An amusing compilation of deceptions dating from the Middle Ages to the aftermath of September 11, morphed into print from a Web site initially created to store the author’s thesis research.
Boese, a grad student at UC San Diego, defines a hoax as a “deliberately deceptive act that has succeeded in capturing the attention (and, ideally, the imagination) of the public.” Included under this broad heading are the Jackalope, a species of antlered rabbit able to mimic human voices; a South African crop circle made by extraterrestrials that featured the BMW logo; and Snowball, the 87-pound kitten whose size was due to its mother having been callously abandoned near a nuclear lab. Actually, Snowball wasn’t intended as a hoax; the cat’s owner manipulated the photo and sent a few friends the image, which eventually made its way around the world with an accompanying narrative. (Boese similarly stretches his own definition to include Orson Welles’s radio broadcast The War of the Worlds, even though the program wasn’t meant to trick listeners.) The author believes that while folks have always been gullible, the form and function of hoaxes change over time. For example, during the 1990s, people began to feel anxious about how technology and the Internet were affecting their daily lives. This anxiety fueled the success of a 1994 hoax in PC Computing magazine, which published an article “reporting” that Congress would soon make it illegal to drive drunk on “the information highway.” When a 1998 Internet posting by a New Mexico physicist claimed that the Alabama legislature had voted to change the mathematical value of pi from 3.14159 . . . to “the Biblical value” of 3.0, a bewildered legislature was swamped with calls from angry citizens. Despite its origin as thesis material, the work is not meant to be academic, and there is no analysis of any kind.
All dissertations should be this much fun. (35 photos and illustrations)