List of common misconceptions

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Each entry on this list of common misconceptions is worded as a correction; the misconceptions themselves are implied rather than stated. These entries are concise summaries of the main subject articles, which can be consulted for more detail.

A common misconception is a viewpoint or factoid that is often accepted as true but which is actually false. They generally arise from conventional wisdom (such as old wives' tales), stereotypes, superstitions, fallacies, a misunderstanding of science, or the popularization of pseudoscience. Some common misconceptions are also considered to be urban legends, and they are often involved in moral panics.

Arts and culture[edit]

Business[edit]

  • Legal tender laws in the United States do not state that a private business, a person, or an organization must accept cash for payment, though it must be regarded as valid payment for debts when tendered to a creditor.[1]
  • A c. 1915 photo of Adolf Dassler, the namesake for Adidas.
    Adidas is not an acronym for either "All day I dream about sports", "All day I dream about soccer", or "All day I dream about sex". The company was named after its founder Adolf "Adi" Dassler in 1949. The backronyms were jokes published in 1978 and 1981.[2][3][4]
  • The common image of Santa Claus (Father Christmas) as a jolly old man in red robes was not created by The Coca-Cola Company as an advertising gimmick. Santa Claus had already taken this form in American popular culture and advertising by the late 19th century, long before Coca-Cola used his image in the 1930s.[5]
  • The Chevrolet Nova sold very well in Latin American markets; General Motors did not need to rename the car. While no va does mean "it doesn't go" in Spanish, nova was easily understood to mean "new".[6]
  • Netflix was not founded after its co-founder Reed Hastings was charged a $40 late fee by Blockbuster. Hastings made the story up to summarize Netflix's value proposition, and Netflix's founders were actually inspired by Amazon.[7][8][9][10]
  • At no point in time did PepsiCo own the "6th most powerful navy" (or military) in the world after a deal with the Soviet Union. The deal proposed in 1990, in which US$3 billion worth of Pepsi would be traded for 20 decommissioned Soviet warships to be sold for scrap, ultimately did not take place due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and would have only granted PepsiCo "small, old, obsolete, unseaworthy vessels."[11][12]

Food and cooking[edit]

  • Searing does not seal moisture in meat; in fact, it causes it to lose some moisture. Meat is seared to brown it, improving its color, flavor, and texture.[13]
  • Twinkies, an American snack cake generally considered as "junk food", have a shelf life of around 45 days, despite the common claim (usually facetious) that they remain edible for decades.[14][15] Twinkies, with only sorbic acid as an added preservative, normally remain on a store shelf for 7 to 10 days.[16][17]
  • There are no known cases of children having been killed or seriously injured by poisoned candy or fruit given to them by strangers at Halloween or any other time, though there are cases where people have poisoned their own children.[18]
  • With the exception of some perishables, properly stored foods can safely be eaten past their "expiration" dates.[19][20] The vast majority of expiration dates in the United States are regulated by state governments and refer to food quality, not safety; the "Use by" date represents the last day the manufacturer warrants the quality of their product.
  • Seeds are not the spicy part of chili peppers. In fact, seeds contain a low amount of capsaicin, one of several compounds which induce the hot sensation (pungency) in mammals. The highest concentration of capsaicin is located in the placental tissue (the pith) to which the seeds are attached.[21]
  • Turkey meat is not particularly high in tryptophan, and does not cause more drowsiness than other foods.[22] Drowsiness after holiday meals such as Thanksgiving dinner generally comes from the body's metabolism: high protein in the turkey provokes the body to shift its energy consumption to digesting the protein, while the carbohydrates in the side dishes and desserts trigger a "sugar crash" (reactive hypoglycemia).[23]
  • Rice does not cause birds to die by inflating their stomachs until they burst. Birds do eat wild rice, though some species avoid it. This common misconception has often led to weddings using millet, confetti, or other materials to shower the newlyweds as they leave the ceremony, instead of traditionally throwing rice.[24][25]
  • Although spinach is touted as being high in iron and calcium content, and is often served and consumed in its raw form, raw spinach contains high levels of oxalates, which block absorption of iron and calcium in the stomach and small intestine. Spinach cooked in several changes of water has much lower levels of oxalates and is better digested and its nutrients absorbed more completely.[26][27] In addition to preventing absorption and use, high levels of oxalates remove iron from the body.[27][28]
  • Banana-flavored candy does not mimic the taste of a formerly popular variety of banana. The reason banana candy tastes different than bananas is that it is mainly flavored with only one of the many flavors a banana has, isoamyl acetate.[29][30]

Food history[edit]

Microwave ovens[edit]

  • Microwave ovens are not tuned to any specific resonance frequency for water molecules in the food, but rather produce a broad spectrum of frequencies,[51][52][53] cooking food via dielectric heating of polar molecules, including water. Several absorption peaks for water lie within the microwave range, and while it is true that these peaks are caused by quantization of molecular energy levels corresponding to a single frequency,[54] water absorbs radiation across the entire microwave spectrum.
  • Microwave ovens do not cook food from the inside out. 2.45 GHz microwaves can only penetrate approximately 1 centimeter (38 inch) into most foods. The inside portions of thicker foods are mainly heated by heat conducted from the outer portions.[55]
  • Microwave ovens do not cause cancer, as microwave radiation is non-ionizing, and therefore does not have the cancer risks associated with ionizing radiation such as X-rays. No studies have found that microwave radiation causes cancer, even with exposure levels far greater than normal radiation leakage.[56]
  • Microwaving food does not reduce its nutritive value, and may preserve it better than other cooking processes due to shorter cooking times.[57]

Film and television[edit]

Language[edit]

English language[edit]

