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A Cavalcade of Corrections

Donate Skeptoid corrects another round of errors from past episodes.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #856
November 1, 2022
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A Cavalcade of Corrections

Once again it's time to do the very most important thing we do here at Skeptoid: correct any errors found in previous shows. This is the 21st such episode, and out of 855 previous shows, that comes out to about one in every 42 shows; and figuring that each correction show has corrections from an average of about seven episodes, that means one in six shows contains an error that someone was able to find and that I was able to verify. That's not bad, but it can always be better. And it is, because of these corrections shows, most or all of those are now fixed.

California's ISO board

We'll get started with an extremely boring correction just to get it out of the way — but boring or not, it's important to get right. Episode #852 was about the false claim that electrical grids will be unable to keep up with the increased demand from the growing number of electric cars, and I said something or other about California's utility planning commission. Listener Paul wrote in and said:

I have worked on electric utility planning issues for over 40 years, and that episode was one of the most accurate deep dive on electricity issues I've ever heard on radio or podcast... A small correction. You said that:

California ISO [is] made up of representatives from the state's utilities

The CAISO Board is appointed by the Governor of California. They do not represent the utilities. Many of them have utility experience, of course. And the utilities (along with representatives of consumers, generators, environmentalists, and other interests) serve on CAISO advisory committees.

So, there you have it. OK, on to more fun corrections, like guys blowing themselves up with dynamite as a way to evade the police.

The Day Frank Critzer blew himself up

Episode #833 was about the mysterious structure in the California desert called the Integratron, built by a former aircraft engineer intent on time travel and crossing dimensions and stuff like that. The unexpected history of what led him to that included a German miner, Frank Critzer, blowing himself up in a cave when the police came to see what he was up to. Listener Sully wrote:

A quick Google search will reveal multiple press accounts that Frank Critzer self-detonated at Giant Rock on July 25, 1942. Your very interesting article on the Integratron says "He was German, which was not a good look in the days immediately following World War II." The point you make about his nationality being a liability at the time is correct, but as you certainly know, the summer of 1942 was at the start of the US's involvement in World War II.

Sully is right. I did indeed manage to misplace the year in which the hapless Critzer had his unfortunate incident. It is now corrected.

Sarah Winchester's inheritance

Episode #824 was about Sarah Winchester and her great "mystery house" in San Jose, California — though I referred to her as Sallie, which is the name she went by during her lifetime. The whole point of the episode was to upend the vast falsehoods that characterize her memory — that she was obsessed with spirits and built the giant house to confound the ghosts of all those killed by Winchester rifles. Yet, in the middle of all this debunking and correction, one error (that I know of, so far) still slipped through. And I found it when Susan Gerbic's Wikipedia editors were revamping the article about her, prompted largely by the publication of my episode, and caught something I'd missed.

One of the many, many pieces of false information found in nearly every book about Sallie Winchester is the grossly exaggerated amount of the inheritance she received from her late husband. It's always given as $20 million, plus a lifetime six-figure dividend income. That's the number I gave in my episode. But in 1881, that would have been an obscene amount of money. From the best I can figure, my guess is that whoever first published this number intended to give the value of the Winchester inheritance in that day's dollars.

All the details of the inheritance, and all the family members involved and the value of the Winchester stock, are given in the most authoritative source on Sallie Winchester, Mary Jo Ignoffo's magnificent biography Captive of the Labyrinth. The actual amount of Sallie's inheritance was $362,330, plus 777 shares of Winchester Repeating Arms Company stock that paid her an annual dividend of $7,900.

Although these numbers are far less than what is usually published, they were still more than enough to give her the jump start on being one of early California's truly greatest businesswomen — arguably the greatest.

The Queen Mary's boilers

Episode #823 was about rogue waves, and in a bit of a departure from the usual format, I opened with a dramatic narrative telling of the time when the RMS Queen Mary was struck broadside by such a wave in 1942, when she was in service as a troop ship. I guess I spent more attention on my dramatic narrative than I did on accuracy, because I told how "countless tons of coal tumbled to the lee." Listener Mike wrote:

A great episode and thanks for making a complex story so clear. One small correction, Queen Mary was — and always had been — oil fired, so she wouldn't have been carrying much, if any, coal.

My grandfather served on her during this period. I wish I had known about this incident when he was alive — it must have been terrifying, and what a catastrophe for the Allied war effort had she foundered.

It was easy enough to confirm, and just as easy to correct my attempted dramatic narrative.

When is a Pharaoh not a Pharaoh?

Episodes #778 and #779 were about what we actually do know and don't know about how Egypt's great pyramids were built. It's a fascinating re-listen; the stuff that we do know is tremendous and also surprising and fascinating. One thing both episodes did was refer to the Egyptian kings involved in their construction as Pharaohs. Listener Alex wrote:

During a recent review of the Pyramids episode I noticed that you refer to Khufu as a Pharaoh, which technically he was not. He was a sovereign ruler of Egypt but the title of Pharaoh wasn't in use yet during the 4th Dynasty. That wouldn't come into common use for more than a thousand years in the 19th Dynasty. While it's not uncommon to apply Pharaoh retroactively to Egyptian rulers in general but Khufu would not have been known as a Pharaoh when he was alive. Hope this helps.

It's actually the 18th dynasty according to the references he sent, but yeah. Verified. The terms used for Egyptian kings were diverse and changed over the centuries. Today we have settled on using the latest and best-known term; informally, anyway.

