12 of the most popular discoveries that turned out to be faked: the vanishing blondes, the Sokal scam, the killer tree, the Piltdown man, and more.
The prefix "false", unfortunately, appears over time in many scientific discoveries. There are even entire commissions exposing pseudoscience and pseudoscientists. Of course, no one is immune from mistakes in any area of knowledge. Another thing is when people make a name for themselves or money from knowingly false information.
1. Disappearing blondes
In 2002, the BBC published material about a study by German scientists who argued that people with blond hair are born less and less, and after a couple of centuries there will be no blondes or blondes at all. And literally a year later, the New York Times published an article about how the results of this study were falsified. Nevertheless, the nonsense about disappearing blondes has taken root, and over these ten years it has been repeated many times in various variations.
A similar myth emerged in 2007 through a "study" by an organization called the Oxford Hair Foundation (founded by the hair dye company Procter and Gamble). According to the results of this "study", red hair is on the verge of extinction. The idea, as you might have guessed, was to improve the sales figures for the gold tones.
2. Lying stones
In 1726, a professor at the University of Würzburg, Johann Beringer, published his sensational find: strikingly well-preserved ancient stones with images of lizards, birds, spiders and even the name of God engraved in the ancient language (today they are known as "Lying Stones").
In several articles following this event, the professor developed his own theory that the images on the stones could have been created by God himself. Unfortunately for Beringer, the mysterious stones turned out to be nothing more than a skillful forgery, which was made by the professor's colleagues, who decided to take revenge on him for his arrogance and self-confidence.
3. Ancient robber of Liaoning
In 1999, National Geographic magazine published an article on a fossil organism discovered in China, which was named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis (translated as "ancient robber of Liaoning"). Scientists have argued that the fossils are nothing more than the "missing link" between theropod dinosaurs and birds. Later it turned out that the sensational find was a fake, collected from fragments of real fossils of different types and passed off as the remains of one animal.
4. Sokal's scam
Alan Sokal, professor of mathematics at University College London and physics at New York University, became famous in the wider circles, mainly due to the hoax that went down in history as the "Sokal scam". Sokal decided to test whether absolute nonsense could be published in a serious scientific publication if you come up with a pretentious name and fill it with scientific terms.
As a result, the respected Social Text published an article titled "Breaking the Boundaries: Towards the Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." The philosophical rantings devoid of any meaning did not confuse anyone. And after a while, in another magazine, Sokal himself revealed the truth about his rally, noting that it would be nice for humanities scientists to rely on common sense in their work.
5. Killer tree
In 1783, the London Magazine published an article about a killer tree that supposedly grows in Indonesia. This tree, the article said, is so poisonous that it destroys all life for fifteen miles (almost 25 kilometers) around it. All the land around this tree is strewn with the skeletons of unfortunate people and animals who accidentally wandered into "his" territory.
The truth is this: the poisonous tree does exist. True, despite the toxins present in it, it is not able to kill anyone, even if it is leaning against it. In extreme cases, the poisoned person is threatened with weakness, and even then not for long. But the juice of this tree, if taken internally, can really kill. The local population smeared the arrowheads and spearheads with this juice.
6. Villejuif list
About 30 years ago, a document appeared, called the "Villejuif List". It was a list of food additives, divided into groups according to the degree of health benefit or harm. No one knew who made this list and what purpose they were pursuing. The very first known copy appeared in 1976, and at the very "peak" of popularity this list was guided by at least half of French housewives. In addition to France, the list was in circulation in England, Germany, Italy, the Middle East and Africa.
The problem is that the information in this document was clearly out of thin air. In it, even "citric acid", which is naturally present in all living organisms, was called a carcinogen. According to a survey in France, 19 percent of French housewives have stopped buying foods that contain substances that are on this list as “harmful”. That is, some unknown piece of paper has influenced the diet of at least seven million people.
7. The prolific Shen
German physicist Jan Hendrik Schön became famous after several solo discoveries in the field of microelectronics. Each discovery was accompanied by a detailed account of Schön's experiments, which supposedly fully confirmed the validity of his scientific theories.
At his peak in 2001, he presented to the scientific community, on average, one report every eight days. His articles were eagerly published by leading scientific publications, he even received several prestigious awards: the Otto-Klung-Weberbank Prize in Physics (2001), the Braunschweig Prize (2001), and the Young Scientists Outstanding Achievement Award (2002).
However, Schön did not manage to stay at the top of fame for a long time. Soon, other researchers began to find one inconsistency after another in his work. In the end, it turned out that the results of almost all the experiments of the young "genius" were falsified. A scandal broke out. Schön's doctorate was revoked, but the swindler managed to get it back through the courts. After that, the university where he defended filed an appeal, and Schön lost his degree a second time.
8. Piltdown man
The skull of the so-called "Piltdown Man" was found in 1912. It was soon announced that the fossilized remains belonged to an ancient, previously unknown humanoid. In the next few decades, no less than 250 studies appeared on this "find", which many scientists considered the missing link in evolution, combining the features of both ape and humans. And only 50 years later it turned out that the skull of the famous "Piltdown Man" was just a joke, and that it was combined from fragments of a human skull and the jaw of a medieval orangutan.
9. Fijian mermaid
The Fijian Mermaid was the pride of Phineas Barnum's collection of wonders. The owner of the museum assured that this mummified body of a real mermaid and what many people thought was quite convincing what they saw. In the end, it turned out that the amazing exhibit was just a fish tail sewn to the head and body of a young monkey.
10. Alien autopsy
In the early 1990s, the American television company Fox aired a short film about an autopsy of an alleged alien. Then the same footage showed several more channels. And only 15 years later, the author of the story admitted that it was a fake.