List of common misconceptions

List of common misconceptions
This incomplete list is not intended to be exhaustive.

This is a list of current, widely held, false ideas and beliefs about notable topics which have been reported by reliable sources from around the world. Each has been discussed in published literature, as has its topic area (such as glass, and the misconception that glass is viscous) and the facts concerning it.



Ancient to early modern history

  • In ancient Rome, the architectural feature called a vomitorium was the entranceway through which crowds entered and exited a stadium, not a special room used for purging food during meals.[1] Although wealthy gluttons and emperors with excessive appetites might be accused of binging and purging, vomiting was not a regular part of Roman dining customs.[2]
  • Nero did not "fiddle" during the Great Fire of Rome (violins had not yet been invented, nor was he playing the lyre). In fact, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds. He also opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors.[3] Finally, he made a new urban development plan that attempted to make it more difficult for fires to spread.[4] However, it is true that he blamed the fire on Christians.[5]
  • The classification of the European era between the decline of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance as the "Dark Ages" is now rejected by most modern historians.[6][7][8] During the early Middle Ages, significant literary and educational advances (especially during the period known as the Carolingian Renaissance) were made, including the foundations of the modern university, as well as scientific advancements in the fields of physics, astronomy, medicine and surgery, agriculture, architectural engineering, logic, mathematics, optics and biology. It is also erroneously claimed that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed scientific advancement during this era; in fact, a great deal of advancements were on the behalf of Catholic priests, monks and friars. See also: List of Roman Catholic cleric–scientists.
  • There is no evidence that Vikings wore horns on their helmets.[9]
  • King Canute did not command the tide to reverse in a fit of delusional arrogance.[10] His presence on the beach that day, if the incident even happened, 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.
  • 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. Instead they were pieced together in the 18th century from several artifacts found in museums in order to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.[11]
  • 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's estimate of the distance to India, which was approximately one-sixth 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 noticed that his estimate was an error in time to return. This longitude 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[12] that the Earth was spherical since the works of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.[13] Eratosthenes made a very good estimate of the Earth's diameter in approximately 240 BCE.[14][15][16] See also: Myth of the Flat Earth.
The First Thanksgiving (c. 1914) By Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Many of the images depicted in this painting are erroneous or anachronistic.
  • Moreover, Columbus did not "discover America" in the sense of identifying a new continent. Although some historians argue he knew he had found a land between Europe and Asia,[17] most of his writings show he thought he reached the eastern coast of Asia.[18] This is, in part, why it was named after Amerigo Vespucci (who identified the new continent) in 1507, about one year after Columbus died. Furthermore, it was not until his second voyage that he set foot on land currently belonging to the United States (Puerto Rico, November 19, 1493), and it was not until his third voyage in 1498 that Columbus set foot on the American continent. The majority of landings Columbus had made on his four voyages, including the initial October 12, 1492 landing (the anniversary of which forms the basis of Columbus Day), were in the Caribbean Islands. Columbus was also not the first European to visit the Americas, being preceded at least by Leif Ericson.
  • There is a legend that Marco Polo imported pasta from China[19] which originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting the use of pasta in the United States.[20] Marco Polo describes a food similar to "lagana" in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar. Durum wheat, and thus pasta as it is known today, was introduced by Arabs from Libya, during their conquest of Sicily in the late 7th century, according to the newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association,[21] thus predating Marco Polo's travels to China by about six centuries.
  • Contrary to the popular image of the Pilgrim Fathers, the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts did not necessarily wear all black, nor did their capotains (hats) resemble the widely depicted tall hat with a buckle on it. Instead, their fashion would have been based on that of the late Elizabethan era: doublets, jerkins and ruffs, while the capotains would have been shorter and rounder. 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.[22][23][24][25]
  • Furthermore, the widely believed "First Thanksgiving" held at Plymouth Colony was not the first day of thanksgiving held on the North American continent. Preceding thanksgiving days were held at the Spanish colony of Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565,[26][27] in Newfoundland in 1578,[28] in French Canada beginning in 1604, in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607,[29] and at Berkeley Hundred in 1619,[30] in addition to numerous similarly themed indigenous celebrations.[31] The association of Thanksgiving Day with the Plymouth celebration was largely the work of 19th-century writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who campaigned multiple decades for a permanent national Thanksgiving holiday.[32][33][34]
  • 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.[35]
  • 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).[36]
  • The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence did not occur 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,[37] but the actual signing occurred on August 2, 1776.[38]
  • The United States Constitution was written on parchment, not hemp paper.[39]
  • Antonio Salieri did not despise Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, nor did he have any role in Mozart's premature death. While Mozart did have a certain amount of distrust of the elder Salieri, the two are otherwise believed to have been friendly, if somewhat rivalrous. The supposed acrimony between the two, which has been adapted in numerous works of fiction (including the play Amadeus and its film adaptation), is believed to have originated in a rivalry between German and Italian factions of the classical era musical scene.[40]

