The Questionable Authority

We’ve reached the point where reality has become so completely absurd that sheer absurdity is no longer a reliable indicator that a news item or blog post is actually an April Fools gag. I don’t know whether I should laugh, cry, or crawl into a hole and hide.

Think I’m kidding? Here are a few of the stories I’ve noticed so far today. Try and guess which ones are April Fools jokes, and which are real. I’ll put the answers and links to the sources – I think I’ve got them all right – below the fold.

1. Minor volcanic eruption in Yellowstone Caldera.

2. Following hospitalization of student as result of kick to groin, Conn. school bans all physical contact between students. Parents called in for conference when one student protests by attending school with arms duct-taped to sides.

3. Federally funded abstinence-only group uses machete-juggling clown to illustrate dangers of sex.

4. Justice Department rules that its own prosecutorial misconduct will prevent war crimes and torture investigations from proceeding.

5. Entire colony of Laysan Albatrosses on Oahu vanishes without trace.

6. Howard Ahmanson – Christian philanthropist who provided much of Discovery Institute’s early funding -registers as Democrat.

Take a second and jot down your answers before you check your results.


1: Yellowstone eruption – April Fools.

2: Banning contact – real news. Duct-taped student – real news.

3: Federally funded abstinence clown – real news.

4: Justice Dept. misconduct/torture ruling – April Fools. At least for now.

5. Vanishing albatrosses – real news.

6. Ahmanson = Dem – real news.

Be honest – how many did you get?


  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    April 1, 2009

    Everything correct but 6 which I thought was false. But I had already read about 2 and 3 a few days ago. 5 was clearly not an April Fools joke since it isn’t funny, just depressing.

  2. #2 Ian
    April 1, 2009

    It’s a bit annoying – unless the April fool’s is quite obvious like Greg Laden’s was this year. Highly Alocthonous had the best one I’ve seen. That almost fooled me!

    But seriously, many people rely on science blogs for good, reliable information and for us amateurs it actually can be seriously misleading when the subject is rather technical.

    If we start reading something only to find part way through that it’s nonsense, or worse, we don’t realize it, it doesn’t serve sci-blogs well. The other side of the coin is worse – if we dismiss all blogs on April 1st as jokes, we could miss important information that isn’t a joke.

    There is a more serious side to this, too. There’s a serious danger that creationists will take a blog like the Precambrian rabbit joke and think it’s for real either because it suits them to do so or because they actually did get fooled. You know they do this kind of thing.

    I’d hate for sci-blogs to be labeled dishonest by the creationists for what they would describe as telling lies, or for them to cite a Precambrian rabbit “finding” as proof that evolution has been overturned.

    Of course, any denials of this, retractions, or revelations that the blog was “just an April fool’s joke” would be (perhaps purposefully) interpreted by the creationists as yet another evolutionist cover-up! It could easily backfire like that.

  3. #3 KeithB
    April 1, 2009

    It is much like Snopes “The Repository of Lost Legends” or Troll:

    They have toned it down, but it used to be played *much* straighter. The whole point it to say that you shouldn’t trust *anyone* all the time.

  4. #4 llewelly
    April 1, 2009

    I got 4 and 6 wrong. With a sample size that small, that’s statistically indistinguishable from flipping coin. So I guess reality is too weird.

  5. #5 reportergirl
    April 2, 2009

    I’m so gullible I actually believed this story even though it is patently ridiculous. Your post comforts me. Thank you

  6. #6 BaldApe
    April 2, 2009

    Uhh, isn’t the normal activity at Yellowstone “minor volcanic eruption” at least sorta?

    I used to get really annoyed at Discover Magazine’s April Fool’s day articles, but then I just got annoyed with Discover Magazine in general.

  7. #7 Scott Hanley
    April 2, 2009

    I think we read many of the same blogs and I regularly check the Yellowstone news, so I got them all right except #4, which sounded all too plausible.

    isn’t the normal activity at Yellowstone “minor volcanic eruption” at least sorta?

    Seismic activity is the norm, but volcanic eruptions are not, thank goodness.

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