________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 12. . . .November 20, 2009


Hoaxed! Fakes & Mistakes in the World of Science.

Editors of YES Mag. Illustrated by Howie Woo.
Toronto, ON: Kid Can Press, 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc., $8.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55453-207-0 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55453-206-3 (hc.).

Subject Heading:
Fraud in science-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4



A very few scientists still think southern England is susceptible to circle-making geomagnetic whirlwinds. Jeremy Northcote, an Australian researcher, decided to test this theory. He used computer software to map the distribution of crop circles reported in England in 2002. If crop circles were caused by some kind of natural phenomenon, such as whirlwinds, the circles would be scattered randomly, he reasoned. Yet he found that the circles were nearly always close to highly populated areas, main roads or cultural sites, such as Stonehenge.

Northcote concluded that the circles were not made by whirlwinds. Instead, the data suggested that the circles were deliberately created to attract attention.

Scientists now generally accept that crop circles are human made and consider more research a waste of time.

Most children (and adults) are intrigued by ideas strange and mysterious—unidentified flying objects, evolutionary missing links, crop circles, lake monsters. These mysteries and more are explored (and supposedly explained) in the book Hoaxed! Fakes & Mistakes in the World of Science. Authored by the editors of the science magazine for children, Yes Mag, the topics selected for inclusion in the book are interesting and will attract the attention of middle-school readers.

     Hoaxed! is positioned in the manner of providing an authoritative, scientific explanation to a variety of phenomena that some readers might not yet consider to be “case closed.” That said, the book’s content is organized and presented in a logical, thorough and convincing manner. The book encourages a scientific—and sceptical—approach to mysteries and wonders.

     Topics included in the book include such things as supposed archaeological findings, “lost” indigenous tribes, crop circles, the Roswell UFO sightings, the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. There is also a page devoted to what is entitled, “The Hoax that Wasn’t,” which then discusses the incredible platypus, originally thought by English naturalists receiving specimens from Australia to be a hoax stitched together with pieces from various birds and animals.

     One fraud I found particularly interesting was Richard Meinertzhagen, a famed ornithologist throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century. Unfortunately for Meinertzhagen’s legacy, after his death it was discovered that many of the bird skins in his private collection had been stolen from museums. Meinertzhagen had also been “gracious” enough to donate one of Charles Darwin’s tobacco pipes to a scientific society. The stem of the pipe was reportedly made from a bone from an albatross leg. The pipe was proudly placed on display. Alas, closer inspection revealed that the pipe was made in 1928—almost 50 years after Darwin’s death. What’s more, if the pipe’s stem truly was made from the leg of an albatross, the bird would have stood two metres tall—double the actual size of an albatross!

     My one reservation with the book has to do with the illustrations. While the photographs selected for inclusion are of a very good quality and serve their function well, the hand drawn illustrations are largely unsuitable. Howie Woo’s artwork lacks the sophistication of the text. There is incongruence between the text and the artwork that seems to serve little purpose and is, therefore, disconcerting. Kids Can Press is promoting the book for children ranging from grades 3 to 7. While the artwork is more appropriate for grade 3 students than grade 7, I believe that the sophistication of the text is too challenging for most of the younger students in Kids Can’s target age. Woo’s artwork is used on the cover of the book and, given the cover, I was surprised by the detailed complexity of the text. I think that some young readers might be drawn to the cover but then find the book difficult reading. Other, older, more capable middle-school readers might see the cover and not bother to open the book, mistakenly believing the book is for younger readers.

     Hoaxed! is 48 pages in length. It contains a table of contents, a glossary, an index and a final page list of photo credits. All of these features are useful inclusions for teachers who might want to use the book for instructional purposes in relation to approaching informational texts. Hoaxed! Fakes & Mistakes in the World of Science is a book that teachers will enjoy because it can be used to help keep the study of science a fun experience for children. I believe that this book will be a useful, popular addition to classroom library collections in middle-school and upper-elementary grade classrooms. Children will be drawn to the book’s content and will benefit from the scientific manner in which that content is presented.


Gregory Bryan teaches children’s literature at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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