Modern history

Napoleon on the Bellerophon, a painting of Napoleon I by Charles Lock Eastlake. Napoleon was taller than his nickname, The Little Corporal, suggests.
  • Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) (pictured) was not particularly short,[41][not in citation given] 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.[42][43] Some believe that he was nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal) as a term of affection.[44]
  • According to Time magazine, there is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the American slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863.[45] Flagging fortunes in the spring and summer of 1862 brought the threat of European intervention on behalf of the Confederacy. Lincoln argued that turning a fight to crush rebellion into a crusade against slavery would not only end the European threat, as no Continental power would want to be seen supporting slavery, but would also sway abolitionists into supporting the administration. Slaves were not immediately freed as a result of the Proclamation as it only applied to rebelling states not under Union control. Additionally, the proclamation did not apply to parts of rebelling states already under Union control.[46] The Proclamation did not cover the 800,000 slaves in the Union's slave-holding border states of Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland or Delaware. As the regions in the South that were under Confederate control ignored the Proclamation, slave ownership persisted until Union troops captured further Southern territory. 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.
  • The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was not caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern. A newspaper reporter made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy.[47]
  • 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.[48]
  • During and after World War II, there were persistent reports that scrap steel from the demolition of New York's Sixth Avenue El was sold to Japan, and was used to make ammunition that killed American soldiers. But the contract for sale of the scrap metal prohibited export to any country, and the contract was strictly enforced.[49][50][51]
  • 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.[52][53]
  • 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.[54][55][56]
  • Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics in school, as is commonly believed. Upon being shown a column claiming this fact, Einstein said "I never failed in mathematics... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."[57][58]
  • U.S. Senator George Smathers never gave a speech to a rural audience describing his opponent, Claude Pepper, as an "extrovert" whose sister was a "thespian", in the apparent hope they would confuse them with similar-sounding words like "pervert" and "lesbian". Time, which is sometimes cited as the source, described the story of the purported speech as a "yarn" at the time,[59] and no Florida newspaper reported such a speech during the campaign. The leading reporter who covered Smathers said he always gave the same boilerplate speech. Smathers had offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he had made the speech, and he died in 2007 with the money still in his bank account.[60]
  • John F. Kennedy's words "Ich bin ein Berliner" are standard German for "I am a Berliner".[61][62] An urban legend has it that due to his use of the indefinite article ein, Berliner is translated as jelly 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 usually called ein Pfannkuchen.[63]
  • Eva Perón never uttered the quote "I will return and I will be millions". The quote was first formulated by the indigenous leader Túpac Katari in 1781 shortly before being executed. The misattribution to Eva Perón originates from a poem by José María Castiñeira de Dios written in Eva Perón's first-person narrative, written nearly ten years after her death. However, it is unclear why the poet used the quote, which also could have been inspired by a similar quote in the Spartacus contemporary film.[64]

Legislation and crime

  • A common misconception is that one must wait at least 24 hours before filing a missing person's report, but this is rarely the case; in instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies in the United States often stress the importance of beginning an investigation promptly.[65][66][67]
  • 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.[68] The law is specifically concerned with enticing people to commit crimes they would not have considered in the normal course of events.[69]

Food and cooking

Roll-style Western sushi. Contrary to a popular myth, sushi can contain any number of raw ingredients, including vegetables and other non-meat products.
  • 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.[70][71][72]
  • 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 some of the alcohol remains: 25% after 1 hour of baking or simmering, and 10% after 2 hours.[73][74]
  • Sushi does not mean "raw fish", and not all sushi includes raw fish. The name sushi means "sour rice", and 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.[75] 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 consisting 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 centimetre (0.39 in) at microwave oven frequencies.[76]
  • 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.[77]
  • 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.[78]
  • Bananas do not grow on trees; the "banana tree" is in fact an herbaceous flowering plant.[79]

