The 6 Ballsiest Scientific Frauds (People Actually Fell For)
If we can't trust scientists, who can we trust? Other than a few bad apples, these are the guys curing our diseases and generally saving the world.
But, sadly, even in this field there are those who like to play fast and loose with the truth. And then there are guys who are just totally full of shit. Such as...
If you've ever taken a moment to read up on the science of transplants or sit through the Christian Slater epic Untamed Heart, you know transplants are tricky things that can go really wrong. Even when one does go right, you're going to have to take drugs for the rest of your life to prevent your body from rejecting the organ.
But then Dr. William Summerlin blew the minds of everyone when he dropped the bombshell that he could transplant tissue from two totally different animals just by keeping them in culture for a few weeks. Then he showed everyone the results, white mice with patches of black fur that had been transplanted from black mice. Wow, ain't that something?
But something was amiss with Summerlin's experiment. Was his data skewed to alter times or the ability of the mice to accept the transplants? Were the new patchy mice prone to day-long erections and spouting profanities? Was something even remotely intelligent sounding going on? Not so much. Turns out a lab assistant grabbed one of the mice and the "black tissue" rubbed off, because all Summerlin did was color part of the white fur black. And he didn't even use paint, or dye, or anything. It was a damn Sharpie.
Summerlin blamed his zany antics on work-related stress, as it's quite common for stress to manifest itself as a desire to paint rodents.
Elias was a complicated man. He was full of ambition and a drive toward greatness, but this was in direct conflict with his steadfast refusal to work hard or learn anything. Instead, Alsabti decided that the best way to save the world was through epic scale lying that would put the average lies we tell ladies we're trying to pick up in chat rooms to horrible shame.
A medical student and cancer researcher, Alsabti wanted some scholarship cash and, rather than try to earn it, he did what we've all done at least once when in a bind, and pretended to be a member of the Jordanian royal family. This move, which snagged him $3,000 a month and the means to get to the US, proved that Alsabti was one of the ballsiest liars ever and that the Jordanian government is easier to fool than a toddler when you pretend to take their nose.
Alsabti would read lesser known medical journals and then steal articles to resubmit to more popular magazines, which is far more common than you'd think. Don't be so judgemental.
All told, he published around 60 papers that were written by other people, occasionally sharing credit with co-authors he probably made up. Once in America, researchers he worked with at Temple University bluntly pointed out that Alsabti knew "nothing at all" and he was asked to leave the lab where he was working.
Instead of being banned from science forever, he simply headed over to Jefferson Medical College where he continued to wow others with his total lack of knowledge until his extensive plagiarism finally caught up with him. He skirted from the University of Virginia to Boston University to Monsour Medical Center to setting up his own private practice for several years. Eventually his medical license was revoked everywhere but in Pennsylvania.
Shortly thereafter, he was "killed" in a car accident in South Africa. We put "killed" in "quotes" because his death certificate mysteriously never showed up anywhere. Hmmm.
One of the greatest frauds in the history of science, Dawson didn't even get found out until after he died, meaning he had scammed the entire world of archaeology and paleontology for about 40 years. His discovery was hailed as one of the greatest finds of all time, so this wasn't some five and dime scam Dawson was running. He was a go hard or go home kind of guy who, if he'd lived a few years longer, would probably have tried to convince people he'd found a tribe of three breasted women deep in the Amazon and that he was now their king.
Originally a lawyer, meaning you can make an abundance of hilarious and outdated jokes about his integrity, Dawson got into collecting fossils and the like and even discovered the remains of a previously unknown mammal which was then named after him. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London at the age of 21, which is like being chosen as the Nerd King of Nerd Mountain by a society of life long nerds when you yourself have only been a nerd for a short time.
Since discovering unknown mammals seemed to work out so well the first time, he just kept announcing more discoveries, despite the fact that he never technically found any. He was elected a fellow in the Society of Antiquaries and went on to study sea serpents and a new species of human. You'll be interested to know we haven't gotten to the "official" fraud part of his life yet.
Dawson's huge discovery was Piltdown Man. It was a skull found in a gravel pit in England supposedly belonging to a new kind of early human. It was the missing link. It was complete shit.
In 1912, Dawson's discovery shook the entire world of evolutionary biology. The skull had the cranial capacity of a modern human but the jaw of an ape, indicating our brains had developed well before we had adapted to new types of food. The reason Piltdown Man convinced scientists that this was true was because Dawson had fastened the jaw of an orangutan to a human skull and filed down the teeth. This hoax was so retarded that the scientific community embraced it. For 40 years.
In total, after it was noted that Dawson's fossil was some shit he made in his garage, researchers looked into the rest of discoveries and noted that he made up at least 38 of them. Dawson had even claimed to have found a second Piltdown Man but never provided any evidence of such before he died, so we're left to assume it was a chimp skull in a prehistoric unemployment line, indicating a link between apes and Lehman Brothers.
In 2001, Ranjit Chandra had published a study in Nutrition Research, which is just as exciting as it sounds, about how some multivitamins he had patented could reverse memory problems in old folks. Curiously, the exact same paper had been submitted to the British Medical Journal and had been rejected after reviewers said it had "all the hallmarks of having been completely invented." So it was the medical equivalent of everything Scientologists believe; only pawned off as real. So it was like everything Scientologists believe.
