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Six More Hoaxes That Fooled the World

The Five Hoaxes That Fooled the World post from a couple of weeks ago was pretty popular and lots of people had interesting suggestions for a follow up, so I thought I would do just that. Here are six more for your reading pleasure.

The Cardiff Giant, 1869.

Like one of our hoaxes from last week, this one was pretty much conceived of just to prove someone else wrong. George Hill had an argument with a minister about whether or not giants had ever existed on earth - supposedly, a passage in Genesis said they once did. So, to prove a point, Hull had a huge chunk of gypsum unearthed in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He had the gypsum sent to a stonecutter in Chicago, who carved it into the shape of a 10-foot-tall man and "aged" it using acid, stain, and knitting needles (to make the gypsum look porous). Once the masterpiece was completed, it was shipped to Hull's cousin in Cardiff, New York. The "giant" was buried on his farm for a year before some workers who were hired to dig a well "discovered" it.

People were charged 50 cents to see the phony giant even though scholars had already called the bluff. It became such an attraction that P.T. Barnum wanted to lease it for three months for $60,000. When he was turned down, he simply created his own and put it on display instead, then claimed that his was the real one and the giant found in Cardiff was the fraud. The hoopla was short-lived - in 1870, court testimony revealed that neither one of the giants were real. But people still flock to see it. After a brief stint as a coffee table in an Iowan's basement, the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., bought it. It's kind of an odd choice for it - the rest of the museum is largely displays of textiles, crafts, and farming implements.

The Great Moon Hoax, 1835

Any newspaper that purposely published a hoax just to increase their circulation numbers would immediately be put of out business the minute they were discovered in this day and age. Or not... I guess that's why the Weekly World News was so popular for so long. But the New York Sun predates the WWN by 150 years or so. (Not the 2005 startup.) In 1835, the Sun published a series about the recent discovery of life on the moon. They made their claims sound factual by attributing the info to Sir John Herschel, one of the greatest astronomers of the day. There were all kinds of interesting creatures on the moon, according to the Sun: unicorns, beavers, human-like beings with bat-like wings and even the mundane - goats.

The article may also have been to poke fun at some "discoveries" that had recently made news - one professor in Munich published a paper about the evidence of life on the moon, including buildings. Another man, Thomas Dick, claimed that the moon probably had more than 4,200,000,000 citizens. Despite being outed as a hoax a few weeks after publication, the Sun never did retract their story. But then again, it didn't have too long (by newspaper standards) to prove how trustworthy they were: they ceased publication in 1850. 

The Bathtub Hoax, 1917

Journalist H.L. Mencken was tired of all of the war-talk and death toll counts of WWI, so he decided to publish something a little more light-hearted: the history of the bathtub in the United States. Well, the fictional version. The problem? No one else realized it was a joke.

His article, "A Neglected Anniversary", appeared in the New York Evening Mail on December 28, 1917. In it, he said that the bathtub had only been in the U.S. since about 1842, and that taking baths wasn't a wide-spread practice until then-president Millard Fillmore had one installed in the White House in 1850.

The article has been quoted as fact ever since, even though Mencken wrote another article several years later exposing his hoax and explaining that it was just supposed to be a bit of fun. Even as recently as 2004, the Washington Post ran a snippet of trivia that said something to the effect of, "Bet you didn't know that Millard Fillmore was the first president to install a bathtub in the White House!" They retracted it a couple of days later.

Woman Impregnated by Bullet, 1874

This one might be my favorite. In 1874, The American Medical Weekly ran an article by a Dr. LeGrand Capers (that's him in the picture) who claimed he witnessed this very thing on a Civil War battlefield. Apparently there was a house very close to the Confederate lines, and a bullet (a "minnie ball") hit a soldier, "carrying away the left testicle", and then continued its course toward the house. One of the daughters in the house had also been hit by a stray bullet, which was lost in the abdominal cavity somewhere.

Because the doctor was stationed with the army nearby, he continued to check on the wounded girl over the next several months. Around the six-month mark, he discovered that the girl was pregnant. Around the nine-month mark, she gave birth to a nine-pound baby boy. The family was beyond embarrassed that their unmarried daughter was apparently having "indiscretions", but the girl swore that she was a virgin. The doctor examined her and said it was true - she had never had sex.

