Ever since the James Webb Space Telescope began sending incredible photos of the universe back to earth, scientists, clergy, and ordinary citizens have been awestruck at the sharpness and the detail of images from the $10 billion telescope.
French physicist Étienne Klein used his time on the telescope to image our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri.
Photo de Proxima du Centaure, l’étoile la plus proche du Soleil, située à 4,2 année-lumière de nous.
Elle a été prise par le JWST.
Ce niveau de détails… Un nouveau monde se dévoile jour après jour. pic.twitter.com/88UBbHDQ7Z
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) July 31, 2022
The image garnered thousands of “likes” and retweets. “This level of detail,” Klein wrote. “A new world is revealed day after day.”
But what “world” was revealed? As it turns out, Klein had tweeted out a photo of a slice of sausage.
But a few days later, Klein revealed that the photo he tweeted was not the work of the world’s most powerful space telescope, as he had in fact tweeted a slice of chorizo sausage.
“According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth,” he said after apologising for tricking so many people.
“Like an idiot, I got screwed,” tweeted one French user. “Same,” replied another, “the source was so credible…”
No one should feel embarrassed about being tricked. Klein was trying to make a point about “fake news” and was more successful than he could have imagined.
An appeal to authority is usually considered fallacious in academic circles, but it happens every day in political life. “Some study” claims this or that, or “this expert” supports a particular point of view. It’s all part of the fabric of propaganda we’re bombarded with every day.
That’s not to say that all appeals to authority are bogus. But great care should be taken before accepting them.
Klein’s edible stint comes weeks after the first images captured by JWST were widely shared online, with people marveling at the beauty of the cosmos captured in detail by the world’s biggest space telescope. At the same time, things of cosmic nature are very easily misinterpreted, and it’s easy to exaggerate events taking place outside of our planet. Just follow click-bait headlines that warn of incoming asteroids, menacing black holes, and violent solar eruptions.
It’s a hilarious joke, and blowhards should leave Klein alone. His intention with the little hoax was to advise people to proceed with caution when absorbing information about celestial objects. And that perhaps sometimes what you may see as a burning ball of gas located about four light years away from Earth is nothing more than some sliced pork sausage.
Klein is no stranger to controversy. In 2017, the science popularizer was accused of plagiarizing more than a dozen scientists, philosophers, and writers in books and articles. He says he was later cleared, but no report has ever been issued.