common misconceptions

Do YOU want to become more fun at parties?  Follow xkcd’s advice and DO IT, read the Wikipedia misconceptions page.  Seriously.

To whet your appetite:

  • There is no evidence that Iron maidens were invented in the Middle Ages or even used for torture, despite being shown so in some media, but instead were pieced together in the 18th century from severalartifacts found in museums in order to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.[5]
  • Prolonged exposure to cold weather such as rain or winter conditions does not increase the likelihood of catching a cold.[155] Although common colds are seasonal, with more occurring during winter, experiments so far have failed to produce evidence that short-term exposure to cold weather or direct chilling increases susceptibility to infection, implying that the seasonal variation is instead due to a change in behaviours such as increased time spent indoors close to others.[156][157][158][159] Viruses spread more easily when humidity is low which is the case during wintertime.[160] A lowering of body temperature can, however, reduce the body’s resistance to an infection that is already present, and cause temporary sneezing and runny nose.[161]
  • The Immaculate Conception is not synonymous with the virgin birth of Jesus, nor is it a supposed belief in the virgin birth of Mary, his mother. Rather, the Immaculate Conception is the Roman Catholic belief that Mary was not subject to original sin from the first moment of her existence, when she was conceived.[210] The concept of the virgin birth, on the other hand, is the belief that Mary miraculously conceived Jesuswhile remaining a virgin.[211]

I’ve just read the entire page and I feel like a smarter person.  I realize there’s a bit of irony here – “don’t believe everything you hear/read on the internet!” the page tells you, yet it is itself a page on the internet.  Oh well.  I consider well-trafficked Wikipedia pages to be vastly more reliable than most of what you read on the internet.

I remember learning in grade 8 social studies how to “evaluate the reliability of your primary sources” by examining tiny photographs of historical documents in our textbook, and then trying to imagine the reliability of whoever had written them.  It seemed, at the time, like a pointless exercise.  And to be honest, looking at photographs of random documents in my grade 8 socials textbook probably was a waste of time.  I don’t think I really learned the skill of looking critically at a source/document until I was in college, but I now consider it one of the most valuable general skills that my undergraduate education imparted to me.  (And I’m using it to upload webcomics + commentary to a frivolous personal blog.  Thank you, 4 years of college.)


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