Science projects about forwarding email

(Last significant update to this page: 31 May 1996.)

In April of '95, and again (in a slightly different form) a few weeks later, I received the following forwarded email:

 MARCH 15,  1995

 My name is Beth and I am in the Fourth Grade at a Catholic Elementary
 School near Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.

 Jason and I are doing a science project and we need your help.

 We are trying to get as many messages from different countries and
 cities around the world, just by posting this to a few USENET
 newsgroups and some famous people's email addresses as printed in
 PEOPLE magazine,  we're sorry if it might be off topic but we were
 trying to get widespread general worldwide distribution of this note.

 Please send a note with the following information:

 Dear Beth and Jason,

      Good luck on your science project.

      My name is  (FIRST NAME ONLY)
      I live in  (city, state, province, country)

      (If school age please give grade level)
      (If out of school what is your occupation)
      (If your primary language is other than English please write
       a greeting along with an english translation)

       Date and time sent!!!!
 That's all,  we hope to get 1,000 responses as our teacher
 said we might get only 10 or 12!!!
 Send your email to [email address removed]

 We'll check it every day and keep all responses on a disk and a
 hard copy printout for display at the Science Fair.

 Thanks for your help in our project!!!

 /////////////////////Beth ///////////

There are several obvious problems with the above:

  • There's no way to tell whether it's real or a hoax designed to fill someone's emailbox.
  • There's no expiration date.
  • It emphasizes sheer number of responses; this encourages spamming.
  • The Net is enormous. Asking the Net at large to send you email is like taking a sip of water from a firehose.

In May of '96, I received the following forwarded email:

Subject: science fair

Hi, our names are Stevie and Amanda. We are in the 5th grade at the
Phillipston Memorial school, Phillipston, Massachusetts, USA. We are doing
a science project on the Internet. We want to see how many responses we can
get back in two weeks. (We are only sending out 2 letters).

Please respond and then send this letter to anyone you communicate with on
the Internet. Respond to [email address removed by Jed].

1. Where do you live (state and country)?
2. From whom did you get this letter?

Thank you,
Stevie and Amanda

According to later email from the same account (which belonged to the mother of one of the kids), by 4/10/96 the kids had received 2000 messages. According to an article in the Telegraph & Gazette of Worcester, MA (as quoted on the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup), they'd received more than 10,000 responses by 4/12/96, and more than 35,000 by the 17th of April. At some subsequent point, the service provider started forwarding all mail directed to them to /dev/null (that is, mail to those kids now just gets erased, disappears into the ether).

Obviously, no matter how well-intentioned people may've been in forwarding this mail, it was not a good idea.

And hey, if you're a teacher thinking about assigning this as a project to your kids: please think again. You won't regret it.