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Error Erasure Extravaganza

Donate It's time once again for Skeptoid to correct another round of errors in previous shows.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #931
April 9, 2024
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Error Erasure Extravaganza

Today we have a special treat: another in our series of episodes where all I do is correct errors in previous shows. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong." In other words, if I'm going to say something wrong in a show, it would have been better if I hadn't done the show at all. And nobody wants that; so let us dive right in and correct some recent errors.

Who publishes the DSM?

In our recent episode #928 on EMDR, the controversial psychotherapy to treat PTSD using bilateral stimulation, I mentioned the American Psychological Association (APA), which is the authority for standards of care in psychology in the United States. By way of a flourish of additional detail, I mentioned that they also publish the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the principle guide for the practice in the United States and also used in much of the rest of the world. Listener Dan wrote in and said:

I think the current episode of Skeptoid says that the American Psychological Assn publishes DSM. That's not right. It's the other APA: it's published by psychiatrists not psychologists. MDs vs PhDs… (I make this mistake all the time too.)

Correct he is. This was an erroneous attribution. The DSM is published not by the APA, but rather by the APA. Confused? It's the American Psychiatric Association who publishes it, not the American Psychological Association. Both exist, both are called the APA, and basically everyone in the profession hates the resulting confusion. Anyway, I struck the line from the transcript, as it was superfluous in addition to being wrong.

How did Martin Luther King, Jr. get his name… again?

So this next one is very, very interesting. In episode #918 on myths about Martin Luther King, Jr., I included the story about his name change. His father, known as "Daddy" King, changed both his own and his son's names from Michael King to Martin Luther King. The story I gave is that while Daddy King attended the 1934 Baptist World Alliance congress in Berlin, Germany, he visited some of the Martin Luther sites including Wittenberg, became inspired, and decided to make the name change.

Well, it appears we still do not have the complete story. I heard from someone who would know his part in this story beyond much reasonable doubt: listener Mirko, who is the Director of the Luther Houses Mansfeld and Eileben in Germany. He said:

…In your last episode on MLK you fell for a myth yourself. A myth which is widely believed, repeated up and down even in the most recent publications on MLK — and which apparently was even believed by himself: The myth that Martin Luther King, Sr. named himself and his son after the German reformer Martin Luther after his visit to Wittenberg in Germany in 1934.

But "Daddy King" never seemed to have visited Wittenberg at all during his attending the World Baptist conference in Berlin. I searched the visitor books of the Luther house in Wittenberg from the year 1934 and found no entry by him. I know: absence of a proof is not a proof of absence — but there is more: In his autobiography "Daddy King" (1980) he never mentioned Wittenberg or the German reformer at all, even though he recalled his stay in Berlin (and hearing Hitler on the radio) vividly... Regarding the new name he told a very different story:

Mirko then gave the exact quote from Daddy King's autobiography, which I verified:

"I was still known as Mike King at this time, although my father insisted until the day he died, in 1933, that he had named me the day I was born and my name was Martin, for one of his brothers, and Luther, for another one."

So according to his own word, his renaming of himself and his son was for two of his father's brothers, Martin and Luther, and not due to any inspiration from Martin Luther in Germany. But this is Skeptoid and we check, so I crowdsourced this out to see if anyone could verify the existence of the brothers Martin and Luther. Records are scarce and incomplete, including on most of the online ancestry websites. At last listener Sean found a Luther:

I checked out FamilySearch does show a sibling by the name of J. Luther King, but no Martin. Looking on the mother's side, Delia Linsey King (nee Long), I see no Luther or Martin. Poking around some of the more extended family on both sides didn't yield any Martin prior to MLK Jr. that I could find.

And this was the experience of everyone else too: no Martin. And so we still have a bit of an unresolved mystery. If anyone listening now has access to any more comprehensive King family records going that far back, please check it out and let me know at

But as for the "inspired by the trip to Germany" story goes — it's probably debunked.

Nemesis and the Oort cloud

Episode #911 was about the mythological planet Nibiru, believed by some to be a rogue planet that will crash into the Earth and destroy us all. In that episode's extended content for premium members, I talked about a related story, a hypothetical companion star to the Sun called Nemesis. The idea is that when the long elliptical orbit of Nemesis passes through the Oort cloud, a belt of icy comets out beyond the outer planets, it would disrupt them and cause a comet bombardment of the Earth, causing mass extinction events.

