Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
List of Hoaxes on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org)
181 points by 1_over_n on Nov 9, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments

I wonder if any of these are actually not hoaxes, but simply unverifiable or insufficiently notable. Quite a few of the hoax articles are bands, for example; isn't it more likely that they were real, and only played a show or two in some backwater town, rather than being invented whole-cloth? Maybe someday there will be a "List of Wikipedia articles that were considered hoaxes but were actually true."

This one is pretty hilarious though:

"Fictitious claim that the founder of Orange Julius invented auto-cleaning spectacles, an inflatable shrimp trap, and a portable pigeon-bathing unit. Dairy Queen, which now owns Orange Julius, was fooled; the company based an entire ad campaign around the hoax and produced this video[1] about Julius Freed's supposed inventions."

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj1Ts1X6Vt0

And this one seems to explain the origins of a lot of hoax articles:

"After being repeated tens of times, sometimes by journalists and academics, the hoax was identified by EJ Dickson, one of its authors, turned journalist, who had written it as a joke with a friend while 'stoned'."

> isn't it more likely that they were real, and only played a show or two in some backwater town, rather than being invented whole-cloth?

I only briefly paged through that page, but in the sommary for almost all of those bands it says that they were credited with some nonexistent hit song, or had released albums, or all died in an airplane accident.

In all those cases there would have been verifiable records if the whole article wasn't a hoax. I.e. those articles were not simply about some obscure bands that didn't look all that notable, but had a long list of made-up "facts" in them.

That video does not seem like the work of someone who was fooled.

Indeed; looks very much like they’re leaning into the hoax.

I wonder how many undetected hoaxes are still up. The median uptime seems to be half a decade.

I wonder if the Lindy effect applies to undetected hoaxes, and what the longest uptime might be.

Indeed, the article mentions this explicitly:

>While most hoaxes on Wikipedia are short-lived (90% of discovered hoaxes are flagged within one hour of creation and only 1% of hoaxes persist for more than a year), those that make it past this initial screening have an increased probability of continuing to "survive" and remain a part of Wikipedia for much longer (if a hoax survives past its first day, it has an 18% probability of lasting for a year or more).

in a similar vein, i was also wondering how many are still on there and yet to be determined hoaxes. Someone with more time than me could see if you can use the existing hoax data to create an algorithm to flag hoax potential and run it on randomly scraped wiki articles...

> but simply unverifiable or insufficiently notable

I presume the internet archive or wayback machine would have them saved?

My girlfriend and l I wrote a completely fictitious wiki article about a non existent musician after watching this is spinal tap when we were bored and stoned one day years and years ago because we thought it would be funny and the movie inspired. We wrote a whole life story and everything. I'm pretty sure it's long gone.

This one is interesting considering it almost became a 'featured article':

> Bicholim conflict

> Fictitious war between the Portuguese rulers of Goa and the Maratha Empire which supposedly took place from mid-1640 to early 1641. It was assessed as a good article in September 2007, but failed a featured article nomination the next month as page numbers were not provided for references. ShelfSkewed (talk · contribs) investigated these references in 2012 and found that the main works cited do not actually exist. One of the longest and most elaborate hoax articles on Wikipedia. Probably the only to have been assessed a good article.

> One way to identify hoax articles included examining the article structure and content, its mentions in other articles on Wikipedia (i.e., embeddedness), and features of the editor who created the page. Specifically, hoax articles are likely to be longer than a legitimate article, less likely to have links to other Wikipedia articles, references, images, or other "wiki-like" markup, less likely to be mentioned in other Wikipedia articles before its creation, and more likely to be created by a new account with few to no other edits.

Wikipedia benefits from this kind of metadata. Earlier ages didn't.

The large number of articles, some of them evading detection for many years, makes you wonder about the hoaxes that may have been perpetrated in earlier times, but are now accepted as fact.

There's a fantastic video by CGP Grey about him digging down into a specific historical fact, and proves it to be a myth:


It's a fantastic piece on critical thinking and chasing sources to figure out if something is really true or not.

That was a great video, but I feel like I just viewed a decent into madness.

What if our entire history is a hoax + confirmation bias? Sounds crazy but some sources claim they know what some guy said to another guy a few thousands years ago - isn't that crazy? You could make some part of it in the 17th century and no one would notice as long as it sounds pretty and does not contradict previously made stories.

You can go check. The historical sites and documents are around to look at. You might have to learn several dead languages, of course.

With military events there were attempts to fib by exaggerating military victories, or claiming a defeat was a victory. If it's relatively modern there are usually multiple perspectives, and you can go try to find evidence at the site.

We have documentary and archaeological sources to corroborate our model of the historical record, and scientific methods to determine the age and authenticity of those sources to a reasonable degree. While hoaxes do exist, they tend to be discovered in time, and it is unlikely that the entire historical record, including all physical artifacts, are hoaxes or frauds. It isn't the case that anything that "sounds pretty and does not contradict previously made stories" is automatically assumed to be correct - the various sciences and disciplines that make up historical research are not that naive, nor do they operate entirely on hearsay and speculation.