  • "Irregardless" is a word.[84][85] Nonstandard, slang, or colloquial terms used by English speakers are sometimes alleged not to be real words, despite appearing in numerous dictionaries. All words in English became accepted by being commonly used for a certain period of time; thus, there are many vernacular words currently not accepted as part of the standard language, or regarded as inappropriate in formal speech or writing, but the idea that they are somehow not words is a misconception.[86] Other examples of words that are sometimes alleged not to be words include "burglarize", "licit",[87] and "funnest"[88] which appear in numerous dictionaries as English words.[89]
  • African American Vernacular English speakers do not simply replace "is" with "be" across all tenses, with no added meaning. In fact, AAVE speakers use "be" to mark a habitual grammatical aspect not explicitly distinguished in Standard English.[90]
  • "420" did not originate from the Los Angeles police or penal code for marijuana use.[91] California Penal Code section 420 prohibits the obstruction of access to public land.[91][92] The use of "420" started in 1971 at San Rafael High School, where it indicated the time, 4:20 pm, when a group of students would go to smoke.[91]
  • The word "crap" did not originate as a back-formation of British plumber Thomas Crapper's aptronymous surname, nor does his name originate from the word "crap".[93] The surname "Crapper" is a variant of "Cropper", which originally referred to someone who harvested crops.[94] The word "crap" ultimately comes from Medieval Latin crappa.[95]
  • The word "fuck" did not originate in the Middle Ages as an acronym for either "fornicating under consent of king" or "for unlawful carnal knowledge", either as a sign posted above adulterers in the stocks, or as a sign on houses visible from the road during the Black Plague. Nor did it originate as a corruption of "pluck yew" (an idiom falsely attributed to the English for drawing a longbow).[96] It is most likely derived from Middle Dutch or the Germanic languages, where it either meant "to thrust" or "to copulate with" (fokken in Middle Dutch), "to copulate" (fukka in Norwegian), or "to strike, push, copulate" or "penis" (focka and fock respectively in Swedish).[96][97] Either way, these variations would have been derived from the Indo-European root word -peuk, meaning "to prick".[96]
  • The expression "rule of thumb" did not originate from an English law allowing a man to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb, and there is no evidence that such a law ever existed.[98] The false etymology has been broadly reported in media including The Washington Post (1989), CNN (1993), and Time magazine (1983).[99] The expression originates from the seventeenth century from various trades where quantities were measured by comparison to the width or length of a thumb.
  • The word "the" was never pronounced or spelled "ye" in Old or Middle English.[100] The confusion, seen in the common stock phrase "ye olde", derives from the use of the character thorn (þ), which in Middle English represented the sound now represented in Modern English by "th". In blackletter, þ and y were difficult to distinguish, meaning that "þͤ" (Middle English the.svg) and "þe" very closely resembled "yͤ" and "ye", respectively.[101]
  • The anti-Italian slur wop did not originate from an acronym for "without papers" or "without passport";[102] it is actually derived from the term guappo (roughly meaning thug or "dandy"), from Spanish guapo.[103]
  • "Xmas", along with a modern Santa Claus, used on a Christmas postcard (1910)
    "Xmas" did not originate as a secular plan to "take the Christ out of Christmas".[104] X represents the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Χριστός (Christós), "Christ" in Greek,[105] as found in the chi-rho symbol ΧΡ since the 4th century. In English, "X" was first used as a scribal abbreviation for "Christ" in 1100; "X'temmas" is attested in 1551, and "Xmas" in 1721.[106]
  • While often used interchangeably, venoms are toxins that are actively delivered by being injected via a bite or sting through a venom apparatus, such as fangs or a stinger,[107] whereas poisons are toxins that are passively delivered by being swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.[108]

Law, crime, and military[edit]

  • It is rarely necessary to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person report. When there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, it is important to start an investigation promptly.[109] The UK government advises "You do not have to wait 24 hours before contacting the police."[110] Criminology experts say the first 72 hours in a missing person investigation are the most critical.[111]
  • Twinkies were not claimed to be the cause of San Francisco mayor George Moscone's and supervisor Harvey Milk's murders. In the trial of Dan White, the defense successfully argued White's diminished capacity as a result of severe depression. While eating Twinkies was cited as evidence of this depression, it was never claimed to be the cause of the murders.[112]
  • The US Armed Forces have generally forbidden military enlistment as a form of deferred adjudication (that is, an option for convicts to avoid jail time) since the 1980s. US Navy protocols discourage the practice, while the other four branches have specific regulations against it.[113]
  • The United States does not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work, and police officers may lie when engaged in such work.[114] Claiming entrapment as a defense instead focuses on whether the defendant was induced by undue pressure (such as threats) or deception from law enforcement to commit crimes they would not have otherwise committed.[115]
  • Violent crime rates in the United States declined significantly between 1994 and 2003
    Crime in the United States decreased between 1993 and 2017. The violent crime rate fell 49% in that period,[116] and the number of gun homicides had decreased during that same time period.[117]
  • The First Amendment to the United States Constitution generally prevents only government restrictions on the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, or petition,[118] not restrictions imposed by private individuals or businesses[119] unless they are acting on behalf of the government.[120] Other laws may restrict the ability of private businesses and individuals to restrict the speech of others.[121]
  • Neither the Mafia nor other criminal organizations regularly use or have used cement shoes to drown their victims.[122] There are only two documented cases of this method being used in murders: one in 1964 and one in 2016 (although, in the former, the victim had concrete blocks tied to his legs rather than being enclosed in cement).[123] The French Army did use cement shoes on Algerians killed in death flights during the Algerian War.[124]
  • In the United States, a defendant may not have their case dismissed simply because they were not read their Miranda rights at the time of their arrest. Miranda warnings cover the rights of a person when they are taken into custody and then interrogated by law enforcement.[125][126] If a person is not given a Miranda warning before the interrogation is conducted, statements made by them during the interrogation may not be admissible in a trial. The prosecution may still present other forms of evidence, or statements made during interrogations where the defendant was read their Miranda rights, to get a conviction.[127]
  • Chewing gum is not punishable by caning in Singapore. Although importing and selling chewing gum has been illegal in Singapore since 1992, and corporal punishment still being an applicable penalty for certain offenses in the country, the two facts are unrelated; chewing gum-related offenses have always been only subject to fines, and the possession or consumption of chewing gum itself is not illegal.[128]

Literature[edit]

Music[edit]

Classical music[edit]

Popular music[edit]

Religion[edit]

Buddhism[edit]

  • The historical Buddha is not known to have been fat. The chubby monk known as the "fat Buddha" or "laughing Buddha" in the West is a 10th-century Chinese Buddhist folk hero by the name of Budai.[157]

Christianity[edit]

  • Jesus was most likely not born on any date corresponding to December 25, the date on which his birth is traditionally celebrated as Christmas. It is more likely that his birth was in either the season of spring or perhaps summer, while December 25 in the Northern Hemisphere is at the beginning of winter. Also, although the Common Era ostensibly counts the years since his birth,[158] it is unlikely that he was born in either AD 1 or 1 BC, as such a numbering system would imply. Modern historians estimate a date closer to between 6 BC and 4 BC.[159]
  • The Bible does not say that exactly three magi came to visit the baby Jesus, nor that they were kings, or rode on camels, or that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, nor what color their skin was. Three magi are inferred because three gifts are described, but the Bible says only that there was more than one magus;[160] still, artistic depictions of the nativity have almost always depicted three magi since the 3rd century.[161] Though they are often depicted as being present for Jesus' birth, the Bible specifies only an upper limit of two years for the interval between the birth and the visit (Matthew 2:16),[162] The association of magi with kings—a connection vehemently opposed by John Calvin as a "ridiculous contrivance"[163]—comes from attempts to tie Old Testament prophecies such as Psalm 72 and chapter 60 of the Book of Isaiah, to the magi; most accounts describe the magi as being astrologers or magicians.[164][165]
  • No Biblical or historical evidence supports Mary Magdalene having been a prostitute.[166]
    The idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she met Jesus is not found in the Bible or in any of the other earliest Christian writings. The misconception likely arose due to a conflation between Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (who anoints Jesus's feet in John 11:1–12), and the unnamed "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus's feet in Luke 7:36–50.[166]
  • Paul the Apostle did not change his name from Saul. He was born a Jew, with Roman citizenship inherited from his father, and thus carried both a Hebrew and a Greco-Roman name from birth, as mentioned by Luke in Acts 13:9: "...Saul, who also is called Paul...".[167]
  • The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception is unrelated to the Christian doctrine that Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin. The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was free of original sin from the moment of her own conception. A less common mistake is to think that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary herself was conceived without sexual intercourse.[168][169]
  • Roman Catholic dogma does not say that the pope is either sinless or always infallible.[170] Catholic dogma since 1870 does state that a dogmatic teaching contained in divine revelation that is promulgated by the pope (deliberately, and under certain very specific circumstances; generally called ex cathedra) is free from error, although official invocation of papal infallibility is rare. While most theologians state that canonizations meet the requisites,[171] aside from that, most recent popes have finished their reign without a single invocation of infallibility. Otherwise, even when speaking in his official capacity, dogma does not hold that he is free from error.
  • St. Peter's Basilica is not the mother church of Roman Catholicism, nor is it the official seat of the Pope.[172] These equivalent distinctions belong to the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, which is located in Rome outside of Vatican City but over which the Vatican has extraterritorial jurisdiction.[172] This also means that St. Peter's is not a cathedral in the literal sense of that word.[172] St. Peter's is, however, used as the principal church for many papal functions.[172]
  • Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) no longer practice polygamy.[173] However, a man may be "sealed" to another wife if his current wife dies, and is considered a polygamist in the hereafter.[174] Currently, the LDS Church excommunicates any members who practice "living" polygamy within the organization.[175] However, some Mormon fundamentalist sects still practice polygamy within their groups.[176] For more details on this subject, see Mormonism and polygamy.
  • Saint Augustine did not say "God created hell for inquisitive people".[177] He actually said: "I do not give the answer that someone is said to have given (evading by a joke the force of the objection), 'He was preparing hell for those who pry into such deep subjects.' ... I do not answer in this way. I would rather respond, 'I do not know,' concerning what I do not know than say something for which a man inquiring about such profound matters is laughed at, while the one giving a false answer is praised."[178] So Augustine is saying that he would not say this and that he does not know the answer to the question.
  • The First Council of Nicaea did not establish the books of the Bible. The Old Testament had likely already been established by Hebrew scribes before Christ. The development of the New Testament canon was mostly completed in the third century before the Nicaea Council was convened in 325;[179] it was finalized, along with the deuterocanon, at the Council of Rome in 382.[180]

