Toxic Certainty Redux

“The trouble with most folks isn’t their ignorance. It’s knowin’ so many things that ain’t so.” — Josh Billings

In past posts, I have banged the spoon on the high chair about “toxic certainty”; the phenomenon of being so sure of something that you leave no room for alternatives, no room for the possibility that you may be wrong.

Consider these historical “facts” that we all know:

Towns in the American Wild West were filled with gunfights and murders. Nope. The most murders any old-west town saw in any one year—ever—was 5. Most towns averaged about 1.5 murders a year, and not all of those were shooting.

Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse. Close, but no cigar. Mickey was the creation of Disney’s number one animator, Ub Iwerks.

Patrick Henry roused the Virginia Convention to deliver troops to the Revolutionary War by saying, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Sorry. There is no reliable record of what exactly he said, although those present agreed that he spoke forcefully. The text was published from recollections 42 years after the event.

Feminists in the 1960’s burned their bras in support of Women’s Liberation. Swing and a miss. There is no record of any such thing happening. At a protest of the 1968 Miss America Pageant in New York, women protesters did toss bras in trash cans, along with what they labeled other “instruments of torture”, including girdles, high-heeled shoes and women’s magazines.

Napoleon was called “the Little Corporal” because he was so short. Je suis désolé, non. He was 5 feet, 7 inches tall, taller than the average 18th century Frenchman.

Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco to the English. Codswallop. English sailors adopted the smoking habit from the French in around 1564…when Walt was 12 years old.

Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. Not quite. The first lightbulb was invented 40 years earlier. Edison (well, actually, his nameless technicians) improved it to burn for days on end.

George Washington was the first U.S. President. Try the 15th, as 14 men were President prior to George being the first popularly elected President.

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Catchy poem, but devoid of facts. Lizzie was charged with killing her father and step-mother with an axe all right, but the jury found her innocent after only one hour. And for the record, her poor father had been “whacked” 11 times, not 41.

Cleopatra was Egyptian. Not a bit of it. She was Greek.

The Vikings wore horned helmets into battle. Note to Minnesota VIking fans: lose the horns. There is no evidence that real Vikings ever wore such silly headgear into battle…or anywhere else, for that matter.

In the 60’s, young people were against the Vietnam War, and their elders supported it. The facts suggest otherwise. In August of 1965, a Gallup poll found 76% of adults under 30 supported U.S. intervention in Vietnam, versus 51% of adults over 49. By July 1967, those numbers had changed: 62% of the under- 30 crowd still supported intervention, while the over- 49 crowd was down to 37 %. In January of 1970 those numbers fell to 41% and 20%, respectively.

One more thing: the quote at the top of this post has been also attributed to Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, Will Rogers, Charles Kettering, Eubie Blake, and Yogi Berra.


Today’s Fact Cetera

A Gallup poll found that 18% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth.



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2 responses to “Toxic Certainty Redux

  1. Bev

    Boy oh boy is my brain filled with misinformation
    Thanks Ron for setting things straight

  2. Mikki

    My mind is numb and I feel very betrayed having been lead to believe such mis-information. Thank you, Ronn. Once my bewilderment deminishes I’ll gladly accept these new truths. Two things: why was Napoleon called “the little corporal” and was anyone ever found guilty of killing Lizzy Borden’s father and step mother?
    I like this blog and will be checking back soon for more ACCURATE facts! Thanks!!!

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