Common Misconceptions

This article is up for deletion on Wikipedia and I believe it’s actually a pretty fun read and has some interesting “facts” that a lot of people mis-learn in school or are told wrong when they’re growing up. Anyway… copy/pasting it here in the event it gets deleted. I enjoyed reading it.


Ancient to early modern history

  • In ancient Rome, Romans did not build rooms called vomitoria in which to purge themselves after a meal. Vomitoria were the entranceways through which crowds entered and exited a stadium.
  • There is no evidence that Vikings wore horns on their helmet.
  • There is no evidence that iron maidens were invented in the Middle Ages or even used for torture, despite being shown so in some media, but instead were pieced together in the 18th century from several artifacts found in museums in order to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.

  • Christopher Columbus‘s efforts to obtain support for his voyages were not hampered by a European belief in a flat Earth. Sailors and navigators of the time knew that the Earth was spherical, but (correctly) disagreed with Columbus’ estimate of the distance to India, which was approximately 1?6th of the actual distance. If the Americas did not exist, and had Columbus continued to India, he would have run out of supplies before reaching it at the rate he was traveling. Without the ability to determine longitude at sea, he could not have corrected his error.[clarification needed] This problem remained unsolved until the 18th century, when the lunar distance method emerged in parallel with efforts by inventor John Harrison to create the first marine chronometers. The intellectual class had known that the Earth was spherical since the works of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Eratosthenes made a very good estimate of the Earth’s diameter in the third century BC. (See also: Myth of the Flat Earth)
  • Contrary to the popular image of the Pilgrim Fathers, the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, did not dress in black, wear buckles, or wear black steeple hats. According to Plimoth Plantation historian James W. Baker, this image was formed in the 19th century when buckles were a kind of emblem of quaintness. This is also the reason illustrators gave Santa Claus buckles.
  • Marie Antoinette did not actually use the phrase “let them eat cake” when she heard that the French peasantry was starving due to a dearth of bread. The phrase was first published in Rousseau’s Confessions when Marie was only 10 years old and most scholars believe that Rousseau coined it himself, or that it was said by Maria-Theresa, the wife of Louis XIV. Even Rousseau (or Maria-Theresa) did not use the exact words but actually “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“Let them eat brioche [a rich type of bread]”). Marie Antoinette was a very unpopular ruler and many people therefore attribute the phrase “let them eat cake” to her, in keeping with her reputation as being hard-hearted and disconnected from her subjects.
  • George Washington did not have wooden teeth. According to a study of Washington’s four known dentures by a forensic anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh (in collaboration with the National Museum of Dentistry, itself associated with the Smithsonian Museum), the dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth (including horse and donkey teeth).
  • It is a common misconception that the signing of the Declaration of Independence occurred on July 4, 1776. The final language of the document was approved by the Second Continental Congress on that date, it was printed and distributed on July 4 and 5, but the actual signing occurred on August 2, 1776.
  • The United States Constitution was written on parchment, not hemp paper. It is likely that drafts of the document were written on hemp, since a large portion of paper at the time was made from the material.

Modern history

  • Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) (pictured) was not particularly short, and did not have a Napoleon complex. After his death in 1821, the French emperor’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet. This corresponds to 5 feet 6.5 inches in modern international feet, or 1.686 metres. There are competing explanations for why he was nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal), but few modern scholars believe it referred to his physical stature. Another explanation is that Napoleon was often seen with his Imperial Guard, which contributed to the perception of him being short because the Imperial Guards were above average height.
  • Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 did not immediately free all American slaves. The Proclamation pertained only to areas within rebelling states that were not under Union control. Since those states did not recognize the power of the federal government, most slaves were not immediately freed as a direct result of the Proclamation. Regions in the South that were under Confederate control when the Proclamation was issued ignored its dictum, so slave ownership persisted until Union troops captured further Southern territory. Immediately affected regions were Tennessee, southern Louisiana, and parts of Virginia. It was only with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that slavery was officially abolished in all of the United States. Thirty-six of the United States recognize June 19 as a holiday, Juneteenth, celebrating the anniversary of the day the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas in 1865.
  • Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not “make the trains run on time”. Much of the repair work had been performed before Mussolini and the Fascists came to power in 1922. Accounts from the era also suggest that the Italian railways’ legendary adherence to timetables was more myth than reality. Mussolini’s trains were subject to frequent labour disruptions due to his conflict with labour unions.
  • During the German Invasion of Poland in 1939, there is no evidence of Polish Cavalry mounting a brave but futile charge against German tanks using lances and sabres. This seems to have its origins in German propaganda efforts following the Charge at Krojanty in which a Polish cavalry brigade surprised German infantry in the open and charged with sabres until driven off by armoured cars. While Polish cavalry still carried the sabre for such opportunities, they were trained to fight as highly mobile, dismounted infantry and issued with light anti-tank weapons.
  • 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 Danes did help most Jews flee the country before the end of the war.
  • John F. Kennedy‘s words “Ich bin ein Berliner” are standard German for “I am a Berliner”. An urban legend has it that due to his use of the indefinite article ein, Berliner is translated as jam doughnut, and that the population of Berlin was amused by the supposed mistake. The word Berliner is not commonly used in Berlin to refer to the Berliner Pfannkuchen; they are simply called Pfannkuchen. In other parts of Germany, though, the term “Berliner” actually also is used for the product in question, so there is a grain of truth in the myth, but of course no Berliner assumed a mistake in the quote.
  • According to various polls, between 20 to 24% of Americans incorrectly believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. The White House describes Obama as a “devout Christian” who prays every day.

