The (not-so) Great Beeville Science Fair Hoax

There’s a small community of bloggers and activists who spent the weekend scratching their collective heads in hopes of figuring out what was behind a story that came out of a little place called Beeville, Texas. Last week word came from a local paper than a fourth-grader had won a “National Science Fair” prize by “Disproving Global Warming.”

The story immediately drew skeptical analysis, as there hasn’t been a “National Science Fair” for some time. More curious was the notion that a fourth-grader could manage to do what thousands of climatologists who make their living trying to find holes in each other’s research couldn’t.

Well, thanks to the diligence of “In it for the Gold’ blogger Michael Tobis, we are starting to get an idea what happened. As suspected the notion that Earth is not warming did not beat out “50,000 other projects submitted by students from all over the U.S.”

Believe it or not, it looks like someone faked a National Science Foundation letter, plaque, medal and trophy and sent them to the young student’s family, who then alerted the principal at their daughter’s school. The principal called the Beeville Bee-Picayune (yes, that’s the paper’s name), which assigned a rookie reporter to cover the news.

With the imprimatur of a genuine news organization behind the story, a long list of climate change denial bloggers propagated the news, with almost no doubts being expressed whatsoever, despite the red flags. Marc Morano of Climate Depot, Tom Nelson, the American Spectator, climatechangefraud, globalwarminghoax are among the more familiar names to be taken in. I’ve come across just one anti-AGW blogger, at NCTimes, who expressed some reservations.

At this point, it’s still unknown who’s behind what can best described as a cynical and cruel hoax, but we do know the NSF has confirmed the material sent to the family was fraudulent. A motivation confounds me. There is no way this hoax could not have been exposed for what it was. Michael Tobis went beyond the call of duty to suss out the facts, but they would have come out eventually. All that was accomplished was much embarrassment — the student, her family, the principal, the Bee-Picayune and it’s reporter and the climate change denialist community can only hope the whole thing is quickly forgotten.


9 Replies to “The (not-so) Great Beeville Science Fair Hoax”

  1. While I agree that the scandal will be quickly forgotten, the meme that “a 4th grader won an award for disproving AGW” will never die, which was probably the point.

    Except that this story hasn’t made it out of denialist circles and hit wide distribution in mainstream circles. And now that it’s been proven a hoax, it probably never will. — jh

  2. There is no way this hoax could not have been exposed for what it was.

    Considering we’re dealing with the sort of people who can claim with a straight face that “global warming stopped in 1998”, or “1934 is the warmest year on record”, I really don’t think that simply being obviously and demonstrably wrong is much of a handicap. If someone could throw together something that looks vaguely like an argument that proceeds from the assumption that black is white to “prove” that AGW is false, the usual suspects would be all over it like a rash.

  3. My experience of what you call ‘denialists’, and with that other group which I call ‘alarmists’, is such that someone from the latter is far more likely to have perpetrated this cruel hoax.

    The girl deserves a medal for daring to check the data, and daring to stand against the astonishing flood of global warming propaganda we have had to endure for the past 30 years or so.

    Well, she might have deserved a (modest) medal for CHECKING the data (depending on the quality of her competition), but she lost that standing when she came to a conclusion unjustified by the data.

    Also, the notion of global warming in its current form dates back about 150 years, not just 30. Which should probably tell you something.– jh

  4. When the goal is to confuse the issue and obscure the facts so that the existing powers-that-be might continue in the manner they have grown accustomed anything that complicates the issue is helpful. Claiming that: a fourth-grader had won a “National Science Fair” prize by “Disproving Global Warming”, with associated physical evidence, despite it being a clear forgery, helps raise a fog of competing claims and counter-claims over what is and what is not NSF sanctioned is sure to have most people tuning out in the first twenty seconds. Bottom line being that those so inclined to accept the original statement at face value will and people lacking the time and energy to dig will throw up their hands and pronounce ‘a pox on both your houses’.

    Bottom line is it reinforces the true denialist hard-core, alienates those who might be persuaded if they don’t have the time and energy to follow all the reverses, and overall tends to drain energy from any thrust to change things. In the short run such ‘baffle them with BS’ tactics work. In the longer run it looks desperate and contrived.

    Then again, the average attention span, and ability to focus on anything not readily understood in ten seconds, is quite short. So there may be no longer run.

  5. The poor girl! Who would play that kind of trick on a child who is probably just repeating what she is told by her community?

  6. I’m the AGW skeptic at the NC Times who wrote about this. I thought the story was fishy, but the last day has been a whirlwind of sleazy revelations.

    I feel sorry for the reporter involved, who is probably just starting out in journalism. But being burned that way is a good lesson to learn while young.

    And for my fellow AGW skeptics, this should be a lesson that when something sounds too good to be true, that just might be the case.

    Or put another way: just because something validates your opinions is no reason to suspend skepticism and critical thinking. I mean, let’s face it: the idea that a fourth-grader could beat 50,000 others with a project that “disproved” scientific consensus and from a panel that included Al Gore doesn’t pass the weakest of smell tests. — jh

  7. So, if somebody cares: whodunit:

    1) MT has posted images of the trophy, medal, and plaque, and at least one instance of the logo.

    2) Here is a similar-looking plaque. It has a different logo, and the engraving is slightly different, but the plaque material and the wreath appear to be the same. That’s through McLean, TX, but probably made somewhere else.

    3) The distribution chain goes:
    a) Somebody manufactures this stuff.
    b) It may be sold via Internet/mail.
    c) Or it may be sold via local retail stores.

    It seems likely (given the same logo) that the same a) did all three items, and if so, and if they sell via Internet, maybe somebody can find possibilities.

    Of course, one or more of the objects might have identifying labels.

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