Meanwhile, the little boy was very sick and he had some incredible swelling in the groin area. The doctor decided to operate, and when he did, he pulled out a minnie ball. He put two and two together and figured out that the bullet must have picked up some semen went it ripped through the soldier's testicle, and managed to impregnate the girl when it lodged inside of her stomach. Supposedly, the girl and the soldier ended up getting married and having two more kids. The problem? The doctor had invented the whole story in order to mock the ridiculous stories that were coming out of the battlefield. But it was taken as fact, and was even reprinted in 1959 in the New York State Journal of Medicine.

The Linnaeus Butterflies, 1763

This is another one that would probably be easily seen through today, but it wasn't so easily seen through at the time. In 1763, Carl Linnaeus published the 12th edition of Systema Naturae with these images of three different butterflies from the Papilio species. Except... they're not. The middle butterfly was real, but it had already been discovered in Europe and was well-known as the Brimstone butterfly. The other two were Brimstone butterflies as well, but with painted spots on them to make them appear different. The hoax wasn't discovered until the 19th century, when an insect expert saw the images and exposed the "mistake". Photo from the Museum of Hoaxes

The Time-Traveling Man

In 1950, a guy popped up out of nowhere in Times Square. He had mutton-chop sideburns and horribly old-fashioned clothes. Witnesses said that he looked surprised, and then horrified, and then he was hit by a car and killed immediately. Of course the police came; they found nineteenth-century money on him, and business cards with his name - Rudolph Fentz. Apparently, though, the man didn't exist - no records of him could be found anywhere.

They did find a Mrs. Rudolph Fentz, and when they went to talk to her, they discovered that she was the widow of Rudolph Fentz, Jr. Apparently Junior's dad disappeared out of the blue in 1876 with no clues whatsoever as to where he might have gone. Suspicious, no? Yeah, with good reason. Although the story was accepted as fact years, a researcher eventually discovered that the story was written by Jack Finney and was originally published in a sci-fi anthology in 1951. The story was reprinted a couple of years later, but without permission from Mr. Finney and without any disclaimer whatsoever that the story was fiction.

It's thought that the man who reprinted the story was trying to make the public believe in a fourth dimension and time travel - concepts he wholeheartedly believed in.

Update 9/24/08 - sources: Museum of Hoaxes, Wikipedia, Anomaly Info, and The Encyclopedia of Useless Knowledge by William Hartston. For more hoaxes, please visit Alex Boese's fantastic Museum of Hoaxes website.

Um... so Linnaeus had access to photography in 1763 and all he did was publish fake photos in his book? What? Shouldn't he have capitalized on his access to color photography some 100 years before we know of the existence of the first working daguerreotypes? Just wondering...
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Well cy here is the original text on the fake Linné butterflies. This happens when people don't think about what they write carefully. I guess there were no photos, but drawn pictures in Linné's book.


"The three butterflies shown to the right were part of the collection of the great eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus. In 1763 he named and described all three of them in the twelfth edition of his Systema Naturae. However, only one of them was a real butterfly.

Linnaeus named the middle butterfly Papilio rhamni. It is a common butterfly in Europe, where it is better known as the Brimstone.

Linnaeus wrote that the other two butterflies were examples of a North American species, Papilio ecclipsis. In fact, all three butterflies are European brimstones. The top and bottom insects have simply had patches carefully painted on their wings. In other words, the Papilio ecclipsis is a hoax species.

This deception was uncovered in the nineteenth century by John Curtis, the author of many books about insects. It is not known who painted the patches on the wings of the butterflies. "
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That ruse with the bullet n' baby??....Vonnegut used that theme in his book, "Deadeye Dick"....The protag shot a gun for the first time in his life, having been surrounded by guns growing up (father's collection) and hit a pregnant lady a couple miles away!!!
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I've read Jack Finney's time travel novels - very good stories.

Some of these hoaxes are so far fetched, it's hard to believe people fell for them. I guess that's why the Nigerian spammers are still in business. Gullability is timeless.
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The Mythbusters did a show on the "Woman impregnated by bullet" and busted it. They were able to show that the multiple layers of clothes worn during that time would have been too thick for the bullet to have hit and penetrated both people.
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Oh, I'm sorry, is time physical now? It's not, therefore it cannot be the fourth dimension. Technically speaking, the fourth dimension could never be correctly imagined by humans, therefore, we could never know what the fourth dimension is unless we went into the fourth dimension and our vision was replaced or evolved somehow so we could see in four dimensions. Imagine if you lived in two dimensions-- you would have no concept of up; so we cannot have any concept of whatever directional equivalent the fourth dimension is. So ha, Sam Dios.
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You are an idiot.