Legislation and crime

  • Entrapment law in the United States does not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work. The law is specifically concerned with enticing people to commit crimes they would not have considered in the normal course of events.
  • It is frequently rumored that the expression “rule of thumb“, which is used to indicate a technique for generating a quick estimate, was originally coined from a law allowing a man to beat his wife with a stick, provided it was not thicker than the width of his thumb. In fact, the origin of this phrase remains uncertain, but the false etymology has been broadly printed in papers and media such as The Washington Post (1989), CNN (1993), and Time Magazine (1983).
  • It is often asserted that knife attacks are more dangerous than an attack with a firearm (“knives are more lethal than guns”). While self-defense instructors often make a point of emphasizing that a knife attack may very easily result in death, there is no statistical evidence that knife attacks are more likely to result in death than an attack with a handgun. A 1968 study claimed that gun attacks are five times more lethal than knife attacks. This figure has since become a controversial point of dispute in gun politics. A review of several studies published in 1983 concluded that lethality of wounds from handguns is between 1.3 and 3 times higher than lethality of wounds from knives.

Food and cooking

  • Searing meat does not “seal in” moisture, and in fact may actually cause meat to lose moisture. Generally, the value in searing meat is that it creates a brown crust with a rich flavor via the Maillard reaction.
  • Mussels that do not open when cooked may still be fully cooked and safe to eat.
  • Some cooks believe that food items cooked with wine or liquor will be non-alcoholic, because alcohol’s low boiling point causes it to evaporate quickly when heated. However, a study found that much of the alcohol remains: 25% after 1 hour of baking or simmering, and 10% after 2 hours.
  • Sushi does not mean “raw fish”, and not all sushi includes raw fish. The name sushi refers to the vinegared rice used in it. Sushi is made with sumeshi, rice which has been gently folded with rice vinegar, salt, and sugar dressing. The rice is traditionally topped by raw fish, cooked seafood, fish roe, egg, and/or vegetables such as cucumber, daikon radish, and avocado. The related Japanese term, sashimi, is closer in definition to “raw fish”, but still not quite accurate: Sashimi can also refer to any uncooked meat or vegetable, and usually refers more to the dish’s presentation than to its ingredients. The dish consisted of sushi rice and other fillings wrapped in seaweed is called makizushi, and includes both “long rolls” and “hand rolls”.
  • Microwave ovens do not cook food from the inside out. Microwave radiation penetrates food and causes direct heating only a short distance from the surface. This distance is called the skin depth. As an example, lean muscle tissue (meat), has a skin depth of only about 1 cm at microwave oven frequencies.
  • Placing metal inside a microwave oven does not damage the oven’s electronics. There are, however, other safety-related issues: Electrical arcing may occur on pieces of metal not designed for use in a microwave oven, and metal objects may become hot enough to damage food, skin, or the interior of the microwave oven. Metallic objects that are designed for microwave use can be used in a microwave with no danger; examples include the metalized surfaces used in browning sleeves and pizza-cooking platforms.
  • Swallowed chewing gum does not take seven years to digest. In fact, chewing gum is mostly indigestible, but passes through the digestive system at the same rate as other matter.



