A Scientist’s Joke Goes Horribly Wrong When People Take Him Seriously

Every week I see new amazing images of space coming from NASA’s James Webb telescope. This week I saw this photo French physicist Étienne Klein tweeted, saying it was of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun. Later, he admitted the photo was actually a slice of chorizo photographed up close. His motivation for sharing the image was to try and warn internet users about fake news, writing that “no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.” Many were not amused, saying that his profile and status made this less of a criticism of fake news, and more of an “abuse of power” and case study on how misinformation can start.

In a time when the transmission of misinformation is powerfully fast (as analysis of how quickly this Kardashian tweet with a typo spread proved), choosing to do it with intention struck many people as an ill-timed and badly executed prank from someone who should have known better. I’m not sure I agree. After all, just because a piece of information comes from a “credible” source, we don’t live in a world where any media source should be trusted blindly–no matter how credible they seem. If nothing else, at least Klein’s galactic chorizo reminded everyone of this unfortunate truth.