Environment Forum

Global warming bacteria hoaxer owns up

November 14, 2007

Ocean waves crash in Cape Town Harbour, 2005. The two men were later rescued amid a stormOne of the people behind a spoof study claiming that zillions of bacteria in the oceans are to blame for global warming has owned up, saying it was meant to show that some sceptics will uncritically grab any evidence casting doubt on most scientists’ view that human activities are the main cause.

David Thorpe, who works at Cyberium web design company in Wales, said an academic spent about 4 days writing the 4,000 word article that said naturally occurring bacteria in the oceans were emitting 300 times more greenhouse gases than industries. Thorpe said he then spent a couple of days formatting the prank report.

“Anyone looking at it for a few moments could see that it was a spoof. The fact that people grab hold of it to defend their positions just seems to show that they are as credulous as they accuse their opponents of being, or perhaps even more so,” Thorpe told me.

“The point is that we need to have proper scientific evidence to base policies on,” he said. He welcomed sceptics who argued from a knowledge of scientific evidence. “But there are many people willing to jump on anything that supports their argument, whether it’s true or not.”

The academic wants to stay anonymous, and the study has been taken down by the web host. Thorpe owned up in a blog at the weekend, after denying any knowledge of a hoax when I phoned him last week. It is hard to tell how many people were taken in.

The prank won an expert audience partly because it was distributed in an e-mail to 2,000 scientists by a British social anthropologist, Benny Peiser, who agrees that climate change is happening but says that the gloom is often exaggerated. Peiser shot it down as a “nice hoax” after just over an hour. As the New York Times says, that shows the power of the Internet to “amplify, and then dismantle, fictions at light speed”. It even got a brief mention from conservative U.S. radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, after a misunderstanding before a quick retraction.

…And yes, I suppose that Thorpe might be hoaxing me in this blog too … but he was listed as the administrator of the original site, which has now been closed down.

For anyone who missed it, you can puzzle over equations found in the hoax study like this one:

4δ161 x Λ³Жญ5,6,1,8Φ-4 = {(ΣΨ²Њyt3 – 14๖P9) x 49}

2β x ⅜kxgt -§

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