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”.
The abstract read: “Emerging evidence indicates that dragons can no longer be dismissed as creatures of legend and fantasy, and that anthropogenic effects on the world's climate may inadvertently be paving the way for the resurgence of these beasts.”
Complete with a bunch of citations and fancy-looking graphs, the study looked pretty convincing. However, it did feature a subtle footnote saying “Some of the content of this article may merit a degree of skepticism.”
Pi = Atheist Propaganda
A newspaper article circulated on the Internet in April 1998, claiming that Alabama's state legislature had decided to round down the value of pi from 3.1415... to 3 in order to bring it more in line with the Bible, as per Snopes.
Of course, it was actually a very smart April Fool’s prank, poking fun at the New Mexico’s support for teaching creationism in schools.
Way back when on April 1, 1923, the German newspaper Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a Russian scientist had discovered a method of "harnessing the latent energy of the atmosphere," which the Soviets could use fling giant objects across the world with minimal effort.
Unfortunately, the joke flew over the heads of editors at the New York Times and they published a story about the discovery on their front page on April 3.
Google Heads For Mars
There are too many April fools’ pranks by Google to mention. Some of its best have included announcing a new Internet search app for your pets to use "at the press of a paw" and a new form of Chromecast for squirrels.
One of its sneakiest pranks though was the plan to expand their Google Cloud service to Mars in anticipation of “the exploration and ultimate colonization of the Red Planet.” You could even walk around the new Martian data center on Google Street View.
It’s 2018, you can’t be joking about with this kind of stuff anymore, Google.