Islam[edit]

Afghan women wearing burqas
Yemeni women wearing niqābs
Turkish women wearing hijabs
  • Most Muslim women do not wear a burqa (also transliterated as burka or burkha), which covers the body, head, and face, with a mesh grille to see through. Many Muslim women cover their hair and face (excluding the eyes) with a niqāb, or just their hair with a hijab.[181] However, there are also Muslim women who wear neither face nor head coverings of any kind.[182]
  • A fatwa is a non-binding legal opinion issued by an Islamic scholar under Islamic law; it is therefore commonplace for fatwā from different authors to disagree. The misconception[183] that it is a death sentence stems from a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 where he said that the author Salman Rushdie had earned a death sentence for blasphemy.[184]
  • The word "jihad" does not always mean "holy war"; literally, the word in Arabic means "struggle". While there is such a thing as "jihad bil saif", or jihad "by the sword",[185] many modern Islamic scholars usually say that it implies an effort or struggle of a spiritual kind.[186] Scholar Louay Safi asserts that "misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the nature of war and peace in Islam are widespread in both the Muslim societies and the West", as much following 9/11 as before.[187]
  • The Quran does not promise martyrs 72 virgins in heaven. It does mention virgin female companions,[188][189] houri, to all people—martyr or not—in heaven, but no number is specified. The source for the 72 virgins is a hadith in Sunan al-Tirmidhi by Imam Tirmidhi.[190][191] Hadiths are sayings and acts of the prophet Muhammad as reported by others, and as such they are not part of the Quran itself. Muslims are not meant to necessarily believe all hadiths, and that applies particularly to those hadiths that are weakly sourced, such as this one.[192] Furthermore, the correct translation of this particular hadith is a matter of debate.[190]

Judaism[edit]

Sports[edit]

Video games[edit]

History[edit]

Ancient[edit]

Middle Ages[edit]

  • The Middle Ages were not "a time of ignorance, barbarism and superstition"; the Church did not place religious authority over personal experience and rational activity; and the term "Dark Ages" is rejected by modern historians.[246]
  • While modern life expectancies are much higher than those in the Middle Ages and earlier,[247] adults in the Middle Ages did not die in their 30s or 40s on average. That was the life expectancy at birth, which was skewed by high infant and adolescent mortality. The life expectancy among adults was much higher;[248] a 21-year-old man in medieval England, for example, could expect to live to the age of 64.[249][248]
  • There is no evidence that Viking warriors wore horns on their helmets; this would have been highly impractical in battle.[250]
  • Vikings did not drink out of the skulls of vanquished enemies. This was based on a mistranslation of the skaldic poetic use of ór bjúgviðum hausa (branches of skulls) to refer to drinking horns.[251]
  • Vikings did not name Iceland "Iceland" as a ploy to discourage others from settling it. Naddodd and Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson both saw snow and ice on the island when they traveled there, giving the island its name.[252] Greenland, on the other hand, was named in the hope that it would help attract settlers.[253]
  • In the tale of King Canute and the tide, the king did not command the tide to reverse in a fit of delusional arrogance.[254] His intent, according to the story, was most likely to prove a point to members of his privy council that no man is all-powerful, and we all must bend to forces beyond our control, such as the tides.
  • Marco Polo did not import pasta from China,[255] a misconception that originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries to promote the use of pasta in the United States.[256] Marco Polo describes a food similar to "lasagna" in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar.
  • There is no evidence that iron maidens were used for torture, or even yet invented, in the Middle Ages. Instead they were pieced together in the 18th century from several artifacts found in museums to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.[257]
  • An anti-clockwise spiral staircase at Hohenzollern Castle in Germany. The choice of anticlockwise or clockwise spirals in castles had more to do with convenience than with hindering right-handed attackers.
    Spiral staircases in castles were not designed in a clockwise direction to hinder right-handed attackers.[258][259] While clockwise spiral staircases are more common in castles than anti-clockwise, they were even more common in medieval structures without a military role such as religious buildings.[260][258]
  • The plate armor of European soldiers did not stop soldiers from moving around or necessitate a crane to get them into a saddle. They would routinely fight on foot and could mount and dismount without help.[261] However, armor used in tournaments in the late Middle Ages was significantly heavier than that used in warfare,[262] which may have contributed to this misconception.
  • Whether chastity belts, devices designed to prevent women from having sexual intercourse, were invented in medieval times is disputed by modern historians. Most existing chastity belts are now thought to be deliberate fakes or anti-masturbatory devices from the 19th and early 20th centuries.[263]
  • Medieval depiction of a spherical Earth
    Medieval Europeans did not believe Earth was flat. Scholars have known the Earth is spherical since at least 500 BC.[264] This myth was created in the 17th century by Protestants to argue against Catholic teachings.[265]
  • Medieval cartographers did not regularly write "here be dragons" on their maps. The only maps from this era that have the phrase inscribed on them are the Hunt-Lenox Globe and the Ostrich Egg Globe, next to a coast in Southeast Asia for both of them. Maps instead were more likely to have "here are lions" inscribed. Maps in this period did occasionally have illustrations of mythical beasts like dragons and sea serpents, as well as exotic animals like elephants, on them.[266][267][268][269]
  • Christopher Columbus' efforts to obtain support for his voyages were not hampered by belief in a flat Earth, but by valid worries that the East Indies were farther than he realized.[270] In fact, Columbus grossly underestimated the Earth's circumference because of two calculation errors.[271] The myth that Columbus proved the Earth was round was propagated by authors like Washington Irving in A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.[264][272]
  • Christopher Columbus was not the first European to visit the Americas:[273] Leif Erikson, and possibly other Vikings before him, explored Vinland, which is presumably both Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence as far as northeastern New Brunswick. Ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows prove that at least one Norse settlement was built in Newfoundland, confirming a narrative in the Saga of Erik the Red. Further, Columbus never reached mainland North America, only mainland South America (1498–1500) and various American islands.

