Robert Silverberg's _Scientists and Scoundrels_ (1965) is a lively and well-written baker's dozen of great scientific hoaxes. Aside from the innate entertainment value, Silverberg offers a reason why they are instructive:
The hoaxers teach us to check. They make us unsure of what we think we see-- and that is useful. We have to challenge the evidence. If the tools of science are not good enough for telling fact from fantasy, we must develop new tools. (x)
Roughly half a dozen of these articles originally appeared in _Amazing Stories_ from 1964 through 1965. That leads to some observations on science articles in sf magazines. Back in the early 1960s, science fiction magazines took several different approaches to running such articles. _Fantastic_, a fantasy magazine, took the simplest approach. It didn't run any. _Fantasy and Science Fiction_ had a regular column by Isaac Asimov, and _Galaxy_ had a regular column by Willy Ley. I suspect that regular readers of those magazines frequently turned to those columns almost immediately. _Analog_ had one or two articles per issue by a variety of authors on a variety of subjects. So did _Worlds of Tomorrow_. But the articles in _WOT_ were much more speculative and disreputable than those in _Analog_.
_Amazing_ adopted its own approach that seemed to work fairly well. The magazine would make a contract with an author to do a "limited run" of articles that would appear every other issue. (Alternate issues usually featured an SF Profile by Sam Moskowitz.) Lester del Rey wrote a series of six articles on topics as varied as nuclear energy and polygamy. Then Frank Tinsley wrote and illustrated a series of articles on spacecraft and space colonies of the near future. Ben Bova had the longest run. He began with a series on life in space and then went on to other topics: neutrino astronomy, the death of the dinosaurs, terraforming, and the like.
After Bova left, Silverberg began his series on scientific hoaxes.
Memory plays strange tricks upon us all. I "remembered" that one of Silverberg's articles was on the Cardiff Giant. That famous hoax, however, was not included in the book. Nor could I find it among my back issues of _Amazing_. (For a good account of the Cardiff Giant, see Carroll, 2003). Among some of the hoaxes that are included are the fake fossils that fooled the gullible Dr. Johann Beringer, the Paris fad of Mesmerism in the eighteenth century, the Richard Adams Locke "men in the moon" hoax, John Keely's perpetual-motion machine, the Kensingworth stone and its mysterious runes, Paul Schliemann's claim to have discovered Atlantis, the Kammerer midwife toad affair, Otto Fischer's 1933 rocket ride hoax, and the Piltdown man scandal. An account of Frederick Albert Cook's claim to have discovered the North Pole before Admiral Richard Peary contains this delightful quote: "Dr. Cook... was a liar and a gentleman. Peary was neither" (142).
I fear that we are living in times when faith and unquestioning belief are touted as virtues, while reason and skepticism are portrayed as vices. Perhaps, in a small way, this book will turn the tide.
Reference: Carroll, Robert Todd. "Cardiff Giant". _The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions_. Hoboken, NJ: John Wily, 2003, 64-65.