  • The discovery of the spherical shape of the Earth does not date to the modern era or to the Middle Ages. It was well known throughout the Hellenistic period. See Myth of the Flat Earth.
  • It is commonly claimed that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the Moon. This is false. None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any specific man-made object from the Moon, and even earth-orbiting astronauts can barely see it, but city lights are easily visible on the night side of Earth from orbit. The misconception is believed to have been popularized by Richard Halliburton decades before the first moon landing. Shuttle astronaut Jay Apt has been quoted as saying “…the Great Wall is almost invisible from only 180 miles up.”
  • Black holes, unlike their common image, do not act as “cosmic vacuum cleaners” any more than other stars. The collapse of a star into a black hole is an explosive process, which means, according to Mass–energy equivalence, that the resulting black hole would be of lower mass than its parent object, and actually have a weaker gravitational pull. The source of the confusion comes from the fact that a black hole exists in a space much smaller but orders of magnitude more dense than a star, causing its gravitational pull to be much stronger closer to its surface. But, as an example, were the Sun to be replaced by a black hole of the same mass, the orbits of all the planets surrounding it would be unaffected.
  • When a meteor lands on Earth (after which it is termed a meteorite), it is not necessarily hot. A meteoroid’s great speed during entry is enough to melt or vaporize its outermost layer, but any molten material would probably be quickly blown off (ablated). The interior of the meteoroid probably does not have time to heat up because the hot rocks are poor conductors of heat. Also, atmospheric drag can slow small meteoroids to terminal velocity by the time they hit the ground, giving the surface time to cool down.[page needed]
  • It is a common misconception that seasons are caused by the Earth being closer to the Sun in the summer than in the winter. In fact, the Earth is actually farther from the Sun when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Seasons are the result of the Earth being tilted on its axis by 23.5 degrees. As the Earth orbits the Sun, different parts of the world receive different amounts of direct sunlight. When an area of the Earth’s surface is oriented perpendicular to the incoming sunlight, it will receive more radiation than it will when it is oriented at an angle to the incoming sunlight. In July, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun giving longer days and more direct sunlight; in January, it is tilted away. The seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, which is tilted towards the Sun in January and away from the Sun in July. In tropical areas of the world, there is no noticeable change in the amount of sunlight.
    Further information: Effect of sun angle on climate
  • It is not easier to balance an egg on its end on the first day of spring. In fact, the ease or difficulty of balancing an egg is the same 365 days a year. This myth is said to originate with the egg of Li Chun, an ancient Chinese folk belief that it is easier to balance an egg on Li Chun, the first day of spring in the Chinese calendar. In Chinese Li means setup/erect, Chun spring/egg. Setup spring is a Chinese solar term, literally interpreted as erecting an egg for fun. It was introduced to the western world in a Life article in 1945, and popularized once again by self-titled “urban shaman” Donna Henes, who has hosted an annual egg-balancing ceremony in New York City since the mid-1970s.


  • The claim that a duck‘s quack does not echo is false, although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.
  • DNA is not made of protein. DNA is instead a nucleic acid. DNA and protein are closely interrelated, however. DNA is always accompanied by proteins in the chromatin of plants and animals. See protein biosynthesis for DNA’s involvement in assembling protein. See DNA replication for enzymatic proteins’ involvement in assembling DNA.
  • The notion that goldfish have a memory of only three seconds is false.
  • Lemmings do not engage in mass suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. They will, however, occasionally, and unintentionally fall off cliffs when venturing into unknown territory, with no knowledge of the boundaries of the environment. The misconception is due largely to the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the migration scenes (also staged by using multiple shots of different groups of lemmings) on a large, snow-covered turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff. The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late nineteenth century.
  • Bats are not blind. While most bat species do use echolocation to augment their vision, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight.
  • It’s a common myth that an earthworm becomes two worms when cut in half. However, only a limited number of earthworm species are capable of anterior regeneration. When most earthworms are bisected, only the front half of the worm (where the mouth is located) can survive, while the other half dies. Also, species of the planaria family of flatworms actually do become two new planaria when bisected or split down the middle.
  • According to urban myth, the daddy longlegs spider (Pholcus phalangioides) is the most venomous spider in the world, but the shape of their mandibles leaves them unable to bite humans, rendering them harmless to our species. In reality, they can indeed pierce human skin, though the tiny amount of venom they carry causes only a mild burning sensation for a few seconds. In addition, there is also confusion regarding the use of the name daddy longlegs, because harvestmen (order Opiliones, which are not spiders) and crane flies (which are insects) are also known as daddy longlegs, and share (also incorrectly) the myth of being venomous.
  • Poinsettias are not highly toxic. While it is true that they are mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten, an American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed no fatalities, and furthermore that a strong majority of poinsettia exposures are accidental, involve children, and usually do not result in any type of medical treatment.
  • Ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. This tale originates from the fact that the male ostrich will dig a large hole (up to 6 to 8 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep) in the sand for the eggs. Predators cannot see the eggs across the countryside which gives the nest some measure of protection. The female and male take turns sitting on the eggs and, because of the indention in the ground, usually just blend into the horizon. All birds turn their eggs (with their beaks) several times a day during the incubation period. From a distance it may appear as though the bird has its head in the sand.
  • The flight mechanism and aerodynamics of the bumblebee (as well as other insects) are actually quite well understood, in spite of the urban legend that calculations show that they should not be able to fly. In the 1930s a German scientist, using flawed techniques, indeed postulated that bumblebees theoretically should not be able to fly, although he later retracted the suggestion. However, the theory became generalized to the false notion that “scientists think that bumblebees should not be able to fly.”
  • Sharks can actually suffer from cancer. The myth that sharks do not get cancer was spread by the 1992 book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer by I. William Lane and used to sell extracts of shark cartilage as cancer prevention treatments. Reports of carcinomas in sharks exist, and current data do not allow any speculation about the incidence of tumors in sharks.
  • It is not harmful to baby birds to pick them up and return them to their nests, despite the common belief that doing so will cause the mother to reject it.
  • 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 that angers the bull, but rather the movement of the fabric that irritates the bull and incites it to charge.


