Friday, June 18, 2010

Peer review and fantastic stories (video)

i09 (Greg Fish)

Thanks to Kat for pointing me to this slightly unusual video contribution!

This spoof video takes you deep into Kraken anatomy, and is hilarious. But, as Greg Fish argues, it also teaches a serious lesson about crank science.

This video took all those curious into the bowels of a creature big enough to swallow ships whole and decapitate eight men with just one of its monstrous suckers. In other words, it was a complete work of fiction spoofing pseudoscientific naturalists of the nineteenth century who couldn't even tell the difference between squid and octopi trying their best to pass off tall tales as the results of years of painstaking research, in an ad for Kraken Brand rum.

The video is funny and should be enjoyed for what it is, but it does strike a note if we look back at what it is spoofing. Back in the nineteenth century, before peer review was as widely used as it is today, the scientists and historians of the time would often make plenty of unsubstantiated claims published in journals which were read by those who were considered wealthy intellectuals, and these claims often stuck for many a decade. Egyptologists are still correcting fictional histories and conspiracy theories about everything from the history of the Sphinx, to the real cause of King Tut's death.

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