Saturday, July 31, 2010

Axolotl Roadkill: 21st Century Literary Hoax?

Touted as a wunderkinder’s masterpiece of 2010, is Helene Hegemann’s Axolotl Roadkill nothing more than a 21st Century cut and paste literary hoax?

By: Ringo Bones

Surprise, surprise it turns out that the wunderkinder literary masterpiece of 2010 turned out to be nothing more than just another case of web 2.0-era cut and paste plagiarism, but it took awhile for the “hoax” to unravel. Surprising still is that there are still people who read books that managed to point this out in our already cynical “I don’t have the time to read a book” society of today. Well, at least burning books is better than not reading them. But why should we care?

German wunderkind novelist Helene Hegemann first gained the notice of the literary world when she made the screenplay for Torpedo before her Axolotl Roadkill got published and circulated back in the start of 2010. Axolotl Roadkill was accused of being a plagiaristic rip-off after researchers uncovered that Helene Hegemann “stole” 20 passages word-for-word from a blog novel written and posted by an on-line author who goes by the name Strobo. After being weaned on 21st Century-era Napsterization, do young people today still respect the intellectual property of others?

It seems like Axolotl Roadkill went from a wunderkinder literary masterpiece to a cut-and-paste understatement almost overnight after how the literary sensation of 2010 plagiarized another work was pointed out by researchers. The word-of-mouth reviews of Axolotl Roadkill tells of a work supposedly in tune to the 13 to 18 demographic as fairly complex philosophical bunch rather than being as previously typecasted by Hollywood - as merely passive capitalist consumers. Too bad, it has just become a mere plagiaristic dribble and a literary hoax.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wikipedia: Magnet for Online Hoaxers?

When the site’s user editable feature became a high-profile debacle when David Beckham was said to have been an 18th Century Chinese goalkeeper, has Wikipedia recently become a magnet for online hoaxers?

By: Ringo Bones

Since that almost unforgettable debacle over the rework of David Beckham’s Wikipedia fact-file about the soccer superstar being an 18th Century Chinese goalkeeper, it seems that the user-editable non-profit online fact resource has lost its infallibility? Reducing Wiki instead to mere editorial opinion status? But has this high-profile online intellectual vandalism really made Wikipedia the prime target for online hoaxers?

As a regular – but relatively recent user – Wikipedia can be more than just an online factual information depot. It can also be a very up-to-date online spellchecker for newly approved words, which your personal computer’s operating system’s built-in spellchecker has not yet adapted to.

Intentionally posting “fraudulent” facts on Wikipedia – like David Beckham being an 18th Century Chinese goalkeeper or that Slash of the rock outfit Guns N’ Roses was the inventor of the single-coil electric guitar pickups – can maybe be just passed off as high-brow-intellectual vandalism. But is there a danger for anyone – especially for hardcore hoaxers – for using Wikipedia as a platform to advance their pet causes?

There has been a recent revamp of Wikipedia’s user-editable feature to make the website more “hoax-resistant” when it comes to user-editing of more “controversial” subject matter that are prone to hoaxing by not-so-special-interest-groups, like Scientology for example. Other controversial topics on Wikipedia are no longer seen as a factual article, rather more than an editorial of prevailing social and political sentiment of some special interest groups, like the special interest group Birthers and the current status of Pluto as a member of our Solar System.

Wikipedia hoaxers are not readily revealed as such since only a comparatively small number of people have any real knowledge of what is going on in any particular field. Wikipedia’s higher mathematics used in there more esoteric topics that had recently become topical discussions – like credit derivatives and the Higgs Field Theory – has fortunately always been spot on. But people who are experts on credit derivatives and the Higgs Field Theory who are also well-versed on the current goings on of European football leagues and the rock band Guns N’ Roses are unfortunately few and far between. Thus faulty Wikipedia entries tend to last for awhile and can become “intellectual curio” for those in the know before appropriate correction measures are taken. But unfortunately can be a nuisance for those working on their school research online using online resources such as Wikipedia, especially when concerning topics outside of their purview.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Piltdown Man: Scientific or Religious Hoax?

Charles Dawson’s motivation for have created this hoax may have been to reconcile early 20th Century anthropology with Creationism, but was the Piltdown Man a scientific or religious hoax?

By: Ringo Bones

Contrary to popular belief, Charles Dawson was neither a formally trained paleoanthropologist nor a trained archaeologist. Dawson, a British lawyer and antiquarian, claimed to have dug up from a gravel pit on Piltdown Common in the south of England portions of a skull and jawbone back in 1912. Probable reasons for Charles Dawson’s motivation for initiating the Piltdown Man Hoax was primarily due to the intensive search conducted by early investigators attempts to reconcile Darwin’s theory of the descent of man with the Victorian era doctrine of a “Chain of Being” leading back to the time of “Biblical Creation” – i.e. Archbishop James Ussher’s 9 a.m. 23rd of October, 4004 B.C. Creation date. If man had indeed evolved – the reasoning ran – then somewhere in humanity’s past there must exist an original creature, a “missing link” if you will, between us and the lowly apes. An idea that’s unfortunately rife for wild surmises.

