Stories tagged fraud

Jan
07
2011

Back in 1998, a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield did a study on twelve children, and wrote a paper claiming that a link existed between childhood vaccinations and autism.

Naturally, this freaked out a lot of parents, and lots of folks stopped having their kids vaccinated. Consequently, infection rates of diseases that are totally preventable with vaccines—like measles and whooping cough—went up.

Then, other scientists were unable to reproduce Wakefield's experiment, which kind of made it seem like it was wasn't accurate to begin with. Wakefield couldn't even reproduce his experiment. Nonetheless, lots of people stuck to the idea that autism is caused by vaccines, or by ingredients in vaccines. When these ingredients were removed because of the concern, people picked other ingredients to blame. Still scientists could find no link between any of the components of vaccines and autism.

Meanwhile, most of the other scientists involved with Wakefield's research removed their names from the published results. And then The Lancet, the respected medical journal that originally published Wakefield's research, actually retracted the study, because it was so inaccurate. And then Wakefield had his medical license, because his poor research was so irresponsible. Still Wakefield and his supporters insisted that the link existed, and that he was the target of a global conspiracy.

Now, there's another nail in a coffin that just won't stay shut: a journalist (who has signed a statement saying that he has no financial interest in the debate) has found that Wakefield's original research on the twelve children was fraudulent. Wakefield misrepresented the medical histories of his subjects to make it appear that they had developed autism after receiving the vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella, when, in fact, some of the subjects had shown signs of autism before receiving the vaccine, and some had not developed autism at all.

During all this, Wakefield accepted $674,000 from lawyers preparing a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Eh... whoops.

The new information suggests that not only was Wakefield's research inaccurate, he deliberately falsified it.

It's an interesting story, but as Dr. Max Wiznitzer points out in the article linked to above, the medical and scientific communities already knew Wakefield was a fraud, and Wakefield's followers aren't likely to change their positions now, so it's a little bit of a moot point.

Wakefield himself says that the truth is in his book, which he wants you to buy.

Some numbers are more random than others

If you asked 100 people to choose a "random" number (digit) from the numbers 0 through 9 you would not expect any number to be picked more than any other. Studies show that the number "7" is picked six times more often than the number "5".

In the Iran electon 29 provinces voted for 4 people yielding 116 numbers. These numbers describing how many votes each person got in each province should have ended randomly with numerals 0 to 9.

They did not.

There were about six times as many that ended with a 7 as ending with a 5.

This post in Cognitive Daily has a Nice analysis of why the Iranian election is probably fraudulent.

Apr
23
2008

The British Crystal Skull: Look--you can just see the flying saucer.
The British Crystal Skull: Look--you can just see the flying saucer.Courtesy seriykotik1970
First thing’s first: I’m not sure I can recommend that you see the new Indiana Jones movie. Have I seen it? As a matter of fact, I haven’t. Am I up on Hollywood buzz? Possibly, but only because I’m not sure what “Hollywood buzz” is exactly. I’m certainly not up on anything Indiana Jones 4 related.

This is a science blog, so is my issue with the archaeology? Is it bad archaeology? Absolutely it’s bad archaeology (more on that in a moment), but no, that’s not it. As it happens, I love bad archaeology most of all.

No, here’s why I don’t think you should see the new Indiana Jones: dude’s old.

Consider this: Do any of you remember seeing the “Young Indiana Jones” tv series? Remember how it ironically featured the occasional old Indiana Jones? Was that fun seeing Indy as a staggering octogenarian? Answer: no, not fun. Don’t believe me? See for yourselves. Guy’s old. How are you supposed to punch Nazis and outrun boulders like that? Also—a side note—couldn’t he save a bunch of money if he just bought monocles?

No, Indiana Jones 4 is just the prequel to old Indiana Jones. It’s going to be all about arthritis and staying regular. If I wanted to see a movie about “I’m too old for this spit,” I’d watch the Lethal Weapon trilogy, and maybe Lethal Weapon 4. In fact, maybe I will watch the Lethal Weapon trilogy (but not Lethal Weapon 4) tonight. But only for detective Martin Riggs, not for the gray hair and male girdle jokes.

Wait a second. Did I say that this was a science blog? I did—here’s the citation “This is a science blog.” So onto something like science!

