A French scientist’s spicy tweet fooled the internet into believing a slice of chorizo was a detailed picture of a star captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Etienne Klein, research director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, tweeted a photo on July 31st he claimed to be of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun. “This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day,” Klein tweeted.
Photo de Proxima du Centaure, l’étoile la plus proche du Soleil, située à 4,2 année-lumière de nous.Elle a été prize par le JWST.Ce level of the details… Un nouveau monde se dévoile jour après jour. pic.twitter.com/88UBbHDQ7Z
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) July 31, 2022
The tweet was an embellished retelling of an earlier joke by fellow astrophysicist Peter Coles, but was shared much more widely than Coles’ version. little soon followed up with a further embellishment, telling readers that “according to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
“Some comments” forced Klein to issue a second follow-up tweet shortly after sharing the image of the ham star. “I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement.”
Speaking to the French team at The HuffPost, Klein said he intended the photo as a joke, and while many picked up on it immediately, “it also took two tweets to clarify,” he said.
While some Twitter denizens expressed amusement, and others upped the ante with suspiciously olive-shaped eclipse photosKlein did take some flack from people who said the joke was inappropriate for someone with his level of scientific authority.
Klein issued an apology tweet on Wednesday, describing the prank as a “scientist’s joke,” and one that “had nothing original about it” to boot, referring to Coles tweet.
What the image did do, Klein said, was show the importance of having a critical eye for truth on social media, especially in the face of “images that seem eloquent on their own.”
Je viens presenter mes excuses à ceux que mon canular, qui n’avait rien d’original, a pu choquer. Il voulait simplement inciter à la prudence vis-à-vis des images qui semblent éloquentes par elles-mêmes.La blague d’un scientifique https://t.co/wHiJWxscxq #Astronomy through @LePoint
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) August 3, 2022
“On this type of social network, fake news is always more successful than real news,” Klein told HuffPost.
Klein went on to share a James Webb image of the Chariot Wheel galaxy, located 500 million light years from Earth, after the hoax, assuring followers that the photo was “REAL this time …”
As for Coles, he said of Klein’s post: “Notice the picture is exactly the same. What a coincidence! You might consider this plagiarism; I couldn’t possibly comment. I always regard anything I put on social media as being in the public domain so I’m not really bothered if other people “borrow” it. There’s quite a lot of plagiarism of stuff I’ve written on this blog out there, but life’s too short to get upset about it. one one learns that it isn’t generally to be expected.
“As a matter of fact it’s not a new joke anyway. I didn’t make the picture and don’t remember where I got it from, though it was probably here.” ®