The fourth dimension as time

Main article: Spacetime

Usually, when a reference is made to four-dimensional coordinates, it is the temporal interpretation which is meant. In this case, the four coordinates are understood to represent 3 dimensions of space plus 1 dimension of time. Such a space is called a Poincaré space, Minkowski space, or "(3 + 1)-space",[1] and is the space used in Einstein's theories of special relativity and general relativity.
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Re: Horhay and Horgay (obviously a "flame name," that latter one)...

There may or may not be other spatial dimensions in addition to the three we can perceive. This is something physics has explored for a very long time, and the existence of additional dimensions would explain some of the more puzzling aspects of quantum physics and String Theory, as well as others.

Before quantum physics came along, three dimensions of space were all that was known to exist. Einstein's equations, which often dealt with gravitational or relativistic distortions in both space AND time, show that (mathematically at least) time can be factored into such equations as if it were another dimension of space. This does not mean that time is made of matter as we understand it --- but it turns out that a powerful, space-bending gravitational field also "bends" time. Later, quantum physics treated time as if it could be pared down into quanta, and the term "tachyon," popularized in time-travel episodes of "Star Trek: TNG," was coined.

So, while there may also be a 4th spatial dimension, we tend to regard time as a 4th dimension too.

It's also been proposed that time itself may have more than one "dimension" to it.
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Wait ... hold up .... did I read these comments correctly?

My gawd! An actual, intellectual debate in a comments section on the internet? That's unheard of! What is this world coming to?

No flames? No "ghey" bashing? No devolved commentary about lineage or racial slurs? No "FIRST" posts, lolcats references, bot spam or l33t sp34k??

You mean there's actually people on the internet in possession of a brain who can calmly and quietly discuss an issue without instantly sounding like a bunch of angry sixth graders, hiding behind the anonymity of their parent's computers to attack the world with their brand of sandbox "wit" and "wisdom"?

I'm shocked and appalled! Has the universe suddenly gone mad ... again? Where have you all been hiding for the last ten years?

Well done! I think I actually learned something from the comments! Will wonders never cease!

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I've got a general idea of how Einstein said that mass could bend space and that it affects gravity(I think, I saw it on some show). How does matter bent time? and for that matter, just explain quantum phisics in laymans terms to me. I have the brain of a two-year old.
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hey! i was an angry sixth grader last year. and by the fact that we can percieve moving through time, it is NOT the fourth dimension. using a second dimension living "shape" as perspective point, (for all those who have seen flatland) it is impossible to imagine the third dimension for them. it would be impossible to imagine our world multiplying by itself in a matter of spacial properties for our inferior eyes and mind. as you might have realized (by the math aspect of dimensions) 1 dimension is x, 2 is x*x, and so on. so if the fourth dimension would equal a space of x^4, this rules out time, as it would increase the space infinetly.
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mass can bend space, gravity, and maybe time (idk, i 4got) because of this:

imagine space as a rubber sheet. of course, this is two dimensional (again with the dimensions; stick with me). everything in space (planets, asteriods, stars, ETC.) is an object on that stretched rubber sheet. denser or heavier objects will weigh it down, creating a funnel-type thing bringing it down. since small, dense objects (like a heavy marble) would bring it down more steeply, it would suck everything in (a black hole) in comparison to, say, a tennis ball, which probably has the same if not greater weight, but it is distributed. it would still bring stuff down, but since it is a more gentle slope, thing would go into more of an "orbit" around it (like our solar system). this depression in the rubber sheet is gravity. since the two dimensional sheet is bending down into the third dimension, three-dimensional objects would rely on gravity in the fourth dimension (whoop-dee-doo). and, supporting my comments before, GRAVITY IS NOT A RESULT OF TIME. it is a result of fourth-dimensional depressions in a three-dimensional world. remember, if you were a two-dimensional shape on this rubber sheet, you wouldn't be aware of the depression at all except for the gravity increase. make any sense?
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Spacetime, which consists of 3 spatial dimensions and one complex time dimension, is mathematically equivalent to a 4-dimensional space. And that 4-D model happens to imitate the real world. So we call time the 4th dimension.

