An Exorbitance of Emendations
Today I present another roundup of corrections to past episodes. I keep a document with every verified correction that someone emails me, and every time that document fills up with a full show's worth, I put out an episode. At the same time, I post corrections to the online transcripts, so that Skeptoid.com does not become an offender in the insidious spreading of pop misinformation. Here now is this week's batch.
Lincoln - Kennedy Myths
Let's get started by correcting a misattribution that I made in episode 360 addressing the old urban legend of all the alleged spooky similarities between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. One of my quotes was from a 1995 Ann Landers column that gave a number of examples showing that any similarities were trivial and statistically probable, while there were, in fact, far more differences than similarities. My mistake was attributing the quote to Ann Landers. Then I got an email from listener Wendell in Greenbelt, Maryland:
Oops. Sorry Wendell, my bad, and I clearly missed the byline from you that's there on the Ann Landers column. My transcript page has been updated to properly credit you.
The next correction I received rolled our odometer way back — almost all the way back, in fact — to episode 6, from 2006, debunking popular myths claiming that wheatgrass juice is a healthy drink. In the episode I was talking about the molecular structure of chlorophyll, and mistakenly called it a carbohydrate, something I apparently just assumed because it's mostly made of carbon and hydrogen. Listener Andy wrote:
Well, I didn't know. But far be it from me to make the same mistake twice, so I never take a correspondent's word for something, but I always go back to the books to double check. Here's what Wikipedia says[]:
Unfortunately I'm no chemist and I don't want the point of the episode to get lost in chemistry, so I'll just assert that chlorophyll is something — it's a thing, it's green, and I'm going back to debunking Bigfoot.
The Dark Ages
Or, debunking the Dark Ages. In the episode on Al-Ghazali and Arab-Islamic Science discussing the notion that the rise of Islam was responsible for the death of the golden age of science, I talked a bit about the period when the Crusades extended far enough east that they began battling Muslims instead of other Christians. Mentioning a period in history, I called it the Dark Ages. Listener Hugo from Sweden wrote:
He is absolutely correct. "Dark Ages" is not a historiographic term, it's really just a disparaging term for the Early Middle Ages. There are no hard rules but historians generally break down the Middle Ages thus:
The Crusades mostly took place in the High Middle Ages and the opening century of the Late Middle Ages, so either way, my statement was wrong and disparaging. The transcript now reflects both corrections.
Gilgamesh & Utnapishtim
Episode 618 threw out a bunch of random names from history and made you guess which were real figures, and which were fictional. One of these was Gilgamesh, from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which includes an amazingly accurate carbon copy of the story of Noah's Flood, written centuries before Genesis. Listener Michael wrote:
Absolutely correct; I accidentally rolled Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim into the same person. My bad. I hereby unroll them, and separate them into two distinct people, much in the way that Captain Kirk was separated in Star Trek episode 5, "The Enemy Within".
In several episodes over the years, when talking about how every compound has a safe level, and every compound has a dangerous level — an idea that many people continue to refuse to accept — I've pointed out that just by existing on Earth, your body probably has about 20 million plutonium atoms in it right now, and you suffer no ill effects. At various times, people have asked me where I got that number. Originally, it was something of a group calculation on an email chat, so it's not something where I've been able to provide a reference. But following one recent episode where I gave this figure, I received this via Twitter:
...and he provided a link to a 1995 article in Applied Radiation and Isotopes which calculates that since 1945, environmental levels have risen to the point that the average human body has about 300 fmol of plutonium in them, and that's about 180 billion atoms. Live on a planet, and the law of entropy means that you will eventually have a tiny bit of just about everything else on the planet mixed in with you.
But fear not: the article's abstract reassures us that:
Everything has a safe level, and everything has a dangerous level. I wish the mass media would embrace this simple fact.
University of Arizona State University
A quick apology to Dr. Clive Wynne at Arizona State University. In the episode about apes alleged to have learned sign language, I erroneously put him at the University of Arizona, which is now corrected on the website. In thanks to listener Caroline, who alerted me to the error and who actually is from the University of Arizona, I will repeat what she had in her email signature: Go Wildcats!
Episode 528 was about the Majestic 12 documents, some papers which surfaced in the UFO community in the 1980s, and which appear to have been classified documents from the Cold War era talking about how the government knows all about the aliens who live here on Earth and go back and forth to their planet. One reader, Martin from New Zealand who came across the transcript on the web, took issue with the very first sentence:
From my own experiences with UFO enthusiasts, Martin's comment is absolutely correct and very fair, so I've updated the transcript accordingly.
The documents were probably created by some branch of the US government — possibly the CIA, possibly the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations — as a smokescreen and to discredit the UFO groups. At the time, US intelligence was trying to keep the F-117A Stealth Fighter secret from the Soviets, and had a legitimate concern that Soviet agents might infiltrate the UFO groups in the United States, as they were the ones who were camped out around all the Air Force bases with their video cameras and long lenses. While the UFO people hoped to catch a glimpse of the aliens they believed the Air Force was harboring, US and Soviet spies were more interested in them catching footage of an F-117A.
As Martin aptly points out, belief that the Air Force harbors aliens is hardly universal among the general UFOlogist population, the Majestic 12 papers are generally known to be a hoax, although plenty of disagreement exists in the community about their origin. So they can't rightly be called anyone's Holy Bible.
Nobel and Economics
This next correction is great because it's one of those things that one just takes for granted, and I never in a million years would have thought to verify it. 2011's episode on the science of voting only seems to get more and more relevant: it explained why voting systems like that used in the United States — where voters may vote for only one candidate — are fundamentally unfair and susceptible to problems like voting blocs gaming the system, or third party candidates taking votes primarily from one of the two major candidates, and causing a candidate who is not necessarily the most favored to win. The problem has to do with Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, named for the economist Kenneth Arrow, and whom I described as the winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics. Enter listener Hugo who pointed out something I never would have thought:
So, put that in your pipe and smoke it. Who knew that one of the Nobel prizes is not a Nobel prize? After this particular prize was endowed, the Nobel committee put a stop to it and decreed that no new prizes would be created — partly in response to pushback from the Nobel family, who argued that Alfred Nobel never created any such prize and it constitutes a misuse of his name.
So listeners, keep that feedback coming in, good or bad, especially when a correction is needed. I keep myself on track as best as I can, but there is always room for more bumpers to keep the show's path even straighter. The more help from you, the better Skeptoid can be. It is only all the many podcasts that don't correct themselves of whom you should always be skeptical.
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