Book Review: HOAXED!

June 7, 2010

The editors of Yes Mag produced a neat little book that caught my eye at the library. It’s called “Hoaxed! Fakes & Mistakes in the World of Science“.

I would have loved this book when I was a kid. It’s filled with all sorts of bizarre mysteries that turned out to be hoaxes. Yes, there are the usual suspects: Roswell aliens, big foot, and crop circles. But, there are also lesser known hoaxes: “The Birdman” Richard Meinertzhagen, the lost Tasaday tribe, and Pons and Fleischmann’s bogus cold fusion experiments.

Interspersed among the tales of frauds and hoaxes are little skeptic learning lessons, even a section called “The skeptic’s Toolbox”.  William of Ockham makes a visit, and he’s called “the skeptic’s patron saint”. There is also a lesson on the “law of conservation of energy” using a youtube  video as an example.

I liked that the book presented hoaxes in different ways – some were caused by hucksters, some were genuinely complicated, and some, like the legend of the platypus, weren’t hoaxes at all. The subtitle says it all “Fakes and Mistakes in the World of Science”.

The “Piltdown Man” hoax may be a blemish on the scientific record, but it’s a learning lesson that science isn’t infallible, not a reason to distrust evolution, as the creationists often claim. Some might worry that a book like this will only lead to distrust of science, but it’s not really that kind of book. It’s a book that reminds us how easy the world can be fooled, and how we should stay skeptical of urban legends and outlandish claims.

My kids were too young for the book, but that didn’t stop me from reading and enjoying it. In fact, I learned quite a few new things. Mystery books are always so interesting, but the mysteries were always unsolved when I was a kid. It’s nice to see a book like this that answers the mysteries without losing any of the fun.

If you like Daniel Loxton’s Junior Skeptic columns, you’ll love this book too. Buy it and share it with your kids!


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