If you worked in academia, you know how the review process is happening. Even if you deal with exact science papers, most of them are misleading in some way (fortunately, you can show it since it is exact science). History is full of politics and it is pretty costly to go against it. In practice, when you have a story accepted as fact, you job is to put a little peace to supplement it. If you deviate too far, you will be destroyed by the ones whose current job is also add a little peace. For instance, there is a huge political aspect to who did what first and where.

There's still a big difference between "politics sometimes affects academia" and "everything we know is a lie."

Obviously not everything but more than one would think is acceptable. Standing on the shoulders of giants sometimes has its cons.

How do you know, though?

You seem to be using generalities to talk around specifics, what specifically are you referring to, and what evidence do you have?

OP's comment about 'everything' is uselessly broad.

Turns out, if you dont look... you wont know. So you reasonably asked where to look.

Secrets, often as myths, are the rule, not the exception. I think of the difference in knowledge like any across variable, voltage for example. The larger the difference, the more leverage is available. There's a vid in my profile, one _could_ watch it.

If I would talk about specifics, you could supplement your sentence "what evidence do you have" with "regarding X" but since I don't talk about specifics, I don't need to.

If something is generally true then their must exist many specific cases of it being true. Therefore it’s reasonable to require people making general arguments to provide at least one specific example. Because if they can’t that directly invalidates their argument.

>> Because if they can’t that directly invalidates their argument.

No, it does not since this is not how logic and science work. You just stay with a claim that is missing a support but it does not mean that the claim is false.

>> Therefore it’s reasonable to require people making general arguments to provide at least one specific example.

Alright. Please read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy and let me know what is the main thing you are uncomfortable with (if any). If there is a match, then I will provide another example.

You’re misinterpreting what I said.

Invalidating an argument does not mean the conclusion is always false. Otherwise you could prove any theorem A by finding a single contradiction invalidating a poof of !A.

PS: Sorry, I can’t help myself... 1 + 1 = 5 therefore P != NP. Wait 1 + 1 = 2 therefore P = NP. Sadly that’s not going to fly.

This reminds me of the time someone tried to convince the fan community for Inspector Gadget of the existence of an entire Gadget animated series that never aired in America that centered around a romantic relationship between Gadget and another character of her own creation. She went to great lengths to forge evidence of the obscure cartoon's existence, including creating screen shots in Photoshop, inventing fictitious voice actors with fictitious résumés involving voice work on other fictitious shows, and creating a large number of sockpuppet accounts supposedly of people who had seen or were fans of the fictitious show. Wikipedia and IMDB had listings for the series, before the hoax was exposed.

Oddly enough the "Gadget hoax" once had its own Wikipedia article, but that was deleted long ago, presumably for non-notability.

First hoax in the list, "Fictitious biography about a Belgian painter".

It was in place for 13 years, 4 months

But the kicker?

> Speedy deleted as "G3: Blatant hoax"

If that's speedy, what's slow!?

"speedy deletion" is a kind of article deletion, where the wikipedia admin can skip the discussion/consensus stage. The speediness refers to the time between when the deletion nomination is submitted and the article is deleted. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Criteria_for_speedy_...)

Yes, wouldn't want to waste any time; who knows how much harm it could have.

You can still have a a "speedy trial" even if you're not arrested until 20 years after you committed the crime.

All the planning charts and deletion orders were on display at Alpha Centauri.

I know the guy that wrote it. We worked at the same company for a while. I feel a bit bad for not calling it out now tbh.

Back in the early 80's I regularly said I was an airline pilot or worked at NASA to impress girls in bars. My gran went to her grave proudly thinking I'd been up to space on a secret mission, and there are still a few people out in the world who will swear they met a real double-agent or the guy who designed the lotus esprit..

Harmless fun, but not really possible to get away with these days..

Damn you Google!

So .. it is possible to google the names of double agents now? I mean, you can google the designer of the lotus esprit, but secret missions are still secret missions, so you can still try to be a con artist.

The scariest one on here is the article on "Bine", a "Fictional ancient Akkadian demon", not just because it was up for over 12 years but it was republished somewhere else.

> Despite having no sources, the hoax was included in Theresa Bane's Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures, published by McFarland & Company in 2012.

This one was up for 7yrs:

> Chen Fang

> A Wikipedian noticed in November 2012 that The Harvard Guide to Using Sources said that "an Expos student who was writing a paper about the limitations of Wikipedia posted a fictional entry for himself, stating that he was the mayor of a small town in China. Four years later, if you type in his name, or if you do a subject search on Wikipedia for mayors of towns in China, you will still find this fictional entry." No longer.

One could say that the existence if demons has to start somewhere...

Most of these look exceptionally boring. If you want the good stuff in the wikivandalism genre, you want Bad Jokes And Other Deleted Nonsense: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Silly_Things

There’s an entire wiki dedicated to nonsense:


The length of time the "Tim Verfaillie" hoax stood unchallenged impressive - over 13 years.

The article's author has few contributions, and hasn't been active since 2006 (on the English Wikipedia, at least): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Bruges

I wonder how many other hoax articles are out there, having existed for decades without proper verification or review.