Words and phrases

  • "Irregardless" is a word. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary states that, "The most frequently repeated remark about it is that 'there is no such word.' "[80] According to Mignon Fogarty, this is an English myth. "You shouldn't use it if you want to be taken seriously, but it has gained wide enough use to qualify as a word."[81]
  • The word "fuck" did not originate in Christianized Anglo-Saxon England as an acronym for "Fornication Under Consent of King"; nor did it originate as an acronym for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", either as a sign posted above adulterers in the stocks, or as a criminal charge against members of the British Armed Forces; nor did it originate during the 15th-century Battle of Agincourt as a corruption of "pluck yew" (an idiom falsely attributed to the English for drawing a longbow).[82][83][84] Modern English was not spoken until the 16th century, and words such as "fornication" and "consent" did not exist in any form in English until the influence of Anglo-Norman in the late 12th century. The earliest recorded use of "fuck" in English comes from c. 1475, in the poem "Flen flyys", where it is spelled fuccant (conjugated as if a Latin verb meaning "they fuck"). It is of Proto-Germanic origin, and is related to Dutch fokken and Norwegian fukka.[85][86][87]
  • The word "crap" did not originate as a back-formation of British plumber Thomas Crapper's surname, nor does his name originate from the word "crap", although the surname may have helped popularize the word.[88][89] The surname "Crapper" is a variant of "Cropper", which originally referred to someone who harvested crops.[90][91] The word "crap" ultimately comes from Medieval Latin crappa, meaning "chaff".[92]
  • 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.[93] In fact, the origin of this phrase remains uncertain, but the false etymology has been broadly reported in media including The Washington Post (1989), CNN (1993), and Time magazine (1983).[94]
  • "Golf" did not originate as an acronym of "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden".[95] The word's true origin is unknown, but it existed in the Middle Scots period.[96][97]
  • The word "gringo" (a pejorative term for an American) did not originate during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), the Venezuelan War of Independence (1811–1823), the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), or in the American Old West (c. 1865–1899) as a corruption the lyrics "green grow" in either "Green Grow the Lilacs" or "Green Grow the Rushes, O" sung by American soldiers or cowboys;[98] nor did it originate during any of these times as a corruption of "Green go home!", falsely said to have been shouted at green-clad American troops.[99] The word originally simply meant "foreigner", and is probably a corruption of Spanish griego, "Greek".[100]
  • The phrase "sleep tight" did not originally refer to a supposed Medieval or early modern practice of tightening feather mattresses with ropes.[101] The word "tight" here simply means "soundly".[102]
"Xmas" used on a Christmas postcard (1910).
  • "420" did not originate as the Los Angeles police or penal code for marijuana use.[103] Police Code 420 is "juvenile disturbance",[104] and Penal Code 420 defines the prevention, hindrance, or obstruction of legal "entry, settlement, or residence" on "any tract of public land" as a misdemeanor.[105] 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 smoke under the statue of Louis Pasteur.[103] Some police codes that do relate to illegal drugs include 10–50 ("under influence of drugs"), 966 ("drug deal"), 11300 ("narcotics"), and 23105 ("driver under narcotics").[106][107]
  • Despite being commonly believed today, people during the Old and Middle English speaking periods never pronounced "the" as "ye".[108] The confusion derives from the character thorn, which in old print (þe or ye) often looked like a y.[109][110]
  • The claim that Frederick Remington, on assignment to Cuba, telegraphed William Randolph Hearst "...There will be no war. I wish to return" and Hearst responded, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war" is unsubstantiated. Although this claim is included in a book by James Creelman, there is no evidence that the telegraph exchange ever happened, and substantial evidence that it did not.[111][112]
  • "Xmas" is not a secular plan to "take the Christ out of Christmas." "The usual suggestion is that 'Xmas' is ... an attempt by the ungodly to x-out Jesus and banish religion from the holiday."[113] However, X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the starting letter of Χριστός, or "Christ" in Greek.[114] The use of the word "Xmas" can be traced to the year 1021 when "monks in Great Britain...used the X while transcribing classical manuscripts into Old English" in place of "Christ".[115] The Oxford English Dictionary's "first recorded use of 'Xmas' for 'Christmas' dates back to 1551."[116] Paul Brians adds that, "so few people know this that it is probably better not to use this popular abbreviation in religious contexts."[117]



A satellite image of a section of the Great Wall of China, running diagonally from lower left to upper right (not to be confused with the much more prominent river running from upper left to lower right). The region pictured is 12 × 12 km (7.5 × 7.5 miles).
  • It is commonly claimed that the Great Wall of China is the only human-made object visible from the Moon. This is false. None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any specific human-made object from the Moon, and even Earth-orbiting astronauts can barely see it. City lights, however, are easily visible on the night side of Earth from orbit.[118] 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 that "the Great Wall is almost invisible from only 180 miles up."[119] (See Man-made structures visible from space.)
  • Black holes, contrary to their common image, do not necessarily suck up all the matter in the vicinity.[120] 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.[121] 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 near to its surface. But, as an example, were the Sun to be replaced by a black hole of the same mass, then the orbits of all the planets surrounding it would be unaffected. This is because "if you're outside the event horizon, you can just keep going around in circles around [a black hole], in exactly the same way that you can be in orbit around any other kind of mass."[122]
  • Seasons are not 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 23.4 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.[123][124]
  • Meteorites are not necessarily hot when they reach the Earth. In fact, many meteorites are found with frost on them. A meteorite has been in the near-absolute zero temperature of space for billions of years, so the interior of it is very cold. A meteor's great speed is enough to melt its outside layer, but any molten metal will be quickly blown off, and the interior of the meteor does not have time to heat up because rocks are poor conductors of heat. Also, atmospheric drag can slow small meteors to terminal velocity by the time they hit the ground, giving them time to cool down.[125]


