We tend to think of scientists as stiff-necked, humorless types who are so wrapped up in their beakers and safety goggles that they wouldn't know a joke if it bit them in their uptight buttocks. Well, some scientists not only have a sense of humor, but can be sassy little shits if you give them half a chance ... even if it means damaging their own careers or entire scientific fields in the process.
5A Doctor Invented the Tale of the Civil War Testicle Musket ... and We're Still Hearing It Today
You may have heard the story about a Civil War-era girl who got pregnant after a bullet passed through a soldier's teste-tote and then hit her in the abdomen (it was the subject of a MythBusters episode). While it sounds like some dumb urban legend dreamed up by Confederate soldiers trying to drown their hookworms in moonshine, the anecdote actually came from a doctor named Legrand Capers, who was evidently terrible at picking the right venue for his jokes.
Library of Congress
People in his theater giggled, but only because he gave them gas and drugs.
In an era when the funniest thing going on was Charles Dickens' character names, Capers thought he'd have a little fun by anonymously submitting the story of the bullet-impregnated virgin to a medical journal called American Medical Weekly. He was probably thinking they'd all have a laugh and the journal would know better than to publish the story. Surely the detail that the kid was born with a bullet in his ball sack would give the publishers pause. This wasn't the Daily Mail, after all.
Yet the story of the woman who got pregnant via sperm-soaked bullet was published in the November 1874 issue of the journal, and even worse, despite submitting the tall tale anonymously, Capers was listed as the author. The editor took one look at Capers' anonymous bullshit and said, "I know that handwriting!" (because apparently in 1874 everyone was a certified handwriting expert). So instead of letting Capers play like an anonymous Internet commenter presenting a bucket of manure as fact, the editor attached his name to the stupid story. As a result, Capers' reputation took a nut shot of its own, and his image shifted from pre-eminent Southern surgeon to "the dude who wrote about the sperm bullet."
James O. Breeden
Ol' Stoneball Jackson.
More than 130 years later, the ridiculous story is still getting passed around as real, to the point that TV shows and Snopes have to regularly remind everyone it isn't true. That's kind of impressive in its own right, we suppose.