Tyrannosaurus rex. Non-avian dinosaurs died out in the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period.

  • The word theory in the theory of evolution does not imply mainstream scientific doubt regarding its validity; the concepts of theory and hypothesis have specific meanings in a scientific context. While theory in colloquial usage may denote a hunch or conjecture, a scientific theory is a set of principles that explains observable phenomena in natural terms. Evolution is a theory in the same sense as germ theory, gravitation, or plate tectonics.

A reconstruction of Aegyptopithecus, a primate—and not a monkey—predating the split between the human and Old World monkey lineages in human evolution.

  • Evolution does not claim humans evolved from monkeys, chimpanzees or any other modern-day primates. Instead, humans and monkeys share a common ancestor that lived about 40 million years ago. This common ancestor diverged into separate lineages, one evolving into so-called New World monkeys and the other into Old World monkeys and apes. Humans are part of the Hominidae (great ape) family, which also includes chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Similarly, the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, which lived between 5 and 8 million years ago, evolved into two lineages, one eventually becoming modern humans and the other the two extant chimpanzee species.
  • Evolution is not a progression from inferior to superior organisms, and it also does not necessarily result in an increase in complexity. A population can evolve to become simpler, having a smaller genome, but devolution is a misnomer.
  • It is a common misconception, even among adults, that humans and dinosaurs coexisted: According to the California Academy of Sciences, around 41% of U.S. adults mistakenly believe they co-existed. The last of the dinosaurs died around 65 million years ago, after the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, whereas the earliest Homo genus (humans) evolved between 2.3 and 2.4 million years ago.
  • Evolution does not violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. A common argument against evolution is that entropy, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, increases over time, and thus evolution could not produce increased complexity. However, the law does not refer to complexity and only applies to closed systems, which the Earth is not, as it absorbs and radiates the Sun’s energy.
  • Evolution does not “plan” to improve organism’s fitness to survive. For example, an incorrect way to describe Giraffe evolution is to say that giraffe necks grew longer over time because they needed to reach tall trees. Evolution doesn’t “see” a need and respond to it. A mutation resulting in longer necks would be more likely to benefit an animal in an area with tall trees than an area with short trees, and thus enhance the chance of the animal surviving to pass on its longer-necked genes. Tall trees could not cause the mutation nor would they cause a higher percentage of animals to be born with longer necks.


Glass manufacturing in older eras was a slower process, which often resulted in unevenness and impurities when finished in its solid state. Varying thickness throughout older window panes is the result of these impurities, not due to movement of the glass over time.

  • Glass is not a high-viscosity liquid at room temperature: it is an amorphous solid, although it does have some chemical properties normally associated with liquids. Panes of stained glass windows often have thicker glass at the bottom than at the top, and this has been cited as an example of the slow flow of glass over centuries. However, this unevenness is due to the window manufacturing processes used in earlier eras, which produced glass panes that were unevenly thick at the time of their installation. Normally the thick end of glass would be installed at the bottom of the frame, but it is also common to find old windows where the thicker end has been installed to the sides or the top. In fact, the lead frames of the windows are less viscous than the panes, and if glass was indeed a slow moving liquid, the panes would warp at a higher degree.

