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Skeptoid Scared Straight

Donate In which I issue yet another round of corrections to past episodes.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #890
June 27, 2023
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Skeptoid Scared Straight

The august Nelson Mandela once said "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." And if I might be so presumptuous, that very idea encapsulates my feelings every time I do one of these corrections episodes on Skeptoid. More often than not, when a correction is found, it's a learning experience for me as well as for some of you — I say some because the rest were probably tearing their hair and rending their garments when I brazenly uttered the erroneous statement to begin with. But regardless, corrections we have today, and corrections we shall now apply.

Robert Wadlow and the Nephilim

We're going to get started with a correction to a very recent episode, #887, on the Nephilim. Was the Earth once walked by giants, as believed by Biblical literalists and conspiracy theorists? In the episode, we made reference to the tallest human ever known, young Robert Wadlow, an affable young fellow from Alton, Illinois. My error and its correction were not exactly the kind of wondrous experience Mandela described. Nope, I simply flubbed a date. From listener Matt:

I noticed a minor mistake regarding the year Robert Wadlow died. The podcast says he died in 1918, but sources I found list him as passing in 1940 while being born in 1918.

Matt is, of course, correct. Somehow I managed to give Wadlow's birth year as his death year. But it's fixed now, with the correction noted on the transcript. My thanks to Matt.

JFK Jr. and Flying Conditions

Just one episode prior to that one, we answered a student question about the claim within the Q-Anon community that John F. Kennedy Jr. is secretly still alive and poised to become the new figurehead of the Republican party. I said in the show that he died when flying his plane in conditions for which he was not rated. Listener Frank said:

This is technically inaccurate. To fly visually (VFR) requires that there be 3 miles visibility and to remain a certain distance from clouds. There is no claim that visibility ever went below 4 miles, and so technically, JFK Jr was rated to fly in such weather conditions.

Quick explainer: you've got two basic kinds of meteorological conditions for pilots, VFR and IFR, Visual Flight Rules and Instrument Flight Rules. Basically, can you see where you're going, or do you need to fly on instruments? Pilots are rated for VFR unless they get an instrument rating, which allows them to fly in IFR conditions. Conditions were VFR when John John took his flight so he didn't break any rules, and I knew that; but conditions deteriorated during the flight, so that's why I said what I did in the podcast. By the time he crashed, the conditions exceeded his rating.

But far be it from me to rely on my own ignorance when I have better resources at my disposal. My friend Chris is an air crash investigator with the NTSB, and he would know the actual answer to this question. So I put it to him, telling Frank that Chris would be the final arbiter. Chris replied:

So — it's a tad tricky, but your listener is correct. Per the accident report, the visibility was all over the range, but never below 3 SM. That's Marginal VFR, legally VFR still, day or night, but with a "hey, you may wanna rethink this" flavoring. He was legal to fly in the conditions as I read the situation and the investigation never states he was doing anything wrong in that regard. The problem was, he was in the "Just because you can — doesn't mean you should…" zone.

So I stand corrected, and JFK Jr. stands absolved.

Where Is Nan Madol?

Next we had a correction to episode #865 on Nan Madol, an island in Micronesia known for its megalithic works. If I described to you an idyllic tropical island, with reefs and glowing blue waters, frequented by Polynesian wayfarers; what part of the ocean would you guess that it's in? If you're like me, you probably just said the South Pacific without even thinking about it. And that's what I did in the episode. Listener John said:

An excellent article, however I have one minor quibble: your subtitle refers to Nan Madol being in the south Pacific. As it is firmly in the Northern hemisphere, it is more properly north Pacific.

Imagine my surprise. I sped to my globe — well, OK, to Google Earth — and looked it up. Turns out Nan Madol is at 6°50' North, a full 405 nautical miles north of the equator! Color me corrected. It's just one of those things that seems so obvious that it doesn't even occur to me to check it.

The Nationality of Carl Linnaeus

In episode #854 on major changes to scientific findings, I talked about the great "Swiss" multi-disciplinarian Carl Linnaeus, who developed the taxonomic classifications for organisms. Listener Christoffer was quick to write in:

Just finished listening to the latest episode, where you talk about Carl Linneaus as swiss. This is incorrect. Linneaus was a Swedish national, born and raised in Sweden, where he also did a lot of his work. Even if he was not entirely correct about classification (and, by some accounts, a bit of a racist), we Swedes are still proud of his immense contributions to the natural sciences.

I went back to the recording script, and Linnaeus was correctly shown as Swedish. So this was just a reading error by me during recording; no excuse for it, just a straight-up mistake. I wish I could attribute more of my errors to this, but no, I usually get them wrong on purpose. The correction has been noted on the transcript, as it has for all of these.

