GETTING THE FACTS

Laurie Eddie

 "Just the facts ma'am." Joe Friday, Dragnet


(Investigator 197, 2021 March)



An important aspect of human cognitive processing is the tendency to perceive events from a subjective point-of-view, or else, to misunderstand, or misinterpret them so that, for a variety of reasons, many of the things that are passed down, and which we accept as factual are, to some degree, unreliable. Here we examine a number of such examples in an attempt to establish the facts.



COLOSSUS OF RHODES:

Belief:  
The statue straddled the harbour entry.


Facts: 
Begun in 292 and completed in 280 BCE, one of the seven wonders of the world, the Colossus of Rhodes was a huge statue of the Greek sun-god Helios. Located at the entry to Rhodes harbour, it was said to be 70 cubits, (33 metres) high, and the tallest statue in the ancient world. Various illustrations depict it standing astride the narrow harbour entrance with ships sailing directly beneath its legs; however such portrayals are most likely artistic fantasy. Given the standard of engineering at that time, such a structure would have been extremely difficult to construct, but even if it had been possible it would have required the entry to what was a busy harbour to be blocked for a considerable period of time, (12 years according to some estimates). Given these facts, it is more likely the statue was erected on a single pylon at one side of the harbour entry. The erroneous concept appears to have originated amongst medieval scholars, who appear to have mistakenly assumed that the text of a poem, dedicated to the statue, which read, "Not only over the seas but also on land …" meant the statue straddled the harbour entry.




CREMATORIUM ASHES:

Belief:  
Cremation reduces bodies to ashes.


Facts:   
Cremation does not reduce the entire body to ash. When incinerated, (at some 760 to 1150 degrees Celsius), the body, including the organs and other soft tissue, are vaporized. The gases generated are discharged through an exhaust system, leaving fragments of bone. Since bones are difficult to burn, they are removed from the oven and crushed, either by hand, or in a machine called a Cremulator, (essentially a high-speed blender), reducing the bone to a fine, sand-like composition, the “ashes.”




DAD'S ARMY:

Belief:  
Most members of the Local Defence Volunteers were aged pensioners.


Facts:  
The Local Defence Volunteers, (the British Home Guard of WWII), actually consisted of males who were either too young, or too old, for normal military service, (which was 18-41 years of age), or individuals in reserved occupations. Overall, the average age of Home Guard members was 35 years.




DESTRUCTION OF POMPEII:

Belief: 
Vesuvius erupted so quickly the inhabitants of Pompeii had no opportunity to escape.


Facts: 
The devastating events of 79 AD actually took place over a period of about 18 hours, and, while some 1,150 inhabitants died, many had adequate time to escape. From the town of Stabiae, some 4.5 kilometres southwest of Pompeii, across the Bay of Naples, Pliny the Elder, saw the eruption and had enough time to sail to Pompeii in an attempt to rescue a friend and his family; unfortunately, he appears to have been unable to escape.


Historical and modern vulcanological evidence, suggests Vesuvius first erupted around 1.00 p.m. on 24th August. Spewing out a huge cloud of fine ash and pumice which rose high into the sky, it completely darkened a large area, including Pompeii, and although this ash and pumice fell on Pompeii for some 18 hours, many individuals had time to escape from the city.

Vesuvius continued to eject various types of ash and pumice, but then, at around 7.00 a.m. the following morning, it released a pyroclastic flow. This huge mass of molten rock and a vast cloud of ash and dense hot gases at a temperature of some 1,000 degrees Celsius, rolled down the mountain and across the coastal plateau at around 100 kph, delivering the final blow to Pompeii some 8 kilometres away, leaving no survivors.



EMERGENCY OXYGEN ON PASSENGER AIRCRAFT:

Belief:  
Modern aircraft emergency oxygen systems deliver gas from oxygen cylinders.


Facts:  
In fact when the oxygen masks drop down, a chemical oxygen generating system, a mixture of sodium chloride and iron powder, is ignited. This supplies about 15 minutes of oxygen, considered adequate time for the aircraft to descend to an altitude where passengers can breathe without the emergency system. One downside to the system is that the generator can become quite hot and may produce a burning smell, which can create a sense of panic amongst some passengers.




FLAT EARTH:

Belief:  
The Flat Earth concept persisted throughout Europe until the Middle Ages.


