Cat burning was a form of zoosadistic entertainment in 17th century Paris, France. In this form of entertainment, people would gather dozens of cats in a net and hoist them high into the air from a special bundle onto a bonfire. According to Norman Davies, the assembled people “shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.”
“It was the custom to burn a basket, barrel, or sack full of live cats, which was hung from a tall mast in the midst of the bonfire; sometimes a fox was burned. The people collected the embers and ashes of the fire and took them home, believing that they brought good luck. The French kings often witnessed these spectacles and even lit the bonfire with their own hands. In 1648 Louis XIV, crowned with a wreath of roses and carrying a bunch of roses in his hand, kindled the fire, danced at it and partook of the banquet afterwards in the town hall. But this was the last occasion when a monarch presided at the midsummer bonfire in Paris. At Metz midsummer fires were lighted with great pomp on the esplanade, and a dozen cats, enclosed in wicker cages, were burned alive in them, to the amusement of the people. Similarly at Gap, in the department of the Hautes-Alpes, cats used to be roasted over the midsummer bonfire.”
In 1970 three American researchers, John E. Ware, Donald H. Naftulin and Frank A. Donnelly, designed an experiment to find out whether a brilliant delivery technique of a talk could so completely bamboozle a group of experts that they overlooked the fact that the content was nonsense. The result was the hilarious Dr Fox Lecture and the answer was: yes! The experts didn’t notice a thing.
The lecture that Myron L. Fox delivered to the assembled experts had an impressive enough title: ‘Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education’. Those responsible for running the University of Southern California School of Medicine’s psychiatry department’s continuing education programme had taken themselves off to Lake Tahoe in northern California for their annual conference and a continuing education program. There, Fox – who was billed as an ‘authority on the application of mathematics to human behaviour’ – presented the first paper. His polished performance so impressed the audience of psychiatrists, family doctors and general internists that nobody noticed that the man standing at the lectern wasn’t really Myron L. Fox from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine but Michael Fox a movie actor who though having considerable experience in playing doctors in TV shows didn’t know the first thing about game theory. (According to the Internet Movie Data Base Michael Fox was the reason Michael J. Fox from back to the future fame inserted the ‘J’ into his name, as the Screen Actors Guild only allows one person of each name to be registered).
Fox was trained to give this talk only the day before. He was given an article from „Scientific American“ on game theory and worked up a lecture from it that was intentionally full of imprecise waffle, invented words and contradictory assertions.