Unfortunately for Chandra, he hadn't just lied, he lied big. If you're a hunter and you claim to have shot a deer that was the size of a dump truck, most folks will smile and nod and let it go at that. If you claim to have shot Bigfoot and have his carcass at home and write a paper about it and submit it to world famous journals for others to read about, you have committed what some people refer to as "lying like a retard."
The claims Chandra made in his study were so amazing they started getting mainstream media attention and were printed in the New York Times which meant more people who can tell their assholes from grape jelly got a hold of it and noticed he was full of shit. This in turn lead people to wonder what else the good doctor had been doing all his life.
In the 1980s, Chandra was contracted by Ross Pharmaceuticals, now Abbott Nutrition, and makers of such things as Similac, Ensure and other vaguely nauseating healthy liquids, to do a study on their products and food allergies in newborns. Nestle and Mead Johnson hopped on board as well and Chandra just needed to find 288 newborns to do his work.
"Dammit, we need more babies."
A year later, the study was done despite the fact he didn't have nearly enough babies. Now that's Science! More impressive than how Chandra got the study done was his results that showed the Nestle and Mead Johnson formulas protected babies from allergies but the Ross Pharmaceuticals brands did not, even though they make the stuff from pretty much the same ingredients.
When confronted by the bullshit police, Chandra got a boost from a fellow scientist who backed up everything he said. Chandra's reliable scientist buddy worked in India. But had a mailing address at a Canadian post office. And worked in a made-up medical clinic (as if you couldn't already tell, Chandra never quite got lying like everybody else on this list).
Also, he kind of looks like a tool.
During the doctor's divorce trial it came to light he had about 120 bank accounts spread around the world housing $2 million. It's believed most of the money came from studies he was paid to conduct that he either never did or just bullshitted his way through, meaning he may be a shitastic liar, but at least he managed his finances well.
Igor and Grichka Bogdanov, pictured below dressed as rapists for Halloween, were European theoretical physicists and television stars who studied math in France while hosting a show called Temps X about popular science and sci-fi, so kind of like something you watch on public access late at night if you're horribly stoned.
The brothers achieved even more fame than the average science-based French television program normally provides, when they published a paper on what may have happened during the Big Bang. And while we all wait for the Large Hadron Collider to show us what happened today, a few years back this sort of info was still pretty cool.
The brothers got PhDs in math and theoretical physics from Bourgogne University and published five papers together in whatever passes for major journals dealing with those subjects. The noteworthy aspect of these feats is that, according to anyone else who knows anything about physics, their work is complete gibberish. They threw a bunch of somewhat complex words on a page and called it physics, much like the writers of Two and a Half Men wipe their ass on a keyboard and call what gets printed out comedy.
Some of what the brothers wrote include intense things like:
"The plane of oscillation of Foucault's pendulum is necessarily aligned with the initial singularity marking the origin of physical space S3, that of Euclidean space E4 (described by the family of instantons Ibeta of whatever radius beta), and, finally, that of Lorentzian space-time M4."
To put that in terms you may understand, imagine a paper on Batman that said the following:
"The full force of the Batarang (B) when properly extruded at the Riddler's tomfoolery (Tf), factoring in the resistance from Robin's homoerotic costuming(QUeer) and the Joker's reliance on governmental subsidies to pay for low-grade dementia medications (M) can be summed up by the equation B2 x Ïr2 = The Green Hornet."
Technically you can read all those words, but they're about as retarded as a typical plotline in a Michael Bay movie.
The papers got published because apparently physics and mathematics professors know about as much about physics and math as they do about not getting sand kicked in their faces at the beach. The official word after the fact was everyone blaming someone else for not carefully reading the papers and having them go through anyway. This article you're reading right now is going to be re-published in Physics & Science Today! for that very reason.
Eventually, real physicists started questioning the Bogdanovs, who continued defending their work, going so far as to make up physicists and then have their pretend physicists e-mail real physicists to defend what they wrote. And while no one seems to have been fooled by that, the fact remains they both now have PhDs and a French TV show based entirely around their ability to slap a bunch of retarded words that have little to no meaning on paper and get it published.
Unlike the rest of the frauds on the list, Poehlman is a standout guy for being such a douche that they had to put him in prison afterwards. He was the first fraud ever to go to jail in the US based entirely on the intense cock-like behavior he engaged in and pawned off as actual work.
A professor at the University of Vermont, Poehlman's subject was obese, menopausal women, so we guess we can't really blame him for making a bunch of shit up in lieu of doing actual research.
If you've ever heard that women during menopause should take hormones, it was thanks to Poehlman whose research gave us that conclusion. And if you're now midway through this entry in an article on Cracked.com about medical frauds, you may have just realized something; hormones don't do shit for menopausal women. In fact, they may actually cause damage.
"Science is whatever I say it is."
Poehlman's theory was that women go through various kinds of old lady decay during menopause and that hormones, here to mean: "magic," would fix it. When the facts didn't really match his idea, he just changed them. The result was that for years millions of women were prescribed hormones that likely held no benefits or may have caused them potential harm.
In all Poehlman ended up falsifying 17 grants and punking off $2.9 million that probably otherwise would have gone to valid scientific research on things like what makes lemonade so refreshing and why boobies are wicked awesome.
Like you didn't see these coming.
The good doctor ended up facing criminal charges and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison where presumably he became well acquainted with hormone samples from his fellow inmates.
For more scientists and their world threatening research, check out 5 Scientific Experiments Most Likely to End the World. Or find out why scientists have Chris Bulchoz excited in Science Wants to Build Dinosaurs to Fight Terror. Also Shits, Giggles.