Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Top 5 Most Famous Facts That Are Wrong

5. Charles Darwin Was the First to Conceive the Theory of Evolution
Like the telephone, no timely idea is birthed by a single mother. There is almost always more than one person working on a good idea at the same time, with one of them inevitably getting most of the credit in the end. This was not only true of inventions, but of scientific theories as well - in this case the (at the time) controversial theory of evolution. British naturalist Charles Darwin is usually credited with coming up with the concept, but the fact is there were any number of scientists and naturalists working on the thorny issue of how human beings got here (in a non-Biblical way). The foundation for the idea may have been laid down by the Greek philosopher and scientist Anaximander (610 BCE-546 BCE), who was the first to suggest that physical forces, rather than supernatural forces, create order in the universe.
However, the basics for the modern theory of evolution were first articulated in 1745 by the French mathematician and philosopher Pierre Louis Maupertius. Additionally, Charles Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote of the idea as early as 1796. However, few men did as much for the theory as did the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who came up with the first truly cohesive theory of evolution, in which he argued that there was a natural force that drove organisms up a ladder of complexity, and a second environmental force that adapted them to local environments through use and disuse of characteristics, differentiating them from other organisms - which was very close to Darwin’s concept of natural selection. Darwin’s greatest competitor, however, was the Englishman Alfred Wallace, who presented a very similar theory to Darwin’s to the prestigious Linnean Society in 1858 at the same time Darwin presented his. It was Darwin’s book, the Origin of the Species, however that made him world famous and is why to this very day it is Charles Darwin who gets all the credit (and, from some people’s perspective, all the blame) for the modern theory of evolution.

4. JFK’s Assassination was Part of a Larger Conspiracy
Though the idea that President Kennedy’s assassination was part of a larger conspiracy is actually an urban legend, the fact that it is believed by such a large percentage of the population - by some estimates, as much as 70% - makes it to many people’s way of thinking, a cold and hard fact. The idea that a lone nut job like Lee Harvey Oswald could have pulled off what was effectively the murder of the century without help is too much for some to accept, leading to nearly fifty years of all manner of conspiracy theories.
These theories are generally divided into two groups: one which believes that Oswald was “set up” by someone - the CIA and the Mafia being the main suspects - and the other being that while he was in on the killing, he had help (and, in fact, may have been just one of several gunmen that day). Oswald’s death at the hands of a Dallas nightclub owner named Jack Ruby a couple of days later - in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters no less - seals the deal for most people, making the JFK conspiracy one of the most successful and lucrative cottage industries in America to this very day. Of course, no amount of evidence demonstrating that Oswald indeed possessed the means, motive, and opportunity to carry out the most heinous crime of the twentieth century all by himself or the lack of even a shred of solid evidence to suggest otherwise does little to dissuade the truly convinced, meaning that the idea that JFK’s death was the product of some massive CIA/Cuban/Russian/Mafia/Vice President Johnson plot a “fact” for millions that is unlikely to ever die.

3. We Only Use 10% of Our Brain
This “fact” has been so often repeated that most people don’t even question it anymore (thereby demonstrating that it may be true). However, even a moment’s consideration should demonstrate what a fallacy this idea is. The brain is a magnificent organ that does everything from making sure you don’t forget to blink once in a while to helping you remember where you put the car keys. To use only 10% of it, then, would render it little more than vestigial organ which, while making getting shot in the head more an annoyance than a catastrophe, is obviously nonsense.
The fact is that despite evidence to the contrary, everyone uses 100% of their brain all the time; it’s just that different parts of it do different things. While it is possible that only 10% of the brain is used for the higher brain functions such as cognitive thought, reasoning, and memory, that doesn’t mean the rest of it is sitting idle. It’s just that those other parts are busy doing all sorts of other things like keeping your heart pumping and making sense of the millions of bits of data being sent to it by the bodies’ sensing organs. In reality, science is only just beginning to understand the complexities of the human brain and its capacity for doing all the stuff it does on a daily basis, making it more of a mystery than ever. The prospect that many of us don’t use our brain to its fullest capacity, however, may be worth considering, but that is a subject for another day.

2. Roosevelt’s New Deal Ended the Depression
It has been taught for over seventy years that FDR was responsible for ending the Great Depression of the thirties by enacting a dearth of government spending programs collectively known as the “New Deal”. In fact, the success of FDR’s massive spending programs is often pointed to by advocates of big government today as evidence that massive infusions of federal spending is the best hope for the poor, and has been the impetus behind some of the largest federal entitlement programs in history, from Medicare and Medicaid to welfare and food stamps. The only problem is that the New Deal was, in many ways, the Big Bust in that it did little to help the country recover from the Great Depression and, in fact, may have even delayed the recovery by years by raising corporate tax rates to such a level that it flat-lined business hiring for years.
It was the Second World War that finally put most Americans to work which, combined with a reduction in tax rates in 1946, led to one of this countries’ greatest boom periods. Don’t believe it? Then just compare how long it took the United States to recover from the Depression compared to the countries of Europe which also saw a huge downturn in the early 1930s; England, France, and even Germany had put the worst of the depression behind them by 1935 while America continued to lumber on for years with high unemployment rates and a sluggish GNP. While no one can fault FDR for his noble intentions in wanting to ease the suffering of many people in this country, the New Deal actually demonstrated that the government that does the least to “fix” the problem actually does the most good by simply letting economic and financial forces heal themselves.

1. Thomas Edison Invented the Light Bulb
Like so many great inventions in history, this one too must fall into the “I wonder who really invented it first” category. Though Edison is given the credit, work on an incandescent light bulb had been going on long before ‘ol Tom wrapped his prodigious brain around the problem. As far back as 1802 a guy named Humphrey Davy passed an electrical current through a thin strip of platinum to create the first short-lived but impressive light show and after that the race was on to see who could be the first to find a filament that could last more than, say, five minutes. It wouldn’t be until 1841 when another Englishman, Frederick de Moleyns, would patent the first incandescent lamp using platinum wires in a vacuum as a filament. (However, the setup proved to be too expensive to be commercially viable, which is why no one speaks reverently today of de Moleyn’s remarkable invention.)
After that, it was just a matter of time until someone stumbled upon a material that would be both economical and long-lasting, both of which would be required to make the light bulb useful. While Edison’s team did come up with a carbonized bamboo filament that could last over 1200 hours, thereby making the light bulb practical, another British physicist (clever folks, those Brits) by the name of Joseph Swan actually beat Edison when he came up with something that pretty closely resembled Edison’s later bulb by a couple of years. He had even begun installing the things in pubs around London while ‘ol Tom was still seeing if human hair would work as a filament. However, for some reason, history has not been kind to Mr. Swan and he remains largely forgotten (which probably explains why he could be frequently found afterwards drinking away his sorrows in one of London’s many well-lit pubs).

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