The Wisdom of the Future
"The errors of the past are the wisdom of the future" is a quote that has been said in one form or another various ways, and is variously attributed, but is nowhere more relevant than it is right here. As Skeptoid professes to research and present the true facts about any given controversial topic, it's pretty important that I get stuff right. Research is hard work and it's fraught with countless unforeseeable pitfalls, so I inevitably get stuff wrong. Sometimes I'm led astray by a bad source, sometimes I repeat something I've heard that I'm so sure about that I don't even bother to verify it, and sometimes I even just have a brain fart while talking. Fortunately, the 200,000 of you who listen to each show include numerous experts in just about everything, so corrections are always quick to come. I now present the latest round of corrections to errors that I have made in recent episodes of the show — and rest assured that all of these errors are also noted on the online transcripts.
We'll get started with listener Adrian, who wrote in about the episode on the JFK conspiracy theories:
Adrian is correct on both points. After shooting Kennedy, Oswald took a cab back to his room and ran in just quick enough to grab his pistol, and off he went again. Adrian's other point is important too: if one gets anything wrong on this subject, the vituperation of the conspiracy theorists falls thick and fast. Jeering, ridicule, I got it all. Few conspiracy theories provoke as much emotion in their believers as this one. You need a very thick skin to even open your mouth about it.
Personally, I find the conspiracy theories about assassinations and mass murderers pretty distasteful, and it's probably my least favorite thing to talk about on Skeptoid. The reason I do is that it's always in high demand; the people who believe and promote these claims are vocal and a lot of my listeners request episodes addressing it. So I've got another here all ready to go.
In episode 160 "Sarah Palin Is Not Stupid" about misinformation about rival political figures, I mentioned Timothy McVeigh, the guy who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building which killed 15 children, and I named him the nation's worst mass murderer of children. I was in error. Listener Bruce wrote in:
Andrew Kehoe was on the school board and, under cover of his job as a maintenance worker, spent weeks wiring the school's basement with 1,000 pounds of dynamite, all on timers. On the day of the blast he also blew himself up in his truck full of shrapnel.
A quick correction on episode 573 about the claim that Finland doesn't actually exist. At one point I mentioned that Finland can be seen from northern Europe. As Finland is part of northern Europe, this would have been a vortex of logic that caused the universe to collapse in on itself and explode like an evaporating black hole.
Listener Paul wrote in with a correction to episode 54 about the collapse of the twin towers. I commented that blacksmiths melt steel for casting all the time. Well, no they don't. Paul said:
I stand corrected, to the delight of blacksmiths everywhere. They heat steel to soften it for forging — which is a more accurate description of what happened to the twin towers' steel trusses than what I said the first time.
In episode 575 about episodes whose conclusions surprised me the most, I mentioned plutonium as being the most toxic substance known. I've said this a number of times, so it's probably been in other episodes too. It's one of those bits of pop culture knowledge that I uncritically parroted. Thankfully, listener Hans, who is a nuclear engineer at one of our fine national laboratories, wrote in and said:
And then, importantly, he adds:
...which is exactly one of the things I mentioned at the top of the show! We all do it, and we all need to be more careful. Thanks for the reminder, Hans.
Addendum: Some of you have pointed out that the above Priority List is slanted because it incorporates how likely one is to encounter the substances on it. For more info, see other articles that list substances by their LD50 (the amount per unit of body weight that it takes to kill 50% of victims) and you can see plutonium is still not very near the top: here here here and even here - BD
And as long as we're talking physics, let's hear from Richard, who explained that he was sitting in his observatory on a cloudy night and thus had time to write. In episode 570 "More Space Missions You Should Know", I said "Nobody expected Kepler, with its dedicated photometer pointed at a single patch of the milky way, to find so many exoplanets." Richard replied:
As of this writing Kepler has found 2,337 confirmed exoplanets and 4,496 candidate exoplanets, so right in that range that astronomers were expecting.
And it must have been an extra cloudy night, because he had time to hit me with another one, and this one spaced me out (pun intended). In the same episode I referenced the Earth's L2 Lagrange point as a "gravitationally stable spot".
I'd had no idea there was such a thing as an unstable Lagrange point. I thought their stability was the whole idea. He linked to a NASA page that explains everything, and you'll find it in the references at the bottom of this page. Guess I have some reading to do.
And yes, I know I called them Lagrange points instead of Lagrangian like most astronomers. But that NASA page calls them Lagrange, and that's what Arthur C. Clarke called them when I first heard of them, so that's what I'm going with, and if it's an error too, it's one I refuse to correct. Even I have my religion.
Episode 378 was a true-or-false episode about mythical civilizations, and in the entry on Utopia, I cheated and went with Wikipedia. Two of the things I said about Utopia (a fictional civilization from Sir Thomas More's 1516 novel) were that it had a totalitarian dictator and strict state religions. I quickly heard from listener Elizabeth, a university professor in an intellectual heritage program who teaches the book every semester. She said, in part:
Far be it from me to question a professor on her area of expertise — or, for that matter, to actually read the book for myself.
Listener Dave wrote in response to my episode on the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. A small error, but significant. In the conclusion I talked about next-gen tracking technology called ADS-B, which, if MH370 had had it, we would have known exactly where it went down. Dave wrote:
Quite correct, and my mistake. Regular radio-based ADS-B has already been around for a while. What I needed to have specified was space-based ADS-B, which uses the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation, so provides coverage of 100% of the Earth's surface.
OK we've got time for one more. This is one that nobody wrote in about, but you all should have, because I was totally wrong. Episode 244 was about how the theory of nuclear winter became the theory of nuclear autumn, and one of the historical events I talked about was the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. All of this dust and debris kicked up into the atmosphere left a telltale sign, which is now a layer of gray rock about 3 centimeters thick, all over the world, except where erosion wore it away. I referred to this layer as the K-T boundary, so named because it divided the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. Now, if you're on top of these things, you know that in 2008, the International Commission on Stratigraphy decided to dump the Tertiary period, cut it in half, and replaced it with the Paleogene and Neogene periods. So ever since then, updated charts of the geologic time scale no longer show the Cretaceous as bordering the Tertiary, but as bordering the Paleogene. So what was the K-T boundary is now the K-Pg boundary.
Incidentally, if you're wondering why K is used for the Cretaceous, which starts with a C, it's because C was already used as the abbreviation for the Cambrian, so to abbreviate Cretaceous they went with a K for the German word for chalk, Kreide.
So don't make me have to catch myself again. If I get anything wrong in an episode, there are some 200,000 of you listening, so pipe up. Email me instantly at firstname.lastname@example.org, provide a solid reference or two for verification, and the Skeptoid record shall be duly improved.
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