Human body and health

The senses

An incorrect map of the tongue showing zones which taste bitter (1), sour (2), salty (3) and sweet (4). In reality, all zones can sense all tastes.

  • Different tastes can be detected on all parts of the tongue by taste buds, with slightly increased sensitivities in different locations depending on the person, contrary to the popular belief that specific tastes only correspond to specific mapped sites on the tongue. The original tongue map was based on a mistranslation of a 1901 German thesis by Edwin Boring. In addition, there are not 4 but 5 primary tastes. In addition to bitter, sour, salty, and sweet, humans have taste receptors for umami, which is a savory or meaty taste.
  • Humans have more than five senses. Although definitions vary, the actual number ranges from 9 to more than 20. In addition to sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, which were the senses identified by Aristotle, humans can sense balance and acceleration (equilibrioception), pain (nociception), body and limb position (proprioception or kinesthetic sense), and relative temperature (thermoception). Other senses sometimes identified are the sense of time, itching, pressure, hunger, thirst, fullness of the stomach, need to urinate, need to defecate, and blood carbon dioxide levels.

Skin and hair

  • Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker or coarser or darker. This belief is because hair that has never been cut has a tapered end, whereas, after cutting, there is no taper. Thus, it appears thicker, and feels coarser due to the sharper, unworn edges. The fact that shorter hairs are “harder” (less flexible) than longer hairs also contributes to this effect. Hair can also appear darker after it grows back because hair that has never been cut is often lighter due to sun exposure.
  • Hair and fingernails do not continue to grow after a person dies. Rather, the skin dries and shrinks away from the bases of hairs and nails, giving the appearance of growth.
  • Hair care products cannot as such “repair” split ends and damaged hair. They can, however, prevent damage from occurring in the first place, smooth down the cuticle in a glue-like fashion so that it appears repaired and generally make hair appear in better condition.

Nutrition, food, and drink

  • Eight glasses of water a day are not necessary to maintain health, nor is it specifically recommended.
  • Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children. Double-blind trials have shown no difference in behavior between children given sugar-full or sugar-free diets, even in studies specifically looking at children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or those considered “sensitive” to sugar. The difference in behaviour proved to be psychological.
  • Alcohol does not in fact make one warmer. The reason why alcoholic drinks create the sensation of warmth is that 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.
  • It’s a common misconception that alcohol kills brain cells. Early temperance writers promoted the idea that drinking causes brain cells to die (as well as the assertion that the alcohol in the blood stream could cause people to catch fire and burn alive). According to Queensland Brain Institute director Professor Perry Bartlett, there is no evidence drinking alcohol leads directly to the death of brain cells. In fact, alcohol has positive health benefits when used moderately and new brain cells are generated on a daily basis. Alcohol can lead indirectly to the death of brain cells in chronic, heavy alcohol users whose brains have adapted to the effects of alcohol, where abrupt cessation following heavy use can cause excitotoxicity leading to cellular death in multiple areas of the brain.
  • Bottled water, vitamin-enriched water, and sparkling water are not healthier than tap water. In fact, many studies have shown that bottled water often contains mixtures of bacteria, fertilizers, and a variety of pollutants.

Human sexuality

  • A popular myth regarding human sexuality is that men think about sex every seven seconds. In reality, there is no scientific way of measuring such a thing and, as far as researchers can tell, this statistic greatly exaggerates the frequency of sexual thoughts.
  • Another popular myth is that having sex in the days leading up to a sporting event or contest is detrimental to performance. Numerous studies have shown that there is no physiological basis to this myth. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that sex during the 24 hours prior to sports activity can elevate the levels of testosterone in males, which potentially could enhance their performance.

The brain

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.

