Thursday, April 02, 2009

Slightly Off-Topic

I almost snorted Coca-Cola through my nose when I read this story. Who says government lab employees can't have fun? Sue Vorenberg, of the Santa Fe New Mexican has a story about physicist Mark Boslough, at Sandia National Labs who enjoys a good hoax now and then. She writes:
"We're all subject to gullibility, especially if it's something you want to believe," Boslough said. "That's why con artists continue to be successful."
Getting one past Boslough might be tough, though — his most well-known prank is ranked seventh out of the "Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time," at the Museum of Hoaxes,

Boslough just couldn't help himself with that one, which he let loose on cyberspace back in 1998 — he said he just had to spread the word about Alabama legislators trying to change pi, an infinite number that begins with 3.14159, to the more "biblical value" of 3.0.

The e-mail was disguised as a news story, written by "April Holiday" of "The Associalized Press."

In it, a fictitious lawmaker argued that because pi can't be calculated exactly, it could "harm students' self-esteem."
It started out as an effort to poke fun at creationists that went way beyond what he had envisioned:
Soon, calls poured into Alabama legislators' offices to protest the new law. And the e-mail started to change — with versions coming back to Boslough and Thomas attributing the story to the Associated Press and changing fictitious source names into those of real people at Auburn University, Thomas said.

"It was like looking at a virus as it mutates," Thomas said.

Eventually the story was debunked by, a site that dispels urban myths; it was also cited by National Geographic News in 2004 as one of the "more memorable hoaxes in recent history."
Hilarious. Read the whole story to see how his prank inspired others.


  1. In my younger days, I thought it would be cool to run a hoax that would cost the IRS a lot of time and money to debunk by getting people worked up into a frenzy of calls and protests. My idea was to send out an email claiming that the IRS had decided to de facto legalize same-sex marriage by granting gay couples the same tax status as married heterosexuals.

    Wisdom prevailed and I never went through with it, but I'll bet its success would be competitive with Boslough's hoax.

  2. Not too far from the mark, though.