Is it ever ethical to perpetrate a hoax?

Is it ever ethical to perpetrate a hoax?

What if you enter into a hoax with the intent to eventually reveal yourself as a fraud, and that your stated goal was to raise awareness of hoaxers and pseudo-science?

Here is an example of what I am talking about.

Let’s say that I contact the producers of a certain late night radio show and claim to be a whistle blower, or to have knowledge of some type of fringe science or fantastic claim.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that I am claiming to have evidence of one of the popular topics that are routinely discussed on these shows, UFOs, time travel, Bigfoot, or any other conspiracy theory.

Let’s pretend, that I am interesting and charismatic enough to become a popular guest on the conspiracy theory talk show circuit.

Let’s also pretend that before setting this hoax into motion, that I obtained legal advice, and left a detailed letter of intent with a set release date to reveal the truth about my hoax.

In your opinion, would the potential harm and embarrassment that I could bring upon the producers of these shows that routinely pander to belief in fringe topics like the paranormal or pseudo-science be justified?

What if I managed to make money off the hoax?

In your opinion, would it be noble if I donated any profit that I made from this to a worthy cause?

What if I flaunted the fact that I made money off this, and publicly ridiculed those who fell for my hoax?

Would that carry an even more powerful message and garner more attention?

What if I made virtually no money, but just claimed that I made lots money, just to draw more attention to the hoax?

What if it was completely obvious that I was insincere about any claims of educating people to be skeptical. In fact, what if I was over-the-top sarcastic about teaching people a lesson, and “doing good” to the point it was comical?

In the court of public opinion, which of these post-hoax tactics do you think would play the best?

If the real goal was not so much to promote skepticism, but to grab 15 minutes of fame to promote a secondary project, how would that alter your opinion?

Would you consider a person who did something like this a total jackass, or would you have any admiration for them?

Perhaps I am kidding myself, but after listening to some of these shows, I am convinced that I could appear more credible, and more interesting of a guest than the majority of the ones they routinely feature.

Let’s hear you opinions, and any potential pitfalls you might see if the hoax got out of hand.

Intentional lying is bad, always. There is no up-side here, no matter how strongly you try to justify it with “what ifs.”

I would consider you a complete jackass.

I disagree with the esteemed representative of the Bat Community. If one were to create a hoax that could cause people harm, yes, that would be wrong, but jerking around the woosters about Bigfoot? How could that have a downside? And why would you announce to them that they’d been punked? You could ride that to the bank for years, but I think there’s more money in UFOs.

But Absinthe Anecdote, because you thought this through so thoroughly and so (scrunching my nose in distaste) responsibly, I fear you lack the bit of larceny in your soul required to pull it off. Like I lack the ability to keep a straight face long enough to pull it off. Feel good; the people who do what I talked of are a bit on the sociopathic side.

I like your username and welcome aboard!

The Sokal Hoax?

Not true. To use a classic example, if you know where some Jews are hiding from the Nazis, it’s virtuous to lie to the Nazis about whether or not you know where any Jews are.

James Randi has created quite a few hoaxes. It can be very educational, and he lets others in on it eventually, but not before exposing how gullible people can be.

A classic. I think the hoax provided a very valuable service.

I am reconsidering my batty initial opinion. But glad that my initial off-the-cuff “OMG, lying iz baaad” response kicked off several other more thoughtful ones!

Welcome to SDMB, Absinthe Anecdote. :slight_smile:

(But I still think there were too many what-ifs in the OP.)

This is within the realm of what I’m talking about; although Sokal duped, Social Text, I think he demonstrated a real problem with the editorial practices of an academic journal.

Granted, if I were to go after a radio talk show host like an Alex Jones, or a George Noory it really wouldn’t wouldn’t have much of a positive impact when all was said and done.

Realistically, I doubt it would be lucrative, or that it would garner that much attention.

Why attempt it?

One part curiosity of if I could accomplish it, and two parts shameless self-promotion of a project related to skepticism that I have on the drawing board.

I would feel bad if I caused a producer of one of those shows to lose their job.

On the other hand, those shows promote a lot of unhealthy beliefs in things like Bigfoot and UFOs; however, that’s just my opinion.

Many people listen to those programs as a form of entertainment, and really know that stuff isn’t true.

To be completely honest with you, I think I could live with most of the conceivable disruptions that a stunt like that could possibly cause with the producers and staff of a show like Alex Jones.

I am ashamedly more concerned with spinning it the wrong way and looking like a tool.

That was fun to catch back up on Randi’s career. Several parts had me smiling, I especially liked after Randi made quite a few look like the dupes they were, a Dr. Berthold Schwarz declared: “Randi has set parapsychology back 100 years!” :smiley:

I was wondering when one of you Straight Dopers would mention James Randi. :slight_smile:

The hoax I have in mind could be easily accomplished in the spirit of a James Randi style hoax.

However, pulling a stunt like that could easily slip beyond one’s control and have unintended consequences.

Thanks for the welcome to the boards!

The what-ifs were intended to solicit opinion on how to handle different aspects of the reveal, and of pulling a deceptive stunt like that in general.

Or Project Alpha?

ETA… er… As mentioned above.

Randi took many precautions and I think anyone else would be wise to do the same. For instance, the plants would tell the truth about the hoax if asked directly. And as you mentioned, having a well-defined end date would also help.

I would say a hoax is only ethical if it appears to be the only way to expose frauds. And to be effective in your exposé, there must not be the slightest taint if your intentions. That means no money, no self-aggrandizing, and no lying after the hoax is over. If it’s anything but completely pure, the frauds will exploit it and the project will fail. That will be a net negative and therefore irresponsible and unethical.

Oh, me too, Absinthe Anecdote, on welcoming you here. I didn’t catch your join date, just seen where others were welcoming you. Normally, I don’t look there at all, unless I see a lot of stupidity coming from the OP. :smiley:

Have fun at the Dope.

I think I am in agreement with you here; however, the self-aggrandizing aspect could be problematic.

If you were referencing some of the taunting and claims of making great profit that I mentioned in the OP, then I definitely agree, that shouldn’t be a part of the strategy.

However, the intent would be to draw attention, and I would have an ulterior motive to promote another project.

As much as I would like to do something altruistic, that wouldn’t be the case.

A harmless scholarly or scholastic hoax can be much more than okay: it can be wonderful and funny and witty and educational.

The Sokal Hoax is a delightful example of this.

Another example is the guy who submitted Jerzy Kosinski’s “The Painted Bird” in manuscript form to several publishers, and some of them didn’t recognize the work as an existing novel. He wasn’t committing fraud, exactly, because he wasn’t ever going to accept any money for it. He was just testing the publishers.

The Dreadnought Hoax is one of the best stunts ever. (Those guys were lucky not to get thrown in prison for a damn long time…or even shot right there on the spot!)

Also the Carry Nation hoax “Temperance Society” photograph, but I’m not finding a good link to cite for that one.

The Yes Men have carried out a number of excellent and witty hoaxes.

I’m a big fan of Penn & Teller and I loved their show Bullshit.

They somehow managed to use ridicule without coming across as colossal pricks, at least in my eyes.

Admittedly, I am favorably biased in my opinion of them.

If you have ample evidence that a radio personality routinely engages in promulgating false information, I think they are fair game.