If you watch any TV show about ancient Egypt, they generally refer to all Egyptian kings as Pharaoh. But that has come into common use, even among many Egyptologists. This is contrasted with another favorite example of mine: In 2019, HISTORY channel released a special 15-episode playlist of Ancient Aliens episodes about the Maya, and they titled it The Mayans. As you may know, there is no such word as "Mayans". The culture and the people are called Maya, and Mayan is a language spoken by them. We should no longer be surprised that when HISTORY makes an entire series of episodes about the Maya, from the research through the writing through the production through the marketing and TV advertising, at no time did they ever have even a single person involved who knew the most basic thing about that culture: what they are called.

As a cherry on top, the show also repeatedly mentioned that the Maya lived in the Amazon. The ancient Maya civilization occupied the Yucatan Peninsula and surrounding areas in Central America; the Amazon is in South America. National Geographic famously did the same thing throughout their 2020 show Lost World of the Maya. They also showed the Aztec stone calendar whenever they discussed the Mayan calendar. They don't have even the most remote interest in accuracy, just in eyeball share and sensationalism.

Details of the Ariel School UFO

Episode #760 was about the 1994 alien visitation — supposedly — of a private school outside Harare in Zimbabwe. I feel it was a pretty good breakdown of what actually happened compared to what UFO enthusiasts have shaped it into today. One thing I've learned from my years at Skeptoid is that every story has one particular researcher — usually some uncelebrated amateur — who spends years digging up every imaginable detail and compiling it online. Well, a year after my episode came out, I found such a compilation, the blog of Charlie Wiser. I took the opportunity and went through it thoroughly, and was able to correct three details in my episode. They are:

    1. I said the UFO author Cynthia Hind called BBC correspondent Tim Leach, when in fact it was he who called her. Doesn't matter; what matters is what transpired from the phone call.

    2. Cynthia Hind held group story-sharing sessions with the children who claimed to see the UFO, in order to form a consensus story. I said those were with groups of 4-6 children, in fact they were with groups of 2-6 children.

    3. She visited the school a few days after the alleged incident, not the next day.

Do any of these matter? Of course they do. On the one hand they're completely inconsequential, in that they have no impact on the episode's conclusions; but they're still important. I see tweets and other comments every day of the form "If Dunning got something so basic as this wrong, how can we trust anything else he says?" Get it all right, to the best of your ability.

Conspiracies about the USS Maine

Finally, I want to close with the correction that has, I think, spent more time on my document of errors to be investigated than any other in the history of Skeptoid. It has to do with the way various nations perceived the explosion of the American battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, discussed in episode #748, and triggering the start of the Spanish-American war. The exact cause of the explosion was never proven, and examining each of the possibilities was the point of the episode. The geopolitical complexities of the situation are beyond the scope of today's short rehash, but suffice it to say that a false flag attack by the US, in which they would have blown up their own ship and made it look like the Spanish did it, was one of the possibilities and is a favorite of conspiracy theorists. This has long been the official narrative in Cuba, but in the episode, I said that it was in Spain as well.

Listener Juan and I have corresponded for a long time about this. He initially advised me that it was not, in fact, the official narrative in Spain; and I was, unfortunately, unable to find the reference source from which I got that. It had been in a Spanish language text about the fascist Franco dictatorship, 1939-1975, and I often will omit foreign language references from the transcript because they're less useful to many readers. So I couldn't track it down to reverify this fact about Spanish official history.

At one juncture, Juan wrote me:

Looking for additional claims related to the Maine explosion in Spanish government websites, I could only find a few references from the Spanish Navy and related organizations... All refer to an accident as the most probable cause.

And he provided several references.

But then I had an idea: for sure, a good source for the "official narrative" are the text books used in public Spanish schools, because they require the approval from the Spanish Ministry of Education. The following are all references I could find (no cherry picking!), both current and past, including Franco's regime:

And he provided many more references spanning over a century of Spanish textbooks.

All refer to an "accident" or to an "unexplained explosion". There is no mention of a false flag attack... Most sources are critical of the US policies at the time, the yellow press, and how hastily they put the blame on Spain instead of considering the evidence for an accident, but no one suggests a false flag attack as a likely cause.

So the episode transcript has been corrected, with apologies to any Spanish listeners who rightly felt mischaracterized by the error. If some Franco era author did write that, they were wrong. A huge thanks to Juan, who put more time, energy, and effort into his correction than I think anyone else ever has, and my apologies to Juan as well for taking so long to finally get this right. It would be interesting if I could find that original reference, and learn more from the context of the author's other writing. Was he a fascist propagandist? Was he a garden-variety conspiracy theorist? Or was he just plain wrong?

It happens to all of us.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "A Cavalcade of Corrections." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 1 Nov 2022. Web. 13 Jun 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

CAISO. Root Cause Analysis: Mid-August 2020 Extreme Heat Wave. Sacramento: California ISO, 2021.

Ignoffo, M. Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Winchester Fortune. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010.

Lehner, M., Hawass, Z. Giza and the Pyramids: The Definitive History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

McCartney, J. "A Time Machine in the Mojave Desert." The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 May. 2022. <>

Parker, B. The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, storm surges, rogue waves, and our quest to predict disasters. New York: Palgrave Mcmillan, 2010.

Samuels, P., Samuels, H. Remembering the Maine. Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

Wiser, C. "Something glinting in the trees." Three-Dollar Kit. Charlie Wiser, 16 Jun. 2022. Web. 25 Sep. 2022. <>


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