French scientist apologizes for presenting chorizo slice as star

The French scientist Etienne Klein apologized on Twitter for a hoax in which he passed off a slice of chorizo as a picture of the star Proxima Centauri, a gesture that was intended to “incite caution” about the images circulating on social networks.

I come to apologize to those that my hoax, which was not original, may have shocked. It simply wanted to encourage caution with regard to images that seem eloquent by themselves, tweeted Wednesday Etienne Klein, physicist and philosopher of science.

On Sunday, the French scientist had published a photo of a slice of chorizo (Spanish sausage) on a black background, claiming that it was an image of the closest star to the Sun, taken with the brand new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Photo of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light-years from us. It was taken by the JWST. This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day, commented tienne Klein above the photo.

His publication, revealed by the online media HuffPost, has been quite successful on social networks with 1334 retweets, 10 000 likes. And it fooled many people.

I was surprised by how widespread it got: I thought the image would be immediately detected as fake. And when I saw that a big journalist from BFMTV (French 24-hour news channel) was raving about it, and that he might spread it, I pointed out that it was a joke. He took it with a lot of humor, tienne Klein told AFP.

The image of the slice of chorizo is a recurrent hoax, used in particular a few years ago to make believe in the hidden face of the Moon.

The hoax is an old tradition among physicists, says the 64-year-old scientist, research director at the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). As he explained on Twitter, his gesture echoes the Sokal affair, named after an American physicist who published a hoax article in a peer-reviewed journal in 1996.

A hoax has a pedagogical virtue. It tells us about our ability to be fooled, and questions our relationship with sources… We saw during the COVID that some isolated scientists could publish untruths without being contradicted, added tienne Klein. The fact remains that his fake image was much more liked than the real photos of the James Webb telescope, which he had shared on Twitter before.