely bad right now, and I'm on my period. It's VERY heavy flow, so I apologize in advance if I freak out on you or anyone."
  • "It's at my mom's house, and I'm at my dad's this week"
  • "My mom wouldn't let me do my homework."
  • "I ran out of paper, so I did my homework on this paper towel. Is that okay?"
Read the full article at anchoragepress.com.
Categories: Bad Excuses, Education
Posted by Alex on Fri May 11, 2012
Comments (2)
A strange series of photos has recently been circulating online showing an entire classroom full of high school students in China hooked up to IV drips.


Apparently the students aren't sick. Instead, they're exhausted from cramming for the upcoming National College Entrance Exam (Gao Kao). So they're all being given supplemental amino acids via IV drip. And this is something the Chinese government is willing to pay for. Links: ministryoftofu.com, globaltimes.cn, businessinsider.com.

I haven't found anything to indicate that the scene shown in the pictures isn't exactly what it's being described as. And Chinese officials, in interviews, seem to have confirmed that this is what's going on.

The question is, does an animo-acid drip do anything for the students that drinking a gatorade (or other energy drink) wouldn't? Or, even better, getting a good night's sleep. Not as far as I know. Though it's not going to hurt them, except for a small risk of infection from the needle. And it definitely looks dramatic, so perhaps it triggers a confidence-boosting placebo effect.

It's not just the Chinese who are susceptible to strange, pseudo-scientific methods of boosting student performance. In Electrified Sheep I wrote about an idea that gained popularity in Europe and America circa 1912 of turning kids into super-students by electrifying them. The concept was to conceal wires in the walls and ceiling of a classroom, turning the entire room into a gigantic electromagnet. The students and teacher inside the room would supposedly benefit from the magnetic influence surrounding them. This idea was promoted by none other than Nikola Tesla, who wanted to turn all American classrooms into electromagnets. Nobel-Prize winner Svante Arrhenius even conducted experiments to test the idea... though the experiments didn't reveal any obvious benefit.

Perhaps the Chinese will latch onto the idea of electrifying their high-school students next.
Categories: Education, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (3)

Kenneth Shong
I think I'll add a degree from Carlingford University to my resume. I'll list it alongside my degree in Loch Ness Monster studies from Bigfoot U.

Carlingford was a fake university -- a diploma mill -- created by con artist Kenneth Shong, while he was in prison on forgery charges. He was getting his fellow inmates to enroll there, having convinced them it was real. Though one inmate became suspicious of "'poor business practices and unresponsiveness' in relation to the school returning his grades and giving further lessons."

Shong made a website for Carlingford, to make it seem slightly more legitimate. I found an archived copy of the site on the wayback machine. The site boasted that Carlingford taught students, "the ability to think creatively and critically" -- just not critically enough to realize they were being conned.

More astute critical thinkers might have noticed the site included a short rant about how the accreditation process is a scam (and therefore why Carlingford wasn't accredited) -- which is the kind of thing you don't usually find on the websites of legitimate universites:

The word 'accreditation' is a concept that only exists in the US. It is mostly a concept to make money (to be accredited, you have to pay an agency to do so), and there are 7 major accrediting agencies in the US. No other country in the world uses this term or concept.

Prison officials cottoned on to Shong's scheme around 2007. But it was only a week ago that he went to court to face a charge of fraud -- immediately after he had finished serving his sentence on the forgery charges. Links: Daily Mail, Green Bay Press Gazette.
Categories: Con Artists, Education
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2012
Comments (2)
The Irish Times describes a real-life Museum of Hoaxes -- the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris:

As chief curator Claude d'Anthenaise explains, it's an experimental museum that likes to baffle the visitor. "I wanted to create a museum where the visitor would feel constantly disconcerted and lose his bearings – just like someone walking in nature," he says. "In a wild setting, you're confronted with all sorts of things you don't understand. You're not on your own territory."

So "totally insignificant, even repulsive" objects have been deliberately placed alongside art of the highest quality. Visitors often have to search out explanations for displays. There are hoaxes, traps and false leads. For example, a fake appeau – a device used to imitate the sounds of animals – is presented in what looks like a serious, scientific collection.

"In the hunting trophy collection, there's an animal that is actually an artistic creation. It's like a wild boar's head, which is completely imagined but plausible, all white, and it follows the visitors with its eyes. We can even make it talk as they pass. Sometimes the security guard will turn it on.

"Suddenly the visitor is confronted by this animal which is not fully dead. It invites him to challenge the entirety of the collection. He says to himself, 'if this is an invention, maybe other things are too'. So he observes them differently.

It sounds a lot like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA.
Categories: Education, Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (0)
Two stories have been in the news recently about Manhattan school employees who were somewhat derelict in their commitment to the truth.

The first was Joan Barnett, a parent coordinator, who, in order to get two-and-a-half weeks of vacation, claimed her daughter "Xinia Daley Herman" had died. Her mistake: she submitted a death certificate with weird, misaligned fonts. When busted, she initially claimed her daughter really had "died of a heart condition." But eventually she broke down and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. It's not clear from the article if she really had a daughter with that name. Link: National Post

The second is teacher Mona Lisa Tello, who submitted a fake jury duty letter to get out of class for two weeks. Her mistake: the letter was full of misspellings ('trail' instead of 'trial,' 'manger' instead of 'manager'). Link: NY Daily News

Both Barnett and Tello lost their jobs. So now they have all the vacation time they could possibly want.
Categories: Bad Excuses, Education, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 12, 2012
Comments (0)
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)