Hidden Gems 9 - April Fools’ Hidden Gem
April 24, 2013
I really enjoyed Stefanie G’s blog, The Origins of April Fool’s Day (posted on the Antioch Branch page on March 26, 2013). It struck a chord with me because I found evidence of an April Fool’s joke in the book I am currently reading.
The book is The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman. This nonfiction book is about how knowledge changes over time. For example, common knowledge in the 13th century held that the Earth was flat. As time went on, this fact was superseded when it was determined that the Earth was actually round. Even this fact was superseded as new surveying and cartographic measurement techniques determined that the Earth wasn’t a perfect sphere but actually a slightly, squashed oblate-spheroid that bulges at the equator.
One of the ways that assumptions become facts, according to Arbesman, is when learned journals publish scientific papers and those papers are cited in turn by other learned papers. For this week’s April Fools hidden gem, Arbesman’s book tells of citations in the literature attributable John Moriarity. He describes a reference to John Moriarity’s treatise on the binomial theorem published in the Bohemian Journal of Counting. The citation appears in the physics doctoral dissertation of one Kristian Kennaway, as student at the University of Southern California. Of course, John Moriarity is a totally fictional character (the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes). I haven’t been able to verify if the journal Kennaway cites actually exists or it it's a figment of his/her imagination as well. Arbesman surmises that Kennaway may have been having a little fun seeing if his doctoral committee members were paying attention. Arbeseman also tells the story of his aunt who placed a banana bread recipe in the middle of her master’s thesis. According to his aunt, no one noticed her little April Fool’s joke.
You might be tempted to attribute this blog to a little, "foolish" leg-pulling by this author. However, my citations are true and may be found on page 86 of the hardcover edition of The Half-Life of Facts. I found the book to be a great read and I highly recommend it.