  • Until very recently medical experts believed that humans were born with all of the brain cells they would ever have. However, we now know that new neurons can be created in the postnatal brain. Researchers have observed adult neurogenesis in avians, Old World Primates, and humans. Adult humans retain multipotent (see cell potency) neural stem cells in the subventricular of the lateral ventricles and subgranular zones of the dentate gyrus. Both of these zones are allocortical, possessing fewer than six layers. Some studies have suggested that post-natal neurogenesis also occurs in the neocortex, an idea that is disputed. Neurological changes, including from learning, can occur without neurogenesis through development of white matter, a neurological tissue that facilitates connections between neurons.
  • Vaccines do not cause autism. Fraudulent research by Andrew Wakefield claimed a connection. The results could not be reproduced. Subsequently the research was shown to be flawed and fraudulent.
  • People do not use only ten percent of their brains. While it is true that a small minority of neurons in the brain are actively firing at any one time, the inactive neurons are important too. This myth has been commonplace in American culture at least as far back as the start of the 20th century, and was attributed to William James, who apparently used the expression metaphorically. Some findings of brain science (such as the high ratio of glial cells to neurons) have been mistakenly read as providing support for the myth.


  • It is a common misconception that those suffering from flu or cold congestion should avoid dairy because it may increase mucus production. Drinking milk and/or consuming other dairy products does not increase mucus production.
  • Warts on human skin are caused by viruses that are unique to humans (human papillomavirus). Humans cannot catch warts from toads or other animals; the bumps on a toad are not warts.
  • Fever does not harm the brain or the body, though it does increase the need for fluids. Fever does not cause brain damage or death in children if untreated. In fact, fever is normally a signal that the immune system is working well. Extreme fever (hyperpyrexia, a body temperature above 41.5 °C or 106.7 °F) is, however, harmful if left untreated.


  • It is a common misconception that sleepwalkers should not be awakened. While it is true that a person may be confused or disoriented for a short time after awakening, this does not cause them further harm. In contrast, sleepwalkers may injure themselves if they trip over objects or lose their balance while sleepwalking. Such injuries are common among sleepwalkers.
  • In South Korea, it is commonly believed that sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running can be fatal. According to the Korean government, “In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from suffocation, hypothermia, or fire from overheating.” The Korea Consumer Protection Board issued a consumer safety alert recommending that electric fans be set on timers, direction changed and doors left open. Belief in fan death is common even among knowledgeable medical professionals in Korea. According to Yeon Dong-su, dean of Kwandong University’s medical school, “If it is completely sealed, then in the current of an electric fan, the temperature can drop low enough to cause a person to die of hypothermia.” Although an air conditioner transfers heat from the air and cools it, a fan moves air to increase the evaporation of sweat. Due to energy losses, a fan will slowly heat a room.
  • Although it is commonly believed that most body heat is lost through a person’s head, heat loss through the head is not more significant than other parts of the body when naked. This may be a generalization of situations in which it is true, such as when the head is the only uncovered part of the body. For example, it has been shown that hats effectively prevent hypothermia in infants.
  • Eating less than an hour before swimming doesn’t increase the risk of experiencing muscle cramps or drowning. One study shows that a correlation between alcohol consumption and drowning, but there is no evidence cited regarding stomach cramps or the consumption of food.
  • A person who is drowning does not always wave and call for help. In the final stages, raising the arms and vocalising are even usually impossible due to the instinctive drowning response. The technical term for the situation where a “drowning” person is capable of waving and calling for help is “aquatic distress”.


  • Contrary to a widespread perception, the real number 0.999… – where the dot is followed by an infinite sequence of nines – is exactly equal to 1 by definition. They are two different ways of writing the same real number. A 2009 study by Weller et al. states that “Tall and Schwarzenberger (1978) asked first year university mathematics students whether 0.999… is equal to 1. The majority of the students thought that is less than 1.” Weller et al go on to describe their own controlled experiment, performed “during the 2005 fall semester at a major research university in the southern United States. Pre-service elementary and middle school teachers from all five sections of a sophomore-level mathematics content course on number and operation participated in the study.” The results are striking: “On the question of whether .999…=1, 72% of the control group and 83% of the experimental group expressed their view that .999… is not equal to 1.” The article 0.999… discusses infinitesimal-enriched number systems where “0.999…” can be interpreted as a number that falls short of 1 by an infinitesimal amount. All such numbers are adequal to 1.