Early modern[edit]

Modern[edit]

  • Napoleon on the Bellerophon by Charles Lock Eastlake. Napoleon was taller than his nickname, le Petit Caporal, suggests.
    Napoleon Bonaparte was not especially short for a Frenchman of his time. He was the height of an average French male in 1800, but short for an aristocrat or officer.[288] After his death in 1821, the French emperor's height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet, which in English measurements is 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m).[289] There are competing explanations for why he was nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal), one possibility is that the moniker was used as a term of endearment.[290] Napoleon was often accompanied by his imperial guard, who were selected for their height, and this may have contributed to a perception that he was comparatively short.[291]
  • Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, but the celebration of the Mexican Army's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Mexico's Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1810 is celebrated on September 16.[292]
  • Victorian-era doctors did not invent the vibrator to cure female "hysteria" by triggering orgasm.[293]
  • Albert Einstein, photographed at 14, did not fail mathematics at school.
    Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics classes in school. Einstein remarked, "I never failed in mathematics.... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."[294] Einstein did, however, fail his first entrance exam into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School (ETH) in 1895, when he was two years younger than his fellow students, but scored exceedingly well in the mathematics and science sections, then passed on his second attempt.[295]
  • Alfred Nobel did not omit mathematics in the Nobel Prize due to a rivalry with mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler, as there is little evidence the two ever met, nor was it because Nobel's spouse had an affair with a mathematician, as Nobel was never married. The more likely explanation is that Nobel believed mathematics was too theoretical to benefit humankind, as well as his personal lack of interest in the field.[296] (See also: Nobel Prize controversies)
  • The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not "make the trains run on time". Much of the repair work had been performed before he and the Fascist Party came to power in 1922. Moreover, the Italian railways' supposed adherence to timetables was more propaganda than reality.[297]
  • There is no evidence of Polish cavalry mounting a brave but futile charge against German tanks using lances and sabers during the German invasion of Poland in 1939. This story may have originated from German propaganda efforts following the charge at Krojanty, in which a Polish cavalry brigade surprised German infantry in the open, and successfully charged and dispersed them, until driven off by armored cars. While Polish cavalry still carried the saber for such opportunities, they were trained to fight as highly mobile, dismounted cavalry (dragoons) and issued with light anti-tank weapons.[298]
  • During the occupation of Denmark by the Nazis during World War II, King Christian X of Denmark did not thwart Nazi attempts to identify Jews by wearing a yellow star himself. Jews in Denmark were never forced to wear the Star of David. The Danish resistance did help most Jews flee the country before the end of the war.[299]
  • Leon Trotsky was not killed with an ice pick, (a small, awl-like tool for chipping ice) but with an ice axe – a larger tool used for mountaineering.[300][301]
  • US President John F. Kennedy's words "Ich bin ein Berliner" are standard German for "I am a Berliner (citizen of Berlin)."[302] It is not true that by not leaving out the indefinite article "ein", he changed the meaning of the sentence from the intended "I am a citizen of Berlin" to "I am a Berliner", a Berliner being a type of German pastry, similar to a jelly donut, amusing Germans.[303] Furthermore, the pastry which is known by many names in Germany was not then nor is it now commonly called "Berliner" in the Berlin area.[304]
  • Although popularly known as the "red telephone", the Moscow–Washington hotline was never a telephone line, nor were red phones used. The first implementation of the hotline used teletype equipment, which was replaced by facsimile (fax) machines in 1988. Since 2008, the hotline has been a secure computer link over which the two countries exchange email.[305] Moreover, the hotline links the Kremlin to the Pentagon, not the White House.[306]
  • Not all skinheads are white supremacists; many skinheads identify as left-wing or apolitical, and many oppose racism, for example the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.[307][308][309][310] The subculture originated from the 1950s British working class, whose members were influenced by both black and Jamaican music and subcultures, particularly the Jamaican rude boy subculture and the mods subculture. As a result, many initial skinheads were either black or West Indian.[309] The association between skinheads and white supremacy came about in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of far-right groups like the National Front and the British Movement recruiting from the subculture to obtain grassroots support,[309] some punk bands within the movement adopting Nazi imagery for shock value,[311] and an incident in July 1981 when skinheads attending a concert in a predominantly South Asian neighborhood in London rioted and attacked several Asian-owned stores.[312][309]
  • Russia does not explicitly have an independence day, nor is there a date that officially commemorates such an occasion. There have been many states that predate the current Russian Federation, and the public holiday of Russia Day only celebrates the establishment of present-day Russia, which occurred on June 12, 1990. Both Russians and foreigners commonly refer to Russia Day as "Russia's Independence Day" since it reflects the break from the Soviet Union that held dominion over Russia from 1922 to 1991.[313]

United States[edit]

Science, technology, and mathematics[edit]

Astronomy and spaceflight[edit]

External video
James Randi on Astrology
YouTube logo
YouTube video
video icon James Randi on Astrology

Biology[edit]

Vertebrates[edit]