Bombus pratorum over an Echinacea purpurea inflorescence; a widespread myth holds that bumblebees should be incapable of flight.
  • The claim[126] that a duck's quack does not echo is false, although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.[127]
  • DNA is not made of protein.[128][129] 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.[130] 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 span of just a few seconds is false.[131][132][133]
  • Lemmings do not engage in mass suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. They will, however, occasionally unintentionally fall off cliffs when venturing into unknown territory, with no knowledge of the boundaries of the environment. This misconception was popularized by 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.[134] The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late nineteenth century.[135]
  • Bats are not blind. While many (most) bat species use echolocation as a primary sense, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight. Furthermore, not all bats can echolocate and these bats have excellent night vision (see megabat, vs. microbat).[136][137][138]
  • It is a common myth that an earthworm becomes two worms when cut in half. However, only a limited number of earthworm species[139] 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.[140] Also, species of the planaria family of flatworms actually do become two new planaria when bisected or split down the middle.[141]
  • Houseflies do not have an average lifespan of 24 hours. The average lifespan of a housefly is 20 to 30 days.[142] However, a housefly maggot will hatch within 24 hours of being laid.[143]
  • 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.[144] 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.[145][146]
  • Poinsettias are not highly toxic. While it is true that they are mildly irritating to the skin or stomach[147] and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten,[148] 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.[149] Additionally, Poinsettias are not highly toxic to cats. According to the ASPCA, poinsettias may cause light to mid-range gastrointestinal discomfort in felines, with diarrhea and vomiting as the most severe consequences of ingestion.[150]
  • 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,[151] although he later retracted the suggestion. However, the hypothesis 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.[152]
  • 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 them.[153][154]
  • 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 its movement that irritates the bull and incites it to charge.[155][156][157]
  • Ostriches do not hide their heads in the sand to hide from enemies.[158] This myth was probably promulgated by Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), who wrote that Ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed."[159]
  • Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not sweat by salivating.[160][161][162][163][164][165][166][167] It is not true that dogs do not have sweat glands or have sweat glands only on their tongues. They do sweat, mainly through the footpads. However, dogs do primarily regulate their body temperature through panting.[168]
  • A common misconception about chameleons and anoles is that they change color primarily for camouflage. In reality, they usually change color to regulate temperature or as a form of communication.[169] Some species, such as the Smith's Dwarf Chameleon, do use color change as an effective form of camouflage.[170]
  • The United States Supreme Court did not actually rule that tomatoes are a vegetable, instead of fruit, in the botanical sense. In Nix v. Hedden, they simply ruled that Congress had intended the tomato to be covered under the Tariff Act of 1883, which was intended to tax vegetables, but exempted fruit. While the tomato is a fruit in the botanical sense, it was seen as a vegetable in the agricultural sense, for the purpose of taxation.
  • It is a myth that older elephants, sensing when they are near death, leave their herd and instinctively direct themselves towards a specific location known as an elephants' graveyard to die.[171]