Facts:  
The concept of a Flat Earth had been generally dismissed by the ancient Greeks some 2,000 years earlier. Pythagoras referred to a spherical shaped Earth by the 6th century BCE, and although the idea was cautiously received, it gradually gained wider acceptance throughout the Hellenic world. Plato in the 4th century BCE referred to a spherical shaped Earth, and when Aristotle provided empirical evidence circa 350 BCE the concept became much more widely accepted. By the time of Columbus most educated people accepted the Earth was somewhat spherical in shape, although some, like Columbus, thought it was pear-shaped. Circa 1490, in notes relating to measuring the distance from the Earth to the Sun, Leonardo da Vinci referred to a spherical Earth, and, in 1492, the German Martin Behaim produced a globe-shaped model of the Earth;  called Erdapfel, (potato), it showed the known continents as much larger than they were, with the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Europe to Asia.


The primary question in the 15th century was about Earth's dimensions, not its shape. Like many of his time Columbus greatly underestimated its actual size, thus, in a map of the New World published in 1540 both Japan and China are placed only a few miles to the west of North America. Due to this erroneous perception of the size of the Earth, when Columbus discovered San Salvador, he believed he had actually reached an unknown part of Asia, and had discovered a new route to the East Indies.



GREAT WALL OF CHINA:

Belief:  
The Great Wall of China can be seen unaided from space.


Facts:  
This erroneous belief appears to have originated from the fact that, since the wall is so "large" (i.e. long), it must be able to be seen from space. However, even though the many sections of the wall stretch for more than 21,196 km, the wall itself is only around 6 metres wide at its base, and 5 metres at the top, far too narrow to be seen from space without a telescope.




HITLER AND THE AUTOBAHN:

Belief: 
Hitler was responsible for the construction of the autobahns.


Facts:   
Planning for the autobahns actually began in the mid 1920's under the auspices of the Weimar Republic. However, due to lack of political support, and difficult economic times, most of these projects never progressed beyond the planning stage.


The first to be constructed, (now known as the Bundesautobahn 555), ran between Cologne and Bonn, and was constructed in 1932, before Hitler came to power. Although designated as an Kraftfahrstrasse, (a motor-vehicle road), it was effectively an autobahn. Lacking only a central median strip, a feature of later autobahns, it had two lanes in each direction, no intersections and pedestrians, bicycles and animal-powered vehicles were not permitted to use it.

After coming to power in 1933 Hitler backed the construction of the autobahns, primarily as a public relations exercise to demonstrate to the international community the high-level of German economic development. By 1936 these projects were employing some 130,000 construction workers and a further 270,000 in supplying infrastructure.



ISAAC NEWTON:

Belief:  
Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.


Facts:  
The common claim that an apple fell on Isaac Newton's head appears to be a complete myth. In his old age Newton did mention to several of his colleagues that one day, many years earlier, he had been sitting in an apple orchard when he saw an apple fall perpendicularly, and this prompted him to begin thinking about the forces that could made the apple fall straight down rather than at an angle to the earth. Despite this, modern scientific historians are now more inclined to think his actual discovery was prompted by his observations of the path of a comet vanishing behind the Sun and reappearing.




ISRAELITES WERE ENSLAVED BY THE EGYPTIANS:

Belief:
The Israelites settlers in Egypt were enslaved and forced to build supply-cities:


Facts:  
Although, according to Exodus 1:11, "… the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves …" and forced them to build the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses, this claim appears to be completely false. While many people from the Levant did migrate to Egypt in times of famine, there is no evidence of any major Israelite settlement in Goshen, as claimed in Genesis 45:9-10, and Exodus 1:7. Indeed, at the "claimed" time of the Exodus, (most authorities place it between 1445 and 1290 BCE), Goshen” did not exist. This name, for an area in the Nile delta, was first used during the 6th-5th centuries BCE by an Arabic group, who dominated this area.


Since 1888 a number of villages have been unearthed which housed the actual builders of many of the various Egyptian cities and great structures. Archaeological evidence clearly indicates the inhabitants were primarily Egyptians, with a few Nubians and Asians. One such village was Set Maat, ("the place of truth," now Deir el-Medina) in western Thebes; dating from the 18th Dynasty it was established to house craftsmen who built and decorated a number of the royal tombs. Evidence these workers were not Israelite slaves comes from the fact that Amenhotep I, and his mother, Ahmose-Nefertari, were the patron-deities of the village, and many of the worker's homes contained shrines dedicated to them.