  • Old elephants near death do not leave their herd to go to an "elephants' graveyard" to die.[399]
  • The color of a red cape does not enrage a bull.
    Bulls are not enraged by the color red, used in capes by professional matadors. Cattle are dichromats, so red does not stand out as a bright color. It is not the color of the cape, but the perceived threat by the matador that incites it to charge.[400]
  • Lemmings do not engage in mass suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. The scenes of lemming suicides in the Disney documentary film White Wilderness, which popularized this idea, were completely fabricated.[401] The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late 19th century, though its exact origins are uncertain.[402]
  • Dogs do not sweat by salivating.[403] Dogs actually do have sweat glands and not only on their tongues; they sweat mainly through their footpads. However, dogs do primarily regulate their body temperature through panting.[404] (See also: Dog anatomy)
  • Dogs do not consistently age seven times as quickly as humans. Aging in dogs varies widely depending on the breed; certain breeds, such as giant dog breeds and English bulldogs, have much shorter lifespans than average. Most dogs age consistently across all breeds in the first year of life, reaching adolescence by one year old; smaller and medium-sized breeds begin to age more slowly in adulthood.[405]
  • The phases of the moon have no effect on the vocalizations of wolves, and wolves do not howl at the moon.[406] Wolves howl to assemble the pack usually before and after hunts, to pass on an alarm particularly at a den site, to locate each other during a storm, while crossing unfamiliar territory, and to communicate across great distances.[407]
  • There is no such thing as an "alpha" in a wolf pack. An early study that coined the term "alpha wolf" had only observed unrelated adult wolves living in captivity. In the wild, wolf packs operate more like human families: there is no defined sense of rank, parents are in charge until the young grow up and start their own families, younger wolves do not overthrow an "alpha" to become the new leader, and social dominance fights are situational.[408][409]
  • Bats are not blind. While about 70% of bat species, mainly in the microbat family, use echolocation to navigate, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight. In addition, almost all bats in the megabat or fruit bat family cannot echolocate and have excellent night vision.[410]
  • Contrary to the apologue about the boiling frog, frogs die immediately when cast into boiling water, rather than leaping out; furthermore, frogs will attempt to escape cold water that is slowly heated past their critical thermal maximum.[411]
  • The memory span of goldfish is much longer than just a few seconds. It is up to a few months long.[412][413]
  • Sharks can have cancer. The misconception that sharks do not get cancer was spread by the 1992 book Sharks Don't Get Cancer, which was used to sell extracts of shark cartilage as cancer prevention treatments. Reports of carcinomas in sharks exist, and current data do not support any conclusions about the incidence of tumors in sharks.[414]
  • Great white sharks do not mistake human divers for seals, nor other pinnipeds. When attacking pinnipeds, the shark surfaces quickly and attacks violently. In contrast, attacks on humans are slower and less violent: the shark charges at a normal pace, bites, and swims off. Great white sharks have efficient eyesight and color vision; the bite is not predatory, but rather for identification of an unfamiliar object.[415]
  • Snake jaws cannot unhinge. The posterior end of the lower jaw bones contains a quadrate bone, allowing jaw extension. The anterior tips of the lower jaw bones are joined by a flexible ligament allowing them to bow outwards, increasing the mouth gape.James MacDonald (June 26, 2019). "How Snakes Swallow". Jstor Daily.Corey Binns (September 11, 2012). "How Do Snakes Swallow Large Animals?". Live Science.
  • Tomato juice and tomato sauce are ineffective at neutralizing the odor of a skunk; it only appears to work due to olfactory fatigue.[416] For dogs that get sprayed, The Humane Society of the United States recommends using a mixture of dilute hydrogen peroxide (3%), baking soda, and dishwashing liquid.[417]
  • Porcupines do not shoot their quills. They can detach, but do not project.[418][419]
  • Mice do not have a special appetite for cheese, and will eat it only for lack of better options; they actually favor sweet, sugary foods. The myth may have come from the fact that before refrigeration, cheese was usually stored outside and was therefore an easy food for mice to reach.[420]
  • There is no credible evidence that the candiru, a South American parasitic catfish, can swim up a human urethra if one urinates in the water in which it lives. The sole documented case of such an incident, written in 1997, has been heavily criticized upon peer review, and this phenomenon is now largely considered a myth.[421]
  • Piranhas do not only eat meat but are omnivorous, and they only swim in schools to defend themselves from predators and not to attack. They very rarely attack humans, only when under stress and feeling threatened, and even then, bites typically only occur on hands and feet.[422]
  • The hippopotamus does not produce pink milk. Hipposudoric acid, a red pigment found in hippo skin secretions, does not affect the color of their milk, which is white or beige.[423]
  • Pacus, South American fish related to piranhas, do not attack or feed on human testicles. This myth originated from a misinterpreted joke in a 2013 report of a pacu being found in Øresund, the strait between Sweden and Denmark, which claimed that the fish ate "nuts."[424][425]
  • The Pacific tree frog is the only frog species that makes a "ribbit" sound. The misconception that all frogs, or at least all those found in North America, make this sound comes from its extensive use in Hollywood films.[426][427][428]
  • The bold, powerful cry commonly associated with the bald eagle in popular culture is actually that of a red-tailed hawk. Bald eagle vocalizations are much softer and chirpy, and bear far more resemblance to the calls of gulls.[429][430]
  • Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand to hide from enemies or to sleep.[431] This misconception's origins are uncertain but it was probably popularized by Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE), who wrote that ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed."[432]
  • A duck's quack actually does echo,[433] although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.[434] Despite this, a British panel show compiling interesting facts has been given the same name.

Invertebrates[edit]

Bombus pratorum over an Echinacea purpurea inflorescence; a widespread misconception holds that bumblebees should be incapable of flight.
  • Earthworms do not become two worms when cut in half. Only a limited number of earthworm species[435] are capable of anterior regeneration. When such earthworms are bisected, only the front half of the worm (where the mouth is located) can feed and survive, while the other half dies.[436] Some species of planarian flatworms, however, actually do become two new planarians when bisected or split down the middle.[437]
  • Houseflies have an average lifespan of 20 to 30 days, not 24 hours.[438] The misconception may arise from confusion with mayflies, which, in some species, have an adult lifespan of as little as 5 minutes.[439]
  • The daddy longlegs spider (Pholcidae) is not the most venomous spider in the world; though they can indeed pierce human skin, the tiny amount of venom they carry causes only a mild burning sensation for a few seconds.[440] In addition, there is confusion regarding the use of the name daddy longlegs, because harvestmen (order Opiliones, which are arachnids but not spiders, and have no venom), crane flies (which are insects), and male mosquitoes (also insects) are also sometimes called daddy longlegs in regional dialects, and may occasionally share the misconception of being venomous.[441][442]
  • Horseshoe crabs are not crabs. Their popular name is a misnomer as they are not even crustaceans as crabs are, but are chelicerates, most closely related to arachnids such as spiders and scorpions.[443][444]
  • People do not swallow large numbers of spiders during sleep. A sleeping person makes noises that warn spiders of danger.[445][446]
  • It is not true that aerodynamic theory predicts that bumblebees should not be able to fly; the physics of insect flight is quite well understood. The misconception appears to come from a calculation based on a fixed-wing aircraft mentioned in a 1934 book.[447]
  • Earwigs are not known to purposely climb into external ear canals, though there have been anecdotal reports of earwigs being found in the ear.[448] Entomologists suggest that the origin of the name is actually a reference to the appearance of the hindwings, which are unique and distinctive among insects, and resemble a human ear when unfolded.[449][450]
  • While certainly critical to the pollination of many plant species, European honey bees are not essential to human food production, despite claims that without their pollination, humanity would starve or die out "within four years".[451] In fact, many important crops need no insect pollination at all. The ten most important crops,[452] accounting for 60% of all human food energy,[453] all fall into this category.
A female Chinese mantis simultaneously copulating with and cannibalizing her mate; this does not occur every time mantises mate.

Plants[edit]

  • Carnivorous plants do survive without food. Catching insects, however, supports their growth.[466]
  • Poinsettias are not highly toxic to humans or cats. While it is true that they are mildly irritating to the skin or stomach,[467] and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten, they rarely cause serious medical problems.[468]
  • Sunflowers with the Sun clearly visible behind them
    Sunflowers do not always point to the Sun. Flowering sunflowers face a fixed direction (often east) all day long, but do not necessarily face the Sun.[469] However, in an earlier developmental stage, before the appearance of flower heads, the immature buds do track the Sun (a phenomenon called heliotropism), and the fixed alignment of the mature flowers toward a certain direction is often the result.[470]

Evolution and paleontology[edit]

Chemistry and materials science[edit]

  • Glass does not flow at room temperature as a high-viscosity liquid.[540] Although glass shares some molecular properties with liquids, it is a solid at room temperature and only begins to flow at hundreds of degrees above room temperature.[541][542] Old glass which is thicker at the bottom than at the top comes from the production process, not from slow flow;[541][542] no such distortion is observed in other glass objects of similar or even greater age.[541][542][543]
  • Most diamonds are not formed from highly compressed coal. More than 99% of diamonds ever mined have formed in the conditions of extreme heat and pressure about 140 kilometers (87 mi) below the earth's surface. Coal is formed from prehistoric plants buried much closer to the surface, and is unlikely to migrate below 3.2 kilometers (2.0 mi) through common geological processes. Most diamonds that have been dated are older than the first land plants, and are therefore older than coal.[544]
  • Diamonds are not infinitely hard, and are subject to wear and scratching: although they are the hardest known material on the Mohs Scale, they can be scratched by other diamonds[545] and worn down even by much softer materials, such as vinyl records.[546]
  • Neither tin foil nor tin cans still use tin as a primary material. Aluminum foil has replaced tin foil in almost all uses since the 20th century; tin cans now primarily use steel or aluminum as their main metal.[547]

