Blog Posts

Gender Studies Hoaxers Kick an Academic Hornet’s Nest

Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Parody, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Skeptic magazine reveals an Alan Sokal-style hoax on the journal Cogent Social Sciences–an attempt to mock both what the authors perceive to be the excesses of feminist academia and open-access or pay-to-publish journals. So far, they have at least succeeded in getting a lot of attention, pro and con.

“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies”
by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsey
May 19, 2017

The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

That's how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a "paper" consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.
This paper should never have been published. Titled, "The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct," our paper "argues" that "The penis vis-à -vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct." As if to prove philosopher David Hume's claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. (In case the PDF is removed, we've archived it.)

Assuming the pen names "Jamie Lindsay" and "Peter Boyle," and writing for the fictitious "Southeast Independent Social Research Group," we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn't be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what "post-structuralist discursive gender theory" actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal. Read more.

The Great Modernist Poetry Prank

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, Parody, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Satire, The History of Pranks

The Futility Closet podcast investigates two Australian army officers whose antipathy for the arts establishment inspired them to create a fake writer and receive embarrassing critical acclaim. Take some time to pore over the copious background materials and keep in mind that this predates the Sokal Hoax by almost five decades.

“The Great Australian Poetry Hoax”
by Greg Ross
Futility Closet
October 17, 2016

2016-10-17-podcast-episode-126-ern-malleyIn 1943, fed up with modernist poetry, two Australian servicemen invented a fake poet and submitted a collection of deliberately senseless verses to a Melbourne arts magazine. To their delight, they were accepted and their author hailed as “one of the most remarkable and important poetic figures of this country.” In this week”™s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we”™ll tell the story of the Ern Malley hoax, its perpetrators, and its surprising legacy in Australian literature.

We”™ll also hear a mechanized Radiohead and puzzle over a railroad standstill. Read more.

An Internet Writer Breaks Up With Her Boyfriend Over Trump… You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

The ferocious and funny Anna Merlan takes an impressively deep dive into the made-up career of Rachel Brewson, the JT LeRoy of womens-interest clickbait.

“The Team of Men Behind Rachel Brewston, the Fake Woman Whose Trump-Fueled Breakup Went Viral”
by Anna Merlan
October 4, 2016

aotp_brewsonIn December 2015, readers at women”™s site xoJane were enthralled and filled with all-caps rage by Rachel Brewson, a self-described “giant liberal” who boldly declared her love for a Republican named Todd. She described, in rapturous terms, how the couple”™s political disagreements fueled an ecstatic third-date bipartisan fuck-fest that soon flowered into a real relationship.

Mid-date, they got into a “heated debate” about politics, Brewson wrote. They fought from wherever the date took place (she didn”™t say), into the street, and into a cab. The discussion ended when Todd””who, as it turned out, was a gun-loving, Iraq-war-supporting libertarian””manfully invited himself up to her apartment.

“What followed was the best sex of my life up to that point,” Brewson wrote, whose author bio said she was a “dating editor” at a site called Review Weekly. “Somehow the political tension between us had transformed into sexual tension. I was hooked.”

The post was a modest success””it was shared just under 3,000 times on social media, and racked up 1,000 comments on xoJane itself (whose editor-in-chief is Jane Pratt of Sassy fame. The site was purchased by Time. Inc last fall). Many of those comments complained about Rachel”™s privileged white-woman version of liberalism, which allowed her to ignore “petty differences”””her term””between her and Todd on issues like immigration.

“He flashed some money your way and you”™re ready to label things like rape culture and systematic racism as “˜petty differences,”™” one commenter fumed. “You aren”™t as liberal as you want to believe you are.”

Three months later, the fairytale was over. (more…)

Inside the Amazon Million Dollar e-Book Scam

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Literary Hoaxes

In a complex whirlwind of a story, ZDNet digs into a bizarre tech scam involving bots, bad e-books, Amazon Kindle, Tor, and one unscrupulous engineer.

“Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars”
by Zach Whittaker
September 27, 2016

Emma Moore could have been the health and weight loss guru you spent your life looking for.

aotp_kindlecatfishYou might be forgiven for not knowing her work — after all, she has a common name, one that she shares with other similarly successful authors on Amazon. Until this week, she had dozens of health, dieting, cooking, and weight loss ebooks to her name. She published over a dozen ebooks on Amazon this year — five ebooks alone this month. And Moore would even work with other authors — like Nina Kelly, Andrew Walker, and Julia Jackson — who have all published about a dozen ebooks each this year as well.

Here’s the snag: to our knowledge, Moore doesn’t exist. None of them do.

Moore was just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated “catfishing” scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinked Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which were boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers.

Catfishing isn’t new — it’s been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system.

Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work — especially one that’s been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance.

Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon’s shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags.

What eventually gave him away weren’t customer complaints or even getting caught by the bookseller. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server. Read more.

Uncle Sam’s Imaginary Pen Pal

Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog examines the canon of opinion writer Guy Sims Fitch, a prolific non-existent writer for the United States Information Agency.

“Meet Guy Sims Fitch, a Fake Writer Invented by the United States Government”
by Matt Novak
September 27, 2016

aotp_guysimsfitchGuy Sims Fitch had a lot to say about the world economy in the 1950s and 60s. He wrote articles in newspapers around the globe as an authoritative voice on economic issues during the Cold War. Fitch was a big believer in private American investment and advocated for it as a liberating force internationally. But no matter what you thought of Guy Sims Fitch”™s ideas, he had one big problem. He didn”™t exist.

Guy Sims Fitch was created by the United States Information Agency (USIA), America”™s official news distribution service for the rest of the world. Today, people find the term “propaganda” to be incredibly loaded and even negative. But employees of the USIA used the term freely and proudly in the 1950s and 60s, believing that they were fighting a noble and just cause against the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism. And Guy Sims Fitch was just one tool in the diverse toolbox of the USIA propaganda machine.

“I don”™t mind being called a propagandist, so long as that propaganda is based on the truth,” said Edward R. Murrow in 1962. Murrow took a job as head of the USIA after a long and celebrated career as a journalist, and did quite a few things during his tenure that would make modern journalists who romanticize “the good old days” blush.

But even when USIA peddled its own version of the truth, the propaganda agency wasn”™t always using the most, let”™s say, truthful of methods. Their use of Guy Sims Fitch””a fake person whose opinions would be printed in countries like Brazil, Germany, and Australia, among others””served the cause of America”™s version of the truth against Communism during the Cold War, even if Fitch”™s very existence was a lie.

Read more.

The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.

“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.

Truman Capote’s Last Write: A Fake Non-Fiction Masterpiece

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Reprinted from 1992 by, here’s the fascinating unraveling of Truman Capote’s mysterious and clearly fake “non-fiction account of an American crime”.

Hoax: Secrets That Truman Capote Took to the Grave
by Peter and Leni Gillman
Sunday Times Magazine
June, 1992

Uncovering the real story behind a supposedly true account.

Truman Capote

Joe Fox was astounded. On his desk, this late autumn day in 1979, was a manuscript bearing the name of Truman Capote. Two months before, Capote had promised Fox a “surprise,” but Fox had been unimpressed: as Capote’s long-suffering editor at the New York publishing company, Random House, he had grown weary of his endless promises. Now Capote had delivered a manuscript to rank with his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

Published 13 years before, Capote’s true-life account of the murder of a ranching family in Kansas had brought him literary acclaim, with status and royalties to march. Yet Capote had written nothing to match it since. He had supposedly been working on a novel, Answered Prayers, but for more than a decade Fox had watched deadlines come and go with nothing from Capote but a series of excuses.

The gossip-mongers of the literary world were proclaiming that Capote was burnt out, his sources of inspiration dissipated by alcohol and cocaine. Now Capote had confounded them all by delivering a sequel to In Cold Blood. He called it Hand-Carved Coffins, adding the potent subtitle: “A non-fiction account of an American crime.”

Read the whole story here.

Catching Up With Serial Fabulist Stephen Glass

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Hanna Rosin attempts to square up with her former bestie, one of American journalism’s most notorious bullshitters.

