On October 15, 2009, in Fort Collins, Colorado, the infamous balloon boy hoax occurred. Six year old Falcon Heene was believed to be stuck in a homemade gas balloon resembling a UFO saucer. (An image of the gas balloon can be found at http://a.abcnews.com//images/Technology/abc_heene_balloon_091015_mn.jpg.) The saucer floated uncontrollably over Colorado for two hours before it landed. It was believed that Falcon was in the balloon due to eyewitness account by one of his brothers and his parent's accounts. (A more detailed account of the Balloon Boy Hoax can be found at http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AheadoftheCurve/boy-floats-away-hot-air-balloon/story?id=8837704).
However, instead of the boy being discovered inside the saucer, he was found safe at home, hiding in the attic. Meanwhile, authorities and volunteers searched for the boy, thinking he may have fallen out of the aircraft. After the boy had been found, things began to settle down. The family was not held responsible for criminal charges or cost of the search.
However, during an interview on CNN, a reporter asked Falcon why he did not come out of hiding when he his parents were looking and calling for him. The boy simply answered, "You guys said that we did this for a show."(A video for this interview can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI6UONWCq7A.) With this new evidence, the incident now seemed more like a publicity stunt. Both of the parents were then penalized with jail time and restitution fees.
A scientific thinking principle that should have been used in determining whether Falcon was in the helium balloon is extraordinary claims. The extraordinary claims principle requires extraordinary evidence. There must be tangible proof for a claim. Instead of believing that a child was trapped in a helium balloon floating uncontrollably thousands of feet in the air, one could use the extraordinary claims principle and deduct that the whole incident was a hoax, and the child was not in the balloon. Just because somebody says that they saw Bigfoot does not mean that we have to immediately believe them.
Another principle that could have been used is the ruling out rival hypotheses principle. Authorities excluded the alternate explanation for the incident such as: the boy was not in the balloon. Therefore, by overlooking other findings, the authority wasted manpower and finances. Either the ruling out rival hypothesis or extraordinary claims principle would have shown the balloon boy's hoax's errors.
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