Computing and the Internet[edit]

Economics[edit]

  • Total population living in extreme poverty, by world region 1987 to 2015[563]
    The total number of people living in extreme absolute poverty globally, by the widely used metric of $1.00/day (in 1990 U.S. dollars) has decreased over the last several decades, but most people surveyed in several countries incorrectly think it has increased or stayed the same.[564]
  • Human population growth is decreasing and the world population is expected to peak and then begin falling during the 21st century. Improvements in agricultural productivity and technology are expected to be able to meet anticipated increased demand for resources, making a global human overpopulation scenario unlikely.[565][566][567]
  • Monopolists do not try to sell items for the highest possible price, nor do they try to maximize profit per unit, but rather they try to maximize total profit.[568]
  • For any given production set, there is not a set amount of labor input (a "lump of labor") to produce that output. This fallacy is commonly seen in Luddite and later, related movements as an argument either that automation causes permanent, structural unemployment, or that labor-limiting regulation can decrease unemployment. But, in fact, changes in capital allocation, efficiency, and economies of learning can change the amount of labor input for a given set of production.[569]
  • Income is not a direct factor in determining credit score in the United States. Rather, credit score is impacted by the amount of unused available credit, which is in turn affected by income.[570] Income is also considered when evaluating creditworthiness more generally.
  • The US public vastly overestimates the amount spent on foreign aid.[571]
  • An increase in gross income will never reduce one's post-tax earnings (net income) due to putting one in a higher tax bracket. In every country with tax brackets, they only indicate the marginal tax rate, as opposed to the total income tax rate; only the additional income earned in the higher tax bracket is taxed at the elevated rate.[572] An increase in gross income can reduce one's net income in a welfare cliff, however, when benefits are suddenly withdrawn when passing a certain income threshold.[573]

Environmental science[edit]

Geography[edit]

Human body and health[edit]

  • A widely held misconception in South Korea is that leaving electric fans on while asleep can be fatal.
    Sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running does not result in "fan death", as is widely believed in South Korea.[599]
  • Waking up a sleepwalker does not harm them. Sleepwalkers may be confused or disoriented for a short time after awakening, but the health risks associated with sleepwalking are from injury or insomnia, not from being awakened.[600]
  • Drowning is often inconspicuous to onlookers.[601] In most cases, the instinctive drowning response prevents the victim from waving or yelling (known as "aquatic distress"),[601] which are therefore not dependable signs of trouble; indeed, most drowning victims undergoing the response do not show prior evidence of distress.[602]
  • Human blood in veins is not actually blue. Blood is red due to the presence of hemoglobin; deoxygenated blood (in veins) has a deep red color, and oxygenated blood (in arteries) has a light cherry-red color. Veins below the skin can appear blue or green due to subsurface scattering of light through the skin, and aspects of human color perception. Many medical diagrams also use blue to show veins, and red to show arteries, which contributes to this misconception.[603]
  • Exposure to a vacuum, or experiencing all but the most extreme uncontrolled decompression, does not cause the body to explode, or internal fluids to boil. (However, fluids in the mouth or lungs will boil at altitudes above the Armstrong limit.) Instead, it will lead to a loss of consciousness once the body has depleted the supply of oxygen in the blood, followed by death from hypoxia within minutes.[604]
  • Stretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.[605]
  • Exercise-induced delayed onset muscle soreness is not caused by lactic acid build-up. Muscular lactic acid levels return to normal levels within an hour after exercise; delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be due to microtrauma from unaccustomed or strenuous exercise.[606]
  • Swallowing gasoline does not generally require special emergency treatment, as long as it goes into the stomach and not the lungs, and inducing vomiting can make it worse.[607]
  • Urine is not sterile, not even in the bladder.[608]
  • Sudden immersion into freezing water does not typically cause death by hypothermia, but rather from the cold shock response, which can cause cardiac arrest, heart attack, or hyperventilation leading to drowning.[609]
  • Cremated remains are not ashes in the usual sense. After the incineration is completed, the dry bone fragments are swept out of the retort and pulverized by a machine called a Cremulator—essentially a high-capacity, high-speed blender—to process them into "ashes" or "cremated remains".[610]
  • The lung's alveoli are not tiny balloons that expand and contract under positive pressure following the Young–Laplace equation, as is taught in some physiology and medical textbooks. The tissue structure is more like a sponge with polygonal spaces that unfold and fold under negative pressure from the chest wall.[611]
  • Half of body heat is not lost through the head, and covering the head is no more effective at preventing heat loss than covering any other portion of the body. Heat is lost from the body in proportion to the amount of exposed skin.[612][613] The head accounts for around 7–9% of the body's surface, and studies have shown that having one's head submerged in cold water only causes a person to lose 10% more heat overall.[614] This myth likely comes from a flawed United States military experiment in 1950, involving a prototype Arctic survival suit where the head was one of the few body parts left exposed.[615] The misconception was further perpetuated by a 1970 military field manual that claimed "40–45%" of heat is lost through the head, based on the 1950 study.[613][615]
  • Adrenochrome is not harvested from living people and has no use as a recreational drug. Hunter S. Thompson conceived a fictional drug of the same name in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, apparently as a metaphor and unaware that a real substance by that name existed; it is Thompson's fictional adrenochrome, and not the real chemical compound, that is the source of numerous conspiracy theories revolving around human trafficking to harvest the fictional drug.[616][617]
  • Men and women have the same number of ribs, 24 or 12 pairs. The erroneous idea that women have one more rib than men may stem from the biblical creation story of Adam & Eve.[618][619]
  • The use of cotton swabs (aka cotton buds or Q-Tips) in the ear canal has no associated medical benefits and poses definite medical risks.[620][621][622][623]
  • The five stages of grief model, let alone the idea that there are any stages to grief, is not supported in peer-reviewed research or objective clinical observation.[624][625][626][627] The model was originally based on uncredited work and originally applied to the terminally ill instead of the grieving or bereaved.[628]

Disease and preventive healthcare[edit]

