Common beliefs that are wrong

November 3, 2021 | Peter Cronin

Time to check your Assumptions! There are so many things we just assume or believe, perhaps we heard it somewhere or from someone we think of as knowledgeable in an area, or we just rationalised it ourselves. 

Sometimes we are corrected and feel relieved at the new knowledge, sometimes we are just interested in the true situation, and other times we feel angry, defensive, and in denial. Usually, the last case occurs when we have something on the line, perhaps our livelihood, or we may have just been adamant and told people very confidently about a situation and don’t want to look silly.

Being able to see our knowledge gaps and logical flaws is critical to solving problems effectively and making good decisions. Indeed this is exactly what the BBIT tools teach us, how to identify and challenge the assumptions that hold the problem stable.

So let’s look at a few common beliefs which are, in fact, flat-out wrong.

1. Seeds are not the hot part of Chilies

As someone who enjoys hot chilies, especially in Southeast Asian food, and who has had to remove them from some food, especially Southeast Asian food, I was surprised to learn this. However, it is the skin right near the seed, the pith, that contains the spicy heat. 

Given it is right by the seeds it would be easy to see how cutting away the seeds and the pith would confirm the belief.

2. Microwaves don’t cook from the inside out

The common misconception seems to come from the understanding that microwaves cook by exciting the particles in the food. Microwaves can only heat about 1cm into food directly, with the rest of the heating done by conduction through the food. This is why defrost settings use lower power settings and a longer time, they are simply giving more time for the heat to conduct through the food while attempting not to overcook the surface.

3. Pitch Perfect isn’t that rare

I’m not a musician, although had heard people refer to Pitch Perfect as something extremely rare that only absolute top singers have.

It is the ability to recognise or re-create a musical note without a reference tone (whatever that means). 

Turns out 1 in 25 music students have this ability

4. There isn’t a Red Phone linking the Kremlin and White House

This has absolutely ruined otherwise totally believable Bond movies for me. Firstly the direct link to the Kremlin is at the Pentagon rather than the White House. Secondly, it has only existed since 2008. Finally, it is email-based!

Before that, there was a Fax machine system and a Telegram system before that.

5. Scientists/Mathematicians do understand how Bumble Bees fly.

As an aviation nerd, and weekend Pilot this has always been a fascinating one to me. I always doubted that it was so hard to figure out, however, even the way that wings on conventional aircraft produce lift is argued about and taught differently in different flight schools. So if we can’t agree on that…

The Bumble Bee myth came from a French 1930s book called ‘The Flight of Insects’. The author later realised his error and clarified the situation. Somehow the opinion of this author became ‘Scientists’ or ‘Mathematicians’.

6. Bats are not blind.

Keeping with the theme of flight. I find it most fascinating that the common Sydney Bats (Flying foxes) don’t even have the ability to use Echolocation (what we call Sonar). This is most fascinating to me because when I moved here (I don’t think I’ve seen a bat in New Zealand or if I have it was rare) people told me their high-pitched chirping/screeching was actually their Sonar!

Around 70% of bat species use echolocation to navigate, all bats have eyes that are capable of sight, and most larger bats cannot echolocate at all.

7. (and 7.1) Carrots don’t help you see in the dark

Now keeping with both the flight theme and Echolocation (or Radar in this case), this is a really interesting one to bring up. It both; challenges people’s assumptions and then challenges them again. Both of which have a clever back story.

Beta carotene can help improve vision for those not receiving a sufficient amount of Vitamin A, however, doesn’t improve it beyond that. 

This common belief was in fact an intentional misconception made up by the Royal Airforce in World War II. The RAF wanted to hide the fact that they were using Radar in Aircraft, so they invented the propaganda that Carrots were the key to their successful nighttime combat and bombing missions. All this to throw off the Luftwaffe (German Airforce).

Here’s the top article after a google search:

But is that the real story? – Nope!

The story sounds legit, however, a different British government organisation was behind the ruse, and had a totally different objective.

In fact, the UK Government’s Food Ministry capitalised on the RAF’s ruse, BUT not as a ruse for the Germans but for their own citizens. They had a temporary wartime oversupply of carrots that needed eating up. The message worked and caused a sharp increase in carrot consumption. In fact, it worked so well that many still believe it today. This all happened in 1942, a couple of years after the Germans were aware of the use of Radar in aircraft.

So don’t take people’s word for it, go out and check those ‘common belief’ assumptions. Just because “everyone knows” something doesn’t mean they’re right!