  • Contrary to the common myth, the Coriolis effect does not determine the direction that water rotates in a bathtub drain or a flushing toilet. The Coriolis effect induced by the Earth’s rotation becomes significant and noticeable only at large scales, such as in weather systems or oceanic currents. In addition, most toilets inject water into the bowl at an angle, causing a spin too fast to be significantly affected by the Coriolis effect.
  • Gyroscopic forces are not required for a rider to balance a bicycle. Although gyroscopic forces are a factor, the stability of a bicycle is determined primarily by inertia, steering geometry, and the rider’s ability to counteract tilting by steering.
  • It is not true that air takes the same time to travel above and below an aircraft’s wing. This misconception, illustrated at right, 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 airfoil generating lift is always moving much faster than the equal transit theory would imply, as described in the incorrect and correct explanations of lift force.
  • The idea that lightning never strikes the same place twice is one of the oldest and most well-known superstitions about lightning. There is no reason that lightning would not be able to strike the same place twice; if there is a thunderstorm in a given area, then objects and places which are more prominent or conductive (and therefore minimize distance) are more likely to be struck. For instance, lightning strikes the Empire State Building in New York City about 100 times per year.
  • Although frequently repeated as fact, a penny dropped from the Empire State Building will not kill a person or crack the sidewalk. Due to terminal velocity the speed of a falling penny cannot exceed 30–50 miles per hour regardless of the distance from which it is dropped, as demonstrated on an episode of Mythbusters.


  • The notion of catharsis holds that frustration and anger should not be bottled up or else a person risks allowing those feelings to accrue and eventually explode in some harmful way. Instead, it recommends that frustration and anger should be released through harmless expression, such as by screaming or punching a pillow. However, experimental psychology has shown that such expression can increase rather than decrease harmful behavior. In one experiment, people who engaged in catharsis (by hitting a punching bag) were significantly more likely to aggress toward a peer shortly afterward than were people who did not engage in catharsis.
  • Photographic or eidetic memory refers to the ability to remember images with extremely high precision – so high as to mimic a camera. However, it is highly unlikely that photographic memory exists, as to date there is no hard scientific evidence that anyone has ever had it. Many people have claimed to have a photographic memory, but those people have been shown to have good memories as a result of mnemonic devices rather than a natural capacity for detailed memory encoding.


  • Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball.
  • The World Series is not named after the New York World newspaper.
  • The black belt in martial arts does not necessarily indicate expert level or mastery. As introduced for judo in the 1880s, it indicates competency of all of the basic techniques of the sport. The first five ranks all have black belts; holders of the third rank can act as local instructors and may be addressed as sensei. Holders of higher ranks in judo and other Asian martial arts are awarded belts with alternating red and white panels (6th to 8th dan), and the very highest ranks with solid red belts (9th and 10th dan).


Book of Genesis

  • The forbidden fruit mentioned in the Book of Genesis is commonly assumed to be an apple, and is widely depicted as such in Western art, although the Bible does not identify what type of fruit it is. The original Hebrew texts mention only tree and fruit. Early Latin translations use the word mali, which can be taken to mean both “evil” and “apple”. German and French artists commonly depict the fruit as an apple from the 12th century onwards, and John Milton‘s Areopagitica from 1644 explicitly mentions the fruit as an apple. Jewish scholars suggested that the fruit could have been a grape, a fig, wheat, or etrog. Likewise, the Quran speaks only of a forbidden “tree” and does not identify the fruit.
  • Although common conception says that Noah was told in the Book of Genesis to bring two of each animal onto his ark, the book actually contains differing passages about the number of animals he was told to bring; in Genesis 6:19, he is told to bring “two of all living creatures”, while in Genesis 7:2 he is told to bring “seven pairs of every kind of clean animal […] and one pair of every kind of unclean animal” – although in some translations (e.g. the New King James Genesis ) this is rendered as seven animals, rather than seven pairs.


  • The historical Buddha was not obese. The “chubby Buddha” or “laughing Buddha” is a tenth century Chinese folk hero by the name of Budai. In Chinese Buddhist culture, Budai came to be revered as an incarnation of Maitreya, the Bodhisattva who will become a Buddha to restore Buddhism after the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddh?rtha Gautama, have passed away.
  • The Buddha is not a god. In early Buddhism, Siddh?rtha Gautama possessed no salvific properties and strongly encouraged “self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.” However, in later developments of Mah?y?na Buddhism, notably in the Pure Land (Jìngt?) school of Chinese Buddhism, the Amit?bha Buddha was thought to be a savior. Through faith in the Amit?bha Buddha, one could be reborn in the western Pure Land. Although in Pure Land Buddhism the Buddha is considered a savior, he is still not considered a god in the common understanding of the term.