  • The common cold is caused by viruses, not cold temperature, although cold temperature may somewhat weaken the immune system, and someone already infected with a cold virus but showing no symptoms can become symptomatic after they are exposed to low temperatures.[629][630] Viruses are more likely to spread during the winter for a variety of reasons such as dry air, less air circulation in homes, people spending more time indoors, and lower vitamin D levels in humans.[631][632][633]
  • In those with the common cold, the color of the sputum or nasal secretion may vary from clear to yellow to green and does not indicate the class of agent causing the infection.[637]
  • Vitamin C does not prevent or treat the common cold, although it may have a protective effect during intense cold-weather exercise. If taken daily, it may slightly reduce the duration and severity of colds, but it has no effect if taken after the cold starts.[638]
  • The bumps on a toad are not warts and cannot cause warts on humans.
    Humans cannot catch warts from toads or other animals; the bumps on a toad are not warts.[639] Warts on human skin are caused by human papillomavirus, which is unique to humans.
  • Neither cracking one's knuckles nor exercising while in good health causes osteoarthritis.[640]
  • Stress does not play a major role in hypertension.[641] Specific relaxation therapies are not supported by the evidence.[642] Acute stress has been shown to temporarily increase blood-pressure levels.[641] Chronic stress may cause a sustained rise in high blood-pressure.[641]
  • In people with eczema, bathing does not dry the skin and may in fact be beneficial.[643]
  • There have never been any programs in the US that provide access to dialysis machines in exchange for pull tabs on beverage cans.[644] This rumor has existed since at least the 1970s, and usually cites the National Kidney Foundation as the organization offering the program. The Foundation itself has denied the rumor, noting that dialysis machines are primarily funded by Medicare.[645]
  • High dietary protein intake is not associated with kidney disease in healthy people.[646] While significantly increased protein intake in the short-term is associated with changes in renal function, there is no evidence to suggest this effect persists in the long-term and results in kidney damage or disease.[647]
  • Rhinoceros horn in powdered form is not used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine as Cornu Rhinoceri Asiatici (犀角, xījiǎo, "rhinoceros horn"). It is prescribed for fevers and convulsions,[648] a treatment not supported by evidence-based medicine.
  • Leprosy is not auto-degenerative as commonly supposed, meaning that it will not (on its own) cause body parts to be damaged or fall off.[649] Leprosy causes rashes to form and may degrade cartilage and, if untreated, inflame tissue. In addition, leprosy is only mildly contagious, partly because 95% of those infected with the mycobacteria that causes leprosy do not develop the disease.[650][649] Tzaraath, a Biblical disease that disfigures the skin is often identified as leprosy, and may be the source of many myths about the disease.[651]
  • Rust does not cause tetanus infection. The Clostridium tetani bacterium is generally found in dirty environments. Since the same conditions that harbor tetanus bacteria also promote rusting of metal, many people associate rust with tetanus. C. tetani requires anoxic conditions to reproduce and these are found in the permeable layers of rust that form on oxygen-absorbing, unprotected ironwork.[652]
  • Quarantine has never been a standard procedure for those with severe combined immunodeficiency, despite the condition's popular nickname ("bubble boy syndrome") and its portrayal in films. A bone marrow transplant in the earliest months of life is the standard course of treatment. The exceptional case of David Vetter, who indeed lived much of his life encased in a sterile environment because he would not receive a transplant until age 12 (the transplant, because of failure to detect mononucleosis, instead killed Vetter), was one of the primary inspirations for the "bubble boy" trope.[653]
  • Gunnison, Colorado, did not avoid the 1918 flu pandemic by using protective sequestration. The implementation of protective sequestration did prevent the virus from spreading outside a single household after a single carrier came into the town while it was in effect, but it was not sustainable and had to be lifted in February 1919. A month later, the flu killed five residents and infected dozens of others.[654]
  • Antibiotics are ineffective in treating many diseases, and their overuse is not without risks. The misconception that they are effective against many common viral infections leads to their overuse. In fact, antibiotics are used to treat bacterial diseases, not viral diseases.[655][656]
  • The frequency of side effects in medication package inserts describes how often the effect occurs after taking a drug, not because of the drug.[657]
  • A dog's mouth is not cleaner than a human's mouth. A dog's mouth contains almost as much bacteria as a human mouth.[658][659]
  • There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that crystal healing has any effect beyond acting as a placebo.[660][661][662]
  • There is a scientific consensus[663][664][665][666][667] that currently available food derived from genetically modified crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.[668][669][670][671][672][673][674]

Nutrition, food, and drink[edit]

Alcoholic beverages[edit]
  • Alcoholic beverages do not make the entire body warmer.[701] Alcoholic drinks create the sensation of warmth because they cause blood vessels to dilate and stimulate nerve endings near the surface of the skin with an influx of warm blood. This can actually result in making the core body temperature lower, as it allows for easier heat exchange with a cold external environment.[702]
  • Alcohol does not necessarily kill brain cells.[703] Alcohol can, however, lead indirectly to the death of brain cells in two ways. First, in chronic, heavy alcohol users whose brains have adapted to the effects of alcohol, abrupt ceasing following heavy use can cause excitotoxicity leading to cellular death in multiple areas of the brain.[704] Second, in alcoholics who get most of their daily calories from alcohol, a deficiency of thiamine can produce Korsakoff's syndrome, which is associated with serious brain damage.[705]
  • The order in which different types of alcoholic beverages are consumed ("Grape or grain but never the twain" and "Beer before liquor never sicker; liquor before beer in the clear") does not affect intoxication or create adverse side effects.[706]
  • Absinthe has no hallucinogenic properties, and is no more dangerous than any other alcoholic beverage of equivalent proof.[707] This misconception stems from late-19th- and early-20th-century distillers who produced cheap knockoff versions of absinthe, which used copper salts to recreate the distinct green color of true absinthe, and some also reportedly adulterated cheap absinthe with poisonous antimony trichloride, reputed to enhance the louching effect.[708]

Sexuality and reproduction[edit]

Skin and hair[edit]

  • Water-induced wrinkles are not caused by the skin absorbing water and swelling.[729] They are caused by the autonomic nervous system, which triggers localized vasoconstriction in response to wet skin, yielding a wrinkled appearance.[730]
  • A person's hair and fingernails do not continue to grow after death. Rather, the skin dries and shrinks away from the bases of hairs and nails, giving the appearance of growth.[731]
  • Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker or darker. This belief is thought to be due to the fact that hair that has never been cut has a tapered end, so after cutting, the base of the hair is blunt and appears thicker and feels coarser. That short hairs are less flexible than longer hairs contributes to this effect.[732]
  • Hair care products cannot actually "repair" split ends and damaged hair. They can prevent damage from occurring in the first place, and they can also smooth down the cuticle in a glue-like fashion so that it appears repaired, and generally make hair appear in better condition.[733]
  • Pulling or cutting a grey hair will not cause two grey hairs to grow in its place. It will only cause the one hair to grow back because only one hair can grow from each follicle.[734]
  • MC1R, the gene mostly responsible for red hair, is not becoming extinct, nor will the gene for blond hair do so, although both are recessive alleles. Redheads and blonds may become rarer but will not die out unless everyone who carries those alleles dies without passing their hair color genes on to their children.[735]
  • Acne is mostly caused by genetics, and is not caused by a lack of hygiene or eating fatty foods, though certain medication or a carbohydrate-rich diet may worsen it.[736]
  • Dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene, though infrequent hair-washing can make it more obvious. The exact causes of dandruff are uncertain, but they are believed to be mostly genetic and environmental factors.[737]

Inventions[edit]

  • James Watt did not invent the steam engine,[738] nor were his ideas on steam engine power inspired by a kettle lid pressured open by steam.[739] Watt improved upon the already commercially successful Newcomen atmospheric engine (invented in 1712) in the 1760s and 1770s, making certain improvements critical to its future usage, particularly the external condenser, increasing its efficiency, and later the mechanism for transforming reciprocating motion into rotary motion; his new steam engine later gained huge fame as a result.[740]
  • Although the guillotine was named after the French physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, he neither invented nor was executed with this device. He died peacefully on his own bed in 1814.[741]
  • Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet.[742] A forerunner of the modern toilet was invented by the Elizabethan courtier Sir John Harington in the 16th century,[743] and in 1775 the Scottish mechanic Alexander Cumming developed and patented a design for a toilet with an S-trap and flushing mechanism.[744] Crapper, however, did much to increase the popularity of the flush toilet and introduced several innovations in the late 19th century, holding nine patents, including one for the floating ballcock.[745] The word crap is also not derived from his name (see the Words, phrases and languages section above).[746]
  • Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.[747] He did, however, develop the first practical light bulb in 1880 (employing a carbonized bamboo filament), shortly prior to Joseph Swan, who invented an even more efficient bulb in 1881 (which used a cellulose filament).
  • Henry Ford did not invent either the automobile or the assembly line. He did improve the assembly line process substantially, sometimes through his own engineering but more often through sponsoring the work of his employees.[748] Karl Benz (co-founder of Mercedes-Benz) is credited with the invention of the first modern automobile,[749] and the assembly line has existed throughout history.
  • Al Gore never said that he had "invented" the Internet. What Gore actually said was, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet", in reference to his political work towards developing the Internet for widespread public use.[750] Gore was the original drafter of the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which provided significant funding for supercomputing centers,[751] and this in turn led to upgrades of a major part of the already-existing early 1990s Internet backbone, the NSFNet,[752] and development of NCSA Mosaic, the browser that popularized the World Wide Web.[751] (See also: Al Gore and information technology)

