By Keir Liddle
It’s okay, remain calm! As many of you no doubt realised, we haven’t all gone nuts and abandoned the principles of the science, scepticism, rationality and the Enlightenment to embrace the dark side of woo. We were just playing a little April Fool’s day prank (with perhaps the hope that Boris Cockpop’s machinations and nonsense might fool a few of the more gullible woosters). We hope you enjoyed the fun; it’s archived here if you missed it. If not, we apologise, but we are carrying on a long, long tradition of science-based April Fools’ tomfoolery…
One of the best April Fools’ Day hoaxes was Panorama’s Swiss Spagetti Harvest, whereby BBC news reported that thanks to mild weather, and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this, the BBC diplomatically replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.
April 1998 brought us the news that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the ‘Biblical value’ of 3.0. The original article, published in New Mexicans for Science and Reason, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by physicist Mark Boslough. It resulted in a flood of complaints to the state legislature – which perhaps says quite a bit about people’s perceptions of the American south and its state figures’ understanding of maths and science.
In 1995, Discover magazine reported the discovery of a new species in Antartica: the hot headed ice borer. They claimed it was a creature that could heat a bony plate in its head and use this heat to bore through ice at great speeds in order to hunt penguins. Penguin fanciers can, of course, rest easy as the creature does not exist. Come April 1996, Discover Magazine again duped many of its readers when it reported that physicists had discovered a new fundamental particle of matter, dubbed the Bigon. It could only be coaxed into existence for mere millionths of a second, but amazingly, when it did materialize it was the size of a bowling ball. Apparently, people missed that the particle was called the BIGon…
In April 1972, famous xylophone player and astonomer Patrick Moore duped the British public into believing that at exactly 9:47 a.m., the planet Pluto would pass behind the planet Jupiter, and that this alignment of the planets would result in a stronger gravitational pull from Jupiter, counteracting the Earth’s own gravity and making everyone momentarily weigh less. He told listeners that they could experience this phenomenon for themselves by jumping in the air at 9:47. If they did so, he said, they would experience a strange floating sensation. In a marvelous demonstration of the effects of expectation on perception, millions of duped listeners rang in to tell the BBC they had experienced the sensation.
Sir Patrick Moore isn’t the only “national treasure” and “Sir” to have duped the British public. Sir David Attenborough gave a report on BBC Radio 3 about a group of islands in the Pacific known as the Sheba Islands. He played sound recordings of the island’s fauna, including a recording of an alleged night-singing tree mouse called the Musendrophilus. He also described a web-footed species whose webbed feet were prized by inhabitants of the island as reeds for musical instruments.
If you encounter any other good April Fools’ Day gags today, do let us know!