Bonus: has a confounding collection of essays on frauds in journalism.

“Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I”™m Sorry”
By Hanna Rosin
The New Republic
November 10, 2014

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.


The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he”™d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper”™s, and Rolling Stone””each one a home run.

I didn”™t know when he called me that he”™d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn”™t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can”™t fire you. He can”™t possibly think you would do that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve”™s charms, was as right as he”™d been in his life. (more…)

Literary Camouflage

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Literary Camouflage
by Steven Hayward
Wall Street Journal
June 23, 2011

Eric Blair contemplated calling himself H. Lewis Allways, P.S. Burton, Kenneth Miles””or George Orwell.

Eleven years ago, a writer named JT LeRoy stormed the literary world. The 19-year-old son of a truck-stop prostitute, LeRoy published a semi-autobiographical novel called “Sarah” recounting his experiences as a “lot lizard”””a child hustler and prostitute””in the truck stops of West Virginia. The book quickly accumulated prominent supporters, including Winona Ryder and Madonna. Obsessively reclusive, LeRoy allowed himself to be interviewed only by telephone; he refused to give public readings, often having one of his famous admirers stand in for him. There was a second book, a movie deal and by 2005 the literary tastemaker Dave Eggers was commending the young writer to posterity: LeRoy’s two titles would “prove to be among the most influential American books in the last ten years.”

Less than a year later, LeRoy was revealed as a hoax: Laura Albert, a woman old enough to be LeRoy’s mother, confessed, amid mounting media speculation, that she created the alter ego””and had never even visited West Virginia. The film company that had optioned the novel successfully sued Ms. Albert for fraud. Throughout the trial, Ms. Albert defended her right to use a nom de plume, contending that her work should be read as part of a long and distinguished line of pseudonymous texts. “LeRoy was a veil upon a veil,” Ms. Albert later told the Paris Review, “I never saw it as a hoax.”

As Carmela Ciuraru observes in “Nom de Plume,” her “secret history” of pseudonyms, there is nothing new about literary masquerades. (more…)

Steinbeck’s Literary License

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks

A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley
by Charles McGrath
The New York Times
April 3, 2011

In the fall of 1960 an ailing, out-of-sorts John Steinbeck, pretty much depleted as a novelist, decided that his problem was he had lost touch with America. He outfitted a three-quarter-ton pickup truck as a sort of land yacht and set off from his home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., with his French poodle, Charley, to drive cross-country. The idea was that he would travel alone, stay at campgrounds and reconnect himself with the country by talking to the locals he met along the way.

Steinbeck”™s book-length account of his journey, “Travels with Charley,” published in 1962, was generally well reviewed and became a best-seller. It remains in print, regarded by some as a classic of American travel writing. Almost from the beginning, though, a few readers pointed out that many of the conversations in the book had a stagey, wooden quality, not unlike the dialogue in Steinbeck”™s fiction.

Early on in the book, for example, Steinbeck has a New England farmer talking in folksy terms about Nikita S. Khrushchev”™s shoe-pounding (or -brandishing, depending on whom you ask) speech at the United Nations weeks before Khrushchev actually visited the United Nations. A particularly unlikely encounter occurs at a campsite near Alice, N.D., where a Shakespearean actor, mistaking Steinbeck for a fellow thespian, greets him with a sweeping bow, saying, “I see you are of the profession,” and then proceeds to talk about John Gielgud.

Even Steinbeck”™s son John said he was convinced that his father never talked to many of the people he wrote about, and added, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].” (more…)

LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fortieth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author
By W.J. Elvin III
November 20, 2009

pride, prejudice, zombies200It seems a sad thing that writers who keep on pumping out books after they are dead aren’t around to enjoy the benefits. Maybe there are literary awards passed out in heaven? “Best Book By A Recently-Deceased Author.”

I got to thinking about that after learning that mystery writer and outdoor expert William G. Tapply, who had become just plain “Bill” over the course of our correspondence last year, died recently. He left several books still to be published.

What that leads into is the issue of after-death publishing, not the posthumous publication of completed works as in Tapply’s case but works produced under an author’s name but actually involving other writers.