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.[172][173] "Scientific fact and theory are not categorically separable",[174] and evolution is a theory in the same sense as germ theory, gravitation, or plate tectonics.[175]
A reconstruction of Aegyptopithecus, a primate predating the split between the human and Old World monkey lineages in human evolution
  • Evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life[176] or the origin of the universe. While biological evolution describes the process by which species and other levels of biological organisation originate, and ultimately leads all life forms back to a universal common ancestor, it is not primarily concerned with the origin of life itself,[177] and does not pertain at all to the origin and evolution of the universe and its components. The scientific theory deals primarily with changes in successive generations over time after life has already originated.[178] The scientific model concerned with the origin of the first organisms from organic or inorganic molecules is known as abiogenesis. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing model for explaining the early development of our universe.
  • Humans did not evolve from chimpanzees, monkeys,[179] or any other modern-day primates. Humans and monkeys share a common ancestor that lived about 40 million years ago.[180] This common ancestor diverged into separate lineages, one evolving into so-called New World monkeys and the other into Old World monkeys and apes.[181] 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.[182]
  • 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 biological devolution is a misnomer.[183][184]
  • According to the California Academy of Sciences, only 59% of U.S. adults know humans and dinosaurs did not coexist.[185] However, the last of the non-avian dinosaurs died 65.5 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. This places a 63 million year expanse of time between the last dinosaurs and the earliest humans.
  • 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,[186] which the Earth is not, as it absorbs and radiates the Sun's energy.[187]
  • Evolution does not "plan" to improve an organism's fitness to survive.[188][189] 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.[190] In the giraffe example, the evolution of a long neck may equally well have been driven by sexual selection, proposing that the long necks evolved as a secondary sexual characteristic, giving males an advantage in "necking" contests over females.[191]
  • Dinosaurs did not go extinct due to being maladapted or unable to cope with change, a view found in many older textbooks. In fact, dinosaurs comprised an extremely adaptive and successful group, whose demise was brought about by an extraordinary event that also extinguished many groups of plants, mammals and marine life.[192] The most commonly cited cause is that of a asteroid impact on the Yucatán Peninsula, triggering the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event.[193] Also, dinosaurs aren't actually extinct as such. Birds evolved from small feathered theropods in the Jurassic, and while most dinosaur lineages were cut short at the end of the Cretaceous, some birds pulled through, so that dinosaur descendants are very much a part of the modern fauna.[194]
  • Mammals did not evolve from any modern group of reptiles, just like humans have not evolved from chimpanzees (above). Very soon after the first reptiles appeared, they split into two branches.[195] The line leading to mammals diverged from the line leading to modern reptilian lines (the sauropsids) about 320 million years ago, in the mid Carboniferous period. Only later (late Carboniferous or early Permian) did the modern reptilian groups (lepidosaurs, turtles and crocodiles) diverge. The mammals themselves being the only survivors of the synapsid line make them the "cousins" rather than "siblings" of modern reptiles.[196] The confusion over the origin of mammals comes from conflicting definition of "Reptile". Under Linnaean taxonomy reptiles are all amniotes except mammals and birds, thus including the synapsids as well as the first basal amniotes.[197] With the rise of phylogenetic nomenclature in the 1990s, "reptile" also began to be used as a synonym for Sauropsida, which exclude the basal amniotes and the synapsid line.[198] The synapsids are popularly known as "mammal-like reptiles". An example is Dimetrodon, which is often thought of as a dinosaur, but is in fact neither a dinosaur nor closely related to modern reptiles.[199]


  • 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.[200][201]

Human body and health

  • Waking sleepwalkers does not harm them. 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.[202][203]
  • 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."[204][205][206][207] 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 and viscous dissipation, 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.[208][209] 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, or in infants, where the head is a significant fraction of body mass. Multiple studies have shown that for uncovered infants, lined hats significantly reduce heat loss and thermal stress.[210][211][212]
  • Eating less than an hour before swimming does not increase the risk of experiencing muscle cramps or drowning. One study shows a correlation between alcohol consumption and drowning, but there is no evidence cited regarding stomach cramps or the consumption of food.[213]
  • Drowning is often thought to be a violent struggle, where the victim waves and calls for help.[214] In truth, drowning is often inconspicuous to onlookers. Raising the arms and vocalising are even usually impossible due to the instinctive drowning response.[214] Waving and yelling (known as "aquatic distress") is a sign of trouble, but not a dependable one: most victims demonstrating the instinctive drowning response do not show prior evidence of distress.[215]
  • It is a common misconception that hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant or antiseptic for treating wounds.[216][217] While it is an effective cleaning agent, hydrogen peroxide is not an effective agent for reducing bacterial infection of wounds. Furthermore, hydrogen peroxide applied to wounds can impede healing and lead to scarring because it destroys newly formed skin cells.[218]


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,[219] 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.[220] The original tongue map was based on a mistranslation of a 1901 German thesis[221] 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.[222][223][224]
  • 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).[225] 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.[226][227]
  • There is no known way to prevent myopia.[228] Reading or watching television do not cause myopia, and neither does the use of glasses or contact lenses affect the normal progression of myopia.[228][229][230]

Skin and hair

  • Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker or coarser or darker. This belief is based on the fact that hair which has never been cut has a tapered end, whereas after cutting there is no taper. Thus, the cut hair appears to be 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.[231][232][233][234]
  • 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.[235]
  • 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.[236][237][238][239][240]
  • The redhead gene is not going extinct. In August 2007, many news organizations reported that redheads would become extinct, possibly as early as 2060, due to the gene for red hair being recessive. Although redheads may become more rare, they will not die out unless everyone who carries the gene dies or fails to reproduce.[241] This myth has been around since at least 1865, and often resurfaces in American newspapers.[242] (See also disappearing blonde gene.)

