It is not easy to fool a skeptic

A few months ago I got an e-mail about this new product: genpets.

Below the usual mass of e-mail addresses for all the people this message had come from and forwarded to (why is it that people don't clean up their spam to protect their friends' privacy?) was this text from the (possible) first person to send the message (freely translated from said message):

"Just when we thought we had seen it all this news come in. One more company playing God and playing with lives at their will. PLEASE!!! DO NOT BUY THEM OR WE WILL BE ENCOURAGING THEIR MASS PRODUCTION... AND TAKING AWAY FROM OUR CHILDREN THE VALUE OF LIFE. Out there there are enough fully natural pets waiting to be adopted and capable of transmiting love and encouraging real emotions."

I don't know what's God got to do with all this or how buying an "artificial pet" takes from children the "value of life" (whatever that means) neither do I understand what is that issue with "real emotions". But the main issue here is that this lady (yes, it was a woman) took the ad and website at face value.

For me, getting this message was like reading in the newspaper that we had landed on Pluto... it does not make sense that we get to Pluto when we haven't even reached Mars, which is closer. Genetic engineering has not reached the point where a new species can be "created". Even though there is a website of the company that allegedly manufactures this pets, the whole thing seemd to me like a hoax; a very elaborate one, at that, but a hoax nonetheless. However, the long chain of forwards and the comments tells me that many people took this joke seriously.

Last week I remembered this incident and I googled "genpets". And it was not really a hoax. Everything relates to an artistic creation. It turns out that genpets are a creation of canadian artist Adam Brandejs. Although Mr. Brandejs indicates in his website that he is certainly concerned about the direction genetic engineering might take, he is also clear to point out that genpets are painted silicon sculptures, with electronic circuitry added that mimic breathing and movement.

This e-mail came in my inbox on December 1st, 2008 and at that time the genpets issue was completely debunked. The New York Times made a mention about them on June 24th, 2006 with a link to the "Museum of Hoaxes".

So... artwork or hoax, the truth is that genpets do not exist as anything else than an anymated sculpture. The reaction they caused reminds me of the mass panic caused by Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "The war of the worlds" in the 30s. Even though several times during the broadcast an announcement was made indicating that the transmission was only a play, many people were really convinced that a martian invasion was in progress. More recently, the famous crop circles have feed the fantasy of many UFO aficionados, in spite of the fact that in several instances, the authors of the circles have come forward and demonstrated the techniques used to fool the town while they were sleeping.

When people wants to believe nonsense and quit thinking and analyzing it is imposible to reason with them. Doubt does not represent anything else than the process of thinking and weighing the evidence that is presented. As Carl Sagan used to say "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". An e-mail message does not qualify as extraordinary evidence.

Nor does a professionaly developed website.

Note: this is a first! This post is being published today in english AND spanish in both my blogs, and Hopefully there will be more simultaneous postings!

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