A French scientist’s spicy tweet fooled the Internet into believing that a slice of chorizo was a detailed image of a star captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Etienne Klein, director of research at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, tweeted a photo on July 31 that he claimed was of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun. “This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day,” Klein tweeted.
Photo of Proxima du Centaure, the closest star to the Sun, located at 4.2 year-lumière de nous.Elle a été prize per le JWST.Ce level de details… A new world is revealed day by day. pic.twitter.com/88UBbHDQ7Z
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) July 31, 2022
The tweet was an embellished portrait of one previous joke by fellow astrophysicist Peter Coles, but it was much more widely shared than Coles’ version. Klein soon followed with a further embellishment, telling readers that “according to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
“Some comments” prompted 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 fun.”
Talking to the French team a The HuffPost, Klein said he intended the photo to be a joke, and while many picked up on it immediately, “it also took two tweets to clear up,” he said.
While some Twitter users expressed their amusement, others upped the ante with a suspiciously shaped olive eclipse photosKlein took some flak from people who said the joke was inappropriate for someone with his level of scientific authority.
Klein issued an apologetic tweet on Wednesday, describing the joke as a “scientist joke” and that it had “nothing original” to begin with, 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.”
I come to present more excuses to those who I can trick, who had nothing original, to shock. Il voulait simply inciter à la prudence vis-à-vis des images that seem eloquent by themselves. The joke of a scientist https://t.co/wHiJWxscxq #Astronomy road @LePoint
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) August 3, 2022
“In this kind of social media, fake news is always more successful than real news,” Klein said HuffPost.
Klein shared 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 could consider this plagiarism – I couldn’t comment. I always consider anything I put on social media to be public . domain, so I don’t really mind if other people borrow it. There is a lot of plagiarism of things I’ve written on this blog, but life is too short to bother with it. Credit would be polite, but a it is learned that in general it is not to be expected.
“Actually, it’s not a new joke anyway. I didn’t take the picture and I don’t remember where I got it from, although it was probably here.” ®
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