NM Physicists Create Artificial Life on Web!
Post of the Month: May 1998
by Dave Thomas
NM Physicists Create Artificial Life on Web!
By Dave Thomas
courtesy NMSR Reports, May 1998, Vol. 4, No. 5.
New Mexico physicist Mark Boslough has done it! Working with yours truly, physicist Dave Thomas, we have created a new life form on the internet's Usenet pages. Boslough, a Sandia National Laboratories scientist, is also a board member of New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR). He wrote last month's April Fool's prank entitled "Alabama Legislature Lays Siege to pi," under the pen name of April Holiday of the Associmated Press.
No, the Alabama legislature did not vote to make the value of pi 3.0000 by law. Mark's April Fool's parody took recent statements of prominent New Mexicans on the topic of creationism vs. science, and set them in a different context, namely requiring pi to equal 3. Both situations, the real one in New Mexico, and the fictional one in Alabama, provide insight on what happens when plain scientific facts are politicized.
Alabama legislator Leonard Lee Lawson was modeled after NM statesenator Leonard Lee Rawson, who argued against evolution on the floor of theNM Senate by brandishing a stuffed monkey and saying "that's not my uncle." Rocket scientist Marshall Bergman was modeled after Marshall Berman, and Prof. Kim Johanson was based on the very male Kim Johnson. Propulsion technician Russell Humbleys was patterned after New Mexico creation physicist Russell Humphreys.
And Solomon Society member Roger Learned was cut from the mold of NM State Board of Education member (and celebrated creationist) Roger X. Lenard. Learned was quoted as follows. "These nabobs waltzed into the capital with an arrogance that was breathtaking. Their prefatorial deficit resulted in a polemical stance at absolute contraposition to the legislature's puissance."
This fake sound-bite was based on the following real-life polemic by New Mexican Roger Lenard: "The proponents of the bill [Senate Bill 155] swept into Santa Fe with an arrogance that was breathtaking, even within the puissance-laden halls of the Legislature."
But how did this prank yield life on the web? At Boslough's suggestion, on the morning of April 1, 1998, I posted the entire piece on the internet newsgroup called "talk.origins." The post had an "April/fool/html" web address included, along with hoax hints like "Associmated Press." I posted only to "talk.origins," as that is the premier site for discussions of creation/evolution. Late that night I posted a full confession and explanation on talk.origins. The postings sparked some indignant replies by creationists, and some hefty chuckles from Finland and elsewhere around the globe. And, after a few days, it all died down.
Or so I thought. While browsing the Usenet groups a couple of weeks later, I decided to see if there were any new comments on the old pi hoax.
Using the Deja News web-based news browser, (at http://www.dejanews.com), I searched for "Alabama Pi"... and got hundreds of hits! The tale of the Alabama legislature had grown exponentially, and was proliferating all over the web!
And, it was mutating. The original credits of "Associmated Press" had sometimes vanished, and new, official-sounding sources (like "SLA Physics") had appeared in their place. Alabamans were flaming each other about it in their newsgroup, and the Chinese were saying something about it, and Republicans and Democrats were arguing over it on a politics group, and the math groups were batting it around...and on and on! Recently, the prank has been picked up by the urban legends group, but it's also a big hit in Jewish culture.
Evidently, my original post was forwarded on April Fool's to several other newsgroups, such as sci.math. Apparently, my follow-up confession was not forwarded as much, and now appears to be quite extinct. But the Pi Hoax itself is strong and healthy, and enjoying considerable propagation all over the world. It's Survival of the Forwarded! I propose that the new Theory for this form of life be entitled "Forwarding with Modification."
One of the most surprising hits I got was in a little coffee-klatch newsgroup based on singer Tori Amos. A correspondent from Norway, Are-Morten Braaten, picked up on a line from the prank piece, and put it in her internet signature. So, letters posted by her in the Tori Amos group (and many others) are concluded with the sentence " 'I think it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, and it is time for them to admit it.' - Leonard Lee Lawson, upon introducing a bill to change the value of pi to exactly three in Alabama."
I'd say more than half of the internet people who comment on the prank realize it's a hoax. But there's quite a few who thought, or think, it's real. I'll post this explanation on the 'Net also, but I'm afraid the whole affair has gotten quite out of our hands. There's no telling how this new life form will mutate and evolve!
First posted 7 May 1998
Home Page | Browse | Search | Feedback | Links