Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

17 June, 2010
Rat Fink

That would be us.

I’m leafing through a delightful — albeit rather snarky — book, written 15 years ago for the purpose of setting straight those of us who occasionally subscribe to (and unwittingly disseminate) erroneous information. Call it “Conventional Wisdom Takes a Hit.”

In his book, Everything You Know is Wrong (a slightly impertinent title, with the cover photo to match), Paul Kirchner delivers the real goods on dozens of longstanding “truths” in the areas of science, history, entertainment and culture. Behold a partial list:

  • An airplane’s black box is black. No, it’s orange. Why make such an important piece of evidence so hard to find after a crash?
  • CIA agents are globe-trotting adventurers. Actually, less than 5% are involved in covert operations. The majority spend their lives analyzing brain-numbing trivia.
  • The US Constitution refers to a wall of “separation between church and state.” Nope. In fact, that phrase is nowhere to be found in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It was actually mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a committee of church men, during his tenure as President of the US.
  • Charles Darwin claimed that man evolved from apes. Not quite. Darwin claimed that man and apes evolved from a common ancestor, and the split in species occurred about 5 million years ago.
  • Henry Ford invented the modern automobile. Actually, that credit goes to Germany’s Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. Ford didn’t invent the assembly line, either; Ransom Olds did it in 1902. Rather, Ford’s feat was making the automobile affordable for the average citizen.
  • Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death. Negative. What happens is that after death, soft tissues shrink as they dry out, exposing a bit of extra nail or hair length, which might give the illusion of growth.
  • Jumping up in a falling elevator might spare you a grisly death. Nice, but the math doesn’t work. After three seconds of free fall, the elevator would reach a downward velocity of 96 feet per second. An ambitious leap might reach 14 feet per second, leaving you plummeting at 82 feet per second. You’d still be just as dead.
  • (Mama) Cass Elliot choked to death on a ham sandwich. Nope. She died of a heart attack. The coroner found no substance blocking her airway.
  • Mattress/pillow tags that say “Do not remove under penalty of law.” While these tags definitely exist, their message is not directed at the consumer. Rather, it applies to the retailer, and is intended for the protection of the consumer (although I’m not really sure what that means…).
  • Olympic gold medals are made of gold. Negative. They’re made of gold-plated silver. The real gold is in the subsequent commercial endorsements. (Actually, I found that gold medals used to be made of gold, but they stopped that practice after 1912.)
  • The Pennsylvania Dutch came from Holland. No. “Dutch” in this case is a loose translation of “Deutsch,” as in Deutschland. The “Pennsylvania Dutch” emigrated from Germany.

Some of the “corrections” I read were surprising, and there were others I’m not sure I agree with (more research needed). But an interesting diversion nonetheless. I hope your day is replete with interesting diversions.

:-)

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Rae
Rae
17 June, 2010 8:28 am

I just recently picked up “What makes flamingos pink?” by Bill McLain at a used book sale and it’s set up just like that. He’s not quite as snarky… but only by a little bit. Good stuff. If I had a fourth job, I’d try to dispute stuff all day.

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Rat Fink Reply:

I know, me too! I love sleuthing…

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