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Pop Quiz: History and Pseudohistory

Donate Test your knowledge on these subjects, all covered by Skeptoid, on false history claims.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under History & Pseudohistory

Skeptoid Podcast #669
April 2, 2019
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Pop Quiz: History and Pseudohistory

Once again, you sit down expecting to enjoy a relaxing podcast, but are surprised instead by a pop quiz! Yes, it's another working day for you — no break. Today we're going to test your knowledge on a variety of topics from the world of false history: claims promoted in pop culture that distort what really happened. Just be aware that if you expect to do well based on having watched a lot of television science and history channels, you might be disappointed. So without further ado, let's get started.

1. The Illuminati

The most famous secret society that called themselves the Illuminati was founded in Bavaria in the late 1700s, largely in opposition to the dictatorial power of the Catholic church. The founder, Adam Weishaupt, was which of the following in private life?

A. A law professor
B. A Jesuit
C. A Bavarian public official

Reveal the answer

2. Flight 19

One of the most popular stories of the Bermuda Triangle tells about Flight 19, a training flight of five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that all disappeared in 1945, amid spooky stories coming over the radio of their instruments going crazy and incredible unearthly weather. What was determined to be the cause of the disappearance?

A. The flight leader's failure to follow the standard procedure when lost, to fly west toward the sun.
B. Poor weather caused the flight to lose its bearings and run out of fuel.
C. No cause was ever determined.

Reveal the answer

3. The Mercury Rivers of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

There is a popular story — almost certainly egregiously exaggerated — that Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China, built himself an expansive underground tomb with a map of the world on the floor, complete with liquid mercury flowing to represent the rivers and oceans of the world. Like many of ancient China's elite, the Emperor consumed vast amounts of mercury during his lifetime. What was he hoping to accomplish?

A. Sexual prowess
B. Immortality
C. Treatment for syphilis

Reveal the answer

4. Beethoven's Death

While we're on the subject of heavy metal toxicity, we can turn to the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who is popularly claimed to have died from lead poisoning, possibly due to his heavy drinking of wine which was, in those days, fortified with lead. A popular book and documentary film advanced this theory, based on analysis of what kind of tissue samples from Beethoven?

A. Skull fragments
B. Hair
C. Foreskin

Reveal the answer

5. First in Flight

Although Americans consider Orville and Wilbur Wright to have been the first to powered, controlled flight in a heavier-than-air craft with their flight of 260 meters, much of the rest of the world gives that honor to Brazilian-Frenchman Alberto Santos-Dumont when his airplane made its longest flight of 220 meters. Which is true of their relative accomplishments?

A. It's not clear which flight actually took place first; accounts vary.
B. The Wright Brothers' flight was about three years before Santos-Dumont.
C. The flight of Santos-Dumont was about three years before the Wright Brothers.

Reveal the answer

6. Hitler's Antarctic Fortress

There is a popular legend that gives an alternate theory for the end of World War II, which fits neatly with the false claim that Adolf Hitler survived the war and escaped to Argentina. This story claims that the Nazis founded a base on Queen Maud Land in Antarctica called New Berchtesgaden, serviced regularly by Nazi U-boats. It survived several secret attacks by the British and the Americans over the years after the war, but was finally destroyed by the American Operation Argus with three nuclear bombs in 1958. Which part of this fanciful tale is actually true?

A. Operation Argus really did detonate three nuclear bombs
B. The Nazis really did have a base in Antarctica for several years during World War II
C. Nazi submarines did visit Antarctica during World War II

Reveal the answer

7. Ninjas

Few groups have been given a pop-culture overhaul as thorough as that given by modern fiction authors to the ninja, a class of spies and saboteurs from Japan's Sengoku period. They weren't even called ninja, they were actually shinobi. They rarely fought and they didn't use throwing stars. They were, however, stealthy. Which color clothing were the ninja taught never to wear at night?

A. White
B. Blue
C. Black

Reveal the answer

8. The Knights Templar

A darling of the TV networks that bill themselves as science channels are the Knights Templar, one of several monastic orders chartered by the Pope to secure territories seized during the Crusades. According to today's pop mythology, the Templars had the greatest treasure in the history of the world, and that a core of them survived their infamous mass execution on Friday the 13th, 1307, and that their successors today still hoard that vast wealth in secret. Which of these was the true fate of the Templars' treasure?

A. The fate of the Templars' wealth remains a mystery
B. The Templars' wealth moved with them when they dissolved to join other orders
C. There never was any particularly great Templar wealth

Reveal the answer

9. 1970s Global Cooling

A common theme we hear today among those who reject the scientific consensus that humans burning fossil fuels are responsible for global warming is that scientists in the 1970s thought we were headed for another ice age. So if they were wrong then, then they're just as likely to be wrong now. It is true that some percentage of science papers in the 1970s predicted global cooling. About what percentage of climate articles published between 1965 and 1979 predicted global cooling?

A. 10%
B. 28%
C. 62%

Reveal the answer

10. Hillary vs Mallory

The question of who was the first team to summit Mt. Everest is something of a manufactroversy. There is little meaningful support for the claim that the team of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who disappeared during their 1924 attempt, could have made it to the summit, some 30 years before the acknowledged first successful summiting by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Which of the following statements is true?

A. The route taken by Mallory and Irvine is easier than the one later taken by Hillary and Tenzing, but Nepal denied the later team permission to go that way because of the earlier climbers' deaths.
B. The route taken by Mallory and Irvine is more difficult than the one later taken by Hillary and Tenzing.
C. There's really only one reasonable climbing route up Everest, and both teams took it.

Reveal the answer

So how did you do? As always, tweet me your score at @BrianDunning. If you got five or fewer right, you need to turn off the TV and listen to more Skeptoid. If you got nine or ten right, then congratulations, that's a gold Skeptoid star for you! Thanks for taking this month's pop quiz, and feel free to share it with anyone who watches too much pseudohistory network television.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Pop Quiz: History and Pseudohistory." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 2 Apr 2019. Web. 12 Jul 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

Barber, M. The Trial of the Templars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Curator. "The Case for Alberto Santos Dumont." History Wing. Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, 7 May 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2016. <>

Eisinger, J. "Was Beethoven Lead-Poisoned?" The Beethoven Journal. 1 Jul. 2008, Volume 23, Number 1: 15-17.

Fujibayashi, Y., Cummins, A., Minami, Y. The Book of Ninja: The First Complete Translation of the Bensenshukai, Japan's Premier Ninja Manual. London: Watkins Publishing, 2013.

Hernández, I. "Meet the Man Who Started the Illuminati." History Magazine. National Geographic, 8 Jul. 2016. Web. 4 Jan. 2019. <>

Kusche, L. The Disappearance of Flight 19. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.

Liu, J., Shi, J., Yu, L., Goyer, R., Waalkes, M. "Mercury in traditional medicines: Is cinnabar toxicologically similar to common mercurials?" Experimental Biology and Medicine. 1 Jul. 2008, Volume 233, Number 7: 810-817.

Peterson, T., Connolley, W., Fleck, J. "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus." Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 1 Sep. 2008, Volume 89, Issue 9: 1325–1337.

Summers, J. Fearless on Everest: The Quest for Sandy Irvine. Seattle: Mountaineers, 2000.

Wellerstein, A. "Declassifying ARGUS (1959)." Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Alex Wellerstein, 23 May 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2017. <>


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