Friday, February 15, 2013

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

If you think modern media is rife with sloppy fact-and-source-checking and complete disregard for integrity, you should see what lulus they pulled back in the day.

In August of 1835, the New York Sun newspaper indulged in a particularly fanciful bit of tabloid reporting claiming that a new high-definition telescope was pulling in evidence of life on the moon - including unicorns, tailless beaver-like creatures, and batmen. Yes, real, flying, bat-winged batmen! Plus beaches, oceans, forests, temples constructed of sapphire, and all kinds of fanciful stuff.

While readers were presumably clued in that the whole thing was meant to be an amusing hoax, editors from competing newspapers were not so amused. As told on

"Rival editors were frantic; many of them pretended to have access to the original articles and began reprinting the Sun's series. It was not until the Journal of Commerce sought permission to publish the series in pamphlet form, however, that Richard Adams Locke, confessed authorship. Some authorities think that a French scientist, Nicollet, in this country at the time, wrote them."

"After a number of his competitors, humiliated because they had "lifted" the series and passed it off as their own, upbraided Day, the Sun of September 16, 1835, admitted the hoax. When the hoax was exposed people were generally amused. It did not seem to lessen interest in the Sun, which never lost its increased circulation."
Really makes you wonder if you repeated the exact same experiment today, how many would fall for it all over again. After all, according to a 2005 New York times story (if we can believe this one!), one in five adult Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth.