This list of common misconceptions details various ideas described as widely held by the general populace, but which are fallacious or flawed.
- The belief that gunpowder, even though it was a Chinese invention, was first used for war by the Europeans is a misconception. The Chinese used flamethrowers and gunpowder arrows for military purposes from the 900s onward.
- Paul Revere was not the only American colonist who rode to warn the Minute Men of the British before the battle of Lexington and Concord of the American Revolutionary War. The story of Paul Revere is largely based on the poem "Paul Revere's Ride", written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1860 (see Paul Revere's Ride).
- Christopher Columbus's efforts to obtain support for his voyages were not hampered by a European belief in a flat Earth. In fact, sailors and navigators of the time knew that the Earth was spherical, but (correctly) disagreed with Columbus' estimates of the distance to the Indies (see Flat Earth). If the Americas did not exist, and Columbus had continued to the Indies (even putting aside the threat of mutiny he was under) he would have run out of supplies before reaching them at the rate he was traveling.
- Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free all American slaves, just those in the area under revolt (i.e. the South). Since that area did not recognize his authority, only a few slaves were immediately freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Most slaves were freed as Confederate territory came under Union control over the course of the war. It took the thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to free slaves in the few Union slave states.
- Napoleon Bonaparte (pictured) was not especially short. After his death in 1821, the French emperor's height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet. This corresponds to 5 feet 6.5 inches in modern international feet, or 1.686 metres, making him slightly taller than an average Frenchman of the 19th century. The metric system was introduced during his lifetime, so it was natural that he would be measured in feet and inches for much of his life. His nickname, "le petit caporal", adds to the confusion, as non-francophones mistakenly take petit literally as meaning "small"; in fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers. He also surrounded himself with soldiers, his elite guard, who were always six feet tall or more.
- During World War II, King Christian X of Denmark did not thwart Nazi attempts to identify Jews by wearing a yellow star himself. Jews in Denmark were never forced to wear the Star of David. The Danish government did help most Jews flee the country before the end of the war.
- Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not make the trains run on time. Much of the repair work had been performed before Mussolini and the Fascists came to power in 1922. Accounts from the era also suggest that the Italian railways' legendary adherence to timetables was more myth than reality.
- It is believed that the phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" ("Let them eat cake") was not said by Marie Antoinette, but by another noble (a princess in another country, at another time). An argument to support this theory is that the brioche had not been invented at the time of the French Revolution. Also, Jean-Jacques Rousseau recounts the anecdote (with "pastry" in place of "brioche") in the 6th book of his Confessions three years before Marie Antoinette joined the court at Versailles in 1770.
- The German crowd witnessing John F. Kennedy's speech in Berlin in 1963 did not mistake Ich bin ein Berliner to mean "I am a jelly doughnut. The notion that he should have said "Ich bin Berliner" and that "Ich bin ein Berliner" is an incorrect Americanism, and is itself wrong. (A jelly donut-like pastry is called a Berliner in different parts of Germany).
- Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is not Mexico's Independence Day. It is a regional holiday primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, and commemorates the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla. Mexico's Independence Day is on September 16. Many Americans believe Cinco de Mayo to be analogous to the United States' Fourth of July independence celebration, whereas a closer comparison might be the regional holiday of Patriots' Day.
Searing meat does not "seal in" moisture, and in fact may actually cause meat to lose moisture. Rather, meat is seared to create a brown crust and to add a rich flavor.
Vegetarians do not eat fish, nor do they eat chicken. Because some semi-vegetarian pesco-vegetarians and pollo-vegetarians label themselves as vegetarians, this is often a subject of confusion at restaurants.
- Entrapment law in the United States does not forbid police officers from going undercover, or from denying that they are police. It is a common misconception among persons engaged in low-level crime that if an undercover police officer is asked, "Are you a cop?" that they must reveal themselves to avoid entrapment.
- Although the United States Constitution upholds the right to a Trial by Jury, it does not state anywhere that it is a jury of peers. In actuality, the Magna Carta upholds the right for a "lawful judgment [by] his Peers".
- While in a low orbit (an altitude of about 185 km), a viewer of good eyesight can see portions of the Great Wall of China (pictured here in a satellite image) from space. It isn't, however, unique in that regard. From such a height, a multitude of land features and man-made objects are visible, including: highways, ships at sea, dams, railroads, cities, fields of crops, airports, and even some individual buildings. As to the claim that it is the only man-made object visible from the Moon, this is completely false. None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any man-made object from the Moon, and certainly not the Great Wall. The Great Wall, while massive, is comparatively thin, no wider than 10 feet (3 meters) along most of its length. Moreover, the colour of the Great Wall is very similar to that of the soil around it, making it hardly distinctive. The misconception is believed to have been popularized by Richard Halliburton decades before the first moon landing. (See Great Wall's visibility from space.)
- Modern spacecraft returning from space do not suffer a communications blackout. While the heated atmosphere in front of the spacecraft prevents direct communication with Earth, and in the early days of the space programs of the world indeed meant that no communication was possible during reentry, systems like the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System have removed this problem.
- The phrase "dark side of the Moon" does not imply that only one side of the moon receives sunlight. It refers to the side of the moon away from Earth. The word dark is being used in the less common sense of unknown or unseen as in such expressions as "darkest Africa" or the "Dark ages". Since the Moon is in a tidally locked orbit, it always keeps the same face, or side, toward the Earth, and therefore the far side is never visible from Earth (see also tidal acceleration for a more quantitative description of the Earth-Moon system). Once per synodic month, the near side of the Moon is indeed largely illuminated by the Sun, and the far side is literally "dark". At this time, we are able to see most of the area of the near side, resulting in a full moon. Likewise, once per synodic month the far side of the moon is so illuminated, leaving the near side dark, resulting in a new moon.
- When a star evolves into a black hole, the gravitational attraction at a given distance from the body is no greater than it was for the star. That is to say, were the Sun to be replaced by a black hole of the same mass, the Earth would continue in the same orbit. Due to their formation being explosive in nature, some of the mass of the parent object is ejected or turned into energy, and so a black-hole would be of lower mass than the parent object, and have a lower gravitational pull.
- Only where one is close to a black hole, within the radius of the body which formed it, will the gravitational attraction become greater than the parent body. This is as the parent body is extended, and a consequence of Isaac Newton's laws of gravitation, any mass at a greater distance from the centre-of-mass than the position of the test object will not contribute to the gravitational attraction - e.g. gravitational attraction at the bottom of a mine shaft is a little lower than it is on the surface of the Earth, despite being close to the core, as the mass of rock and earth above one is attracting an object in the opposite direction to the mass of the rest of the Earth.
- Black holes, unlike the common image, do not act as cosmic vacuum cleaners any more than other stars.
- When a meteor lands on Earth (after which it is termed a meteorite), it is not usually hot. In fact, many are found with frost on them. A meteor's great speed during reentry is enough to melt or vaporize its outermost layer, but any molten material will be quickly blown off (ablated), and the interior of the meteor does not have time to heat up because rocks are poor conductors of heat. Also, atmospheric drag can slow small meteors to terminal velocity by the time they hit the ground, giving the surface time to cool down.
- The North Star, Polaris, is not the brightest star in the northern hemisphere night sky. This honor is held by Sirius, with an apparent magnitude of -1.47 (Polaris in comparison is 1.97, barely making the top-50 brightest stars list). Its importance lies in its proximity to the north celestial pole, meaning its location in the sky currently marks North.
- Seasons are not caused by Earth being closer to the sun in summer than in winter. Rather, they are caused by Earth's tilted axis. In July, during Northern Hemisphere summer, Earth actually reaches its furthest distance from the sun, but the northern part of the planet is tilted towards the sun, giving longer days and more direct sunlight; in winter, it is tilted away. The seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, which is tilted towards the sun in January and away from the sun in July (note that if distance from the sun dictated the seasons, it would be impossible for them to differ by region in this way). The tropics do not have substantial seasonal variation in sunlight.
- Space is not cold. In fact, space has no temperature at all since temperature is a measure of a quality found only in matter of which the vacuum of space has very little. The few particles that are encountered have varying temperatures from near absolute zero to thousands of degrees Kelvin depending on their nature but, since they are so few and far between, their influence is negligible. Fictional depictions of people freezing instantly when exposed to space, such as in for instance the movie Mission to Mars are works of fantasy for dramatic reasons. Objects in space will eventually reach a temperature where their radiated heat is the same as the heat received from radiation such as from stars near and far and from celestial bodies like planets and moons. This equilibrium temperature could be regarded as an equivalent of the temperature of space but, strictly speaking, space has no temperature. See Temperature#Temperature_of_the_vacuum.
- The lunar phases are not caused by the Earth's shadow (lunar eclipses, by contrast, are). Instead, as the Moon orbits Earth, we see its illuminated half from differing angles in relation to the Sun
- Different tastes can be detected on all parts of the tongue, 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. The original "tongue map" was based on a mistranslation by a Harvard psychologist of a discredited German paper that was written in 1901.
- People do not use only ten percent of their brains. This myth is thought by some to have emerged after the discovery of glial cells in the brain, or it could have been the result of some other misunderstood or misinterpreted legitimate scientific findings, or even been the result of speculation by self-help gurus.
- There is no single theory that satisfactorily explains myopia – in particular, studies show that "eyestrain" from close reading and computer games does not explain myopia. There is also no evidence that reading in dim light causes vision to deteriorate.
- Shaving does not cause hair to grow back thicker or coarser. This belief is due to the fact that hair wears down over time, whereas, immediately after it has grown back, it has had no time to wear. Thus, it appears thicker, and feels coarser due to the sharper, unworn edges.
- Hair and fingernails do not continue to grow after a person dies. Rather, the skin dries and shrinks away from the bases of hairs and nails, giving the appearance of growth.
- Eating sucrose (a kind of sugar) raises blood sugar or glucose levels in the blood, but eating other foods, such as white bread, can raise blood sugar even more when the body is able to quickly break it down into individual glucose units (see Glycemic index).
- There is no "cure" for split ends or damaged hair. Shampoos and conditioners that advertise themselves as being able to reverse damage or reduce split ends are bogus. Scientifically, the only way to "cure" split ends is by a simple haircut. Once the cuticle of the hair shaft is split, it can often still grow split, but can never be mended. Haircare products can be used to soften the texture by using fillers that attach to the hair shaft, making the hair appear healthier.
- In spite of reports of successful non-surgical techniques for penis enlargement, there is no known scientific study that has demonstrated the efficacy of such techniques, other than surgery.
- American Indians can grow facial hair, contrary to the common misconception that they cannot.
- Warts on human skin are caused by viruses that are unique to humans (Human papillomavirus). Humans cannot catch warts from toads or other animals; the bumps on a toad are not warts.
- Koalas are not bears. They are not even placental mammals; they are marsupials. The giant panda, however, is a bear, while the red panda is related to raccoons.
- Some bats use echolocation to navigate while flying in darkness. Bats are not blind, however. Their eyes are small and poorly developed, but they are still capable of sight, particularly long-range, and in fact can be severely disoriented by excessive light.
- The claim that a duck's quack doesn't echo is false, although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.
- The notion that goldfish have a memory of only three seconds is completely false. They have been trained to navigate mazes and can recognize their owners after an exposure of a few months.
- Lemmings do not engage in suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. This misconception is due largely to the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the "migration" scenes on a large turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff using a broom. It would be incorrect, though, to say that this was the origin of the myth.
- Mammal blood is bright red or scarlet when oxygenated and a darker red when not oxygenated. It is never blue. Veins appear blue through the skin because of Rayleigh scattering, the same effect responsible for the blue sky. However some other animals, mostly sea creatures, like the horseshoe crabs, have copper based blood, which appears blue.
- The claim that individuals with a different number of chromosomes can never produce viable offspring is false - Przewalski's Horse, for example, can produce viable offspring with the common horse, despite a different number of chromosomes. Such hybrids are also common in plants.
- An earthworm does not become two worms when cut in half. An earthworm can survive being bisected, but only the front half of the worm (where the mouth is located) can survive, while the other half dries out or starves to death. If one cuts the worm too close to the saddle (the fat pink section where all of the worm's vital organs are located) then the worm may die. On the other hand, species of the planaria family of flatworms actually do become two new planaria when bisected or split down the middle.
- According to urban myth, the Daddy Long-Legs Spider (Pholcus phalangioides) is the most venomous spider in the world, but it is harmless to humans because its fangs cannot penetrate human skin. There are two reasons why this myth is false. Firstly, there are two separate Families within separate Orders of the Class Arachnida with similar names: the Daddy Long Legs, or Harvestmen, are Opilionids (members of the order Opiliones, these aren't even spiders); the Daddy Long Legs Spiders, on the contrary, are Arachnids (actual spiders; members of Order Arachnae) of the family Pholcidae. Secondly, although these spiders can indeed pierce human skin, the toxicity of this spider's venom has just a weak effect on insects. Apparently, this myth arose because some pholcidae actually prey upon and eat other spiders, including the black widow spider.
- It is sometimes claimed that half, or more than half, of all humans who were ever born are alive today. The claim itself is poorly defined, as there is no definite starting point for the human species. However, even adopting conservative values regarding the origins of humanity, a significantly lower proportion of the human population is currently alive. See also World population: Number of humans who have ever lived.
- Plants do not metabolize carbon dioxide (CO2) directly into oxygen (O2). Light-dependent reactions capture the energy of light and consume water, producing high-energy molecules and releasing oxygen as a by-product. Light-independent reactions use the high-energy molecules to capture and chemically reduce carbon dioxide, producing carbohydrate precursors and water. See Photosynthesis.
- The Coriolis effect does not determine the direction that water rotates in a bathtub drain or a flushing toilet. The Coriolis force is relatively small; it appears over large scales (like weather systems) or in systems such as the Foucault pendulum in which the small influence is allowed to accumulate over time. In a bathtub or toilet, the flow of the water over the basin itself produces forces that dwarf the Coriolis force. In addition, most toilets inject water into the bowl at an angle, causing a spin too fast to be affected by the Coriolis effect.
- Gyroscopic forces are not required for a rider to balance a bicycle. The stability of a bicycle is mainly a result of its geometry and the rider's ability to counteract tilting by steering.
- It is not true that air takes the same time to travel above and below an aircraft's wing. This misconception, illustrated at right, is widespread among textbooks and non-technical reference books, and even appears in pilot training materials. If this were truly the case, there would be no lift generated by the wings and the plane wouldn't fly. .
- Airplanes flying long distances between two places usually take less time flying west-to-east than east-to-west, not because of the earth's rotation directly, but because airplanes at higher altitudes tend to benefit from natural air currents called jet streams.
- Textbooks state that electricity within wires flows at nearly (or even exactly) the speed of light, which can give the impression that electrons themselves move almost instantly through a circuit. The electrons in a typical wire actually move on the order of centimeters per hour (much slower than a snail). The random thermal motions of the electrons are much faster than this, but still much slower than light, and with no tendency to occur in any particular direction. It is the electrical energy or signal which travels almost at the speed of light. Imagine a hose which is full of water and connected to a closed faucet. When the faucet is turned on, water begins coming out of the other end of the hose almost immediately; the speed of the pressure wave which starts the water in the hose moving is analogous to the speed of the electrical signal. But it takes much longer for the water entering the hose at the faucet to transit the entire hose; the water itself, analogous to the electrons in a current-carrying wire, moves along the hose much more slowly than does the information that the faucet has been opened. In alternating current, as used in wall outlets, the direction of current alternates rapidly (50 or 60 times per second), and in this case, the electrons stay in about the same place the entire time (on the filament inside a light bulb for instance), while vibrating back and forth over a very small distance.
- The blue color of lakes and oceans is not only a reflection of the blue sky. Water looks blue because water is blue; the water molecules do absorb some light, and they absorb red frequencies more than blue. The effect is small, so the blue color only becomes obvious when observing layers of water many meters (or more) thick. (This effect is noticeable to a lesser amount in white-painted swimming pools.) In salt water or mineral-laden fresh water, the color of dissolved minerals can also be seen. Sky-reflection does play a role, but it is not the only factor.
- Some believe that the sky looks blue because it reflects the color of the ocean. The sky actually looks blue because the color of air varies with the viewing angle to the illumination source. Sunlight reflected (scattered) from the air is of shorter wavelengths toward the violet end of the visible spectrum, while the remaining transmitted sunlight has longer wavelengths of the red end of the spectrum. In fact, the sun appears reddish in the evening because the transmitted sunlight has lost much of its blue wavelengths because of scattering, leaving only the long wavelength red light to reach the observer. This phenomenon is referred to as Rayleigh Scattering.
- Astronauts in orbiting spacecraft do not experience true "zero gravity". They accelerate along with the spacecraft. Because strong gravity in an accelerating free-fall environment is not easily detected, conditions of free-fall will simulate a "zero-gravity" non-accelerated environment. NASA refers to conditions with low G-force acceleration as microgravity. Earth's gravitational effects are very strong at the low orbit altitudes used by the space shuttle (about 85% of gravity at Earth's surface.) Gravity falls off rapidly as one leaves the Earth's surface, but one can never completely escape the gravitational pull of the Earth (or any other mass in the universe) even at vast distances, though the effect may be negligible. A free-fall situation can be more properly called "simulated zero-gravity" since the accelerated bodies are actually under a strong gravitational pull. Simulated zero gravity can be experienced in any near-freefall situation, including extremely fast elevators (that only simulate reduced gravity) and skydiving (near-real simulation of zero gravity for a short time). Astronauts ride inside free-falling airplanes for training (see Vomit Comet).
- While the Earth's north magnetic pole is near the geographic north pole, it is in physics terms a south magnetic pole. By accepted convention, a compass needle is a magnet whose north-seeking end is termed the "north" end of the magnet. Therefore, because magnetic poles are attracted to their opposites, the compass needle points to the magnetic south pole of the Earth's magnetic field. The Arctic pole is a south-type pole, while the Antarctic pole is a north-type pole. The poles have undergon geomagnetic reversal in the past, the last being the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal of 780,000 years ago. Earth also has a more complicated magnetic field than one might get from a simple dipole. The earth has a strong overall dipole which is superposed on a weaker quadrupole, as well as higher-order magnetic moments. Not only have the magnetic poles moved to opposite geographic poles in the past, but they also drift around more or less randomly, presumably because of the movements of the molten nickel-iron alloy in the Earth's core.
- Due to Archimedes's principle, the melting of glaciers contributes far more to raising sea level than the melting of sea ice or floating icebergs. The predicted threat of rising sea levels due to global warming is mainly due to the detachment or melting of inland ice, such as that on Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in Antarctica, the melting of glaciers, and the thermal expansion of seawater. Melting of sea ice in the Arctic makes only a tiny contribution, by lowering the global average salinity (and therefore the density) of seawater.
- The melting of Antarctic ice is not predicted to be the largest cause of rising sea levels in the near future. While complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet would be the largest of all potential contributions to sea level change, the likelihood of total melting is extremely small. Antarctica may even help offset rising sea level by accumulating more snow. At worst, the partial melting of Antarctic ice is predicted to be only the fourth-largest potential contribution to sea level rise by the year 2100 (−170 to +20 mm), after thermal expansion of the world's oceans (+110 to +430 mm), melting glaciers (+10 to +230 mm), and melting Greenland ice (−20 to +90 mm). Ice expands when it is frozen, so any ice that is already in the ocean will not raise the level of water when it melts.
- A Crookes radiometer or "light-mill" (pictured) does not turn by radiation pressure. In fact, it turns in the opposite direction from what one would expect due to radiation pressure. The correct explanation is essentially that molecules of gas in the partial vacuum inside rebound from the vanes of the radiometer, transmitting a different force depending on the temperature of the gas (rebounding more forcefully from the black, hotter side of the vanes).
- Introductory science courses often teach that the period of a pendulum is independent of its amplitude (this is called isochronism), and students often mistakenly believe that is precisely true. It is only approximately true (due in fact to the small angle approximation), and only for small amplitudes, for which a pendulum approximates simple harmonic motion
- It is not true that a nozzle (or a person's thumb) on the end of a garden hose makes the water squirt farther because the same amount of water gets forced through a smaller opening. The rate of flow of water through the hose is not a set constant; in fact, putting one's thumb over the end of the hose reduces the rate of flow. What is constant is the water pressure at the source. When water is flowing, the pressure decreases the farther from the source one gets due to friction between the water and the pipes it's flowing through. The faster the water moves through the pipe, the greater is the friction that cuts down pressure at the output end. A thumb over the end of the hose decreases the flow rate, so the pressure goes up and the water squirts farther.
- Putting a teaspoon in the neck of an opened bottle of champagne will not help it retain its fizz. The misconception may arise from the fact that few people have two bottles of champagne open and unfinished at the same time to perform an accurate comparison. and likely suffer from subjective validation bias.
- It is not true that paper can be folded in half a maximum of seven, eight, ten, or indeed any selected number of times. However there is a loss function associated with each fold, and a practical limit of seven or eight folds for a normal sized (letter or A4) sheet of writing paper is reasonable. A football field-sized sheet of paper was folded in half eleven times on episode 72 of Mythbusters.
- It is not true that a mirror reverses left and right. It actually inverts front and back.
- Biological evolution does not address the origin of life; for that, see abiogenesis. The two are commonly and mistakenly conflated. Evolution describes the changes in gene frequencies that occur in populations of living organisms over time, and thus, presupposes that life already exists. Evolution likewise says nothing about cosmology, the Big Bang, or the origins of the universe, galaxy, solar system, or Earth.
- The word "theory" in "the theory of evolution" does not imply doubt in mainstream science about the validity of this theory; the words "theory" and "hypothesis" are not the same in a scientific context (see Evolution as theory and fact). A scientific theory is a set of principles which, via logical deduction, explains the observations in nature. The same logical deductions can be made to predict observations before they are made. Evolution is a "theory" in the same sense as the theory of gravity or the theory of relativity.
- It is misleading at best to claim that evolution is random. Normally, the random results of genetic mutation are filtered by ontogeny, natural selection, and other non-random mechanisms. On the other hand, some evolutionary changes result from genetic drift, which are random.
- Humans did not evolve from monkeys, chimpanzees, or any other modern ape. Rather, humans and other apes share a common ancestor that lived around 7 million years ago in the late Miocene epoch. However, fossil discoveries of "recently" (as in, only millions of years ago) extinct species are, in the experience of paleontologists, rarely direct ancestors of living species.
- The process of evolution is not necessarily slow. Millions of years are not required to see evolution, or even to see speciation in action. Indeed, it has been observed multiple times under both controlled laboratory conditions and in nature.
- Speciation does not happen within a single organism: a chimpanzee cannot be born a chimpanzee and turn into a different species within its lifetime. Evolution deals with changes to the gene pool of a population, which accumulate only over generations. Similarly, organisms cannot pass on acquired traits to their offspring; a bodybuilder's children are not born with bigger muscles (but see epigenetics).
- Evolution is not a progression from "lower" to "higher", and evolution does not require an increase in complexity (see Evolution of complexity). A population can evolve to become simpler, and have a smaller genome — often called "devolution", but that is a misnomer.
- The theory of evolution does posit "transitional forms", but not "endpoint forms". That is, every animal, plant, fossil that exists, is an example of a transitional form. Evolution is an eternal and continuous process. (See also List of transitional fossils.)
- The claim that "almost all mutations are harmful" is false. In fact, most mutations have no noticeable effect, mainly because most mutations do not occur within coding or regulatory regions of the genome. One study gives the average number of mutations that arise in a human conception to be around 128, with an average number of harmful mutations per conception of 1.3. However, most mutations that have an effect on phenotype are indeed detrimental to the organism.
- The claim that evolution is not scientific since it cannot be experimentally refuted is invalid. Even if that claim didn't rest on a highly tendentious - or at best, oversimplified - view of scientific demarcation, any number of discoveries could potentially refute the theory of evolution - for example the discovery of a contemporary mammal fossil in ancient rock strata.
- The claim that evolution makes no meaningful predictions is not true - for example the discovery of the relationship between chromosome 2 and chimpanzee chromosomes at the end of the completion of the human and chimp genome projects was predicted, and makes meaningful sense as evidence of a common ancestor.
- The characterization of evolution as the "survival of the fittest" (in the sense of "only the fittest organisms will prevail", a view common in social Darwinism) is not consistent with the actual theory of evolution. Any organism which is capable of reproducing itself before dying is considered "fit". If the organism is able to do so on an ongoing basis, it will survive as a species. A more accurate characterization of evolution would be "survival of the fit enough".