Nutrition, food, and drink

  • Eight glasses of water a day are not needed to maintain health.[243][244] The amount of water needed varies by person (weight), activity level, clothing, and environment (heat and humidity). Moreover, consuming things that contain water, such as juice, tea, milk, fruits, and vegetables, also keeps a person hydrated, and can supply more than half of the needed water.[244]
  • Drinking normal levels of caffeinated beverages does not cause a net dehydration effect.[245] The mild diuretic effect of caffeine is offset by the large amount of water in the caffeinated beverage.[246]
  • There is no evidence that coffee stunts a child's growth.[247]
  • Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.[248][249] 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.[250]
  • Alcohol does not make one warmer.[251][252][253] The reason that 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.[254]
  • Alcohol does not necessarily kill brain cells.[255] Alcohol can, however, lead indirectly to the death of brain cells in two ways: (1) In chronic, heavy alcohol users whose brains have adapted to the effects of alcohol, abrupt cessation following heavy use can cause excitotoxicity leading to cellular death in multiple areas of the brain.[256] (2) 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.[257]
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet can provide enough protein.[258][259][260] In fact, typical protein intakes of ovo-lacto vegetarians and of vegans meet and exceed requirements.[261] However, a strict vegan diet does require supplementation of Vitamin B-12 for optimal health.[258]

Human sexuality

  • A popular myth regarding human sexuality is that men think about sex every seven seconds. In reality, this has not been measured, and as far as researchers can tell, this statistic greatly exaggerates the frequency of sexual thoughts.[262][263][264]
  • 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.[265] 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.[266]


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.
  • Mental abilities are not absolutely separated into the left and right cerebral hemispheres of the brain.[267] Some mental functions such as speech and language (cf. Broca's area, Wernicke's area) tend to activate one hemisphere of the brain more than the other, in some kinds of tasks. If one hemisphere is damaged at a very early age, however, these functions can often be recovered in part or even in full by the other hemisphere (see neuroplasticity). Other abilities such as motor control, memory, and general reasoning are served equally by the two hemispheres.[268]
  • Until very recently medical experts believed that humans were born with all of the brain cells they would ever have.[269] However, we now know that new neurons can be created in the postnatal brain. Researchers have observed adult neurogenesis in avians,[270] Old World Primates,[271] and humans.[272] Adults of these species retain multipotent (see cell potency) neural stem cells in the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricles and subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus.[273][274] The newborn neurons generated in these areas migrate to the olfactory bulb and the dentate gyrus, respectively, and are believed to integrate into existing neural circuits. However, the function and physiological significance of adult-born neurons remains unclear. Some studies have suggested that post-natal neurogenesis also occurs in the neocortex,[275][276][277] an idea that is disputed.[278]
  • Vaccines do not cause autism. Although fraudulent research by Andrew Wakefield claimed a connection, repeated attempts to reproduce the results ended in failure, and the research was ultimately shown to have been manipulated.[279]
  • 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.[280][281] 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.[282] 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.[282]



  • Contrary to a widespread perception, the real number 0.999...—where the decimal point is followed by an infinite sequence of nines—is exactly equal to 1.[291] They are two different ways of writing the same real number.[292] A 2009 study by Weller et al.[293] 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 0.999... 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. [...] 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."
  • When a sequence of independent trials of a random process is observed to contain a remarkably long run in which some possible outcome did not occur (for example, when a roulette ball ended up on black 26 times in a row, and not even once on red, as reportedly happened on August 18, 1913 in the Monte Carlo Casino[294]), the underrepresented outcome is often believed then to be more likely for the next trial: it is thought to be "due".[295][296][297] This misconception is known as the gambler's fallacy; in reality, by the definition of statistical independence, that outcome is just as likely or unlikely on the next trial as always—a property sometimes informally described by the phrase, "the system has no memory". If the event is physically determined, and not perfectly random, the repeated outcome may be more likely. For example, a die that has rolled ten consecutive 6s may have an unbalanced weight.
  • The correct answer to the Monty Hall Problem is that the contestant should indeed switch doors, as it increases the chances of winning the desired prize. The original problem is typically stated as follows. On a game show, there are three closed doors, one hiding a car and each of the other two doors concealing a goat. The contestant, wishing to win the car, selects a door. The door remains closed while the host, knowing where the car is hidden, proceeds to reveal a goat behind one of the remaining doors, and then offers the contestant a chance to switch his or her initial choice of door to the other closed door. Should the contestant switch? The correct answer is that the contestant should switch, as it doubles the chances of winning the car. Although the answer seems counter-intuitive to many people, it can be proven with a proper understanding of the original problem and the mathematics of conditional probability.[298][299][300][301]


