Scientific mythology

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This list of common or popular misconceptions describes documented ideas and beliefs which are fallacious, misleading, or otherwise flawed; however, these ideas have been commonly repeated as though they are true.

Contents

History

The Americas

  • 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 is spherical, but (correctly) disagreed with Columbus' estimates of the distance to India. If the Americas did not exist, and had Columbus continued to India (even putting aside the threat of mutiny he was under), he would have run out of supplies before reaching it at the rate he was traveling. The problem here was mainly a navigational one, the difficulty of determining longitude without an accurate clock. This problem remained until inventor John Harrison designed his first marine chronometers. The intellectual class had known[1] that the earth was spherical since the works of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.[2] Eratosthenes made a very good estimate of the Earth's diameter in the third century BC.[3][4]
  • Contrary to the popular image of the Pilgrim Fathers, the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, did not dress in black, wear buckles, or wear black steeple hats. According to Plimoth Plantation historian James W. Baker, this image was formed in the 19th century when buckles were a kind of emblem of quaintness. This is also the reason illustrators gave Santa Claus buckles.[5][6][7][8]
  • George Washington did not have wooden teeth. According to a study of Washington's four known dentures by a forensic anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh (in collaboration with the National Museum of Dentistry, itself associated with the Smithsonian Museum), the dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth (including horse and donkey teeth).[9]
  • Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 did not immediately free all American slaves.[10] The Proclamation pertained only to rebelling states. Since those states did not recognize the power of the federal government, most slaves were not immediately freed as a direct result of the Proclamation. Regions in the South that were under Confederate control when the Proclamation was issued ignored its dictum, so slave ownership persisted until Union troops captured further Southern territory. Immediately affected regions were Tennessee, southern Louisiana, and parts of Virginia.[11] It was only with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that slavery was officially abolished in all of the United States.
  • It is a common misconception among Americans that the signing of the Declaration of Independence occurred on July 4, 1776. The official signing occurred on August 2, 1776.[12]

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