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collapse/expand topics back to Main/LiesToChildren

08:25:03 AM Sep 29th 2011
Did we have a consensus on deleting the entire real life section? It had problems, but weeding out unnecessary examples and deleting natter would have been a better solution in my opinion. A new one has begun, but it will probably become bloated pretty soon anyways. For the record, the deletion carried this comment: "Eww. There are precedents for deleting bloated Real Life sections.", which I don't feel is much of an argument for deletion.
12:10:41 PM Jan 23rd 2012
edited by Zenoseiya
Here's an archive for those interested:

    Real Life 
  • Until you're taught European/American History in Middle/High School, you are told that Christopher Columbus was an awesome good guy who 'discovered' America. His criminal record and time in prison are often ignored. In reality, he instituted the encomienda system, causing the genocide of the original islanders. He also used his foreknowledge of an impending eclipse to terrify the native population. And after you learn how awful he was you also learn that this behavior was expected. And after you learn that the Queen was so horrified that she never let him go back; you learn that the only reason for her horror was that she wanted converts not corpses. The story of Columbus is like a fucking onion.
    • Another misconception fostered in schools is that the entire world thought the world was flat. Columbus thought it was round and proved it. This is incorrect; a great deal of the Medieval world knew the world was round. Columbus thought it was pear shaped. He was also convinced he'd found the route to India and threatened anyone who suggested he'd found a new continent with death. Columbus didn't land on mainland America either. And then you find evidence (quotes from his journal and an alteration to his family crest) that he knew perfectly well that he had discovered a new land mass, due to rivers too large for the land to be oceanic island as well as the local wealth being gold, not spice. Also take note that the Earth is actually slightly pear-shaped.
      • Anyone wanting to explore the mythology surrounding Columbus—and similar topics—in greater depth, look for these books:
      Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (Links to excerpt.)
      James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
    • Everyone knew the Earth was round back then, and they had a pretty good idea of how big it is. Rather, everyone who mattered knew the Earth was round. "Everyone" covers an awful lot of people who honestly did not know this, but those people weren't funding voyages to India. What Columbus was trying to prove was that the world was a lot smaller than they thought. The distance over land between Western Europe and India was known, and if it covered a greater percentage of the world's surface than was generally believed, then what was left over (the sea in between) was short enough to be crossed in a ship before it would run out of provisions. At any rate, although Columbus was kind of a dick and certainly was not the first person to reach the Americas from Eurasia, his discovery was news to Spain and set off a huge part of world history, and that's what is really important about him, not his personal life.
  • There's also the problem that, even after learning Columbus wasn't a good guy, most people still think he was the first person to discover the Americas. This is completely wrong; the first recorded European to reach North America was Leif Ericson and his crew, although there's substantial evidence that suggests fishermen from Europe had been traveling to the coast of North America for years even before that. Even more importantly, Europeans were certainly not the first people to come to North America. Millions of people already lived there when the Europeans showed up. Current theories suggest the majority were descended from people who traveled over a land bridge (located at the current Bering Strait) from Asia to North America, although there are many other theories, including the very likely possibility that the Chinese (or other Asian civilizations with a sea presence) crossed the Pacific ocean to modern-day California and even the theory that the Egyptians or Romans crossed the Atlantic Ocean over a thousand years before the Vikings. Columbus is really only important because he was the first European to reach the New World that was from a civilization that both had the capability and the desire to colonize it.
  • All that was taught in elementary school about World War II was essentially: "There was a bad man named Hitler who started killing all the Jewish people in Germany. The Allies knew that this was wrong so they went to war to stop him." And let's not even get into the Civil War.
    • Both ways, actually. When you're little, you're basically taught that the whole thing was about slavery. When you get older and people start trying to cure you of that misconception, they often make the mistake of claiming the whole thing was about state's rights with slavery being a minor footnote. Never mind that the south had spent the 40's and 50's using their control of both the Federal government and Supreme Court to try and force slavery on the "free" states (Dred Scott decision, Fugitive Slave Act) and didn't start crowing about state's rights until they lost power in the 1860 elections, and that every Confederate state explicitly mentioned the threats the new government posed to the institution of slavery in their declarations of secession more than anything else.
    • And don't forget that the Nazis weren't just killing Jews, but Poles, homosexuals, Gypsies, and many others. Everyone assumes that if someone was in a Nazi camp they were Jewish, and that's an insult to the memory the rest.
  • Similarly in history, every Australian primary school student learns that England settled Australia because they needed a penal colony. It isn't until High School and probably even university that students will be challenged to ask why England decided it needed a penal colony halfway around the world, in an incredibly expensive venture, rather than just sticking them somewhere comfortably far away but near enough to be cheap.