Mathematics[edit]

Physics[edit]

  • An illustration of the (incorrect) equal-transit-time explanation of aerofoil lift
    The lift force is not generated by the air taking the same time to travel above and below an aircraft's wing.[767] This misconception, sometimes called the equal transit-time fallacy, is widespread among textbooks and non-technical reference books, and even appears in pilot training materials. In fact, the air moving over the top of an aerofoil generating lift is always moving much faster than the equal transit theory would imply,[767] as described in the incorrect and correct explanations of lift force.
  • Blowing over a curved piece of paper does not demonstrate Bernoulli's principle. Although a common classroom experiment is often explained this way,[768] Bernoulli's principle only applies within a flow field, and the air above and below the paper is in different flow fields.[769] The paper rises because the air follows the curve of the paper and a curved streamline will develop pressure differences perpendicular to the airflow.[770][771]
  • The Coriolis effect does not cause water to consistently drain from basins in a clockwise/counter-clockwise direction depending on the hemisphere. The common myth often refers to the draining action of flush toilets and bathtubs. In fact, rotation is determined by whatever minor rotation is initially present at the time the water starts to drain, as the magnitude of the coriolis acceleration is negligibly small compared to the inertial acceleration of flow within a typical basin.[772]

Psychology and neuroscience[edit]

  • A small number of young children have eidetic memory, where they can recall an object with high precision for a few minutes after it is no longer present.[787] True photographic memory (the ability to remember endless images, particularly pages or numbers, with such a high precision that the image mimics a photo) has never been demonstrated to exist in any individual.[788] Many people have claimed to have a photographic memory, but those people have been shown to have high precision memories as a result of mnemonic devices rather than a natural capacity for detailed memory encoding.[789] There are rare cases of individuals with exceptional memory, but none of them have a memory that mimics that of a camera.
  • All humans learn in fundamentally similar ways.[790] In particular, there is no evidence that people have different learning styles,[790] or that catering teaching styles to purported learning styles improves information retention.[791]
  • The phase of the moon does not influence fertility, cause a fluctuation in crime, or affect the stock market. There is no correlation between the lunar cycle and human biology or behavior. However, the increased amount of illumination during the full moon may account for increased epileptic episodes, motorcycle accidents, or sleep disorders.[792][793][794][795]

Mental disorders[edit]

  • Vaccines do not cause autism. There have been no successful attempts to reproduce the fraudulent research by British ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield's research was ultimately shown to have been manipulated.[796]
  • Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder of people who have at least average intelligence and who have difficulty in reading and writing that is not otherwise explained by low intelligence. Although some dyslexic people also have problems with letter or word reversal and mirror writing, letter reversal is common in children learning to read and write. It is not a defining symptom and does not form the basis of a diagnosis of dyslexia.[797][798]
  • Self-harm is not generally an attention-seeking behavior. People who engage in self-harm are typically very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behavior, leading them to go to great lengths to conceal it from others.[799] They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing.[800][801]
  • There is no evidence that a chemical imbalance or neurotransmitter deficiency is the sole factor in depression and other mental disorders, but rather a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.[802][803]
  • Schizophrenia is characterized by continuous or relapsing episodes of psychosis. Major symptoms include hallucinations (typically hearing voices), delusions, paranoia, and disorganized thinking. Other symptoms include social withdrawal, decreased emotional expression, and apathy.[804] The term was coined from the Greek roots schizein and phrēn, "to split" and "mind", in reference to a "splitting of mental functions" seen in schizophrenia, not a splitting of the personality.[805] It does not involve split or multiple personalities—a split or multiple personality is dissociative identity disorder.[806]
  • Not all pedophiles commit child sexual abuse, and using the psychiatric definition of the word pedophile, not all child sexual abuse is committed by pedophiles. Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. In general usage, a pedophile is any adult who is sexually attracted to or engages in sexual acts with a child.[807]

Brain[edit]

  • Although Phineas Gage's brain injuries, caused by a several-foot-long tamping rod driven completely through his skull, caused him to become temporarily disabled, fanciful descriptions of his "immoral behavior" in later life are without factual basis.[808]
  • Mental abilities are not separated into the left and right cerebral hemispheres of the brain. Many abilities, such as motor control, memory, and general reasoning, are served equally by the left and right cerebral hemispheres. If one hemisphere is damaged or removed at an early age, these functions can often be recovered in part, or even in full, by the other hemisphere (see neuroplasticity). Some mental functions, particularly speech and language, tend to activate one hemisphere of the brain more than the other (e.g. Broca's area and Wernicke's area) in some kinds of tasks.[809]
  • Golgi-stained neurons in human hippocampal tissue. It is commonly believed that humans will not grow new brain cells, but research has shown that some neurons can reform in humans.
    Humans do not generate all of the brain cells they will ever have by the age of two years. Although this belief was held by medical experts until 1998, it is now understood that new neurons can be created after infancy in some parts of the brain into late adulthood.[810]
  • People do not use only 10% of their brains.[811][812] While it is true that a small minority of neurons in the brain are actively firing at any one time, a healthy human will normally use most of their brain over the course of a day, and the inactive neurons are important as well. The idea that activating 100% of the brain would allow someone to achieve their maximum potential and/or gain various psychic abilities is common in folklore and fiction,[812][813][814] but doing so in real life would likely result in a deadly seizure.[815][816] This misconception was attributed to William James, who apparently used the expression only metaphorically.[813]

Senses[edit]

Transportation[edit]

  • The Bermuda Triangle does not have any more shipwrecks or mysterious disappearances than most other waterways.[828]
  • Toilet waste is never intentionally jettisoned from an aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks and emptied into toilet waste vehicles.[829] Blue ice is caused by accidental leakage from the waste tank. Passenger train toilets, on the other hand, have indeed historically flushed onto the tracks; modern trains in most developed countries usually have retention tanks on board and therefore do not dispose of waste in such a manner.
  • Automotive batteries stored on a concrete floor do not discharge any faster than they would on other surfaces,[830] in spite of worry among Americans that concrete harms batteries.[831] Early batteries with porous, leaky cases may have been susceptible to moisture from floors, but for many years lead–acid car batteries have had impermeable polypropylene cases.[832] While most modern automotive batteries are sealed, and do not leak battery acid when properly stored and maintained,[833] the sulfuric acid in them can leak out and stain, etch, or corrode concrete floors if their cases crack or tip over or their vent-holes are breached by floods.[834]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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