If I recall correctly, there is a spacetime equality that goes something like this:
x^2 + y^2 + z^2 - t^2 = c^2
where t is the velocity along the time axis, c is the speed of light, and x, y, and z are velocity along the axes for 3-D space.

Thus, as you go faster in physical space (x, y, and z), your speed along the time axis slows down. If you could somehow achieve the speed of light in 3-D space, time would literally stand still.
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i don't get how it makes any sense for there to be two different fourth dimensions. the spacial fourth dimension makes plently of sense to me, following the pattern of the dimensions, but I don't get how time has any relevence. following the mathematical pattern, x^4 (spacially) would have to equal x^4 (time-wise), which means than space would have to equal time, although they are measured in entirely different systems. if there was a way to measure time AND space seprately (as in not velocity) using the same system of measurement, this would make more sense, other than the fact that once the universe has something going (like the pattern of the first three dimensions), it usually doesnt stop. ever.

and if you were measuring the velocity along the time axis and the physical axixes (idk), the velocity along both axies (still idk) would need to include both time and physical measurement, thus comparing, thus being useless; as all would be the same, and come out with an equal or useless answer. also, what velocity is even being measured to acheive the speed of light? if it's light, that's just stupid and redundant. if its something else, please share! the only other relevant thing would be the time of the world itself and the natural course of things, which could not be accurately measured in physical space, velocity or not, or in time, because any measurement would be useless. time has no business in the dimensions! the only thing that concerns it is the speed of light, of which together have many affiliations which don't have a thing to do with the dimensions and space.
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oh, and there would be time in a two-dimensional world, wouldn't there? yet no third dimension whatsoever. how does that alone not prove it? you can't skip a dimension!
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I did some research, and the equation is like this:

(?x)^2 + (?y)^2 + (?z)^2 - (c^2)((?t)^2) = s^2

where x, y, and z are defined in meters.
where t is defined in seconds.
where c is the speed of light in meters/second
where s is a constant defined in meters
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that makes more sense. but i just started geomentry (im in seventh grade, ppls) so idk wat delta is yet so i cant reply. just so long as it isn't velocity, it makes much more sense.
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Delta is a Greek letter that looks like a triangle. It's used by mathematicians to mean the change in a value.

Let's say that I moved from my computer chair to the couch. The change in distance is about 5 feet, so I could say that my delta x is 5 feet. Sometimes you'll hear people talk about delta-v, which is the change in velocity.
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oh yea... i learned that.... hehe... shows how much i pay attention in math...

i still don't understand, though, how the speed of light has any relation to the dimensions, or prove it in any way. im sure that the idea has something to do with the fact that light is the fastest thing in the universe (i think), which i guess could make some sort of a vague connection, yet proving nothing significant about the dimensions...

whatever. school's started, and i have hw now. also, i really dont care about whatever the fourth dimension is. let it be light in ur opinion, but my opinion is still unswayed.
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you forgot the biggest hoaxes in which humanity has believed in huge numbers : religions ! now , of course , even if you have a religion you have to admit that at most only one can be true , the others are all big hoaxes , and of course you can choose to believe that they are all hoaxes , just like i do , i'm amazed you forgot them !
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Well I found this site again, and remain unconvinced...

Time has no limits! It is impossible to multiply by something, i. e. x^4, because it would just turn into x^3 * infinity (basically, infinity)

I am not arguing that it is not a valid part of the space-time continuum and that they are not related in some way- but time is NOT a physical thing. It cannot be multiplied by anything!

Has anyone here seen 'Flatland'? It's some really racially and sexually insensitive video we had to watch for math. It's about a two-dimensional world introduced to a three-dimensional world. It puts into perspective how impossible it is to imagine another dimension. Tesseracts help, but can anyone really imagine themselves in a fourth dimensional world? It is virtually impossible without a three-dimensional screen of sorts projecting this simulation of a fourth dimensional world, much as the glare on an sphere on a computer screen can make it look three-dimensional. However, we are only able to recognize this if we have seen this dimension before, so we can refer to it. Impossible!

Now: can you imagine time travel? OF COURSE!
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if you believe that time is the 4th dimension or not this is still a video to watch. Everything is a dot.
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