  • Physics has many of these. It starts with "electrons orbit the nucleus of the atom" shown with a diagram of circles of differing radii, each with 2, 8, 18, etc maximum electrons. This completely misrepresents that electrons exist in three dimensional probability clouds, many of which are not sphere shaped. It also suggests that every electron at a specific "energy level" has the same amount of energy, when in fact different shapes of clouds have different energies (s versus p, for example).
    • Drawing planets with circular orbits. Then, trying to make up for it by calling them elliptical orbits. A planetary orbit actually forms an ellipse that shifts every year. As a matter of fact, all the planets in our solar system except Pluto (which doesn't even really count anymore) have orbits that are technically elliptical, but are so nearly circular that they might as well be classified as such.
    • Newton physics - particulary concepts of separation of concepts of mass and energy, time independent of space and time independent of frame of reference or force of gravitation (as oppose to the bent timespace). However - it is useful. If an astronaut was sent a mission to Mars he would probably use Newtonian physics.
    • Photons (light) are even worse. To name a few: a particle yet a wave, momentum yet no mass. Though, empirically, photons do act like particles and like waves in certain ways, and they do have momentum without having mass. All these results are testable. The real problem is that when we ask "is light made of particles or waves?" we're asking the wrong question; photons are photons, not particles or waves. They just happen to behave in ways that are convenient to treat as particles or waves for purposes of abstracting out the math. And for the record, ordinary particles such as electrons also act like waves.
    • Oh, and the addition of velocities. If object 1 is moving one direction at X m/s and object 2 is moving in the exact opposite direction at Y m/s, object 1's relative velocity to object 2 is NOT X+ Y because that would break relativity (say they are both traveling at the speed of light). Temporal and spatial dilation have to be taken into account. Though keep in mind that below ~15% the speed of light there's no appreciable difference on a human scale.
    • In at least some cases, teachers may not know themselves. A student asked a teacher once, "If matter is never created or destroyed, what about those atoms that pop in and out of existence?" She looked rather nervous and told him that wasn't covered in her class. (He is referring to the Zero-Point field, basically a sea of energy BECAUSE many subatomic particles pop in and out of existence, the average of which is effectively static when viewed from larger levels of order. No, atoms do not pop in and out of existence directly, although they may be fused or split.) The answer, of course, is that conservation of mass and conservation of energy are both Lies to Children versions of conservation of mass-energy, and even that is something of a simplification of the quantum reality.
    • For that matter, what about classical causality? While often causally-linked (e.g. as a causal pair), events at sub-atomic levels do not occur in a strict cause-effect order/relationship.
    • And when you get down to it, conservation of mass-energy has a few other glaring holes in it. Quantum tunneling allows you to bypass the rules of conservation of energy as long as no one looks while you do it, with a certain probability. And on cosmological scales, conservation of energy just doesn't hold. A photon traveling across space for billions of years will lose an appreciable amount of its energy, which doesn't actually go anywhere. The trick is that conservation of energy is true for a static universe, that isn't expanding or contracting as a whole. Since our universe is expanding, photons that travel long enough get stretched out to longer wavelengths and lower energies.
  • Let's not forget biology. The misconception that all traits are coded for by specific genes, anyone? Similarly, the misconception that all traits are inherited genetically from one's parents. In fact, epigenetics shows that an expression of identical genes may be inherited in a Lamarckian way, and horizontal gene transfer allows gene transfer between living individuals rather than from parents.
    • So... Lamarck Was Right? Not exactly. Epigenetics is not Lamarckism (which is actually an example of this trope itself as the idea predates Lamarck by quite a bit and Lamarck's contributions were much closer to the truth, including the first coherent evolutionary theory). It's merely the study of environmental effects on gene expression. And speaking of those traits, there's the whole dominant/recessive alleles in the punnet squares taught in middle and high school natural sciences class. While still technically accurate they're also a gross simplification on the interactions between alleles, many of which are still not fully understood.
    • But that's not all! Pleiotropy, where one gene product (not one protein; there's still the various forms of small RNAs) can influence a great number of genes, cis-regulatory elements which control the activations of whole networks, HOX body planning genes, genes which influence traits by altering which particular stretches of chromosome are most readily available to be read, genes which are essentially viruses which have spurred other genes to appear just to block the 'bad' gene from doing anything, prokaryotic (bacterial) transformation by picking up stray DNA or having it shot into their cells by a stray virus, intentional random recombination of a gene by eukaryotes, and dozens of even weirder examples of genetic goodyness. There's a reason you break it down to Central Dogma for the pre-college level, and introduce the weirdness bit by bit as you go.
