April Fools' Day is a strange day in the calendar where tradition dictates that it's socially acceptable to deceive, trick, and pull pranks on people for the hell of it. While this longstanding custom is the bane of all news editors and fact checkers, scientists appear to revel in this brief period that permits them to abuse the public's trust in sciency-sounding things.
Here's a roundup of all the funniest, most devilish, and most convincing science-themed April Fools' Day pranks over the past century.
Ten years ago, the BBC claimed they had discovered a colony of flying penguins on King George Island near Antarctica. The short Youtube clip showed penguins launching themselves off the Antarctic ice, then flying to the tropical rainforests of South America and hanging out with toucans for the winter – it even had a Planet Earth-esque orchestral music score.
Just in case viewers were not totally clear it was an April fools’ joke, the scene was also presented by Terry Jones from Monty Python, not the soothing trustworthy voice of David Attenborough (David would never trick us like that).
Discovering The Bigon
In 1996, Discover Magazine reported on the discovery of a new fundamental particle of matter. On any other day, this would be a momentous discovery, but this was April 1. The fundamental particle was called “the Bigon” and it’s the size of a bowling ball, although it only exists for just millionths of a second.
Just in case you were dubious about the discovery, the article dryly notes: "Is there any chance that the bigon is just a figment – or some kind of ridiculous April Fool’s joke, as virtually all other physicists are saying? People are so cynical, responds Zweistein. Science, he points out, routinely produces findings that seem too marvelous to be believed – and that yet turn out to be true."
CERN Finds Evidence For The Force
In 2015, CERN took a brief break from unraveling the fabric of the universe to lay out a grand April Fools’ prank. They issued a press release announcing the “first unequivocal evidence for the Force.”
Details of the Force were hazy, but it could reportedly be used for “long-distance communication, influencing minds, and lifting heavy things out of swamps.” The breakthrough came from a seminal paper by Ben Kenobi of the prestigious University of Mos Eisley in Tatooine. A small green spokesperson for the laboratory also noted: “Very impressive, this result is.”
Just in case their readers had been living under a Star Wars-proof rock since 1977, CERN revealed the next day that it was an April fools' joke.
Here Be Dragons
Nature is one of the most authoritative publishers of scientific papers in the world, so you can imagine the surprise – and excitement – when they published an article on April 1, 2015, called “Zoology: Here Be Dragons”.