All those 2015 Halloween scare stories exposed


The "pot-laced" candy that a man from Ohio complained about was tested by police and had no traces of drugs. The razor blade in a Hershey bar had been placed there by the kid who found it. The needle in the candy bar was the handiwork of a kid looking for attention. The 16-year-old girl who said she needed 23 stitches to sew her cheek back together after chewing bubble gum with a razor blade hidden in it admitted the wound was self-inflicted.

Jesse Walker of Reason says his favorite 2015 Halloween scare hoax involves "a man named Robert Ledrew [who] told first his Facebook friends and then the police that he'd found four sewing needles in his children's goodies. This time the parent turned out to be the hoaxer: Ledrew eventually confessed to the cops that he had inserted the objects himself, claiming he'd been trying to teach his kids a safety lesson. He certainly taught them some sort of lesson: He's being charged with filing a false police report.

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Best alien hoax ever


In 1958, this glowing extraterrestrial appeared on rural Michigan roads, freaking out drivers before vanishing without a trace. According to witnesses, the "little blue man" was just two feet tall, except when he was ten feet tall. And he "ran faster than any human."

After a police investigation began, Jerry Sprague, Don Weiss, and LeRoy Schultz, confessed to the prank. They had made the costume from long underwear, combat boots, a football helmet outfitted with flashing lights, and a sheet. They spray-painted the whole thing glow-in-the-dark blue, in homage to Betty Johnson's wonderful song "Little Blue Man." (Listen to it below!)

Police let the pranksters off with a warning.

( via Reddit)

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Professional skeptics on misinformation & hoaxes: anti-vaxx, Planned Parenthood


Gabriela writes, "Hopes&Fears starts the week with this roundtable in which we invite four professional skeptics to discuss the ins and outs of busting a hoax. From Ben Radford, deputy editor of The Skeptical Inquirer, to Susan Gerbic, founder of Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, we discuss the real potential dangers of misinformation and disinformation in the digital age." Read the rest

A mid-century UFO hoax


One of my all-time favorite podcasts, Nate DiMeo's Memory Palace, is back and on a weekly schedule. In the latest episode, Nate tells the story of a mid-century UFO hoax.

And don't miss Nate's live shows in Seattle, Portland, and LA! Read the rest

Skinner-box rats trained to predict currency market movements

Viennese artist Michael Marcovici's Rat Traders uses reward, punishment and selective breeding to create a strain of lab-rat that can predict the movement of international currency markets. Read the rest

Vinland map, chart of Norse exploration of Americas, "proved" fake

Discovered in 1957 and hailed as the earliest map of the New World, the Vinland Map charted Norse exploration of the Americas long before Christopher Columbus. After decades of controversy, however, an amateur historian may finally have demonstrated that it is a clever hoax: the map occupies a sheet of parchment that was relatively unremarkable 120 years ago. [Sunday Times, paywalled] Read the rest

"Fake" tax-scam movie won film award

When British authorities began to suspect that a movie production was in fact a massive tax scam, the producers were forced to cover their tracks by actually making the movie. It even won an award from the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival; an award only rescinded after tax inspectors nevertheless swooped in. The movie's name? Landscape of Lies. Enjoy the trailer! [Daily Mail] Read the rest

Reddit culture well-tuned to spot hoaxes

In professor T. Mills Kelly's class, students act out clever public hoaxes. But while Wikipedians are easily fooled, Redditors exposed the latest jape—Do you think my 'Uncle' Joe was just weird or possibly a serial killer?— instantly. Yoni Appelbaum at The Atlantic unravels what happened.

Although most communities treat their members with gentle regard, Reddit prides itself on winnowing the wheat from the chaff. It relies on the collective judgment of its members, who click on arrows next to contributions, elevating insightful or interesting content, and demoting less worthy contributions. Even Mills says he was impressed by the way in which redditors "marshaled their collective bits of expert knowledge to arrive at a conclusion that was largely correct." It's tough to con Reddit.

This isn't quite true. Reddit is vulnerable to cons: just not this kind of con. Academic hoaxes are the sort of thing Reddit can see through easily. Superficially weighty evidence doesn't trick an audience exquisitely tuned to the forensic texture of information; the site's machinery heaps attention on anything interesting; and the social milieu makes it hard for would-be hoaxers to avoid adopting a pattern of behavior ("karma whore") that threatens their credibility from the outset.

On the other hand, Wikipedia is easy to deceive because it's easy to accumulate low-profile, cross-referenced edits, and the site has a rigid, exclusionary culture that is easy to exploit once it is understood.

However, those iffy props really didn't help! To quote Redditor TruculentTravis: "The papers look falsely aged. Read the rest

Lady not having nine babies after all

"Reports that a woman in northern Mexico is pregnant with nine babies are a hoax, health authorities said on Friday." [Reuters] Read the rest