by Dave Thomas
In mid-to-late 1999, e-mails such as the following were flying around the Internet .
AND THE 1999 DARWIN AWARD WINNER IS.....
THOMPSON, MANITOBA, CANADA. Telephone relay company night watchman Edward Baker, 31, was killed early Christmas morning by excessive microwave radiation exposure. He was apparently attempting to keep warm next to a telecommunications feed-horn. Baker had been suspended on a safety violation once last year, according to Northern Manitoba Signal Relay spokesperson Tanya Cooke. She noted that Baker's earlier infraction was for defeating a safety shutoff switch and entering a restricted maintenance catwalk in order to stand in front of the microwave dish. He had told coworkers that it was the only way he could stay warm during his twelve-hour shift at the station, where winter temperatures often dip to forty below zero. Microwaves can heat water molecules within human tissue in the same way that they heat food in microwave ovens. For his Christmas shift, Baker reportedly brought a twelve pack of beer and a plastic lawn chair, which he positioned directly in line with the strongest microwave beam. Baker had not been told about a tenfold boost in microwave power planned that night to handle the anticipated increase in holiday long-distance calling traffic. Baker's body was discovered by the daytime watchman, John Burns, who was greeted by an odor he mistook for a Christmas roast he thought Baker must have prepared as a surprise. Burns also reported to NMSR company officials that Baker's unfinished beers had exploded.
Now, for the REST of the Story!!
NMSR Reports, Vol. 5, No. 9, September 1999
The August 9th edition of the Denver Post carried an article with the following headline: "DARWIN AWARDS PAY HOMAGE TO THE MONKEY IN MAN." Columnist Dick Kreck discussed the Darwin Awards, awarded (posthumously) to those whose acts have led to the removal of their genes from the pool.
"It's the moment we wait for every year, and I'm always glad my name isn't on the list.
"The annual DARWIN AWARDS are out. They are given (although I've never been clear who, exactly, hands them out) "to those individuals who did the most for the human gene pool by removing themselves from it."
"Being a cynic, I'm convinced some of these tales of self-removal are little more than urban legends, but who cares? They make astonishing reading, and they always raise the question, "What were they thinking?"
"The "winner" in this year's poll is from Canada. It seems Edward Baker, 32, a telephone relay company night watchman, was killed early Christmas morning by excessive microwave radiation exposure. Baker, the story goes, warmed himself on cold Manitoba nights by setting up a plastic lawn chair, and a six-pack, in line with the microwave's strongest beam.
"Guess what happened next? Baker wasn't told that the company was boosting microwave power to handle heavy holiday phone loads. To make a long story short, microwaves have the same effect on a human body that ovens have on a roast. Say no more."
Our story jogs to this e-mail, sent two days later by Mark Boslough:
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 22:24:01 -0600 (MDT) From: Mark Boslough
Subject: My Darwin Award Hoax
Dear Mr. Kreck:
Thank you so much for reprinting my Darwin Award hoax in the Denver Post. Like you, I am a skeptic and have always very suspicious of these stories. However, I am also a scientist so I decided to do a little experiment. I made up the most outrageous and twisted death-by-stupidity tale I could imagine. I made sure that all the characters in the story had names (Mr. Baker, Mr. Burns, Ms. Cooke) that would give my joke away to any wary reader. I set the story in a location that allowed the company "Northern Manitoba Signal Relay" to have the same acronym as New Mexicans for Science and Reason, our local version of Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Skeptics. I took a list of Darwin Awards that somebody sent me and attached my own creation, which I also declared to be this year's winner. I turned it loose by e-mailing it to a few out-of-state friends on New Year's Day. Seeing it this week in the Post is a bit like getting a response to a note in a bottle eight months after throwing it into the ocean. It is also a good lesson in why we should all be skeptical of what we see on the internet... not to mention what we read in the newspaper!
By the way, NMSR president Dave Thomas--a recent guest speaker at Rocky Mountain Skeptics--is the only person who discovered the hoax and correctly attributed it to me. He had searched for "NMSR" under Deja News and recognized my brand of humor when his search turned up my story.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Finally, this closure from columnist Kreck, who wrote an August 16th Post column entitled "Burned. Toast ":
"Is my face red? More than usual, I mean."
"Last week, I did the very thing I'm always warning anyone who will listen: Don't believe everything you see on the internet."
"The "winner" of the annual Darwin Awards made a loser out of me."
"While the Darwins, given annually to persons who manage to eliminate themselves from the planet through some bizarre event, are genuine, it turns out the non-existent winner was the work of a gentleman named Mark Boslough, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M."
"If I weren't so simple, he said (in a nice way) in a follow-up letter, I would have seen through his hoax. "Like you, I am a skeptic and have always been very suspicious of these stories."
"However, I am also a scientist so I decided to do a little experiment. I made up the most outrageous and twisted death-by-stupidity tale I could imagine. I made sure that all the characters in the story had names (Mr. Baker, Mr. Burns, Ms.Cooke) that would give my joke away to any wary reader." Except, possibly, gullible columnists."
"It is a good lesson in why we should all be skeptical of what we see on the Internet, not to mention what we read in the newspaper."
"So I guess this means the so-called winner didn't really get roasted sitting in front of a microwave dish?"
Kudos to Mark for another joke well done.
And kudos for a great "sig" (e-mail signature) too!
Read about NMSR's Prank at the official Darwin Awards Site...
and, at the Urban Legends site: "Nuke of Earl"...
And here is the Rogues' Gallery -
Folks that were Fooled...
More to Come!!
NMSR Site Map