Indiana Jones is all about bad archaeology. I’ll say again, however, that bad archaeology is totally fun, but it shouldn’t be confused with real archaeology. Did you ever notice how pretty much every site Indy visits, he destroys? The temple of the Hovitos, the Well of Souls, the Thuggee mine and shrine to Kali, the catacombs under Venice, the resting place of the grail in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon? All crush, collapsed, burned, or flooded.

To be clear, archaeological excavation constitutes, in many respects, the destruction of the site itself. It’s like dissecting a frog—it never works out well for the frog itself, but you can learn a lot about him by doing it. And archaeology is done very slowly. Notes and drawings are made, samples are taken, and it’s all followed up by hundreds of hours in a lab, looking at everything again. Very rarely does the destruction of a site involve sprinting through an ancient temple, clutching a creepy fertility idol.

Not only that, but recent studies take issue with the authenticity of the upcoming film’s subject, namely a certain crystal skull. Or crystal skulls.

Crystal skulls pop up now and again in archaeology, or at least in the antiquities trade. And there are about a dozen of them, in particular, that have been the subject of considerable interest and skepticism. In the late 19th century, a handful of crystal skulls turned up on the antiquities scene, reputedly coming from Aztec/Olmec/Toltec/Maya temples (distinct Central American cultures, but, for the purposes of modern-day occult fixations, probably interchangeable). The smaller of the skulls are generally agreed to be large beads, probably used in Mexican catholic practice at one point. On the other hand, the larger skulls, ranging a couple of inches on either side of life size, are magic.

That’s right, the skulls, carved of solid quartz, and scattered across the world in museums and the hands of private collectors, are freakin’ magic. Used properly, they can grant health and luck to the bearer, and death to his or her enemies. Also, UFO’s—held at a certain angle, in a certain light, it is said that the crystal depths of the skulls will reveal the unmistakable image of a flying saucer. Because we all know what a flying saucer looks like so well, we would know if we were being shown a fake. And—most importantly—some say that the 12 skulls (and a missing 13th skull) must be united before the end of the Mayan calendar (12/21/2012), or the Earth will fly off its axis. You totally know that this would suck, so start skull questing.

Anyway, all this stands to reason, right? You’ve got your skulls, your crystal skulls. You’ve got you’re mysterious, vanished people (who, you know, aren’t actually gone). Logically there are going to be some magical powers in there.

E. Boban: delving into the dark arts. At his knick-knack stand.
E. Boban: delving into the dark arts. At his knick-knack stand.Courtesy Public domain
Not so, say scientists across Europe. The authenticity of the skulls has been under question for some time, with jewelers and museum archaeologists pointing out that they were detailed with a jeweler’s drill, and polished by a wheeled machine. The wheel thing is problematic, seeing as how the Mayans never did a whole lot with the wheel, at least not mechanically. The obvious answer is that aliens gave the skulls to the Mayans (or Aztecs, or Olmecs, or Teotihuacán, take your pick), and aliens are, of course, swimming in diamond drills and wheels. Unafraid of forces they could never hope to understand, though, researchers from the French national museum service have subjected the “Paris Skull” to particle induced x-ray emission and Raman spectroscopy. And what did those spoil sports find? In addition to the clear evidence of modern tools being used to shape the skull, the quartz it’s made of comes from the Alps, not Central America. The crystal skull belonging to the British Museum is made of Brazilian quartz, although it likewise sports modern tool makes, and the Mayans aren’t known to have had any cultural connections to Brazil. Specifically, both skulls are thought to have come from a village in Southern Germany that specialized in carving just that sort of thing for crucifix bases, which might explain the identical holes on the top and bottom of the French skull. What’s more, there’s documentation that most of the skulls out there came from a Eugene Boban, a dealer of pre-Columbian artifacts, known to have slipped a few fakes in now and again.

Another skull, the “Skull of Doom,” turned up a little later than the other crystal skulls. It was supposedly dug from a temple in Belize by a British explorer, who claimed that it was at least 3,600 years old, and “used by the High Priest of the Maya when performing esoteric rites. It is said that, when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed.” The power of the Skull of Doom has apparently diminished to reports of emitting blue light, and causing the deaths of computer hard drives. And it’s also probably a fake. Or a fake of a fake even—it was probably bought by the explorer for 400 pounds from Sotheby’s in 1943.

Don’t let all this keep you from your skull quest, though. They are skulls made of crystal, after all. What more evidence do you need for their ability to keep us from spinning hopelessly into outer space in 2012?