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10 Scientific Frauds that Rocked the World.

1. The Cold Fusion Incident

Fusion power has been heralded as the solution to our future power needs. After all, it promises to provide a nearly limitless supply of energy with minimal environmental impact. The current problem, though, is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to fuse together nuclei.

So, when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced to a hungry scientific world that they'd discovered cold fusion in 1989 (a process that supposedly used much less energy), the duo were welcomed with splashy headlines.

Other scientists were dubious, and when Pons and Fleischmann withdrew their paper from Nature magazine and refused to answer questions, charges of fraud were made. Pons and Fleischmann never gave enough details of the experiment to allow others to replicate it, and more than 10 years later no one has been able to replicate their results.

There are still scientists who believe Pons and Fleischmann were on to something, but the premature claims of cold fusion cast such doubt on these two researchers that they were doomed to ignominy.

2. Scientist in on God's Prank

In the early 18th century Dr. Johann Beringer of the University of Würzburg devoted his research to the discovery of fossils that seemed to indicate prehistoric life. Beringer, however, believed that these fossils were "capricious fabrications of God," used to test man's faith. His belief seemed confirmed when at one site he discovered fossils of birds, beetles, moons, and stars. Little did he know that two mean-spirited colleagues had planted the fake fossils. Perhaps trying to get caught, they even planted tablets inscribed with the Hebrew and Arabic words for God. Beringer published a book, Lithographia Wirceburgensis, in 1726 describing his findings and his theory. But then he made another discovery: a similar buried tablet inscribed with his own name. He immediately began trying to buy back all the available copies of his book, but it was too late. Because of the hoax, his book became a bestseller.

Cardiff Giant being exhumed, October 1869

3. George and the Cardiff Giant

George Hull had no patience with fools, but he exhibited great patience for making a fool of others. After arguing with a clergyman who claimed that giants had walked the earth because the Bible said so, Hull proceeded to carve a 10-foot gypsum statue of a man. He then buried his creation on a neighboring New York farm. In 1869, a full year later, Hull hired some well diggers, who discovered his stone man on the job. Of course people gathered to see this oddity, and rumors began to spread that it was a fossilized human of gigantic proportions. Many saw it for the hoax it was, but when two Yale professors declared it genuine, the proof of giants on earth became set in stone. Eventually Hull had to admit it was a fake after he sued P.T. Barnum for exhibiting a copy of it. Barnum claimed his statue was just a hoax of a hoax and was found not guilty.

4. The Most Unnatural of Selections

In the mid-1800s pollution from factories in Britain was darkening trees by killing the lichen, and scientists also noted a decline in the ratio between lighter-colored peppered moths and darker varieties.

It was hypothesized that the lighter moths were easier to spot and thus were eaten by more birds. Here was evolution in action. Bernard Kettlewell sat in the woods and watched to see whether birds preferred the lighter version to darker, and he reported that indeed they were twice as likely to eat the lighter moths.

Three problems, though: (1) Kettlewell was responsible for nailing dead moths to the trees for the birds to feed on, (2) peppered moths rarely alight on tree trunks, and (3) birds don't normally feed on months moths that are on the side of trees. Even after scientists were informed of these inconsistencies, many still clung to the validity of the experiment, perhaps because they wanted to believe it as the canonical example of observed natural selection.

5. Sex and the Seedy

Alfred Kinsey's landmark studies of the 1950s, known as the Kinsey Reports, were the major emphasis on late-20th-century views of human sexuality. The incidence of homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, and childhood sexual behavior were higher than previously thought, which helped lead to different views of adult and childhood sexual behavior. According to Judith Reisman, however, Kinsey's research was fraught with very bad scientific method and possibly fraud. He obtained much of his data by interviewing prisoners, his interviewing technique was biased, and he used reports from pedophiles to hypothesize about childhood sexual behavior. Kinsey's estimates on the extent of homosexual behavior (38.7% in males ages 36 - 40) have not been validated in subsequent studies. In contrast, a Batelle report found that 2.3% of men reported having sex with another man. Nonetheless, Kinsey's landmark study still remains one of the primary sources for current sexuality discussions.

6. Anything for Albert

Arthur Eddington was so convinced of the theory of general relativity that he altered his data to support it. Eddington set out to put Einstein to the test by carefully measuring how light was bent during a solar eclipse.

