Common misconceptions

There’s an excellent list of common misconceptions on Wikipedia, which Kottke has helpfully pointed out. Among them, some of my favourites:

In ancient Rome, the architectural feature called a vomitorium was the entranceway through which crowds entered and exited a stadium, not a special room used for purging food during meals.[1] Vomiting was not a regular part of Roman dining customs.[2]

It is true that mean life expectancy in the Middle Ages and earlier was low; however, many take this to mean that people usually died around the age of 30.[5] In fact, the low life expectancy is an average very strongly influenced by high infant mortality, and the life expectancy of people who lived to adulthood was much higher. A 21-year-old man in medieval England, for example, could by one estimate expect to live to the age of 64.[6]

George Washington did not have wooden teeth. His dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth (including horse and donkey teeth).[34]

Some people believe that food items cooked with wine or liquor will be totally non-alcoholic, because alcohol’s low boiling point causes it to evaporate quickly when heated. However, a study found that some of the alcohol remains: 25% after 1 hour of baking or simmering, and 10% after 2 hours.[88][89]

Meteorites are not necessarily hot when they reach the Earth. In fact, many meteorites are found with frost on them. As they enter the atmosphere, having been warmed only by the sun, meteors have a temperature below freezing. The intense heat produced during passage through the upper atmosphere at very high speed then melts a meteor’s outside layer, but molten material is blown off and the interior does not have time to warm appreciably. Most meteorites fall through the relatively cool lower atmosphere for as long as several minutes at subsonic velocity before reaching the ground, giving plenty of time for their exterior to cool off again.[170]

When a spacecraft reenters the atmosphere, the heat of reentry is not (primarily) caused by friction, but by adiabatic compression of air in front of the spacecraft.[171][172]

There is a legend that Marco Polo imported pasta from China[20] which originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting the use of pasta in the United States.[21] Marco Polo describes a food similar to “lagana” in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar. Durum wheat, and thus pasta as it is known today, was introduced by Arabs from Libya, during their conquest of Sicilyin the late 7th century, according to the newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association,[22] thus predating Marco Polo’s travels to China by about six centuries.

It is rarely necessary to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person’s report; in instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies in the United States often stress the importance of beginning an investigation promptly.[77][78][79] The UK government Web site says explicitly in large type “You don’t have to wait 24 hours before contacting the police”[80].

Searing meat does not “seal in” moisture, and in fact may actually cause meat to lose moisture. Generally, the value in searing meat is that it creates a brown crust with a rich flavor via the Maillard reaction.[86][87]

All different tastes can be detected on all parts of the tongue by taste buds,[261] with slightly increased sensitivities in different locations depending on the person, contrary to the popular belief that specific tastes only correspond to specific mapped sites on the tongue.[262] The original tongue map was based on a mistranslation of a 1901 German thesis[263] by Edwin Boring. In addition, there are not 4 but 5 primary tastes. In addition to bittersoursalty, and sweet, humans have taste receptors for umami, which is a savory or meaty taste.[264][265][266]

Humans have more than the commonly cited five senses. Although definitions vary, the actual number ranges from 9 to more than 20. In addition to sightsmelltastetouch, and hearing, which were the senses identified by Aristotle, humans can sense balance and acceleration (equilibrioception), pain (nociception), body and limb position (proprioception or kinesthetic sense), and relative temperature (thermoception).[267] Other senses sometimes identified are the sense of time, itching, pressure, hunger, thirst, fullness of the stomach, need to urinate, need to defecate, and blood carbon dioxide levels.[268][269]

Toilet waste is never intentionally jettisoned from an aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks which are emptied on the ground by toilet waste vehicles.[431] Blue ice is caused by accidental leakage from the waste tank. Passenger trains, on the other hand, have historicallyflushed onto the tracks; however, modern trains usually have retention tanks on board.

(An excellent list, no? Full list here)

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