This page is devoted to bits and pieces of common, everyday, totally accepted truths that are completely wrong. Not urban legends- those have plenty of other home sites. These are the "facts" that pour blithly from the mouths of newscasters, teachers, and everyday folks that are completely and utterly....wrong.
Science And Technology
Thomas Edison invented the Lightbulb. He didn't even invent a particularly useful one. Edison's lightbulb used carbonized bamboo for a filament; such bulbs were expensive and had a very short life. Practical bulbs used tungsten, the contribution of a French scientist. Yet I just saw a popular television science show (on PBS, no less!) state that Edison invented the tungsten lightbulb.
Henry Ford invented the automobile. This is still believed by many. He also didn't invent mass production, interchangeable parts or inexpensive automobiles. And his company was not a one-man operation; he was financed by others, after having worked a number of years in the early auto industry.
Galileo was persecuted by the Church for his scientific theories.
This is the popular version, and it's absolutely incorrect. Here's an
summary of the real story as posted to sci.astro.amateur by Will Milan:
What *did* get Galileo in trouble was his habit of belittling
people. By his extreme arrogance Galileo had a lifelong habit of
friends into enemies. In 1613 Galileo received letters praising his
discoveries from several Catholic cardinals -- including Cardinal
Barberini, a self-confessed science buff who, in 1623, became Pope
VIII. Galileo could not have hoped for a more friendly ear in the
But within a few years he had viciously insulted the Pope as a dolt and
finally got hauled to Rome. The charge was heresy, but his real crime
insulting the Pope, and in that time and place that was beyond the
His telescopic discoveries didn't have much to do with it, and in fact
science was not the real issue at all.
The tax cuts of the 1980s resulted in massive deficits. Actually, it was the huge spending increases of the 80s that created the deficits. Following the tax cuts, government revenues increased sharply, and there was a huge net flow of capital into the USA. Even with the massive increases in spending, GDP was still growing faster than the debt; in that dynamic sense, the budget was actually balanced in 1988. (UPDATE: Following the 2003 tax cuts, Federal revenues went up, not down. 2005 Federal tax revenues reached a record high. And yet politicians and news outlets still talked about the shortfalls in revenue due to the tax cuts!)
If we eliminate capital gains taxes, the rich won't pay any tax. Here's something that's not only wrong, it's grossly counterproductive. Here's why: Say your grandfather invested in Ford Motor Company back when Henry was a pup, and now you own 10% of Ford stock. Ford declares a dividend one year, and you get $10Million is dividends, and you only pay $3 Million in capital gains taxes, right? Wrong. That $10 Million was a distribution from post-tax profits. You own 10% of FMC stock- that means you are a part owner of FMC. Should be obvious enough so far ;-). When FMC declares a profit, the federal government gets first crack at it- a 50% corporate tax- before the owners get to distribute it to themselves. So you're not really paying $3 Million on $10 Million in income; you're paying $13 Million on $20 Million in income- a 65% tax. Eliminating capital gains taxes puts you back in the 50% tax bracket.
Junk bonds were responsible for the S&L crisis. This claim has gotten a lot of play, mainly from politicians anxious to absolve themselves from blame for ignoring the growing crisis through the 70s and 80s. In fact, so-called "junk" bonds had a positive rate of return overall throughout the 80s, and were responsible for financing (among other things) the telecommunications revolution and the cable TV revolution. Junk bonds, which are simply unsecured high-rate bonds, were created by Wall Street in response to the traditional banking community's excessive conservatism. When many S&Ls were forced to sell off their junk bond holdings in the early 90s, investors jumped at purchasing these bonds at very attractive rates. While politicians and the more ignorant writers in the media still like to blame people like Michael Miliken for the S&L debacle, it was the politicians who created the S&L disaster- and financial innovators like Miliken who financed the new technologies of the 1980s that helped fuel our current economic boom.
Deregulation caused the S&L crisis. According to a study done in the late 80s, solvent S&Ls benifitted greatly from deregulation, with overal high rates of growth and increased solvency. It was only the insolvent S&Ls that did worse, as they tried to gamble their way back to solvency. It has been argued that the real culprit was the FSLIC insurance that allowed insolvent S&Ls to gamble with no risk, together with politicization of the congressional oversight comittees and with both major political parties, who saw the crisi coming but ignored it to avoid bringing up difficult numbers during elections. The business press (Wall Street Journal, etc) was writing about the coming crisis back in the 70s, when it was only a matter of tens of millions of dollars.
Social Security is a solvent government pension plan.
it's neither. The money you pay into SS does not go into an account
for your retirement; it's paid to current retirees. When you retire,
will be paid by people working and paying into the system. While there
is currently a cash surplus in the SS funds, it's shrinking. Overall
flow is in deficit, and the first of the SS fund will probably become
by about 2010-2030, depending on how conservative your estimates are.
is according to the actual published figures of the Social Security
Between 1973 and 1992, US burglary rates fell by 50%, so now residents of Great Britain are more than twice as like to be burgled as US residents.
In the US, about 10% of burglaries are committed while the owner is at home; in GB, it's over 50%. In GB, the common presence of burglar alarms (required by insurance) make it safer for thieves to attack occupied homes. In the US, the possiblility of an armed homeowner makes it more dangerous for the burglar.
Gun violence is much higher in the US, but the figures are distorted by a number of area with very high population density and crime. When you look outside the big cities, things change.
Many people complain the the wealthy get to use their financial
to run for office- but it didn't do Ross Perot much good, did it?
still saw him as a dangerous clown. And it didn't win Steve Forbes the
nomination, or a fraction of the media attention other candidates got.