Nikola Tesla's Radio Controlled Boat

My episode #345 has become somewhat infamous in certain dark corners of the Internet for being one of the first voices out there to publicly point out that Nikola Tesla was not a wizard with magical powers who invented free energy and perpetual motion and death rays and everything else. The episode featured a long list of things typically attributed to Tesla, and among these was a demonstration of a radio controlled boat that he did at Madison Square Garden in New York City in a year that I gave as 1896. Listener Arthur said over Twitter:

I found your 2013 article on Nikola Tesla very interesting. I agree that Tesla's contributions to technology, while amazing, are somewhat obscured and distorted by the attribution of almost godlike qualities to him. One minor point to note: I believe Tesla's demonstration of his remote controlled boat (at Madison Square Garden) was in 1898 rather than 1896, though it was in 1896 that Tesla is said to have produced a radio transmission, according to the Tesla Memorial Society of New York.

I recall reading that British inventors Ernest Wilson and C.J. Evans demonstrated such a system on the Thames in 1897, but their system could control steering only; Tesla's was apparently superior. (As you point out, we can acknowledge Tesla's genius without assuming he invented everything under the sun.)

1898 is correct according to multiple sources, so the correction has been made and noted on the transcript.

I've said before that, so far as I was able to find in my research on this episode, the radio-controlled boat seems to be the only thing that Tesla actually invented on his own, as opposed to refining or being the first to file a United States patent on an existing invention. But this corrected date of 1898 puts even that on a little thinner ice. 1895 and 1896 saw an explosion throughout the world of inventors showcasing various radio demonstrations, being the first to do this or that with radio, and showing each other up. With Tesla's Madison Square Garden boat demonstration being as late to the party as 1898, it now seems clear Wilson and Evans beat him to that too, in 1897. Tesla's boat was thus not a new invention, but a refinement — presumably adding throttle control — to an existing invention.

I hate to be the one to say this, but my error had left Tesla with one original invention. This correction leaves him with exactly zero. Perhaps this is why he's most often described as an engineer, rather than an inventor. Oh well, sorry Nikola, my fallible self tried, but I guess even I must now acknowledge that your lack of magical wizard powers, is, in fact, total.

Travis Walton's Prize Money

Episode #94, from way back in 2008, was about the Travis Walton Fire in the Sky UFO abduction story. In brief, seven young men in Arizona in 1975 were laborers working on a contract one of them had with the Forest Service to clear a bunch of land. One evening, a UFO came down and sucked Travis up with a light beam; he was not heard from for five days, when he called from a payphone. The story became a book and a movie, and probably quite a few spinoffs.

There were a number of possible financial motives. Travis and his brother Duane were known to be aware of a $100,000 prize offered by the National Enquirer tabloid for proof of aliens, and both were acknowledged fans of science fiction and UFO stories. Also, their future brother-in-law Mike, who had the contract, was not going to make the deadline on it, which meant a big financial penalty unless extenuating circumstances could be shown, like the disappearance of one of the crew.

In the episode, I said that it's not clear if they ever got any money out of the Enquirer, or whatever happened with the Forest Service contract. Listener Blake Smith (of the Monster Talk podcast) wrote in:

The Enquirer decided to pay a subset of the price to the tree crew because they didn't "earn" the big prize, but it was still voted the best UFO story or something. There is a photo from (I assume) the National Enquirer. As you can see most of the key players are holding $2,500 checks. I don't trust most inflation calculators but allegedly that's about $13,000 today. Not the mega-prize of $100K but given that Mike's contract had a $2500 penalty if he didn't meet his deadline, that's a handy windfall.

And, sure enough, the photo's caption states that the men were awarded $5,000: $2,500 to Travis, and the rest divided equally among the others. So I stand corrected on that as well, but I still couldn't find whatever might have happened with the Forest Service contract.

And so with that, we wrap another error correction episode. Keep those corrections coming in, just please actually be correct yourself and have your ducks in a row with the required references, according to the procedures laid out at Skeptoid is as good a resource as it is in part due to your corrections.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Skeptoid Scared Straight." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 27 Jun 2023. Web. 18 Jul 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

Childress, D. The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla. Chicago: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1993. 249.

Editors. "The tragic death of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever." Guinness World Records. Guinness World Records Limited, 2 Jul. 2022. Web. 20 Jun. 2023. <>

Editors. "Carolus Linnaeus (Swedish botanist)." Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 7 Jul. 2015. Web. 20 Jun. 2023. <>

NTSB. "Aviation Investigation - NYC99MA178." NTSB. National Transportation Safety Board, 6 Jul. 2000. Web. 20 Jun. 2023. <>

Sheaffer, R. "Skeptical Information on the Travis Walton UFO Abduction Story." The Debunker's Domain. Robert Sheaffer, 5 Aug. 2016. Web. 20 Jun. 2023. <>

UNESCO. "Nan Madol: Ceremonial Centre of Eastern Micronesia." World Heritage List. UNESCO, 15 Jul. 2016. Web. 20 Jun. 2023. <>


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