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Wrong Does Not Cease to be Wrong

Donate The 15th episode devoted to corrections in previous shows. If it ain't right, we fix it.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #670
April 9, 2019
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As the great author Leo Tolstoy put it, "Wrong does not cease to be wrong just because the majority share in it." Neither does it cease to be wrong when I put it out in a podcast. Thus it becomes necessary to issue periodic corrections. This is the fifteenth such episode, consisting entirely of corrections to past shows; and a quick calculation shows that I have put one of these out approximately every 50 episodes (discounting other corrections and feedback episodes). That's a pretty good ratio, suggesting that Skeptoid episodes are 98% passable.

The Suicide Dogs of Overtoun Bridge

We'll begin with a quick trip to West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, home of Overtoun Bridge. This is where many believe that dogs love to jump from the bridge to commit deliberate suicide — though what data exists suggests that no such effect is actually proven. In episode #320, I mentioned that James White was the first Lord Overtoun, but received the following from listener Joe:

You say James White was the 1st Lord Overtoun. He wasn't. The 1st Lord Overtoun was his son John Campbell White. An authority on this subject is the author Paul Owens, who wrote the book, The Baron of Rainbow Bridge. I was born in Overtoun House.

Joe would likely know, then, wouldn't he? The correction is noted. Joe is also quite the photographer, and sent me many gorgeous pictures he took of the bridge and of Overtoun House. With his gracious permission, one of those is now the photo for the Suicide Dogs episode on the website.

Epigenetics

We turn now to episode #636 on epigenetics woo, where I assigned myself the unenviable task of describing what messenger RNA does in your cells, using only one or two brief sentences to avoid going off on some complex tangent. I did so at my peril, as there is no shortage of you listeners out there who understand such things far better than I do. One of you, the pathologist David, noted my line:

...messenger RNA (mRNA) is able to fit and connect to your DNA based on these genes...

And giving an appropriate authoritative reference, he advised the following:

mRNA is synthesized in the nucleus using the nucleotide sequence of DNA as a template. "Fit and connect" suggests (to me) that the mRNA is wandering into the nucleus, looking for its complementary DNA. In fact, it is constructed on that DNA and then heads out to the cytoplasm to be translated into protein.

So if any of you were screaming angrily at my mischaracterization of the behavior of mRNA during nucleotide synthesis, I hope this correction gives you some peace and you sleep a little easier tonight. My apologies for the apostasy.

GMO Food Labeling

Next come two errors that it's hard for me to believe I got wrong. This has happened before: Sometimes, the longer I study a specific fact, the more likely I am to repeat something about it completely wrong — it's the weird inside-out way the universe sometimes functions. Let's turn to episode #635 on the science showing the true effects of mandated GMO food labeling. We discussed how Vitamin A deficiencies cause half a million children to go blind each year, and half of them die. Golden Rice is a variety engineered to contain lots of Vitamin A, providing a seamless and cost-free way to supplement these children with all they need to prevent such effects. During the discussion, I said that Golden Rice has been doing this job for 20 years. A number of you wrote in, including listener Charles:

I think you have used an accurate but misleading statement... It is true that golden rice IS CAPABLE of providing a large percentage of the vitamin A needed by children, but it is almost entirely NOT BEING USED.

Charles is absolutely right. Although Golden Rice was created 20 years ago, nobody used it, due mostly to propaganda campaigns by anti-biotech groups like Greenpeace and many of their counterparts throughout the developing world. Only now is it beginning to come into use, and its creators all distribute it free and grant free manufacturing licenses.

There was one other error in that part of the episode: the children dying from Vitamin A deficiency are not included in the 500,000 who go blind, they are in addition to them; and their number is actually much higher, over 650,000. That's how many died annually during the 20 years of Golden Rice availability and its successful opposition by the worldwide anti-biotech lobby. It was, quite literally, a preventable tragedy on the scale of two Holocausts, only now just beginning to abate. So support Golden Rice, and your local crop geneticists.

The Chess-Playing Mechanical Turk

My second hard-to-believe error comes from episode #476 about the chess-playing Mechanical Turk, invented in 1770 by an Austrian civil engineer. Listener @DanielCrute tweeted to me that I had given him the wrong first name, calling him Werner von Kempelen, when his first name was in fact Wolfgang. This was done after just completing reading an entire book about him and his creation, and having that book open in front of me while I was writing. Yes, even the most obvious and unaccountable errors can slip into episodes.

The Phantom Time Hypothesis

This next one is about episode #332 about the "phantom time" hypothesis, wherein some conspiracy theorists believe a number of early centuries never took place, and the correct year for today is actually sometime in the 1700s. This is a confusing correction to make, because it involves the date at which one of the early promoters of this claim believed some early art and literature was forged by the Church. Around the year 1700 — the real year 1700, not 1700 according to the false history — a Jesuit librarian named Jean Hardouin [ar-DWA] charged 13th-century monks with falsifying ancient Greek and Roman art. I said that he blamed 13-century Jesuits. But listener Damian wrote in and pointed out:

Just dropping a line to correct something. You say 13th-century Jesuit forgeries, but the Jesuits were not formed until 1540!

That's correct according to actual history, but we have to remember that Hardouin believed some of the early centuries never happened, and the year we know as 1540 was — to him and in his writings — actually back in the 13th century. So Hardouin may have believed these monks were Jesuits.