My favorite hoaxes are ones that totally fool some entity that really should know better like the Time Magazine Marblecake hoax. It was fun reading the mini articles on each listed person, stretching a rationale for why they're on the list. https://techcrunch.com/2009/04/27/time-magazine-throws-up-it...

I remember finding some physical constant in a Wikipedia article with more decimals than what I knew about. I've verified that and have found that these decimals were bogus, and existed there in the article for quite a while (e.g. two years).

I've never tried to right that wrong, believing it would take a lot of my energy.

Don't believe Wikipedia blindly, even for the physical constants.

I know this may have been a long time ago, and you decided it wasn't worth the effort making and defending the edit, but making a mention of your references on the talk page for the article could bring the error to the attention of other editors.


"1907 IAU definition of the Angstrom: Was it 6438.4696, or was it 6438.46963 (???)

I was wondering why I was coming up with 1553164.117 wavelengths of the cadmium red-line per 10^10 angstroms (the so-called "Cadmium meter", per the 1907 IAU definition given as 6438.46963), while virtually all internet searches were coming up with "1553164.13".

Later, I managed to trace a change in the article from 6438.4696 to 6438.46963 in an unsourced one-character edit by, all the way back to 2008.

I suspect that 6438.4696 (which yields 1553164.12459 per 10^10 (1907) angstroms) is correct (based on the printed publications which I have come across), and the error has since propagated to several other websites that have used Wikipedia as a reference. Should this ten-year-old edit be reverted, or not? DWIII (talk) 14:42, 3 September 2018 (UTC)"

After reading that, to find some who have since 2008 wrongly used that bogus constant (even in some books), search for:


Come on; what was the physical constant?

I want to live in the alternate universe where Borges and Umberto Eco are still alive and use this phenomenon as inspiration.

I went in looking for things I thought were real - the Spanish tickler is a hoax?

As a mathematician, I admire the mindset of someone who uses a list of falsehoods to test his or her beliefs.

Most of them are bizarre in both subject matter and specificity (I suppose necessarily in order to get away with it) - I just don't understand the motivation.

Whoever invented “Synchronized Football” deserves some kind of prize.

What about this fake Nazi death camp, apparently a hoax by Polish nationalists?


What about it? It's the first entry under "Hoax statements in articles".

I'm so proud, my younger brother is the creator one of these when he was in middle school.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but are you really proud of someone for willfully misleading people and undermining the credibility for one of the greatest collections of human knowledge ever amassed?

I get that there's a certain thrill to "getting one over" on a large establishment; but your brother's actions, while ultimately inconsequential, are nothing to be proud of. Part of a good prank is that it does no harm.

Lighten up. Humor has its place. Are you not sure that these actions might serve the public to be more critical of what they read online, thereby doing them a great service?

He made a page on his own name making up his biography that's it, nothin particular nefarious. I think it's funny as shit because nobody even knew about it until it got flagged.

This is really terrifying. Imagine what governments and elites could do across generations if they can popularize belief & debate over entrenched hoax articles that shape debate over geopolitics.

I'm more concerned by often concerted efforts to get corporate and personal pages to reflect the image they want to project, rather than the actuality. A hoax may be widely believed, but at least it can be fact checked.

Lots of individual controversies seem to tone down to pretty uncontroversial and a few disappear altogether. I don't think there's an easy solution, especially when it may often involve those who can simply throw more people at the problem until it goes away...

In this case I wouldn't worry too much. If you look through those hoax articles, you'll notice that almost all of them barely qualify as stubs (very short) and have few-to-no citations or incoming links. The fact that they survived so long is probably due to the fact Wikipedia is huge and simply nobody noticed them. What good is propaganda if unseen?

You can look up the traffic to a page:


It'd be interesting to write a crawler to look for "stubbish" articles then checks if they're widely read, then flags a human if so.

Much like the Russian newspapers I don't think this will be taken very seriously as a source like Wikipedia... the only reason this might be 'scary' is how Wikipedia gives them credibility.

Russia creating a propaganda site provides none of that.

It's happening already. I've found people on this very website who continue to cite Pizzagate and Qanon. Something like a third of the US voting public simply doesn't trust sources like Wikipedia at all, and can be fed whatever someone dreams up as long as it's sold well.

I’m the U.K., most of the arguments made against the EU were either not related to the EU or even completely made up.

One of the hoaxes is about a "fake" mythical demon. At what point is mythology or a religion no longer considered a hoax?

Yeah, it makes no sense. I wrote an article about the Shakespeare character "Hank" who saved Hamlet's life. It got deleted because Hank "isn't a real character." I pointed out that Hamlet "isn't real" either, but I just got IP banned. This is why Trump won.

You know, you would have more credibility, if you would link to that discussion, so other people know, it really happened the way you say it did ..

You, uh, might want to learn to recognize irony a bit better.

(To make it absolutely explicit: pgcj_poster is not relating a story that actually happened. They're taking on a fictional persona -- and relating a fictional story that happened to this fictional persona -- and making a facetious point as that persona in order to demonstrate that jdavis703's point makes no sense, by making an argument which is analogous but obviously ridiculous.)

Thats a relief ...

It didn't happen, he's being sarcastic.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact