Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was no dodo. He was a medical doctor (ophthalmologist), a stanch supporter of compulsory vaccination, and studied botany. He is most known for writing the Sherlock Holmes books. Yet he was fooled by two young girls into thinking fairies were real.

In 1917 two cousins used to play by a steam and come back muddy. This upset their mothers, so the girls told them they only went to the stream to play with the fairies. To prove it, they took a camera and came back with photos of fairies. The photos eventually received widespread publication, and came to the attention of Doyle. He was already famous for this books, so when he wrote several magazine articles supporting the photographs as real, it created quite a stir.

The argument in favor of the photographs being real was that “how could two young girls with no experience in photography pull off such as elaborate hoax?”. Sound familiar? If someone had done some digging into the background of the older cousin (she was 16), they would have learned that she worked part time in a photography studio. But there was no internet in 1917. The cousins finally admitted in 1983 that the photos where a hoax. They said they were too embarrassed to admit it was a hoax after fooling somebody as important at Doyle.

“Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet.”

“I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in.”

This would not be the first or last time that a woman kept quite so as not to embarrass a man.

I guess the moral of the story is that one does not have to be a dodo [1] to be taken in by a hoax. Even really smart people can be fooled. “Often, smart people get taken in because they’re smart. They have a track record of seeing things others don’t, making good bets and winning big. People give them deference, come to them for advice and laugh at their jokes. They’re used to seeing things others don’t. For them, a lack of discernible evidence isn’t always a warning sign. It can be an opportunity” [2]

Your thoughts?

[1] “We’re not a cult. I’m not an idiot, you know. I’ve read a couple of books and I’ve been to a pretty good school, and I have chosen to be in this church because of the faith that I feel and the inspiration that comes. I’ve met people, and if people want to call us a cult, they can call us a cult and you can call us a cult, but we are 14-million and growing, and I’d like to think that your respect for me would be enough to know that this man doesn’t seem like a dodo.” – (Elder Holland, interview BBC) 

[2] “Why smart people are so easily fooled” Digital Tonto May 15, 2022