A renowned French physicist’s joke backfired after fooling too many people on Twitter into thinking that a photograph of a piece of chorizo was actually one of a planet or the star Proxima Centauri and taken by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope.
It started last Sunday (July 31) when Etienne Klein, research director at the French Atomic Energy Commission, tweeted: “Photo of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years from us.”
“She was taken by the JWST. This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day,” he joked.
Klein was soon forced to publicly apologize on Wednesday (August 3), stating clearly that “no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
He continued: “I come to present my apologies to those who may have been shocked by my prank, which had nothing original about it.”
“In view of some comments, I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement,” he added.
Speaking to French news magazine Le Point, Klein claimed it was “the first time” he’d ever made such a joke as a figure of scientific authority on Twitter.
He said his joke showed that “on this type of social network, fake news is always more successful than real news.”
The tweet generated a huge debate, and while many users recognized the photograph for what it really is right away, others took the joke completely at face value—hook, line and sinker.
One person said: “The last photo of Proxima Centauri was this,” posting a photo of a distant star. “This is a huge step forward.”
“I can’t tell if it’s a prank or really proxima that looks like a chorizo,” another added.
Others were “mightily impressed” by the prank.
However, Twitter user Ned Boeuf could see through the joke right away and revealed: “Fake, it’s a slice of chorizo.”
Not everyone laughed at the joke, as demonstrated by the fact that someone said: “Coming from a scientific research director, it’s quite inappropriate to share this type of thing without specifying from the 1st tweet that it is false information when you know the speed at which a false information spreads,’ came one indignant reply.”
“Of course it was funny. Only one downside, as a teacher we teach our students to pay attention to sources. And you are a credible source in your field. By dint of mixing everything up, it is not surprising that many are lost with the information on the networks,” added Fred Orain.
“Indeed, there has been a loss of resolution which makes the joke more believable and therefore more toxic!” wrote another.
It reminded some of when Elon Musk poked fun at the James Webb Space Telescope in July by drawing a parallel between a granite slab in a kitchen and an image of space. The joke was directed at NASA.
So, what are your thoughts? Is the backlash that Etienne Klein’s joke received, in which he was accused of propagating dangerous disinformation among the scientific community, warranted?
Or have people simply lost their ability to laugh at silly jokes?
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