After Dawson and team washed the gravel of their dig site in the Piltdown pit, the remains were found in what can only be described by today’s archaeological standards as dubious geological circumstances when he concluded – and managed to convince the archaeologists, physical anthropologists and paleoanthropologists of the time - that the finds were over 500,000 years old. Dawson’s famous 1912 find of a cranium that resembles that of a modern human and the supposed lower jaw that came with it that was fully ape-like managed to launch an argument that lasted 40 years. Popularly known at the time as “Piltdown Man” after the English hamlet where it was found, the fossil was accepted as genuine by almost every archaeologists, paleoanthropologists and physical anthropologists at the time and was even scientifically named as “Eoanthropus dawsoni” or Dawson’s “dawn man”.

Because of his “gentleman” status, virtually nobody questioned Dawson’s archaeological finds and even got him widely acclaimed – especially after the case for Piltdown Man was further strengthened in 1915 when he came up with another find, some pieces of skull and a molar. As the years passed, Dawson’s fossils became increasingly difficult to reconcile with other unquestioningly authentic finds. Java Man and scores of African “dawn men” that have more ape-like skulls and more modern man-like jaws mad the Piltdown Man seem like an evolutionary paradox from a paleoanthropological perspective.

It wasn’t until the early 1950s that three British scientists finally determined to settle the Piltdown Man question once and for all. Post WW II dating methods can already determine a fossil’s age with accuracy. Kenneth P. Oakley applied the chemical tests while J.S. Weiner and W.E. Le Gros Clark subjected the Piltdown Man fossils to exhaustive anatomical analysis. By 1953, it was proven without a shadow of a doubt that the skull of the Piltdown Man was that of a modern human and his supposed jaw was that of an ape – an orangutan in fact – filed down to disguise them. Charles Dawson was long since dead when his elaborate hoax was uncovered and so could not be called upon to explain his intentions. Modern dating methods – especially radioisotope dating methods – make it very hard for scientific hoaxes like Piltdown Man to pass as genuine this day and age. But are hoaxes such as these really as harmless as they seem to be?

During the eight-year reign of former US president George W. Bush, America had experienced a flirtation with “Creationism” that manage to empower every white supremacist group in US soil hitherto unknown since the days of famed unabashed conservative named Ronald Reagan. The Jena-6 incident only highlights the increasing racial tension in America that had grown stronger ever since President Bush granted carte blanche to every Creationism supporters and educators. Piltdown Man has since been proven a hoax from a scientific concept, but the ideas that gave it life – the racially charged Biblical concepts of the Mark of Cain and the Children of Ham – only gives extremist groups in America more political leverage and could make racism seem reasonable due to its religious and political precedents.

Do Hoaxes Still Exist in the 21st Century?

From those “factually fraudulent” Wikipedia edits to documents purportedly proving that President Obama is not an American citizen, are hoaxes still alive and well in the 21st Century?

By: Ringo Bones

A hoax is most commonly defined as “a deception for mockery or mischief”. A term that’s often extended to include all sorts of frauds, fakes, swindles and forgeries and impostures, as well as the supposedly well-meaning practical joke or two. Such hoaxes all have one binding theme – they are deliberately concocted untruths massaged to masquerade as factual information. Being so, such hoaxes are – in the end – distinguishable from honest errors in observation or in judgment. More importantly, behind every hoax stands a hoaxer. This inventor of humbug – where he or she is successful in making us believe his or her “whoppers”, more often than not has a deeper and more far-reaching effect on the shaping of public opinion, beliefs, customs that he or she intends.

Politics, religion, science, art and literature are only few of the fields in which hoaxers have operated during most of recorded history. Since only a comparably small number of people have any real knowledge of what is going on in any particular field, it is all too easy to fool most of the general public. As our society becomes more complex knowledge wise, we became more and more dependent on others for our information, especially from fields of specialty other than our own. Thus we tend to accept as true whatever reaches us through such usually reliable channels of information as – for example – printed media, the radio, TV, or the Internet, or whatever comes to us as statements of supposed experts or pundits.

When a hoaxer simulates behavior which is usually trustworthy in his or her peer group, he or she will be believed unless actual motives for disbelief exist. Peripheral incentives to believe, such as hope or financial gain, advancement of a pet cause, vanity chauvinism, and the reinforcement of prejudices of various kinds – operate on the hoaxer’s behalf, making the unsuspecting victim to accept the hoax as factual because he or she, for the longest time, desperately wants the idea driving the hoax to be true. So don’t be hopeful that whimsical Wikipedia entries like David Beckham being an 18th Century Chinese goalkeeper or Slash being the inventor of single-coil guitar pickups will ever end.