Pharos-Tribune

April 1, 2014

For April Fools' Day: A sampling of scientific hoaxes over the centuries

By Nancy Szokan
The Washington Post

— Speaking of jokes, in honor of April Fools' Day, Discovery magazine's Jonathon Keats briefly recounts some scientific hoaxes perpetrated over the centuries. His catalogue of cons includes "Aristotle's Masterpiece," a 17th-century mishmash of bogus medical texts and sex advice that remained in publication for 200 years. Then there's the Chinese fossil that duped National Geographic 15 years ago: the supposed "archeoraptor" turned out to be rearranged parts of fossils, with the tail of a dinosaur linked to the body of an extinct bird. He also recalls how in 2013 Science magazine staffers submitted a fake research paper, complete with numerous errors, to 304 open-access journals, and that it was accepted by 157 of them.

Keats also says the Abominable Snowman story may turn out not to be a complete hoax: Last year, British geneticist Bryan Sykes said he had matched DNA from alleged Yeti hair to an ancient Scandinavian bear.

And Keats relays Discovery's own foray into the hoax business: In 1995, the magazine ran an April Fools' story about a creature called the Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer - a molelike animal that melted tunnels through ice with its head. The piece resulted in a torrent of hate mail - more response than the magazine had ever gotten for an article. Almost two decades later, he writes, "We still receive the occasional angry note."