But apparently the examiner went soft. When the results were in, Eddington threw out 16 photographic plates that didn't support Einstein's theory. Even worse, he then published his research without those 16 plates and showed how Einstein's theory accurately predicted the resulting data. It was this experiment that helped launch the public acceptability of relativity. Strangely enough, the hoax still has legs. You can still find the experiment listed in current textbooks as "proof" of Einstein's theory.

7. Errors of a Graphic Nature

A more recent incident of fraudulent science concerns Jan Hendrik Schön, a physicist at Bell Laboratories. Considered brilliant, Schön was on the fast track in the field of nanoelectronics. His name was even mentioned for a possible Nobel Prize. But his rate of publication (40 a year) and his amazing results began to make some colleagues curious. Eventually Schön was caught falsifying data when he presented identical graphs in two different papers - and the graphs were supposed to be on different topics. Bell Labs themselves initiated an investigation and were rightfully horrified to find gross misconduct.

8. The Great Tasaday Hoax

One of the most startling anthropological discoveries of the 20th century was the discovery of a primitive, cave-dwelling society in the Philippines in 1971. The Tasadays, as they were called, were a find of enormous proportions because they lived a life undisturbed by hundreds of years of society. And to many an academic's delight, anthropologists could now directly observe how people lived in such societies. The Tasadays even used stone tools.

If you're thinking it's impossible that such an isolated group could exist in the Philippines as late as the 1970s, you're right. It turns out that their "discoverer," PANAMIN (Private Association National Minorities) secretary Manuel Elizalde Jr., paid local farmers to live in the caves, take off their clothes, and appear Stone Age. In return he gave them money and security from counterinsurgency and tribal fighting.

The fact that the Tasaday were a hoax was not confirmed until the fall of Marcos in 1983, invalidating, no doubt, many PhD dissertations that had been written in the interim.

9. Don't Worry about the EMF, but Please Don't Talk and Drive

Concerns about the dangers of living close to high-tension wires or of frequent use of cell phones have been hot topics for the past decade. Unfortunately, one of the studies that warned about the dangers of electromagnetic field (EMF) damage was a case of fraudulent science.

Robert P. Liburdy, a cell biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was a leading researcher looking into the dangers of EMF. No study up to that point had shown any increase in risk due to electromagnetic field. Liburdy set out to change that, however, as his papers claimed that the fields could cause a disruption in calcium, which is important to cell function.

According to external reviewers, however, Liburdy left out, manipulated, and otherwise misrepresented the data to support the conclusions he was looking for. While the intense debate about the possible dangers of EMF will continue, it will do so without Liburdy's findings.

10 Further Proof That Scientific Education Is Essential

The Quadro Corporation of Harleyville, South Carolina, had an impressive client list: public schools, police agencies, the U.S. Customs office, and Inspector General's offices to name a few. The product they sold, the top of the line Quadro QRS 250G (also known as the Quadro Tracker, available for $1,000), boasted the ability to find drugs, weapons, or virtually anything worth looking for. The small plastic box supposedly contained frequency chips of an advanced sort not known to regular science. Driven by static electricity, the Quadro would resonate at exactly the same frequency as the searched-for item. When the FBI opened the box, however, they found nothing inside. Quadro threatened to sue Sandia Laboratories when Sandia suggested that the device was fraudulent, but eventually Quadro became the bigger company, and just closed shop.

From mental_floss' book Condensed Knowledge: A deliciously Irreverent Guide to Feeling Smart Again, published in Neatorama with permission.

[Update 3/15/07: Original article written by Curry Guinn, a researcher in artificial intelligence and adjunct assistant professor at Duke University.]

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

Fascinating! I remember the Tasasday, and the moths, but I never knew they turned out to be frauds. The bigger headlines come from the original stories. The followups probably got buried on page ten.
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Wow, someone needs to take a better look at that list. Psychiatry didn't even make it on there, and it is by far the most prevalent detriment to all mankind.
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The story of the Tasaday is far more complicated than indicated above. They were not a true stone-age tribe, but neither were they actors paid to pose as a stone-age tribe. The consensus now seems to be that they were extremely poor people, genuinely living a very primitive lifestyle, who got swept up in global events and were manipulated by almost everyone they met: scientists, politicians, and the media. Robin Hemley examines this complicated story in his book INVENTED EDEN. I've tried to summarize the story on my website. I should note that I've been guilty myself of telling the Tasaday-as-a-hoax story, but since reading Hemley's book I've been trying to help set the record straight.
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You believe Judith Reisman? Kinsey's report may not be perfect but Judith Reisman is a right-right-right-wing quack. Subsequent studies that improved on Kinsey's interviewing techniques found few differences in their conclusions. It's Reisman who was eventually debunked.

