Comment: About those newspaper stories

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About those newspaper stories

This article:
has some interesting things to say about 19th century "science" news, including some headlines that (if you take 19th century science reporting seriously) will give you a lot of starting points for new posts. Quoted in part below.

Mark Twain (the first one, not the one who posts here) wrote:

In the fall of 1862, in Nevada and California, the people got to running wild about extraordinary petrifactions and other natural marvels. One could scarcely pick up a paper without finding in it one or two glorified discoveries of this kind. The mania was becoming a little ridiculous. I was a brand-new local editor in Virginia City, and I felt called upon to destroy this growing evil; we all have our benignant, fatherly moods at one time or another, I suppose. I chose to kill the petrifaction mania with a delicate, a very delicate satire. But maybe it was altogether too delicate, for nobody ever perceived the satire part of it at all. I put my scheme in the shape of the discovery of a remarkably petrified man.

More on his prank here:
Cory Doctorow talking about it:

Don't miss Twain's remarks on how eager the press was to pick up his story even though it was "a string of roaring absurdities" written as a "satire on the petrifaction mania".

Then again, who are we to say that there really *isn't* a race of winged bat-men living on the moon in the 19th century? After all, it was reported in the newspaper.

Longer quote from the Colavito article:

Nineteenth century newspapers were notorious for making stuff up. Here are some of the other amazing “facts” papers of the time reported as absolutely true:

* Hans Pfall flies a hot air balloon to the moon (E. A. Poe, Southern Literary Messenger, 1835)
* A race of winged bat-men had a well-developed civilization on the moon. (NY Sun, 1835)
* A hot air balloon sailed across the Atlantic in 1844 (NY Sun, 1844)
* A Biblical “giant” was found in Cardiff, NY (most major papers, 1869)
* 100,000 pygmy human skeletons were found in a Tennessee cave (NY Times, 1874)
* Pre-Bigfoot “wild man” menaced Winsted, Connecticut (several NYC papers, 1895)
* Wooly mammoths are alive in Alaska (McClure’s, 1899)

As Mark Twain pointed out in creating his “A Petrified Man” hoax of 1861, stories of bizarre skeletons, petrified corpses, and other ancient anomalies were both wildly popular in regional newspapers and completely false. Using real (or realistic) names was part of the “fun” of Victorian journalism, which was closer to entertainment than the mid-twentieth century “objective” model we unconsciously assume is and has always been journalism’s goal. But again: 6 or 7 foot skeletons aren’t really “anomalous,” or “giants.”