Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ran Levi tackles urban myths and pseudo-knowledge

The Hebrew podcast Making History with Ran Levi spent the last episode on debunking an impressive list of factual assumptions we are hooked up with, but that turn out to be urban myths and pseudo knowledge. Ran Levi calls them myths, but I think that is too good a word for common misunderstandings and too little credit for mythos.

My favorite debunking is the countlessly repeated statement that the whirlpool in your bath tub turns counter-clockwise if you are on the northern hemisphere and clockwise if you are on the southern hemisphere of this earth. Not true. The direction is determined by the build of your tub. Whatever pull there is from the earth's rotation, that make storms turn in a different direction dependent on position on the globe is way too small to have any effect in you bathroom.

Another one that I never believed if only because of the exaggerated Freudian overtones, is the idea that Adolf Hitler had Jewish ancestry. He did have an unknown grandfather and that leaves ample room for speculation, but Levi attempts to bring some plausibility in that material.

One that I had never questioned and also invites cheap psychology is about the height of Napoleon. Levi claims the emperor was not short at all. 1.70m or thereabouts. The misunderstanding stems from incorrect translation of French feet to English feet, which is not the same measurement.

This is really a must listen. Get that ammunition needed to spoil the downtrodden commonplaces and unchallenged factual claims.

More Making History:
What goes up, must come down,
Douglas Adams,
Sophie Germain,
Max Planck,
Isaac Newton.

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