  • Nowhere in the Bible is Satan described as ruling over or being in Hell. Throughout the Bible Satan is described as constantly on Earth, and the Book of Revelation says that after Judgment Satan will be cast into Hell.
  • The Immaculate Conception is not synonymous with the virgin birth of Jesus, nor is it a supposed belief in the virgin birth of Mary, his mother. Rather, the Immaculate Conception is the Roman Catholic belief that Mary was not subject to original sin from the first moment of her existence, when she was conceived. The concept of the virgin birth, on the other hand, is the belief that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin.
  • Nowhere in the Bible does it say exactly three magi came to visit the baby Jesus, nor that they were kings, rode on camels, or that their names were Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. Matthew 2 has traditionally been combined with Isaiah 60:1-3.

60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Three magi are supposed because three gifts are described, and artistic depictions of the nativity after about the year 900 almost always depict three magi. Additionally, the wise men in the actual biblical narrative did not visit on the day Jesus was born, but they saw Jesus as a child, in a house as many as two years afterwards (Matthew  2:11).

  • Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that Jesus was born on December 25. The Bible never claims a date of December 25, but may imply a date closer to September. The date may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived, the date of the Roman winter solstice, or one of various ancient winter festivals.


  • A fatw? is a non-binding legal opinion issued by an Islamic scholar under Islamic law. The popular misconception that the word means a death sentence probably stems from the fatw? issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 regarding the author Salman Rushdie, who he stated had earned a death sentence for blasphemy. This event led to fatw?s gaining widespread media attention in the West.
  • 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”, many modern Islamic scholars usually say that it implies an effort or struggle of a spiritual kind. 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.


  • A person with a tattoo is not generally forbidden from being buried in a Jewish cemetery. This common misconception was depicted in the television shows Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Nanny. While private cemeteries have the right to forbid burial on any grounds, there is no Jewish law to bar tattooed applicants, and it is uncommon to do so.
  • Orthodox Jews do not have sex through a hole in a sheet, as portrayed in various films and TV programs such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and A Price Above Rubies. In fact, according to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “Jewish law does not allow any articles of clothing to be worn during lovemaking”, and using a sheet in this way could be considered a violation of that law. This also includes wearing a condom.



  • George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter, though he reputedly discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and hundreds more for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes.
  • Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet; it was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596. Crapper, however, did much to increase its popularity and came up with some related inventions, such as the ballcock mechanism used to fill toilet tanks. He was noted for the quality of his products and received several Royal Warrants. He was not the origin of the word crap, but his name may have helped popularize it.
  • Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb. 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).
  • Eli Whitney did not invent the idea of interchangeable parts. He did help to popularize the idea.
  • Henry Ford did not invent either the automobile or the assembly line. He did help to develop the assembly line substantially, sometimes through his own engineering but more often through sponsoring the work of his employees.[page needed]
  • Guglielmo Marconi did not invent radio, but only modernized it for public broadcasting and communication. No single person was responsible for the invention of radio.
  • Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat. John Fitch, James Rumsey, William Symington, and Samuel Morey each operated steamboats prior to Fulton.
  • Philo Farnsworth did not invent the television. The first television transmission was made in 1925 by Scottish inventor John Logie Baird using an electromechanical system. Farnsworth did transmit the first live human images in 1928, and was pioneering in the development of all-electronic television.
  • Al Gore never said that he “invented” the Internet; Gore actually said, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore was the original drafter of the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which provided significant funding for supercomputing centers, and this in turn led to upgrades of a major part of the already existing, early 1990s Internet backbone, the NSFNet, and development of NCSA Mosaic, the browser that popularized the World Wide Web; see Al Gore and information technology.


  • The United States Interstate Highway System was not designed with airplane landings in mind. A common urban legend states that one out of every five (or ten) miles of highway must be straight and flat to allow emergency (or military) airplane landings, but this is not the case. However, several parts of the German and later the Swiss Autobahn system were indeed designed to be auxiliary military air strips, both during World War II and the Cold War. Additionally, the Swedish Air Force built landing strips into their highway system starting in the 1950s with some expansion continuing into the 1990s. Poland also contains highway strips for landing and takeoff, as do Finland, Singapore and Bulgaria. The Eyre Highway, which crosses the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, has four allocated areas for Flying Doctor aircraft to land.
  • Toilet waste is never intentionally dumped overboard from an aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks which are emptied on the ground by special toilet waste vehicles. A vacuum is used to allow the toilet to be flushed with less water and because plumbing cannot rely on gravity alone in an aircraft in motion. The infamous blue ice is caused by accidental leakages from the waste tank. Passenger trains, on the other hand, have historically flushed onto the tracks; however, modern trains usually have retention tanks on board the train.

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