Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Memory Hole (16 October): the Cardiff Giant and Key Opinion Leaders

Digging up the Cardiff Giant

138 years ago today: The Cardiff Giant, Key Opinion Leaders and fake products

On 16 October 1869 the Cardiff Giant was "discovered". The story is a wonderful allegory for many discussions here about the pharmaceutical industry and perhaps medicine in general.

On Oct. 16, 1869, workers in Cardiff, New York, dug up what they thought was a 10-foot-tall fossilized man. Thus began an elaborate hoax.

In fact, a year before, George Hull paid $2,600 to have the stone giant made and then buried on a farm. The Giant was 10 feet 4½ inches tall and weighed about 3,000 pounds. There it was "discovered" by Hull's brother-in-law. It was a huge public attraction and the money flowed in. The roads were jammed.

What is of interest here, is that Hull never made strong claims about the giant himself. Key Opinion Leaders (KOL's) pontificated. "Expert" geologists and paleontologists were brought in to assess it. Some created elaborate scientific explanations for it's origins. Many declared it a fake, for example a paleontologist at Yale.

There was heated academic discussion. The expert discussion completely obscured real discussion about the Giant’s origin.

Cardiff GiantBut there was also a Generic product. P. T. Barnum (of circus fame) offered $60,000 for the giant. Hull refused. Barnum then built another giant and began displaying it in New York. This was a fake of a fake. Thousands of people then flocked to see Barnum's giant. Barnum claimed that his giant was the real giant, and that the original was a fake. The owners of the "original" sued Barnum.

Eventually, the story was uncovered and Hull confessed. The pontificating experts looked foolish. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for calling a fake a fake.

The Cardiff Giant is on display in Cooperstown, New York.

Sources: For a good discussion on the role of "experts" in this affair see THE GIANT IN THE EARTH. See also Wikipedia, History Buff, The Cardiff Giant, Museum. Hat tip

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

:) Good