Hoaxes

March 31, 2014

Another April 1 is upon us, and, as always, someone will try to prank, fool, or hoax us. The media usually tries to hoax us in some way at this time of year, and one of our specialties here at CFI is to examine these types of things. From the War of the Worlds radio broadcast to the Cardiff Giant to the Piltdown Hoax, we have accounts of many hoaxes in our libraries.

Gordon Stein, an author and the former librarian here at CFI, was the editor of several works related to our missions, including the Encyclopedia of Hoaxes (Gale Research, 1993). In the introduction, he distinguishes between hoaxes and other similar phenomena. A hoax is different from a swindle in that money is the primary motivation in a swindle, whereas the hoax is carried out simply to fool someone: money is not the primary goal. The differences between hoaxes and fraud (legal concept), forgery, myths, etc., also are covered. Stein also points out that for all these similar phenomena, in order to be successful, they have be believable and even plausible. The Encyclopedia covers many different types of hoaxes, including photographic, literary, UFO, and others.

A collection of materials we acquired a while back is called the Arnold B. Levy Collection of Literary, Artistic & Scientific Hoaxes in Honor of Steve Allen. This collection of about three thousand books covers much of the same materials as Stein’s Encyclopedia, with the inclusion of forged materials and pirated books, the latter being a large number of examples as well as reference works. This collection duplicates some of the items we hold in our regular collections (notably the Frantz Skeptics’ Library) and has in-depth works in the areas of fraud and forgery (artistic and document forgery), which are not covered as well elsewhere.

On April 1, if you hear something that is pretty unbelievable, use some of your critical thinking skills before you react. Check out Snopes.com and out other reliable news sources before making that Facebook post.

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