In fact, the biggest single spender on the 1996 Presidential election was probably the UAW, who took advantage of the so-called soft money exemption to run many millions of dollars worth of ads for Clinton and attacking Dole.
The current system allows anyone to spend their own money, or to raise money, to run for office. If you have an idea that excites people enough to contribute, you can run for any office in the country. But if the government decided who was a legitimate candidate and thus who would get funded, the decision would be made not by the voting public but by a government whose own interest is in protecting incumbents and members of the current ruling party. Doesn't sound too good in those terms, does it? But that's where the current proposals are heading.
The FDA prevented the US from suffering the horrors of Thalidomide that many European countries experienced. Actually, the FDA was getting ready to approve Thalidomide for general use when the data started to come in from Europe. In fact, it wasn't Thalidomide itself that caused the defects, but an isomer that wasn't properly seperated in the manufacture.
The Flat Tax is a new, untested idea. The first Federal income tax was a flat tax- and it wasn't under Taft, as many think, but under Lincoln. It was enacted to pay for the Civil War.
A Flat Tax is Unfair I'm always puzzled by this one. If I
17% of $50,000, and some rich guy pays 17% of $50,000,000, he's still
a thousand times more in tax than I am, and he doesn't get a thousand
more service- even though he's probably employing a great many people.
So much of people's opinions sees to be based on some notion of
everyone down to the same level. What's a better public policy: To make
everyone as poor as the poorest, or as wealthy as the wealthiest? Sure,
neither is realistic, but what's a better point to aim for? The real
advantage of a flat tax is that it's harder for politicians to game.
Since the passage of the simpified tax code there have been something
like 4,500 pages of addenda passed by Congress, creating special breaks
for special interests.
Without farm subsidies, the US agricultural system would collapse. Since WWII the Agriculture Department has spent enough money on subsidies to purchase outright every single farm in the US. Farm policy in the US seems to consist, many have said, of talking about poor farmers while paying out millions to wealthy ones. One case in point in the system of allocating peanut production in this country.
Long ago, permits were given out allowing a certain number of growers to market a limited amount of peanuts domestically, which they must do at a fixed price. Any excess they may sell overseas. The result is that US peanut prices are the highest in the world. It's obvious that such price supports aren't needed to survive in the peanut business, since many peanut farmers do quite well growing only for export. The only beneficiaries are the wealthy permit holders, like ex-President Carter, who have a government granted monopoly on domestic production.
The political influence of this small group is tremendous, as evidenced by the absence of any reference to the peanut marketing support program in the farm reform bill passed by Congress in early 1996. The biggest effect of this program on consumers is the high prices paid for peanuts and peanut products, like peanut oil and peanut butter. Recent inroads to US markets have been made by foreign peanut butter producers, and the high cost of US grown peanuts may eventually mean that the bulk of peanut butter sold in this country will be produced overseas.
The US Government is the smallest it's been in 20 years.
This claim was made back in the late 1990s- and it was far from true.
It's actually larger than it's ever been. What shrunk
the millitary. Government non-millitary spending swais at an all-time
even in relative terms. In absolute numbers total government spending
at record levels. A great deal of our current prosperity and good
numbers is due to the fact that we won the cold war and were able to
cut military spending. (written in 1999)
We're going to war for Oil!
We're often told that the current gulf war, the last gulf war, the
second world war, etc. were about oil and keeping the price of oil
down. But history shows us that the price of oil has nothing to do with
who's in control of a particular country. It doesn't matter if Iran or
Bolivia loves us or hates us; they still have the same profit
maximazation motives. Even if one country decideds not to sell us oil,
the slack can be taken up by another. Oil is oil; doesn't matter where
"They had people standing out there, had been in that frickin SuperDome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people. That's the tragedy. They were trying to give us babies that were dying!" (Mayor Ray Nagin on Oprah, 9/5/05)
"There were two babies who had their throats slit. The seven-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in the Superdome. And the corpses laid out amid the excrement in the convention centre..." The Guardian [UK]
Though these stories were widely reported as fact, none of it happened. No violence, no rapes, no babies dying. The actual Superbowl death total was six. Of those, four elderly peple died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide. Order at the Superbowl was maintained throughout the ordeal, and a group of young men there formed an ad-hoc security force to protect people. Yet the networks repeatedly showed the same clip over and over of a tiny group screaming and complaining.
The Levees failed because they were only designed for a Category 4 Hurricane, and the Federal Government cut the funds needed to upgrade them.
In fact, Katrina was only a Category 3 hurricane when it hit New Orleans, and the tops of the levees were never breached. The failure occurred at the base of the levees, apparantly because of substandard work done not by the Corps of Engineers, but by local contractors. Not surprising, given that New Orleans is one of the most corrupt municipalities in the United States.
FEMA's incompetance led to anarchy and suffering in New OrleansNew Orleans has a murder rate ten times the national average. It's one of the most dangeous cities in America to live in. Yet even though a large fraction of the New Orleans police simply disappeared during the flood, there was very little of the violent crime portrayed in the press. There was a lot of property crime- including the theft of new cars by New Orleans police- but little crime against people.
In fact, FEMA did a very good job. They had trucks and relief workers stationed all around New Orleans prior to when Katrina hit, and sent relief supplies in as soon as possible. Many of the stories reported in the aftermath of Katrina involving supposed FEMA incompetance simply never happened. Those who found director Michael Brown a handy scapegoat and protrayed him as a poplitical appointee with no knowledge of operations never mentioned the fact that in 2004, Brown's handing of Hurricane Frances was widely praised.
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Accesses since 12/23/97.