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« Thread started on: Nov 1st, 2003, 7:02pm »

Internet Tricks No Treat
Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News

Web Surfers Be Wary

Oct. 31, 2003 Trick or treat? Brace yourself for a trick, said leading skeptics from the United States, Canada and Europe who gathered in Albuquerque, N.M., earlier this week to debunk the latest and greatest cons, frauds, pranks, hoaxes, hauntings, UFOs, monsters, fake TV psychics and other paranormal phenomena.

Among the take-home messages from the four-day conference sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP): hoaxes are at an all time high and the Internet is a big reason.

While newspapers, books, radio and TV have all made it possible to spread hoaxes in ways early societies never dreamed possible, "they all pale in comparison to the greatest medium for hoaxes ever created the Internet," said Alex Boese, author of the book Museum of Hoaxes and the website of the same name.

On TV: Get a reminder to watch "Discovery Spotlight", Discovery Channel's current events program.

Get More: Explore modern science with the Tech Guide.

E-mail and websites enable people to spread their schemes to millions of people with the touch of a button. A quick review of the greatest Internet hoaxes, Boese said, must include the "Tourist Guy," a picture of a tourist posing for a picture atop the World Trade Center with an incoming jet in the background. The image spread around the world a few days after the Sept. 11 attack, shocking, fascinating and fooling millions.

The tourist guy, it turns out, is a man from Hungary who made the image from a picture he took on a trip to New York. He only sent it a friend, Boese said, but it spread and now "Tourist Guy" has been electronically clipped and inserted into pictures of just about every disaster ever captured on film.

Another is great Internet hoax that continues to suck in unsuspecting victims is "Bonsai Kitten," a website created by MIT students in 2000. The website explains how to apply Japanese "bonsai" growth control methods to kittens by stuffing felines into jars so they grow into convenient shapes. "It still manages to generate fantastic amounts of outrage," Boese said. Apparently no kitties were injured.

Other Internet hoaxes have included fake CNN websites that have announced the deaths of celebrities or the auctioning on E-Bay of the "Ghost in a Jar." The unremarkable jar attracted hoax bids of up to $100 million before E-Bay pulled the plug, Boese said.

"As a species, we are very good at enchanting ourselves," explained skeptic Barry Beyerstein, a psychologist from Simon Fraser University. So it's really no surprise that despite more science and education than ever before, we keep falling for hoaxes. In fact, he said "smart people are sometimes more vulnerable because they think they are immune to being fooled."
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