Read more:
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RE: Anything for Albert - Eddington may have been discredited, but evidence for gravitational lensing (the phenomenon in question, which Einstein predicted was possible but didn't expect to find any evidence of) is available throughout the universe. Just Google it, or look it up on under Cosmology. Or even Wikipedia.
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Although Johann Beringer's experiments were not perfect, they were not fatally flawed. Although no experiment is perfect (nor can be), even imperfect experiments can give supporting or disconfirming evidence. In the case of fossilized fossils of birds, beetles, moons, and stars, many experiments have been done, and they all support the traditional story.
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The entire field of psychiatry is not fraudulent. Methinks Tom Cruise was visiting this site, to make that silly comment.
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Lex10, I think the article was written pre-cloning controversy.

Ron, you're probably right. It's not that this calls evolution into question, the evidence for it is overwhelming. However, IMHO, the peppered moth experiment by Beringer is very flawed.

The list is by no means exhaustive. There's no piltdown man, Sokal affair (ok, not really a fraud, but still interesting), calaveras skull, archaeoraptor, etc.
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Alex, I think the Tasaday hoax qualifies as a fraud - the people may be indigenous to the region, and they may be goaded or forced to "act" like stone-aged people, but act they did.

I'm not too familiar with the Kinsey report, but there are many ambiguous methodologies in social studies of that era. I'm sure there are facets of the Kinsey report that have proven the test of time, and there are some that haven't.

Ditto Freud - I only know enough about Freud to appreciate the Freudian slipper post previously on Neatorama:

Thanks everyone for the insightful comment!
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There was nothing wrong at all with the the Kettleworth Peppered Moth work. He put the moths on the tree trunks just to make it easier to photograph, the actual work was extensive and well done. The moths do rest both on the trunks and the leaves and natural selection was in operation. Look here for more:

The Peppered Moth Story,

in particular:
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You totally missed Piltdown. That should have been your number one. GREATLY more significant than the Cardiff Giant in the world of science.
Your comments on Kinsey is only perpetuated generally anti-sex, right-wing cranks.
The recent mess involving cloning in Korea should have been on the list.
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I strongly believe that most of papers published or presented by Einstien were fradulent or stolen since he had worked at Swiss Patent Office as patent clerk.
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And written by Einstein's wife, AK? :)

You're right Erik - the article didn't have Piltdown man and the cloning mess in South Korea. As far as the Kinsey thing - I did write (in the comments #12 and #13, the Alex in #5 is Alex Boese of Museum of Hoaxes) that I'm not familiar with the details of either his work or with Judith Reisman.
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Um, what the heck is Ron talking about? Finding fake fossils has been supported by experiments?
In what universe does his comment make even a tiny bit of sense? Every time I read it my head hurts more.
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Schon didn't duplicate a graph in two unrelated papers. He copied *NOISE* from a graph into two unrelated graphs. Since noise is, be definition, random, having the same noise in two unrelated graphs gave him away. He had been fabricating data and copying noise into it to make it look real.
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Nod. The peppered moth experiments have been totally misrepresented by Judith Hooper in her book Of Moths and Men. They were good science. See here:
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I can't find any references to Eddington disposing of plates, but considering that the plates were taken in field conditions (in Brazil and Guinea), it would be a surprise if all the plates were perfect and none were useless for measurement.
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Some of the above aren't necessarily examples of fraud but rather examples of "pathological science". A prime example is the case of so-called "N-Rays" ( A fantastic article on the topic of bad science appeared in the October 1989 issue of Physics Today. It was the transcription of a talk given by Irving Langmuir. Well worth visiting the local uni library to read.
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I basically plagiarized the comments from the link Retrokatze provided earlier and substituted Beringer’s work for Kettlewell's. I was attempting to point out that unsound well delivered explanations are still unsound.

I tried unsuccessfully to be witty.

