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A hoax is an intentionally perpetrated fraud, as opposed to a misunderstanding, mistake, or even exaggeration over time. Usually, a hoax implies an outright lie, with the evidence entirely invented from scratch.

In science[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Modern frauds in science

Scientists are, admittedly, human and therefore prone to the lapses in judgement that cause them to create hoaxes. In the context of science, hoaxes are intended to either bring fame to otherwise unknown scientists, to discredit another scientist or theory, or to provide "proof" of something that "we just know is right". Science loathes hoaxes, and spends significant resources disproving them, even if the hoax actually adds weight to a desired argument. Some hoaxes perpetrated within the scientific community include the Piltdown Man and the Tesaday Tribe.

Christian fundamentalists, in attempting to discredit science, often bring up the hoaxes that have been promulgated by scientists (including the non-hoax "exaggerations" of Haeckel). What they fail to mention is that every single hoax they know of was found and disproven by other scientists, and that religious folk have been notoriously reluctant to critically examine religious "miracles" which were later exposed as hoaxes.

Hoaxes of exposure[edit]

Some hoaxes have been deliberately launched in order to shame or expose credulity or folly of various sorts. The Sokal affair, in which a paper purporting to be about quantum physics that actually claimed that all reality was a social construction, was published in a non-peer-reviewed journal dedicated to postmodernism, was one such hoax. The Taxil hoax was another, meant to discredit the Roman Catholic Church's campaign against Freemasonry.

JG Ballard's short story "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan",Wikipedia a parody of scientific research into Ronald Reagan's sex appeal, was distributed at the 1980 Republican National Convention ostensibly as a serious political document investigating the candidate's appeal to voters.

There are also various cases of literary and artistic figures creating intentionally bad or pseudonymous hoax art and literary works to mock what they saw as a phoney artistic establishment in thrall to celebrity and with no clue of what is good or bad. This includes Ern Malley,Wikipedia a fake Australian modernist poet created by two curmudgeonly traditionalist writers, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, whose literary merit is still argued today.[1] Naked Came the StrangerWikipedia (1969) was a trashy novel created by a group of journalists led by columnist Mike McGrady as a parody of the vulgar sensationalist literature popular at the time; a string of sexual encounters linked by a feeble plot, it sold 20,000 copies before McGrady revealed the hoax, and after that it sold far more. Pierre BrassauWikipedia was a fake modernist painter whose works turned out to have been done by a chimpanzee, a deception instigated in 1964 by journalist Åke "Dacke" Axelsson, who claimed art critics couldn't tell the difference between works done by a monkey and an avant-garde artist.[2] In 1957, a chimp called Congo had already enjoyed some art-world acclaim without any deception.[3] Other such hoaxes include Disumbrationism,Wikipedia in which various bizarre daubs were displayed with pretentious commentary as modern art, and Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments,Wikipedia doggerel meant to masquerade as modernistic poetry.

Fundie interpretation of the above[edit]

Fundamentalists like to deny everything about scientific authority, so they are adamant about emphasizing all scientific hoaxes of the above kind, even after "science" itself has disproven the hoax and distanced itself from — if not disowned — the hoaxsters. Using the fact that some hoaxes have been perpetrated in the past, fundamentalists like to suggest that many fully accepted archeological, biological, and other scientific finds are also hoaxes, causing people to doubt scientific authority.

On the other hand, the opinion that all fundamental religious thought (oxymoron?) is a hoax is a widely held belief in some places.

Non-science hoaxes[edit]

Urban mythology, New Age studies, cryptozoology, and extraterrestrial obsessions struggle to exist on the fringes of science, and hoaxes are often employed to bring more people into the fold. Hoaxes can be widely believed for a long time if they are done well enough. Some famous examples include:

  • Cottingley Fairies: Two young girls fake photographs of fairies, fooling most of the media (and well-known nutbag spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), for several decades. Even after they admitted to faking them many years later — and explaining the methods — some still believe they're real.
  • Crop circles: Although reports of these have gone back a while, they shot to prominence in the 1970s. Their original creators have admitted to the hoax, and crop circle making is now a competitive sport in some... erm, circles.
  • Loch Ness Monster: The most famous photograph of the monster, taken in the 1930s, was revealed to be a hoax by one of its creators. It's actually cropped down considerably to give the illusion that the monster is much larger; the full photograph clearly shows that it's actually tiny.
  • The Fox Sisters claimed to be receiving messages from the dead — and invented Spiritualism, which is still fleecing the credulous to this day.

Politically-motivated frauds[edit]

Some hoaxes are made for political purposes, typically to paint one's enemies in a bad light. This is often what is called black propaganda. Examples include:


Some hoaxes have become in-jokes, well known to those who work in a field but not obvious beyond that. One example is Franz Bibfeldt,Wikipedia an entirely fake theologian who began as an in-joke among students, when one was looking to bolster a term paper with a fake footnote. It mushroomed among theologians, who presumably like having something to discuss that even they can admit is a load of rubbish. In Swedish theological circles, Elof Sundin reportedly fulfils a similar role.

Another kind of harmless prank is the April Fools' DayWikipedia joke; some newspapers and other media have constructed very elaborate hoaxes such as The Guardian's fictional island of San Serriffe,Wikipedia first featured April 1, 1977.

Mutating into a Big Lie[edit]

Online observers of intentional hoaxers (Flat Earth hoaxers in particular) have come to believe in the hoax unironically, sometimes to the consternation of the original hoaxers.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The Ern Malley Affair, Michael Heyward, Faber & Faber, 2003
  2. Pierre Brassau, Monkey Artist, Museum of Hoaxes
  3. Art by Congo, the Famous Painting Ape, to Go on Sale, Smithsonian magazine, Oct 9, 2019