Ten Examples of Deception

People have been deceiving others throughout all of recorded human history. Studying the ways that deception has been employed in the past can help us avoid being deceived in the future. Be it a fake tunnel painted on a brick wall or an AI that convinces you it’s a human; deception can be tricky and it manifests in a massive amount of different forms.

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Deceive [verb]:

To cause someone to believe something that is not true.

Hoax [noun]:

A creation made with the intent to deceive and also made with the intent to have the deception revealed at some point.

Forgery [noun]:

A creation made with the intent to deceive but also with the intent to have the deception last indefinitely.

These are my personal definition which are used specifically for this article. Definitions for the words vary depending on the author. “A creation” in this article is defined as “anything crafted by a person or multiple persons”. Hoaxes, forgeries, and deceptions are all results of deceit.



Example 1: Space Cadets.

This was a TV show that aired in 2005 where the applicants got auditioned to partake in a training program located in Russia that would prepare them to be flown 62 miles up into near space. The participants believed that they were training for this until it was revealed to them that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by the creators. They never went near space and were never in Russia. Some viewers have speculated that the story about it being a hoax is a hoax, claiming that the participants were actors and knew all along what was going on.

Example 2: Celestial Deceptions.

In 1835, hundreds of thousands of people across the world were lead to believe that there was proof of life on the moon. The Sun newspaper had reported in a series of articles that astronomers were using their revolutionary telescopes to see plants, animals, and humans living on the moon. It resulted in The Sun becoming the top-selling daily newspaper. The story had peopled fooled for about two weeks and since then it has been known as The Great Moon Hoax.

Example 3: The Grievance Studies Affair.

The Grievance Studies Affair, also known as Sokal Squared (after Alan Sokal’s 1996 hoax), was a hoax that took place in 2017 and 2018 which successfully entered articles into academic journals in order to show the corruption in academic studies such as critical race studies, gender studies, queer studies, and others. Originally they failed at passing their papers into the journals, but after studying more and learning better techniques of mimesis, they were able to pass their articles through peer-reviewed journals. They received flack from the academics for taking an unscientific approach, and even one of the three perpetrators admitted that it was mostly a failure.


Example 4: Hundreds of Years of Deception.

In 1493, Annius of Viterbo unearthed a series of marble statues and 5 years later, in 1498, he published his Antiquitates of Annius. Suspicions were raised nearly immediately about the authenticity of his work, but this did not stop a significant amount of people from believing him. The marble statues had been salted to make them appear older and Annius wrote his works knowing they were false. Anthony Grafton informs us in ‘Joseph Scaliger and Historical Chronology‘ that “Before Scaliger there had been two schools of thought about the use of ancient sources for chronology. One school followed the Bible and the texts forged by Annius of Viterbo; the other school followed the Bible alone.” The forgery lasted well into the 17th and 18th centuries before finally belief in its authenticity was abandoned by virtually everyone.

Example 5: Forging Provenance.

Provenance is “the place of origin or earliest known history of something.” Provenance can be forged and one known example can be found in the works of John Myatt and John Drewe. John Drewe commissioned John Myatt to paint new paintings. He then forged documents that showed false provenance and slipped them into museum and gallery archives to give the fresh paintings a fake history. The duo was eventually caught, and while only 60 paintings were recovered, it is said that Myatt painted about 200 works total for Drewe.

Example 6: Nearly 30,000 Letters, One Forger.

The mathematician Michel Chasles was duped by Denis Vrain-Lucas in the 19th century into believing that he (Chasles) was purchasing letters written by famous scientific minds such as Galileo, Newton, Pascal, and others. In reality, Denis Vrain-Lucas was the author of these letters. Vrain-Lucas, writing to Chasles from jail after he had been imprisoned for his forgeries, claims that he forged nearly 30,000 letters over the course of 7 years. He communicates in his letter that he doesn’t feel any guilt about the forgeries due to the fact that the public was ignorant about science and the history of science and they only cared when science produced new technologies or “the scent of a scandal”. His forgeries got more people interested in science and science history, and he says Chasles helped with that. Aside from whether or not his actions were justified, nearly 30,000 letters is an incredible amount of forging for one person.