  • The Big Bang theory does not provide an explanation for the origin of the universe; rather, it explains its early evolution.[302]
  • The Coriolis effect does not determine the direction that water rotates in a bathtub drain or a flushing toilet.[303] The Coriolis effect induced by the Earth's daily rotation is too small to affect the direction of water in a typical bathtub drain. The effect becomes significant and noticeable only at large scales, such as in weather systems or oceanic currents. Other forces dominate the dynamics of water in drains.[304] In addition, most toilets in the United States inject water into the bowl at an angle, causing a spin too fast to be significantly affected by the Coriolis effect.[305]
  • Gyroscopic forces are not required for a rider to balance a bicycle.[306][307][308][309] Although gyroscopic forces are a factor, the stability of a bicycle is determined primarily by inertia,[309] 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/airfoil.[310] This misconception 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,[310] 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.[311][312]
  • A penny dropped from the Empire State Building will not kill a person or crack the sidewalk.[313] The terminal velocity of a falling penny is about 30–50 miles per hour, and the penny will not exceed that speed regardless of the height from which it is dropped. At that speed, its energy is not enough to penetrate a human skull or crack concrete, as demonstrated on an episode of Mythbusters. As Mythbusters noted, the Empire State Building is a particularly poor setting for this myth, since its tapered shape would make it impossible to drop anything directly from the top to street level.
  • It is a common misconception that the color of water in large bodies, such as the oceans, is blue due to the reflections from the sky on its surface. Reflection of light off the surface of water only contributes significantly when the water surface is extremely still, i.e., mirror-like, and the angle of incidence is high, as water's reflectivity rapidly approaches near total reflection under these circumstances, as governed by the Fresnel equations. While relatively small quantities of water are observed by humans to be colorless, pure water has a slight blue color that becomes a deeper blue as the thickness of the observed sample increases. The blue tint of water is an intrinsic property and is caused by selective absorption and scattering of white light. Impurities dissolved or suspended in water may give water different colored appearances.[314][315]


  • Photographic or eidetic memory is 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.[316] 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.[317] There are rare cases of individuals with exceptional memory, but none of them has a memory that mimics a camera. In recent years, a phenomenon labeled hyperthymesia has been studied, where the individual has superior autobiographical memory—in some cases being able to recall every meal they have ever eaten. One example is actress Marilu Henner.[318]
  • Schizophrenia is not the same thing as dissociative identity disorder, namely split or multiple personalities.[319][320][321][322][323][324][325] Etymologically, the term "schizophrenia" comes from the Greek roots skhizein (σχίζειν, "to split") and phrēn, phren- (φρήν, φρεν-; "mind") and is a juxtaposition proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, which may have given rise to this common misconception.


Marcos Torregrosa wearing a black belt with a red bar. In some martial arts, such as Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and Judo, red belts indicate a higher rank than black. In some cases, a solid red belt is reserved for the founder of the art, and in others, higher degrees of black belts are shown by red stripes.
  • Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball.[326][327] (See Origins of baseball#Abner Doubleday myth.)
  • The black belt in martial arts does not necessarily indicate expert level or mastery. It was introduced for judo in the 1880s to indicate competency of all of the basic techniques of the sport. Promotion beyond black belt varies among different martial arts. In judo and some other Asian martial arts, holders of higher ranks are awarded belts with alternating red and white panels, and the very highest ranks with solid red belts.[328]


Hebrew Bible

  • The forbidden fruit mentioned in the Book of Genesis is commonly assumed to be an apple,[329] and is widely depicted as such in Western art. However, 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.[330] Jewish scholars suggested that the fruit could have been a grape, a fig, wheat, or etrog.[331][332][333] Likewise, the Quran speaks only of a forbidden "tree" and does not identify the fruit.
  • Nowhere in the Old Testament or the New Testament is Satan described as dwelling in or ruling over hell.[334][335]
  • The Bible does not teach that humans can or will become angels after death.[336][337][338] This myth has been proliferated by films such as It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Unlikely Angel (1996).


  • 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, Siddhārtha Gautama, have passed away.[339]
  • The Buddha is not a god. In early Buddhism, Siddhārtha Gautama possessed no salvific properties and strongly encouraged "self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving."[340] However, in later developments of Mahāyāna Buddhism, notably in the Pure Land (Jìngtǔ) school of Chinese Buddhism, the Amitābha Buddha was thought to be a savior. Through faith in the Amitābha 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.[341]


  • There is no evidence that Jesus was born on December 25.[342] The Bible never claims a date of December 25, but may imply a date closer to September.[342] The date may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived,[343] the date of the Roman winter solstice,[344] or one of various ancient winter festivals.[343][345] It is similarly likely that the birth of Jesus took place in the early spring, the only time that shepherds would have been watching their flocks by night (Lambing season).[citation needed]
  • 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.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For 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. 3And 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.[346] 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).[347][348]
  • 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.[349] The confusion stems from a misunderstanding of the term "immaculate," which means "without stain" (i.e. sinless) and is not a synonym for "miraculous" or "inexplicable" as commonly believed. The concept of the virgin birth, on the other hand, is the belief that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin.[350]
  • Roman Catholics do not believe the pope is sinless.[351][352][353] Catholic dogma does state that a dogmatic teaching contained in divine revelation that is promulgated by the pope is free from error; but this does not mean that the pope or everything he says is free from error, even when speaking in his official capacity (see Papal infallibility).


