Archaeological forgeries
December 16, 2004 3:37 AM   Subscribe

The Cardiff Giant, The Mandelbrot Monk, and the amazing Centaur Skeleton from Volos. It's not just this administration that loves to manufacture evidence. Scientists too have often succumbed to temptation.
posted by acrobat (14 comments total)
Sincerest condolences to those who lost loved ones in the great Piltdown war.
Only through the luxury of hindsight do we see what a needless waste of life that was...
posted by numlok at 3:50 AM on December 16, 2004

Perfect timing, some choad told me the Mandelbrot Monk story just the other day, fully believing it to be fact. I can't wait to burn him with this one. Thanks!
posted by saladin at 5:44 AM on December 16, 2004

Careful acrobat... don't want to be dissing that most sacred God around here. All others are fair game.

Seriously, you don't have to look very far back or search very hard to find evidence of misplaced trust. Anyone who is a proponent of science must be concerned, particularly when many of the voices raising the red flag are from within the scientific community itself. Some googling will find more than a little cause for concern.
posted by spock at 5:53 AM on December 16, 2004

I'm sorry, I don't understand - exactly where is the Mandelbrot Monk story debunked? My personal BS detector went off at the anachronism of complex numbers in the 13th Century, but am I missing something more fundamental?
posted by kcds at 6:04 AM on December 16, 2004

Thank's for posting that centaur, I had just recently been telling some friends about seeing that when I was a kid and being confused for a moment, 'cause I was old enough to know that centaurs didn't exist, but not too far into that phase. You can't really tell how good a job they did from the picture, but it's really a neat display for it.
posted by KirTakat at 6:07 AM on December 16, 2004

"In Salus, Udo describes how he used these numbers: "Each person's soul undergoes trials through each of the threescore years and ten of allotted life, [encompassing?] its own nature and diminished or elevated in stature by others [it] encounters, wavering between good and evil until [it is] either cast into outer darkness or drawn forever to God."

When Schipke saw the translation, at once he saw it for what it was: an allegorical description of the iterative process for calculating the Mandelbrot. In mathematical terms, Udo's system was to start with a complex number z, then iterate it up to 70 times by the rule z -> z*z + c, until z either diverged or was caught in an orbit. [*4]"

This chunk sounds a lot like either a psychological fugue or a nitrous oxide trip (perhaps with some added fractint stimulation) gone horribly awry. Or gone horribly normal, either.

What do you mean you don't know what I'm talking about? Why are you looking at me like that?
posted by loquacious at 6:17 AM on December 16, 2004

Observe the date.
Check the wiki.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:26 AM on December 16, 2004

The P.T. Barnum copy of the Cardiff Giant is on display at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in southeast Michigan in case you're in the area. MMMM's is probably the best arcade this side of Ground Kontrol too.

It's big, the giant.
posted by revgeorge at 6:32 AM on December 16, 2004

One of my life's goals is to become a millionaire and buy The Cardiff Giant. I'm going to put it in my living room and use it as a coffee table. "Hey, put a coaster under that! You're leaving rings on The Cardiff Giant!"
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:33 AM on December 16, 2004

Thanks, Wolfdog. I thought an open-ended post would allow for some more search by other posters, like you did, and maybe more "scientific" hoaxes would appear in the thread.

Fuzzy Monster, I wouldn't mind having the Centaur skeleton myself! Pass me that spare rib please, dear!
posted by acrobat at 6:57 AM on December 16, 2004

At first I thought you were talking about this madelbrot monk.

Another good example of scientific fraud is Jan Hendrik Schon. He released some "breakthrough" papers, which were published in journals including Nature and Science. They were later found to be fraudulent and were retracted. Bell Labs even withdrew some patent applications that were based on the findings.
posted by nTeleKy at 10:07 AM on December 16, 2004

The most flagrant recent case of archaeological fraud is undoubtedly the Japanese case from the third link - actual planting of artifacts by a leading internationally-known archaeologist, Shinichi Fujimura. More info. Still more info
posted by Rumple at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2004

There is a long and infamous tradition of scientific hoaxes. nTeleKy has beaten me to the Schon hoax, but there are many other good ones, like Kammerer's toad, and my personal favourite, Blondlot's N-rays (or "When the Emperor's New Clothes Met Physics").
The "Great Fakes in Science" chapter in Martin Gardner's "Science: Good, Bad and Bogus" is full of such stories.
posted by Skeptic at 12:54 PM on December 16, 2004

BTW, I wonder if the Mandelbrot monk hoax has been heard of in Aachen itself. Aachen is home to the biggest German technical university, the RWTH Aachen, with ca. 30000 students. Most of these students are in engineering, physics or computer science, turning the city into Geek Central, and I'm sure that they would love to keep alive the memory of such an illustrious predecessor as monk Udo.
posted by Skeptic at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2004

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