- Mount Everest (pictured) is, indisputably, the highest point of land above sea level (8850 meters / 29035 feet) which, according to traditional measurements, means that it is the tallest mountain in the world. Given certain definitions, however, this can be challenged. One alternative method of measurement is the base-summit height. When this is applied, Mauna Kea (a dormant volcano in Hawaii) turns out to be much higher at 10,314 meters (33,480 feet). This takes into account Mauna Kea's base on the ocean floor, some 6000 meters below sea level. Its height above sea level is only 4,208 meters (13,796 feet). If the base-summit height is measured from land only, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, meaning it does not belong to a mountain range or chain, measured from its base (at ground level) to the summit at 5,896 meters (19,344 feet). Another alternative method is to work out the furthest point of land as measured from the centre of the earth. Chimborazo, a volcano in Ecuador, takes this honor, because the Earth "bulges" at the equator. This peak is 2,100 meters "taller" than Everest.
- The Sahara is the world's largest hot desert, but it is not the world's largest desert (arid land). Antarctica has almost no liquid precipitation (rain) and little or no vegetation. Almost no animal life exists in its interior at all (scientists in research stations and nesting snow petrels are about the only exceptions). It is land that lacks liquid water available for plants and animals to use. This is sufficient to qualify it as a desert, and it is larger than the Sahara.
- Claims that the number and intensity of earthquakes are increasing are unfounded. The number and intensity of earthquakes varies from year to year but there is no increasing trend.
- Earth's iron-rich inner core is not liquid (like the outer core) but solid, due to the temperature-pressure conditions at the center of the Earth.
- Eskimos do not have a large number of words for snow. The Eskimo language being studied had four unrelated root words, but because it is a Polysynthetic language, in which sentences are formed by compounding words, one can use these roots to create an infinite number of "words" about snow. By comparison, English has many unrelated root words for snow as well: snow, sleet, powder, flurry, drift, blizzard.
- Albert Einstein did not believe in God in a "personal" sense and discounted the existence of a creator. Einstein was, in fact, a rationalistic pantheist and follower of Baruch Spinoza. Many people misinterpreted his words in public, to which Einstein himself responded by saying: "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
- The phrase "separation of church and state" does not occur in the U.S. Constitution. It was first used in a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, reassuring them that religious minorities (such as Baptists) would be protected under the Bill of Rights. His expression "wall of separation between church and state" was a description of the intended effect of the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise provisions, not a quotation therefrom.
Judaism and Christianity
- Nowhere in the Bible is the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden referred to as an apple. The fruit is called the "fruit of the tree" (that is, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), and neither the fruit nor the tree is identified as belonging to a known species. In Middle English, as late as the 17th century "apple" was a generic term for all fruit other than berries but including nuts. However, also in continental European art from that period representing the Fall of Man the fruit is often depicted as an apple.
- In the book of Genesis, the serpent in the Garden of Eden is not explicitly identified as being Satan. Additionally, Satan is never explicitly given the name "Lucifer" ("light bearer") in the Bible. That name comes from the Vulgate (Latin) translation of a prophecy in Isaiah 14:12, which some Christians interpret as referring to the fall of Satan from heaven.
- Genesis does not state that there were only two of every animal aboard Noah's Ark. In fact, it states that there were to be seven pairs of every clean animal, and two pairs of every unclean animal.
- The organization of the Ten Commandments is not consistent from one religion to another, or even among Christians (see this chart for example).
- The term Immaculate Conception does not refer to Jesus's conception by the Virgin Mary (see Virgin Birth of Jesus), but rather to the Roman Catholic teaching that Mary herself was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. (See also Blessed Virgin Mary.)
- Nowhere in the Bible is Mary Magdalene ever referred to as a prostitute. Before her seeing the risen Jesus, the only other mention besides the listing of her name is the mentioning in Luke 8:2 that she had been possessed by seven demons.
- The canon of the New Testament was not selected by Constantine at the First Council of Nicaea. Constantine did not personally have a vote on the council, and the canon had been settled to a large degree—by common consent rather than conciliar decree—from the early second century. Furthermore, the council did not consider the matter of canon in its proceedings. (See Development of the New Testament canon.)
- The New Testament was not routinely altered by scribes and priests through the centuries. Spelling errors and other copyist mistakes exist in all of the extant manuscripts, but there are only a few examples of what modern philologists and textual critics believe are intentional alterations (e.g., the Pericope Adulterae). Noted New Testament textual critic Bart D. Ehrman states:
It would be a mistake ... to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the [sic] most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.
- Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus condemn homosexuality. St. Paul and the author of Leviticus certainly do, but nothing Jesus himself is quoted as saying lends any support to their positions in this respect.
- Hinduism is not one distinct religion, but was considered to be so since at least 1323 AD, as attested by South Indian and Kashmiri texts, and increasingly so during the British rule. Since the end of the 18th century the word has been used as an umbrella term for most of the religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions of the sub-continent, excluding the distinct religions of Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Despite this, many traditions considered "Hindu" today draw their validity from core texts called the Vedas, though in various degrees; some traditions assert that their own texts supersede the Vedas. The traditions that reject the Vedas are considered nastika (heterodox), as opposed to astika (orthodox). Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma are now seen as trinity; that is, highest in the order of Hindu Gods (See Astika and Nastika).
- Shiva is neither female nor an ice deity. Shiva is one of the three main male gods of the current Hindu beliefs and is supposed to be "the destroyer" (along with Vishnu "the preserver " and Brahma "the creator" of the Universe). Shiva does, however, have an androgynous form known as Ardhanarishvara. This form of Shiva is split into male and female halves on a central axis, the right male half bearing traits of Shiva, the left female half bearing those of his consort Parvati or Shakti.
- Throughout most traditions, the Bhagavad Gita is not equivalent to the Christian's Bible in level of scriptural authority. It is considered Smriti (that which is remembered) which is a class of scripture lower in rank than Shruti (what is heard), containing the Vedas. The Bhagavad Gita, though, is considered the most popular.
- Hinduism is considered a family of religions and as such has no concept of God universal to all astika sects. Hinduism is thus not strictly polytheistic across all sampradyas (traditions), but can be pantheistic or panentheistic, or be distinctly henotheistic or monotheistic.
- It's a popular misconception that Muslims believe that Martyrs are awarded 72 virgins in heaven. Nowhere in the Qu'ran is that stated. The misconception most likely stems from a Hadith that's been attributed to Muhammad via an unreliable chain of narrators, stating:
- "It was mentioned by Daraj Ibn Abi Hatim, that Abu al-Haytham 'Adullah Ibn Wahb narrated from Abu Sa'id al-Khudhri, who heard the Prophet Muhammad PBUH saying, 'The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy-two houri, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al-Jabiyyah to San'a.
- The Niqāb veil (and by extension, Burqa) is not considered by most Islamic scholars to be obligatory, but rather a voluntary show of piety, and is never mentioned specifically in the Qu'ran. What is, on the other hand, instructed in the Qu'ran to women is that "...they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to...
- ENIAC was not the first digital computer. Rather, it was the first general-purpose all-electronic computer. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) and the Colossus computer were digital electronic computers but were not general-purpose, being designed for only particular applications. The Z3 was digital and general-purpose but was partly electromechanical rather than electronic. Also, ENIAC did not use binary arithmetic, as the above three did (and as modern computers do); it used decimal.
- Pong was not the first video game. In fact, Tennis for Two, created in 1958, was one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display. The first commercially sold coin-operated video game, Computer Space, was created in 1971 by the future founders of Atari. Fearing that Computer Space had not been popular because of its complexity, Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn created Pong in 1972 after Bushnell had seen a similar game at a trade show.
- The ship Mary Celeste was not called Marie Celeste. Arthur Conan Doyle used the Marie Celeste spelling in a story based on the incident.
- The first heavier-than-air craft was not flown by the Wright brothers. Human-flown gliders and kites had been flown far earlier. The Wright brothers did fly the first heavier-than-air craft capable of controlled and sustained powered flight.
- The United States Interstate Highway System was not designed with airplane landings in mind. A common urban legend states that one out of every five (or ten) miles of highway must be straight and flat to allow emergency (or military) airplane landings, but this is not the case.
- Toilet waste is not dumped overboard in aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks which are emptied on the ground by special toilet waste vehicles. A vacuum is used to allow the toilet to be flushed with less water and because plumbing cannot rely on gravity alone in an aircraft in motion.
- There is no reliable scientific evidence that installing "security lighting" in outdoor areas actually deters crime; it may actually make crime easier. For instance, a burglar who is forced to use a flashlight is more easily spotted than one who can see by existing light.