The human body can do amazing things. If you need proof, just type "parkour" into a search engine. But every so often, we're told a story so remarkable that it's almost impossible to believe it. And we should listen to that instinct.
The idea of a pregnant man has fascinated scientists and writers of corny comedies ever since cave people first figured out that some people had babies but some people didn't.
"This make great vehicle for sweaty Austrian man."
But if you believe hundreds of bloggers and YouTube viewers, male pregnancy is already a reality. Malepregnancy.com is a website dedicated to Lee Mingwei, supposedly the first male to achieve a viable pregnancy. There are pages dedicated to Mingwei's everyday life as a pregnant man, ultrasound photos and detailed explanations of the science behind the miracle, such as our most pressing question: How is he going to push a baby out through his dick?
But upon closer inspection, there is something awfully suspicious going on here. Not the least of which is that the site was created in 2002 and is still bizarrely ongoing. There is no location listed for RYT Hospital, which as it turns out doesn't even exist. The news coverage is equally suspicious:
Wait a minute ...
As it turns out, Mingwei and his collaborator, Virgil Wong, are both conceptual artists who say the website was "created to be an exploration of a very likely scenario that may one day result from new advances in biotechnology and infertility treatments."
Interestingly, though this is possibly the least believable of the hoaxes out there, it is one of the most persistent. Videos and blogs about Mingwei continue to garner responses. This is due in part to the sophistication of the site itself. It looks like a hospital website. But the real reason so many people continue to believe it is because Lee Mingwei looks a little bit like someone else.
Thomas Beatie, a transgendered legal male who chose to keep his lady bits, is credited with being the first legal male to have a baby. His story created a sensation in 2008, and many many people mistook Mingwei for Beatie. Some blogs even use Mingwei's picture when talking about Beatie. Others attempt to dispel the confusion by explaining that these are two different pregnant dudes. And though the Mingwei site is almost 10 years old, many people continue to hold onto the belief that Mingwei is some miracle straight out of science fiction, rather than maybe some guy with really bad, chronic indigestion.
"Hey now, we can't go fact-checking when there are headlines to write."
In the 1970s, researchers began flocking to Vilcabamba, a town in the Andes which apparently boasted the oldest population on Earth. Residents regularly reached ages of 115 and beyond but remained as healthy as people much younger. In 1973, National Geographic ran a story by a researcher from Harvard Medical School about this amazing valley and its people's perpetual youthfulness.
Above: The next Aspen.
Many theories were offered to explain this phenomenon, from clean air to super-antioxidant minerals found in the water. Tourists as well as people suffering from chronic conditions began pouring in under the assumption that they were all going to turn into Benjamin Button. Even today, Vilcabamba.org boasts to potential tourists that "years are added to your life ... and life is added to your years!"
Except for one thing. It was all a big lie. Like many cultures that aren't the United States, the people of Ecuador value the wisdom and experience that comes with old age, and to that end it's tradition in Vilcabamba to exaggerate your age. After people turn 70 or so, it starts to get really ridiculous as they tack as much as a decade per year onto their true ages. To confuse things further, because many residents are named after their parents, they can simply claim their parents' birth records as their own.
"And over here is where we keep the immortality juice."
The researchers who studied the people of Vilcabamba fell prey to what is known as confirmation bias: Because they already wanted to believe that Indiana Jones was real and that there was a fountain of youth in some small town in Ecuador, they skipped right over the possibility that the people were simply lying. When people started asking the right questions, Vilcabamba looked less like the "Valley of Longevity" and more like a retirement community in Florida.
John Howard was a practical man. In 1726, he'd been practicing midwifery for 30 years and thought he's seen everything. So when Mary Toft came to him and told him she'd been giving birth to rabbits, he did what any sane person would do: He totally believed it.
Toft captured the imagination of England when she "gave birth" to several rabbits and parts of other animals in the presence of numerous physicians and skeptics. The charade went on for months, perpetuated by daily newspapers, which were still a novelty. And back then, every newspaper resembled the Weekly World News, in which Bigfoot attacks are every bit as newsworthy as local politics.
The real explanation? If you need to ask, it turns out that Toft was simply stuffing live baby animals up ... well, let's just say that people started to get suspicious about the fact that Toft's husband had been buying a lot of rabbits lately.
She shouldn't have pushed it after birthing the first warren.
Toft had been taking advantage of several old wives' tales doing the rounds at the time. One popular theory in England was called "maternal impression." Doctors back then believed that a mother's experiences during pregnancy could make an "impression" on her baby. Some physicians even warned pregnant women against contact with pets, lest their babies become like animals. She also banked on the "pregnant women are yucky" theory that is still popular today.
Thank God for muumuus.
It didn't help at all that King George I was totally taken in by the story and sent surgeons from the royal household to investigate. Though the claim ultimately destroyed their careers, they were under pressure to agree with the king.
How could you argue with that oval-shaped face and those mountains of brown ringlets?
It wasn't until months later that, under intense pressure and the threat of a painful surgery, she finally confessed to the ruse. Initially, she was arrested and charged with being a "vile cheat and imposter," but she was eventually released, because apparently no one knew what the heck to charge her with.