Contradicting its own claim that the Israelites were slaves, Exodus 10:24 mentions that the pharaoh requested of Moses, "… let your flocks and herds stay here." In ancient times herds of sheep, goats and cattle were usually owned by clans, or the wealthy; so one must ask, what type of slaves would have owned such herds?



MONKEY WRENCH:

Belief:  
The Monkey Wrench is a modern invention.


Facts:   
The adjustable wrench, known as a Monkey* Wrench, was an American development of an earlier English coach wrench. In the 1st century AD, the Chinese developed a somewhat similar designed tool, the principal difference being that it was adjusted using a sliding calliper gauge rather than the screw mechanism of the later version.

*  In the past, the term “monkey” originally referred  to any piece of equipment designed to suit a specific purpose.



MULE SKINNERS:

Belief:   
A Mule Skinner is a person who skins mules.


Facts: 
 Many  mistakenly believe the term refers to an abattoir worker who skinned dead mules; however this is incorrect. Originally the term "mule skinner" referred to brutal handlers who drive teams of mules so savagely that their whips cut open the skin of the mules. Later, the term came to be applied to experienced mule handlers, those skilled enough to "skin" (to outsmart) teams of mules, which are noted for their stubborn behaviour.




ORIGINS OF THE "00" CODE NUMBER:

Belief:  
The "00" code number originated with Ian Fleming's James Bond.


Facts:  
Although Ian Fleming used the "00" as a code number for agent James Bond, it was not his creation. During WWI British naval intelligence successfully cracked the German diplomatic code; one of the principal documents they decoded was the Zimmermann telegraph, a secret communication from the German Foreign Office to the Mexican Government which proposed that, if the United States entered the war against Germany, they would assist Mexico to recover territories in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona which had been lost to the United States in past centuries. The code number of this communiqué was 0075 and subsequently the code number “00” was used by British Intelligence to refer to highly classified material.


However, use of the "007" term appears to be even older; it was originally used by Dr. John Dee, (1527 - 1608/1609), a learned scholar, Astrologer and a principal adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, who signed confidential correspondence to the queen with the symbol “007” meaning the material was for the eyes of the queen only. Various alternative suggestions for its use are that: -

•    For Dee, as the author of several books on optics, it was symbolic of a pair of hand-held eyeglasses, the "00" representing the lenses, and the "7" represented the single handle by which they were held, the underlying symbolism being, as indicated above, that it was only to be read by the queen;
•    The "00" represented the symbol for infinity, which, combined with the number "7" represented for Dee, an Astrologer, an auspicious and protective number.



PENTAGON:

Belief:  
The Pentagon is located in Washington D.C.


Facts: 
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, along with the Arlington National Cemetery, is actually located across the Potomac River in Arlington County, Virginia.




ROTARY MOTOR MOWER:

Belief:  
The rotary motor mower was invented in 1952 by M. V. Richardson:


Facts: 
Although widely believed that the Victa motor mower, "invented" in 1952 by Australian Mervyn Victor Richardson, was the first rotary mower ever produced, in actual fact a number of rotary mowers had been developed in the USA during the 1920's – 1930's; however, none were commercially successful, and the hand-powered reel mower prevailed.


The first petrol driven Australian rotary mower was actually the "Mowhall" invented by Lawrence Hall in 1948. Powered by a 3 hp. two-stroke, water cooled marine engine, with a plough disc as a base plate, it was heavy and awkward to use, requiring two operators, one to push, and one to pull.

In 1951, to earn extra money during his university vacations, Mervyn's son Gary, mowed lawns using a large 14 inch reel type mower, made by his father. Heavy, and difficult to transport, Mervyn decided to design a smaller more mobile rotary type mower. In 1948 he had seen a demonstration of the Mowhall at Hall's Five Dock, Sydney, workshop, and set out to design a simpler, lighter, cheaper and more practical machine of a similar design.

Made out of scrap metal, with a Villiers two-stroke and a lighter base plate his first model, with a peach tin for the fuel tank, was named the "Peach-Tin Prototype." So successful was the design that Richardson began production with the first models going on sale on 20 September 1952.



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