Factoid

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A factoid is a questionable or spurious—unverified, incorrect, or fabricated—statement presented as a fact, but with no veracity. The word can also be used to describe a particularly insignificant or novel fact, in the absence of much relevant context.[1] The word is defined by the Compact Oxford English Dictionary as "an item of unreliable information that is repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact".[2]

Factoid was coined by Norman Mailer in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Mailer described a factoid as "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper",[3] and created the word by combining the word fact and the ending -oid to mean "similar but not the same". The Washington Times described Mailer's new word as referring to "something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact".[4]

Factoids may give rise to, or arise from, common misconceptions and urban legends.

Contents

Examples

The following are many examples of well-known factoids, and the true facts which clarify or debunk them.

  • Many residents of the Australian city of Mount Isa believe that their city is the world's largest or second largest city by surface area. In reality, Mount Isa is the second largest city in Australia; there are several cities around the world with larger incorporated areas. Their own local council web site incorrectly suggests it is the second largest city on earth.[5]
  • One belief associated with the Australian property bubble is that real estate value doubles every 7 years. However, “Take the city of Sydney - the Mecca of property investing. In 1890, the average Sydney home price was $1,446 (£723). If property really does double every seven years then, in 2009, the average Sydney home would have been worth $189,530,112.00.” Today, the average price of a home in Sydney is closer to half a million dollars rather than $189 million.[6]
  • The media in Canada have often reported that the city of Toronto was named by UNESCO as the most multicultural city in the world. Although there have been some reports suggesting that Toronto may be one of the world's most diverse cities (see Demographics of Toronto), the United Nations agency has never designated any city as being the most multicultural or diverse.[7] Nonetheless, the belief in this status persisted for years, even finding its way onto UNESCO's own web site,[8] into the pages of the New York Times[9] and The Economist,[10] and into international media reports in respect of Toronto's two Olympic bids.
  • The Great Wall of China is often thought as being the only man-made object visible from the moon.[11] In reality no man-made object can be seen with a naked eye from the Earth's moon. Given good circumstances one might be able to discern the result of some human activity such as the changing of the Netherlands' coast or the partial drying out of the Aral Sea, but even that would not be easy. Some astronauts have reported seeing the Great Wall from low earth orbit, among a number of man-made structures. In reality, a viewer would need visual acuity 17 times better than normal (20/20) to see the Wall from the Moon, and vision 8 times better than normal to see it from low earth orbit.[12]
  • Dogs and cats are often thought to be completely colour-blind and see the world in scales of grey. That is wrong. They do have colour vision, dichromate, but not nearly as good as that of humans, trichromate i.e. red, green and blue light.[13][14]
  • Many people in Texas believe that the Texas flag is the only state flag that can be flown at the same height as the American flag, because of Texas's former status as a nation.[15] However, in reality, according to the United States Flag Code, all state flags are displayed at the same height as the American Flag when on separate poles, with the American Flag in a position of honor (to its own right). State Flags should hang below the American Flag while on the same pole, and should never be larger than the American Flag.

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