I immediately heard from my daughter Erika, currently a grad student in astrophysics, that the Oort cloud is itself only theoretical and has never yet been observed. It is the most widely-accepted explanation for the origin of long-period comets, but I was in error to take its existence as a given.

Mosquitoes and malaria

In episode #862 on Human Mosquito Magnets, I gave a bit of background on how malaria is carried by mosquitoes and transmitted to humans. Listener AJ, who studies this exact thing, wrote in with an improvement:

By all accounts, mosquitoes do not suffer any ill effects from harboring plasmodium species, so they cannot carry malaria. And while I'm at it, I'd recommend switching from referencing Plasmodium malariae to Plasmodium falciparum. Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for the most infections and deaths.

Sure enough, the references he provided proved I put the blame on the wrong species, so the episode transcript has been updated. As far as the rest of it goes, at first I couldn't figure out what he meant, because we were saying the same thing; but then a more careful review of the wording I used revealed that it was easy to get the impression I meant that the mosquitoes themselves got infected with malaria and passed it to humans. So I fixed that language as well to be more clear that the mosquitoes are happy all day long, giving the Plasmodia a free ride, and cheerfully injecting them into us without any problem for themselves. Little bastards.

Johnny Appleseed and his homestead

Now we're going to go all the way back to episode #138, a pop quiz on whether the famous people mentioned were real or fictional. One of these was Johnny Appleseed. He was real, actually a guy named John Chapman, and I said that he earned his nickname "by planting nurseries to grow apple trees, beginning on his own land grant that he received as a revolutionary war soldier fighting under George Washington." Listener Freeman wrote:

In fact, it was his father Nathaniel who had been the soldier. John was born in Sep. 1774, and thus would have been 9 in 1783 at the end of the Revolution. While there were some young musicians in the Continental forces, I have found no record of young John serving.

And Freeman provided a number of references to support this, as I always ask. So, consider the error fixed, and I've updated the transcript accordingly.

Bizarre errors in bizarre places

And finally, I'd like to take you back even further, back to the very first year of Skeptoid. In those days, I still wasn't sure what kind of a podcast it was going to be. I didn't know if it should be a debunking show, or if it should just be a show telling amazing stories, and I still didn't know that it was eventually going to end up being a good science show that actually adheres to standards. So some of the early shows were a little bit loose.

One of those was episode #56 on "Bizarre Places I'd Like to Go" and yes that was still the first year, because in those days, I did an episode every 4 days instead of weekly — for some reason. And now I can look back at that episode, and sure enough, some of those bizarre places might be neat for real, but some of the things I said about them were untrue. I thought they were true at the time, but in those days I didn't do any fact checking. I just parroted whatever it was I'd heard from friends or read on the Internet.

One of the things I mentioned was The Devil's Hole in Death Valley National Park. I described it as "a small puddle against the side of a rock, apparently" but that was actually "the tiny opening to a vast underground water system… that it connects to Montezuma Well, a spring in Arizona that's so far away it's ridiculous." That's just ridiculously wrong. Not only the Colorado River but several mountain ranges separate the two. The Devil's Hole cave system is indeed extremely deep, and its full extent is unknown; but it absolutely does not connect with Montezuma Well. The transcript has been corrected.

There's one other comment I exaggerated in that episode, pertaining to the Mud Caves of Anza-Borrego State Park. It's a badlands area, and when it rains water flows to the low points, soaks into the ground, and carves underground rivers where the runoff flows out into the washes. Most of the year these rivers are bone dry and you can walk through them. I said in the episode they "twist for miles beneath the dusty badlands." That's incorrect. There are no known mud caves as long as a mile, but some do stretch the better part of a mile before they open up onto the surface.

And thus we conclude another error correction episode. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did taking this trip back through memory lane, and fixing the broken memories. Until next time, when we have another batch of errors, I will ask you to always be skeptical.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Error Erasure Extravaganza." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 9 Apr 2024. Web. 20 May 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

APA. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

Editors. "The New England Roots of Johnny Appleseed." The New England Quarterly. 1 Sep. 1939, Volume 12, Number 3: 454-469.

King, M.L. Sr. Daddy King: An Autobiography. Boston: Beacon Press, 2017.

NASA. "Oort Cloud." Solar System. National Air and Space Administration, 29 Sep. 2023. Web. 25 Mar. 2024. <>

NPS. "Devils Hole." National Park Service. US Department of the Interior, 7 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2024. <>

WHO. "Malaria." Fact Sheets. World Health Organization, 4 Dec. 2023. Web. 26 Mar. 2024. <>


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