Fortunately, however, it turns out this whole over-complication is moot. Whatever Hardouin may have thought, he wrote monks, not Jesuits. So Damian's correction stands. If we say monks, we are covered either way.

The Dragon's Triangle

In episode #337 on the Dragon's Triangle — a Philippine Sea version of the Bermuda Triangle — I fell victim to laziness. Although I have Charles Berlitz's original book in which he popularized the mythology to western audiences, I am reluctant to put myself through the ordeal of reading it cover-to-cover, and only use it when I need to get a specific claim from him. For more general things, I'll often turn to what other trusted authors have already written of Berlitz's work and summarized for us. While convenient and time saving, it's a glass house. And it bit me in this case. In the episode, I said:

In his 1989 book The Dragon's Triangle, Berlitz said that Japan lost five military vessels in the area between 1952 and 1954 alone, with a loss of some 700 sailors.

Well, no he didn't say that. An anonymous correspondent wrote me:

I have read a Japanese translated version of the book. According to the book, five Japanese military vessels were lost some time in 1942, but the number of sailors lost was not given.

I verified this and it's correct; either I or one of my sources had conflated two unrelated passages from Berlitz's book: one from 1942 during World War II, and one from this 1952-1954 time period. I've updated the transcript page to reflect the correction.

In the same episode, I said something else open to misinterpretation. I said that skeptical author Larry Kusche had given The Dragon's Triangle the same debunking treatment he'd given Berlitz's earlier book on the Bermuda Triangle. However this appears not to be possible, as Kusche did not publish any books after Berlitz's 1989 publication. The explanation is that Kusche did indeed give Berlitz the same treatment, but it was in a series of articles in Skeptical Inquirer magazine; it was not in a book. I've posted this clarification as well.

The Hollow Earth Theory

Here's one that I honestly don't know was a case of autocorrect, or of me lazily reading over something too fast. Episode #343 was about the Hollow Earth theory, in which certain groups throughout history have believed the surface of the Earth was actually concave, and we were living on the inside surface of a spherical bubble in a universe of solid rock. Most of these groups have been associated with various churches.

One such group, the Koreshan Unity Foundation, was based in Florida, and once performed a grandiloquent experiment that they believed would prove their view: bolting together precisely manufactured rectangular frames to form a perfectly straight line, to compare against the surface of the ocean. They called these frames rectilineators. However, for some unaccountable reason, I wrote down rectilinears, and that's how I pronounced it in the show. It is now corrected, and my apologies to any surviving members of the Koreshan Unity.

The Mercury Rivers of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

We've got time for one more. Episode #566 was about the famous legend that Emperor Qin Shi Huang of China built himself an enormous tomb, including the terra cotta warriors — which is true — and that included a vast map of the entire world, complete with flowing rivers and oceans of liquid mercury driven by some perpetual pump — which is greatly disputed. In explaining who he was, I described him as the first emperor of China, best known for building the Great Wall. Listener Adelaide said:

You credit emperor Qin Shi Huang with building the Great Wall, but that's a bit of an oversimplification. Parts of the wall existed before his reign, and he was more concerned with connecting them into a unified barrier. Also, you probably know this, but it might be worth mentioning that the parts of the Wall westerners are familiar with are from the Ming Dynasty, the better part of two millennia later, just so you don't give a misleading impression.

This is all absolutely true. He didn't really build any of what we think of today as the Great Wall, the part you can go and walk on; that was much later. As Adelaide says, the Emperor was the first to connect many smaller regional walls into larger systems intended to defend the newly unified China. His original structures were quite a bit smaller in scope and grandeur than the Ming walls we take selfies on today.

So, listeners, please keep those corrections coming. Skeptoid is intended not just for entertainment but also for education and enlightenment, so it's in all of our best interest to hold it to high standards and fix anything we see that doesn't represent the best pursuit of that goal. On many of the subjects we cover, most people out there have an inaccurate idea of them, and while Tolstoy may hold that it's our job to fix that, he'd probably agree that we should first have our own house in order.


By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.

 

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Wrong Does Not Cease to be Wrong." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 9 Apr 2019. Web. 12 Dec 2019. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4670>

 

References & Further Reading

Editors. "Messenger RNA." Genetics. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 18 Feb. 2019. Web. 4 Apr. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/science/messenger-RNA>

Hardouin, J. Chronologiae ex nummis antiquis restitutae. Paris: Typographiae Regiae Directorem, 1696.

IRRI. "Golden Rice." Improving Health through Safe and Nutritionally Enhanced Rice. International Rice Research Institute, 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2019. <https://www.irri.org/golden-rice>

Kusche, L. "The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Delusion: Looking Back after Forty Years." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Nov. 2015, Volume 39, Number 6.

Lattimore, O. Inner Asian Frontiers of China. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962. 436-441.

ODNB. "White, John Campbell, Baron Overtoun." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 7 Apr. 2018. Web. 4 Apr. 2019. <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/36862>

Simanek, D. "Turning the Universe Inside-Out." Myths and Mysteries of Science. Lock Haven University, 22 Sep. 2003. Web. 21 Dec. 2012. <http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/hollow/morrow.htm>

Standage, T. The Turk. New York: Walker & Co., 2002.

 

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