  • A fatwā is a non-binding legal opinion issued by an Islamic scholar under Islamic law. The popular misconception[354][355] that the word means a death sentence probably stems from the fatwā 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 fatwās gaining widespread media attention in the West.[356]
  • 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",[357] many modern Islamic scholars usually say that it implies an effort or struggle of a spiritual kind.[358][359] 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.[360]



  • 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.[361][362]
  • Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet;[363] 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. Furthermore, his surname was not the origin of the word "crap" (see under Words and phrases above).
  • Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.[364] 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.[365][366] Karl Benz is credited with the invention of the first modern automobile,[367] and the assembly line has existed throughout history.
  • Guglielmo Marconi did not invent radio, but only modernized it for public broadcasting and communication.[368][369][370] No single person was responsible for the invention of radio.
  • 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."[371][372] 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.
  • James Watt did not invent the steam engine,[373][374][375][376] nor were his ideas on steam engine power inspired by a kettle lid pressured open by steam.[377] The invention of the steam engine was a process of development and redevelopment, and Watt merely developed upon the first commercially successful Newcomen steam engine in the 1760s and 1770s, although his new steam engine later gained its huge fame.[378]



  • 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.[384][385] 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.

See also


  1. ^ McKeown, J.C. (2010). A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World’s Greatest Empire. Oxford University Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 0195393759, 9780195393750. 
  2. ^ Fass, Patrick (1994). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press. pp. 66–67. 
  3. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.39
  4. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.43
  5. ^ Tacitus, Annals XV.44
  6. ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (1998). An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons A.D. 400–600. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-271-01780-5 , for example. This work contains over 100 pages of footnoted citations to source material and bibliographic references (pp. 263–387). In explaining his approach to writing the work, he refers to the "so-called Dark Ages", noting that "Historians and archaeologists have never liked the label Dark Ages ... there are numerous indicators that these centuries were neither 'dark' nor 'barbarous' in comparison with other eras."
  7. ^ Jordan, Chester William (2004). Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Supplement 1. Verdun, Kathleen, "Medievalism" pp. 389–397. Sections 'Victorian Medievalism', 'Nineteenth-Century Europe', 'Medievalism in America 1500–1900', 'The 20th Century'. Same volume, Freedman, Paul, "Medieval Studies", pp. 383–389.
  8. ^ Welch, Martin (1993). Discovering Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA: Penn State Press.
  9. ^ Kahn, Charles (2005). World History: Societies of the Past. Portage & Main Press. p. 9. ISBN 1553790456. Retrieved 2011-03-18. 
  10. ^ Is King Canute misunderstood? BBC news story
  11. ^ Schild, Wolfgang (2000). Die eiserne Jungfrau. Dichtung und Wahrheit (Schriftenreihe des Mittelalterlichen Kriminalmuseums Rothenburg o. d. Tauber Nr. 3). Rothenburg ob der Tauber. 
  12. ^ Aquinas, St Thomas. "Summa Theologica Question 1". Retrieved 2010-07-31. 
  13. ^ Dicks, D.R. (1970). Early Greek Astronomy to Aristotle. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.. p. 68. ISBN 9780801405617. 
  14. ^ "Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276 B.C.-194 B.C.)". enotes. Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  15. ^ Panama – Veraguas Province. p. 174. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
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Further reading

  • Diefendorf, David (2007). Amazing… But False!: Hundreds of "Facts" You Thought Were True, But Aren't. Sterling. ISBN 9781402737916. 
  • Green, Joey (2005). Contrary to Popular Belief: More than 250 False Facts Revealed. Broadway. ISBN 978-0767919920. 
  • Johnsen, Ferris (1994). The Encyclopedia of Popular Misconceptions: The Ultimate Debunker's Guide to Widely Accepted Fallacies. Carol Publishing Group. ISBN 9780806515564. 
  • Kruszelnicki, Karl; Adam Yazxhi (2006). Great Mythconceptions: The Science Behind the Myths. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780740753640. 
  • Lloyd, John; John Mitchinson (2006). The Book of General Ignorance. Harmony Books. ISBN 9780307394910. 
  • Lloyd, John; John Mitchinson (2010). The Second Book Of General Ignorance. Faber and Faber. ISBN 9780571268655. 
  • O'Conner, Patricia T.; Kellerman, Stewart (2009). Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. New York: Random House. ISBN 9781400066605. 
  • Tuleja, Tad (1999). Fabulous Fallacies: More Than 300 Popular Beliefs That Are Not True. Galahad Books. ISBN 978-1578660650. 
  • Varasdi, J. Allen (1996). Myth Information: More Than 590 Popular Misconceptions, Fallacies, and Misbeliefs Explained!. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0345410498. 

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