For months the story circulated among Internet newsgroups: In a simulated demonstration of armed reconnaissance put on for visiting Americans, Australian defense scientists showed kangaroos launching some two dozen Stinger missiles at the helicopter pilots ambushing them. Alarmed, the visitors vowed to steer clear forever of Aussie wildlife.
Well, it sounded good -- too good, in fact, to be true. So we did some investigating. And though this E-myth -- unlike the ones about asbestos tampons and pet-killing air freshener -- sprang from an actual event, it too accumulated a fair amount of, shall we say, cyberbaggage in its troop around the loop.
Here's what we found: On May 6, 1999, during the Australian Science Festival, in Canberra, Anne-Marie Grisogono, a senior scientist for the Defense Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO), gave a talk about the state of defense-simulation research. Injecting a bit of humor, Grisogono related an anecdote about the DSTO's armed-reconnaissance-helicopter-mission simulators, which pilots use to train for combat. To make the simulations more realistic, she said, the programmers had included kangaroos in the digital landscape. But alas, they forgot to remove the "shoot" part of the coding when they transferred the infantry "scatter and shoot" software to the marsupials. The oversight resulted in Stinger-tailed kangaroos firing beach balls (the virtual weapons) during the software's first test run.
"It's not true that this happened in front of a bunch of visitors," says Grisogono. "We don't normally try things for the first time in front of an audience." Nor were there any "hotshot" pilots or special missions for the extant kangaroos.
So how did this E-myth come to be? Apparently, a particularly creative scientist in Grisogono's audience embellished the tale and posted it on an Aussie newsgroup, says DSTO spokesman Grant Thompson. "Since then, it has hopped away in all directions."