Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April fools and phylogeneticists

Today is All Fool's Day. The tradition apparently started in the Netherlands and northern Germany, where on April 1 people would be sent on a long series of purposeless errands, and thus be made to feel increasingly foolish as the day went on. (This is now known as "a wild goose chase".) The Museum of Hoaxes has a detailed history (The Origin of April Fool’s Day), plus supplementary information about a Dutch poem from 1561 and the first German reference in 1618.

This tradition has been modified in the past 150 years or so, to one where outrageous stories are told, usually in public, to see how many people can be made to believe that they are true. The media are often involved, particularly newspapers and television shows. These "hoaxes" are usually revealed by the end of the day — indeed, if they continue, then they are usually referred to as hoaxes rather than as April fool jokes.

The Museum of Hoaxes has a compilation of what the curator believes to be the Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time, which makes interesting reading.

Phylogenetics and evolutionary biology are not immune from these activities, of course. I have listed here a few of the jokes perpetrated in recent years on the internet, just in case nothing much happened today and you want to read about something appropriate anyway.

Tetrapod Zoology (April 1 2011)
Science meets the Mokele-Mbembe!

Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (April 1 2004)
Molecular phylogenetic analysis of mtDNA sequences from the Yeti

Raptormaniac (April 1 2013)
Hail Volantia

Tetrapod Zoology (April 1 2013)
Welcome to the Squamozoic!

Shit You Didn't Know About Biology (April 1 2012)

The Tree of Life (April 1 2008)
Confessions of an April Fool, and the dope on brain doping

Evolving Thoughts (April 1 2009)
New work on lateral transfer shows that Darwin was wrong

The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks (April 1 2013)
Empedocles, Lucretius and lateral gene transfer

Computational Footnote

There are plenty of computational jokes in the world, mostly involving unsuccessful mathematical proofs, but none of them seem to have much to do with phylogenetics. Is there a message here? For example, physicists, ever the pranksters, typically use the arXiv pre-print repository to post spurious papers on April 1, with some examples noted at MetaFilter for April 2012 (April Fools for physicists).

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