Government Deception

Example 7: Lying Baptists.

A man and his three children were captured by native Americans in 1804 in Log Run, Kentucky. The man had a fourth child hiding nearby and lied to the natives to keep the hidden child safe. A debate broke out between two communities of baptists about whether or not he was justified in lying to save his child. Those who said he was justified came to be termed as “Lying Baptists” and those who said he was not justified alternatively were termed as “Truthful Baptists”. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the Pentagon released a press statement where the government lied to the public. Sylvester later said that it was due to his decision to side with the “Lying Baptists”, fundamentally saying he thought it was OK for the government to lie depending on the circumstances.

Example 8: Disinformation.

Disinformation is “false information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.” The word originated with the Russian word dezinformatsiya. Every major government in the world has engaged in disinformation projects which are aimed at deceiving a public, be it a foreign public or a native one. A couple examples of disinformation projects are the Russian’s OPERATION NEPTUNE and the American’s OPERATION PAPERCLIP.

“Our friends in Moscow call it ‘dezinformatsiya.’ Our enemies in America call it ‘active measures,’ and I, dear friends, call it ‘my favorite pastime.”
—Col. Rolf Wagenbreth, director of Department X (disinformation) of East German foreign intelligence.

Example 9: Prime Lies.

John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. In Truth Overboard, there is a collection of 27 lies told by this Prime Minister to his people. He lied about how the prices of gas and beer wouldn’t rise prior to them rising. He lied about payments to workers and senior citizens. He lied about keeping jobs available. And possibly his most famous lie, he said that there was evidence (when in reality there was none) that people seeking asylum were throwing children overboard in hopes of increasing their chances of being rescued.

Example 10: Operation INFEKTION.

In 1983, the Patriot (an Indian newspaper) printed a paper with the headline “AIDS may invade India: Mystery disease caused by US experiments.” This publication kicked off the INFEKTION disinformation campaign which aimed at implicating AIDS originating in the US from the Pentagon’s biological weapon experiments. The campaign had no factual basis but it played on ideas that people were already primed to believe to be true. The spreading of this disinformation operation thrived on word of mouth news and it still affects people today who believe in the claims of the KGB agents.

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[1] – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490044/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

[2] – Vida, István Kornél. “The ‘Great Moon Hoax’ of 1835.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies (HJEAS), vol. 18, no. 1/2, 2012, pp. 431–441. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43488485. Accessed 31 May 2020.

[3] – https://www.vox.com/2018/10/15/17951492/grievance-studies-sokal-squared-hoax

[4] – Ligota, Christopher R. “Annius of Viterbo and Historical Method.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 50, 1987, pp. 44–56. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/751317. Accessed 31 May 2020.

[5] – Keazor, Henry. “Six Degrees of Separation: The Foax as More.” Faking, Forging, Counterfeiting: Discredited Practices at the Margins of Mimesis, edited by Daniel Becker et al., Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2018, pp. 11–40. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1wxr9t.4. Accessed 31 May 2020.

[6] – Alder, Ken. “History’s Greatest Forger: Science, Fiction, and Fraud along the Seine.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 4, 2004, pp. 702–716. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/423769. Accessed 31 May 2020.

[7] – https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP90-00965R000504240002-8.pdf

[8] – Mahairas, Aristedes, and Mikhail Dvilyanski. “Disinformation – Дезинформация (Dezinformatsiya).” The Cyber Defense Review, vol. 3, no. 3, 2018, pp. 21–28. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26554993. Accessed 1 June 2020.

[9] – https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:%22library/partypol/EZID6%22

[10] – https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol53no4/soviet-bloc-intelligence-and-its-aids.html

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