    • Unfortunately, this has backfired on the Theory of Evolution to a massive degree. Most of the people arguing against it use inaccurate analogies, take them far too literally, and then use that to "disprove" evolution. Very few, if any, people who argue against evolution seem to actually understand it.
      • And, of course, they frequently succeed in muddying the waters because a lot of the people who try to "prove" it don't understand it either, for many of the reasons mentioned above.
  • Similar to Monkey coming out of a hunk of rock at his creation in Journey to the West, supposedly Chinese children are commonly told that they "burst out of a rock" as an answer to where babies come from. And on a similar note, the delivery stork.
  • While not necessarily scientific, the pigment color wheel is taught in school to have the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. In reality, the use of those primaries yield a rather limited color palette and the RYB color wheel is outdated. It's been known that red, green, and blue (RGB) are the primary colors (additive) of the human eye; if you mix them you will get white. They are used to emit light, like in case of computer monitors. In turn the pigment primaries (subtractive) are cyan, magenta, and yellow; if you mix the inks you would get something blackish. They are used when you reflect the light, like in printing (CMYK, K = black) and art. Mixing CMYK yields a larger array of colors, and yet art classes still teach the RYB model. In some languages there is distinction between 'basic color' = {red, green, blue} and 'basic hue' = {cyan, magneta, yellow} (however it is not followed).
    • Light is not made out of RGB, it's just how our eyes work. There are three different kinds of color-detecting cones, and the response from each type of cone peaks at the three different wavelengths we define as red, blue, and green. Light itself doesn't have primary colors - our monitors just emit an illusion that fools us into thinking we are seeing the other wavelengths. Basically, RYB teaches the right idea for pigments, and you get the best results when you choose the best definitions of red, yellow and blue. They each have more than one.
      • Cyan-Magenta-Yellow (CMY) are the primary pigment colors in process printing, along with Black (K, because 100% C, 100% M, 100% Y equals a dark muddy brown color that might be confused with black in bad light). Newer presses also support CMYKOG, adding orange and green to the process (which helps reproduce the more vibrant oranges, greens, and surprisingly blues and reds your eyes can see). Pantone spot colors, used when a certain color absolutely must be reproduced exactly in print, have twelve primary colors, and can also support things like metallic foils, glow-in-the-dark inks, and knockout holes. The CIE 1931 XYZ color space is the closest representation of the human visual range, consisting of a magenta-green color range, a blue-yellow color range, and a lightness range (forming a 3rd-dimensional object when mapped). All other color spaces fit inside CIE 1931 XYZ, and none of them whatsoever can even begin to fill the whole space, only covering part of the range of human visual acuity.
      • And even the 1931 XYZ is flawed, but useful. Its a statistical match too, so what people see varies a bit too. The Rods can see a bit more than the cones can as well, but the brain's interpretation of color gets strange there. The 1964 CIE model is also popular as the 1931 model has certain built in lies. Mostly dealing with how humans can see many more subtle differences in green than any other color, hence why the charts bulge out for green, and why 'pure' colors are only those on the curve of the CIE charts. Let alone white light, dear god white light is the biggest lie of them all..
  • There's also Santa Claus. There really was a St. Nick, so technically it is a religious belief...
    • St. Nicholas may have been just as fictional as Santa, though. The enslaved demon at least is probably not true (really a part of the legend).
  • The education system, at least in the US, generally seems to follow this formula. Spend 7-8 years "teaching" children. Spend the next 4 years correcting or better adjusting them in most of the subjects. Finally, the last year is left for them to sort things out.
    • And on a related note, the US "education" system (and those following a similar formula) period. Spend twelve or thirteen years engaging young people in menial, often actively counterproductive makework. Tell them you're teaching them things, and that these things will be extremely important when they're no longer in school. Continue to insist upon this long after they've left school and learned the truth. Completely fail to give a shit about the ones who feel bitter about this.
    • Well, there is a reason for Lies to Children, namely that you need to understand the thing which is slightly true before you can understand everything.
  • The Tooth Fairy exists, it most definitely not your parents sneaking in when you're sleeping. It's really the dentist, as seen in The 10th Kingdom.
  • Fluffy ran away/was moved to a farm/was given to a new family that would take care of him better.
  • Bit of a darker one here; ask a person who was against Vietnam if there were any parades welcoming people home. There were, but you won't find it in any history books.
  • This Not Always Right.
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