Maybe God changed the moths.
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Kinsey's work may be flawed, but Reisman's criticisms should be ignored. Her own work is extremely biased and purely politically motivated - she is an outspoken advocate of a nonsensical, completely unsubstantiated theory that pornography produces "erototoxins" in the brain that produce the urge to rape and murder. If anything, her work would be a far better example of scientific fraud, although it hasn't "rocked the world", thankfully.
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Yeah, can't believe they left out Piltdown Man and Second-hand Smoke! I guess Piltdown is too widely known, and Second-hand Smoke is too recent. But Second-hand Smoke is a great example of bogus science used for political ends.
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Uh, what kind of wacko religious agenda are you pushing here? You included one "hoax" experiement that supports evolution and one that supports the existance of homosexuals. Both were valid experiements, and no sh-t blog post relegating them to "hoax" status is going to change the science behind them.
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Alex, there was plenty of deception to go around in the Tasaday case, but the Tasaday themselves now appear to have been the least to blame. They were not local farmers, as the above blurb claims. They really were living a very primitive life in the jungle, as close to "Stone Age" as any group on the planet. But they were not as isolated as first reports claimed. They also hammed it up for the camera, because they liked the attention. But they didn't actually misrepresent who they were. Like I said, the whole story is told in detail in Hemley's Invented Eden.
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H - so, it was copying noise that got him caught, huh?

Darran - thanks for telling us about the N-rays!

Medievalist - seems like 8 out of the 10 are out and out hoaxes, 2 are controversial :)

Dan - I'm not pushing any agenda (religious or not); that's not what Neatorama is about.

Alex - I reprinted the article verbatim, after reading your article, I agree that the real story is more complex. I encourage those who want to read more about the Tasadays to visit Alex's website: Link.

Does anyone remember the name of a Pacific Island tribe that fooled a famous researcher regarding the role of sex in their societal structure?
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Alex... I love your site.

Dan... No one is forcing you to come here and look at the site. Therefore no "agenda" could possibly be pushed. Besides it's his site... he can post whatever he wants.

Keep up the good work Alex.
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Alex I love your site...keep it up. I do remember some of these and they make interesting reading. I am a trivia buff and this falls right up my main
As you one is forcing anyone to be here!
Looking forward to more!!
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What fun! I'm kind of surprised at the lack of nitwits on this site. How refreshing. Robert Forward wrote a book (I cannot remember the title) that featured two worlds revolving around a common center of gravity. One world was covered with oceans and was populated by (among other things) sentient whale-like beings. Since they had no physical record keeping they had greatly developed minds and were mathematical geniuses. When humans asked how many more primary numbers there were (after supplying them with our known list) the 'whales' said "why, there are an infinite number"! That seems to support the foolish idea that anything is the last word in any topic. Thank goodness for that!
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i have a theory my fellow geekozoids that: santa is real but parents put the presents out themselves and put him out of his job! and sometimes it his food! and he told me he is gunna kill everyone next crimbo especially gildroy apparently! wat do u think old swatters
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i am afraid i do not know wat to say to this fearful comment, i must, with my deepest regards, decline any more contact with my fellow earthlings from the outside world, so i will now heanse forth proceed in bidding you ado, aurovoire........ exterminate, exterminate, exterminate.....
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I think it is amazing the amount of controversy this list started in the comments. While I was reading it I thought it was kind of innocent, but not I realize that I was wrong.
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#14 -

For further reading on Quadro & it's cousins -
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The 16 plates Eddington threw out were because they were obscured by clouds in the jungle. They didn't support Einstein because they didn't show anything at all, no stars.
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"It has been claimed that Eddington's observations were of poor quality and he had unjustly discounted simultaneous observations at Sobral, Brazil which appeared closer to the Newtonian model[2]. The quality of the 1919 results was indeed poor compared to later observations, but was sufficient to persuade contemporary astronomers. The rejection of the results from the Brazil expedition was due to a defect in the telescopes used which, again, was completely accepted and well-understood by contemporary astronomers[who?]. The myth that Eddington's results were fraudulent is a modern invention."

Well done. Quality research..
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This site is a fraud. It purports to educate, but contains false descriptions.

Of this list, the following are not frauds:

Peppered moths. Yes, some were pinned to trees to demonstrate the birds could see them better. This is required as part of the experiment. This is one of the best documented evolution systems known, and has been confirmed.

Eddington. Independent physicists looking at the data blind come to the same consensus conclusion as Eddington. And the conclusion on gravitational lensing has been reproduced many times.

Pons and Fleischman is not a deliberate fraud. They may have made a mistake, and they rushed to publish too soon, but their fraud was not deliberate in the least. A fraud must be intentional.

The Tasaday were not a simple fraud, but a complex situation as stated above.
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