My Top 5 | Scientific Sins

1. Around 1726, professor Johann Beringer, University of Wurtzburg, Germany, published a treatise, Lithographiae Wirceburgensis, about mysterious fossils that three boys claimed they found at nearby Mount Eivelstadt. But, they were fakes--part of a hoax conceived by junior faculty members. The hoaxers later tried to warn Beringer. When he received a fossil bearing his own name, he sued his fellow professors. But his treatise already had been published.

2. In 1835, the New York Sun published concocted articles about astronomer Sir John Herschel's sightings of beasts--half-man, half-bat--flying about the moon's surface. The reports said that the creatures' faces were "a slight improvement on that of a large orangutan." Circulation rose, but scientists were skeptical because telescopes at that time could not detect such detail on the moon's face. The publisher later confessed.

3. In 1961, Australian obstetrician William McBride wrote that thalidomide could...

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