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Forging a Head: The Upside of Scientific Hoaxes 201

An anonymous reader writes "In a very funny piece over at Science Careers (published by the journal Science), scientist-comedian Adam Ruben suggests that a lot of good can come from a well-intentioned hoax. 'Hoaxes have infiltrated science for centuries,' Ruben writes, 'from fake fossils (Piltdown Man, archaeoraptor, Calaveras skull) to fake medical conditions (cello scrotum, the disappearing blonde gene) to fake animals (Ompax spatuloides, Pacific Northwest tree octopus, Labradoodle).' In contrast to fraud, Ruben argues, such hoaxes do a great service to science by illustrating 'failures of our most important tool: our skepticism.'"
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Forging a Head: The Upside of Scientific Hoaxes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @08:37AM (#35990026)

    I think some of the best hoaxes as of late have been within the field of software development.

    Object-oriented programming has proven to be one of the grandest hoaxes of all time. The way they managed to construct a convoluted paradigm, and then to sell it to a couple of generations of academics and software developers as a way to "save time" and create "maintainable systems", is truly remarkable.

    The "patterns" hoax is probably the next most significant. Looking back, the idea that just using the so-called "patterns" all over the place will somehow result in better code is absolutely laughable these days, but so many people fell for it a decade or so ago!

    The "software architecture" hoax is somewhat more limited to corporate software development, but it has probably been one of the most costly hoaxes. The idea that putting together a group of guys with huge egos, paying them a lot of money, and letting them doodle on whiteboards will somehow result in working software systems was actually taken seriously for many, many years! It took probably billions of dollars of waste before people figured it out.

    It's hard to compete with hoaxes like these, that have fooled millions upon millions of smart people, and in some cases, cost billions upon billions of dollars.

  • Re:Yes but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @08:49AM (#35990084)
    Well, "Climategate" gave ammo for global warming deniers within their own echo chamber. The whole shit was made up from out-of-context quotes making up about 1 ppm of the stolen mails they scanned for it. Nothing a rational man would consider harmful. That's playing in a completely different league than the piltdown man, which was made up from beginning to end.
  • Re:Yes but (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @09:12AM (#35990172)

    Umm, no. Have you read the mails? Looked at the data? It's not at all about out-of-context quotes. In there were confirmation of things previously only suspected, like back-handed deals where papers in peer review were given to opponent writers before publishing etc.

    Be objective.

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @09:19AM (#35990202)

    There is more evidence in Creationism - as well as it making more sense.

    But if we take Bronze Age myths as evidence, then there's much more evidence for theories other than Judeo-Christian creationism. There are hundreds, thousands of different creationist myths out there.

    If you think an old book is evidence enough you have to consider all other old books as equally valid, don't you?

  • by Fractal Dice ( 696349 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @10:08AM (#35990404) Journal
    Science is about focused skepticism, not general skepticism. It is very difficult to successfully peer review a paper that is deliberately attempting to decieve. Those usually need to wait until the experiments are repeated and fail to produce the expected results. Politics is a bitter, poisonous soup of lies and disingenuous spins where accurate models do not trump clever rhetoric and trolls will attempt to strike you down not in the search for truth, but just to see if they can do it. Science is hard enough to do without people deliberately attempting to set you up for failure.
  • Re:Yes but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @10:15AM (#35990452)

    There are relatively few jobs in the field of climate science that allow questioning global warming. Practically all of the funding for it now derives from global warming alarmism. The people paying for it always want to know, "What are you doing about global warming?" and the answer "Taking a serious skeptical look at whether it actually exists." consistently results in pulled funding.

    The field ballooned tremendously with external support and funding, almost all feeding the side that says "the sky is falling", because the people outside of the field inclined to believe it unquestioningly see it as important enough to throw huge amounts of money at, while those who are skeptical or outright disbelieving see it as a rather low spending priority.

    It's a very good example of why you can't find truth by a vote of the people in a field: sometimes the vast majority are hired directly into one side of the argument.

  • Re:Yes but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @10:35AM (#35990542)
    That's not the point, whether they question global warming or not. the point is "There are thousands of scientists who question the methodologies and conclusions of the CRU". That junk science by them is being the basis for a planned multi-trillion dollar parasitic system on the most developed countries.
  • Re:Yes but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @10:57AM (#35990646) Homepage Journal

    "There are thousands of scientists who question the methodologies and conclusions of the CRU".

    Every scientific paper I read has a section on the limitations of the methodologies and conclusions of the study. That's standard thoughtful academic writing. Scientists question *everything*. That doesn't mean their conclusions are wrong. It just means they've carefully considered alternative explanations.

    For global warming, the overwhelming consensus makes it unlikely their conclusions are wrong.

    It's possible they could be wrong. Anything is possible. But when we're faced with an imminent danger, we have to stop arguing over hypotheticals created by coal and gas industry think tanks and come to a plan of action.

  • Re:Yes but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:55PM (#35991346) Journal

    Deniers have a lot more to gain in the short term than believers, and based on that alone, I find the believers more believable.

    For business, we are talking about trillions of dollars in government investment and laws that will favor your bottom line if you play ball. GE, for example made billions in profits and paid zero in taxes. Carbon credit trading companies stand to be the next Enron, except they will be trading government mandated nothings in exchange for real cash.

    Government stand to gain unlimited power. They will gain the power to tell citizens what to eat, here to go, what to drive, where to work, what they will do, where to live and what temperature to keep that house at. They will literally be able to control EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of the lives of citizens. This may also go beyond borders as well. A "world eco government" could be set up to set international rules. Of course, companies that play ball will receive government help, so the system is pre set up for corruption.

    Scientists can gain because there is so much money and power to be gained, scientists and universities seeking grants will have better luck proposing a study that will "prove that stricter government control is required to prevent global catastrophe" will more likely get a grant than one that will "prove that global warming is not a problem and regulation is not needed".

    Scientist deniers are going nowhere. They do not get grants and get shunned by their peers.
    Politicians are being compared to flat earthers and ridiculed by the main stream media. NBC and MSNBC were owned by GE, btw, who made billions in profits, yet paid no taxes.
    Businesses gain nothing by being a global warming denier. They lose any "green cred" which would run off an environmentally conscious customers. Oil companies are about to have their taxes raised (or tax brakes taken away, same thing) while gas prices are at a all time high.

    So, it appears that "believers" have unlimited power and money to gain. The absolute best anyone can hope for by being a "denier" is the status quo, so absolutely nothing to gain, but everything to lose.

Space is to place as eternity is to time. -- Joseph Joubert