Sometimes such books are based on partially completed manuscripts, or even derived from ideas jotted on a cocktail napkin. If that.

The issue takes some odd turns. (more…)

LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty eighth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark
By W.J. Elvin III
November 6, 2009

There are a great many mysteries in the field of literary deception.

amberwitch-200So it is always a pleasure to learn of a new book that may shed light.

Having seen advance reviews some time ago in the British Press, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Melissa Katsoulis’ Literary Hoaxes.

Well, it’s a grand overview, a nice line-up of the usual suspects, but I’m less than delighted. Hoaxes raises many more questions than it answers, most of the questions resulting from a failure to source the tales therein.

How is it Katsoulis knows so much about William Henry Ireland, the young Shakespeare forger of the late 1700s?

Who told Katsoulis that the American Indian imposter Grey Owl was once recognized through his feathers by his very British aunts, who decided to keep their observation a secret?

And what assurance do we have that the author has her facts straight regarding Pierre Plantard’s part in creating the hoax behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

And so on, and on.

The book has no citations, no bibliography. No index, though the table of contents serves the purpose in a basic way. There just aren’t many signposts to guide those who might want to know more about any given topic. (more…)

LiteratEye #27: The Plagiarist – A Literary Vampire?

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty seventh installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #27: The Plagiarist – A Literary Vampire?
By W.J. Elvin III
August 21, 2009

Twilight-PosterJordan Scott claims mega-best-selling author Stephenie Meyer stole some plot ideas for her teenage vampire romance series.

Based on particulars I’ve seen, Scott’s chances of chomping into Meyer’s colossal publishing and film cake are somewhere between slim and none.

There are similarities in the story in question, but coincidence of ideas and phrases is hardly unique in literature.

Generally speaking, plagiarism has more to do with intent than with specifics. Of course there are some blatant cases, as in the one to be discussed further along here, where material is lifted practically “as is.”

Seems like any author who hits it big – Dan Brown and A.J. Rowling come immediately to mind – attracts plagiarism charges and/or lawsuits.

And there are cases in the past – Alex Haley and Roots for instance — where charges have held up. Haley settled with Harry Courlander, author of “The African,” for $650,000.

Well, let’s move on to a case where the hijacking was indisputable. Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist by Neal Bowers details the relentless pursuit of a plagiarist who stole poems, changing them only slightly before sending them off to small literary magazines as his own. (more…)

LiteratEye #26: How to Catch a Clever Literary Con Artist

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #26: How to Catch a Clever Literary Con Artist
By W.J. Elvin III
August 14, 2009

From The Sydney Morning Herald:


“OK, Norma, put down that knife”¦”

Norma Khoury, the author of a fake tragic memoir that was the topic of last week’s LiteratEye column, seems to have a few character defects beyond lying about her past. (more…)

LiteratEye #25: A Case of Catch Me If You Can

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty fifth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #25: A Case of Catch Me If You Can
By W.J. Elvin III
August 7, 2009

“All Arab men are taught that it is their responsibility to discipline the women in their lives, and that the best way to do so is corporal punishment.”

51636G4GY0L._SS500_200That’s not a true or false question, at least it didn’t start out that way. It’s a pivotal “fact” in Norma Khouri’s formerly best-selling Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern Jordan. Internationally, with the title changed to Forbidden Love, the book was published in at least 15 countries.

Khouri presented herself as an oppressed young Jordanian woman fleeing the wrath of religion-maddened murderers. Her persecutors were ticked off because of Khouri’s part in her best friend’s very tame love affair, hardly more than a flirtation.

Under Islamic tradition and law, Khouri told readers, such carrying-on warranted killing.

A few years back, Australian journalist Malcolm Knox exposed the book as mostly imagined.

It was revealed that Khouri actually grew up in Chicago as Norma Bagain and later as Mrs. John Touliopoulos. She relocated to Australia, somewhat hurriedly due to the FBI’s desire to question her about a real estate scam.

Khouri admits to fabricating minor details and says she did so in order to protect herself and others.

Reporters and other commentators say she also made up major details. (more…)