More Ancient Document Epistemic Nihilism

Man-Bats and Woman-Bats have populated the moon. It’s a fact.

Man- and Woman-bats playing at a lunar resort in 1835

As Daniel Capra has pointed out, newspapers can qualify for ancient documents and an exception to the rule against hearsay. Daniel J. Capra, “Electronically Stored Information and the Ancient Documents Exception to the Hearsay Rule Exception to the Hearsay Rule: Fix It Before People Find Out About It,” 17 Yale J.L. & Tech. 1 (2015). Newspaper articles older than 20 years, found in a place where you would expect them, such as the library or an on-line archive, are admissible for their truth. Ammons v. Dade City, Florida, 594 F. Supp. 1274, 1280 & n.8 (M.D. Fla. 1984) (citing pre-Federal Rules of Evidence case, Dallas County v. Commercial Union Insurance Co.,286 F.2d 388 (5th Cir.1961) (upholding admissibility of 58 year old newspaper articles to illustrate the scope of the ancient doctrine exception), and post-Rule cases, Bell v. Combined Registry Co.,397 F. Supp. 1241, 1246, 1247 (N.D.Ill. 1975) aff’d 536 F.2d 164 (7th Cir. 1976) (admitting newspaper articles into evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(16)).

In August 1835, The New York Sun ran a series of six articles that announced and described the discovery of interesting life forms on the moon, including unicorns, two-legged beavers, and most important man-bats. Also women-bats; all frolicking among giant crystals, flowing rivers, and lush vegetation. See Andrew Grant, “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D, F.R.S, &c. at The Cape of Good Hope. [From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science] New York Sun (August 1835). 

Dr. Grant was described as a colleague of the then famous astronomer Sir John Herschel, but alas, the author noted by the Sun never existed. And the Edinburgh Journal of Science had long been defunct well before 1835, when the articles ran in the Sun. The articles are often attributed to a Cambridge-educated journalist, Richard Adams Locke. Locke supposedly was satirizing a popular religious writer, Reverend [sic] Thomas Dick, whose books described extraterrestrial life, including billions of inhabitants on the moon. Of course, clerics are used to making things up or accepting ancient documents as Gospel truth.

Today the incident is known as the Great Moon Hoax, which shows that fake news has been with us for a long time, perhaps forever. Matthew Goodman, The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century (2008)

You may wonder whether the newspaper articles, found in places where you would expect them, could count as evidence in a courtroom today for man-bats. And woman-bats. The Sun has never retracted its series on Man-Bats, and the paper is now defunct.  There is no one alive today who had the opportunity to observe the lunar surface through a high-power telescope in the 1830s. Perhaps the opponent of this evidence could call an expert witness on hoaxes to offer an opinion that the series of articles were, in his opinion, a fabrication. Of course, many hoaxes persist. Maybe we should do away with a federal rule that would give life to these fantastic creatures.

Man-bat with lunar volcano in background circa 1835

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