Things People Know That Aren’t So

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my list, in no particular order.  Challenge it if you like, but it’s one I’m confident of.  I submit that, backed by 7 decades of experience and two degrees, it is at least worth a read.

  • CEO salaries need to be very high, or they will be lured away by other companies. Truth:  top executives are grossly over-compensated.  See this LINK.
  • Flying is dangerous. Actually it is probably the safest form of travel.    See this LINK.
  • Barack Obama was not born in the United States. I don’t care what The Donald says, it is absurd that this kind of thing gets traction.  See this link on Snopes.
  • CEO performance is the primary factor in a company’s success or failure. I can cite no proof that this isn’t true because you can’t prove a negative, but company operations are a complex mix of many personalities and economic conditions, not to mention accounting tricks to make the bottom line appear something it isn’t.  In my opinion the idea that success can be achieved by purchasing managerial talent is pure confirmation bias.  When success is achieved, management is glad to take the credit.  When it isn’t, multiple reasons are manifest.  For one perspective, see the paragraph titled “Criticism”.
  • Polar Bear

    Image via Wikipedia

    Global warming is a myth. No, global warming is real.  The extent to which mankind’s operations are contributing to it is controversial, but the correlation of the temperature rise with fossil-fuel use since the industrial revolution is undeniable.  This LINK has a list of the most prominent effects.

  • Autism is caused by the mercury-based preservative in vaccines. This has been thoroughly discredited, as has it’s instigator, Dr. Wakefield, and yet millions continue to have reservations.  My post on “Information Please” discussed this and other misinformation circulating on the internet.
  • Nuclear power plants are more dangerous than conventional power plants. Just the opposite is true.  An excellent USA Today article discusses this irrational fear in detail (and also mentions the vaccine scare).
  • Vitamin pills are necessary and desirable. This topic is an enduring source for confirmation bias.  For some reason most people find highly appealing the notion that some kind of pill can give us leverage we wouldn’t otherwise have, and the fact that we have to pay for it makes it seem all the more valuable.  Vitamin D is such a topic, and while it’s true that it is a vital substance, 200,000 years of evolution are testimony that nature knows best how to supply it.  I posted HERE on the subject recently.
  • Sunbathing on a beach in Australia

    Image via Wikipedia

    Sunlight is bad for your skin. No it isn’t, unless you over-do it of course.  Moderation in all things is, IMO, one of the most sensible adages of all time.  See the link above.

  • The national debt is so bad that we need to cut all government spending, including programs for the needy. Wrong.  The debt and the budget deficit are both due primarily to the large entitlement programs, the two largest of which are Medicare and Medicaid, and the reason their costs are out of control is that our current rules insulate the customer from applying cost concerns to their purchases.  I summarized the case for this in the post, “Boiling It Down”.
  • The Civil War was fought over States Rights. No it wasn’t.  It was all about slavery, pure and simple.  There is an outstanding essay on the subject in this week’s Time Magazine.
  • A Mars Rover robot simulated on MSRDS by SimplySim

    Image via Wikipedia

    Space exploration is best done by astronauts rather than robots. Wrong.  Mars is being explored quite well by robots so far, both from orbit and on its surface.  It was an absurd notion that we should risk people to travel for more than a year through an extremely hazardous radiation environment just to bring back rock samples from an uninhabitable environment we already know well.  President Obama did the sensible thing to cancel it.

  • Someday people from Earth will visit a planet in another solar system. I don’t have a ready reference for this one, but it has been a subject of interest to me most of my life.  The physics of the situation simply do not permit the possibility because even the nearest systems are light years distant and even if we had an energy source large enough for the journey, which even fusion power wouldn’t supply, any speed over 1/10 of light would produce deadly radiation to the travelers.
  • Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials. Art Bell notwithstanding, hasn’t happened.  See item above.
  • Congress is overpaid. Not really.  Doing the people’s business is hard, frustrating work, unless you are dishonest (and there are a few of those) and the jobs pay much less than most top managers make.  (See items above about CEO’s.)  Most of the people in Congress are already wealthy when they get there.  They come for ideological reasons and because they enjoy being important.
  • Money does not buy happiness. Yes and no.  Up to a certain point, it does.  Abraham Maslow in his “hierarchy of needs” confirmed that people can’t really be happy until their basic safety is assured, and by this he meant food, clothing, shelter, and the like.  To this I would add some degree of assurance that medical needs will be met.  From what I read, people in places with socialized government, like Finland for example, are likely happier than we are.  Certainly a highly-stressed life tends to be a shorter one.  Americans pay more for health care and die sooner all the same.
  • The world was created about 6,000 years ago. This simply isn’t so.  See this POST for a discussion.
  • Fluoride in drinking water is a Communist or an extraterrestrial plot to kill us. Nope, neither.  Fluoride is a naturally-occurring substance found in most of the world’s freshwater and has been found to be important to good bone health.  If it were otherwise we would have evolved differently.


About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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5 Responses to Things People Know That Aren’t So

  1. jwhester says:

    Nice post, Jim.


  2. Jim,

    An excellent contribution.
    Naturally, I do have at least one complaint, though (okay, only one which I will write about today). You wrote,

    It was an absurd notion that we should risk people to travel for more than a year through an extremely hazardous radiation environment just to bring back rock samples from an uninhabitable environment we already know well.

    As a life-long follower and cheerleader of our space program (with reservations about the space shuttle), I will assert: If by “absurd” you mean “irrational” or “illogical,” I would have to disagree with you. Impractical, yes. Absurd, no. It is totally rational for creatures like us to want to put our footprints on a foreign world. It’s part of what drives us forward into what once was the impossible.

    And if by absurd you meant “meaningless,” then, obviously, I would disagree. It would be quite meaningful—beyond your mostly legitimate claim that “we already know well” the surface of Mars—to send men or women there to explore it. The mission to our comparably uninteresting moon was full of all kinds of meaning, beyond the mere rocks and experiments.

    I suppose what I’m saying, and what I think you have overlooked, is that there is more to space exploration than mere hard science. Just like there is more to physics than mere mathematics. Much of the universe’s beauty (or its opposite) is difficult to understand through equations (although in a sense it can be understood that way, for sure) and much of the beauty of space travel can’t be understood through data transmissions from an incredible machine perched on the rim of a crater called Santa Maria.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Said the poet to the engineer.

      You make a valid point, Duane, and your perspective on space does resonate with me. As one who grew up in the golden age of science fiction I can identify with your sentiments here, and especially knowing your fondness for Bradbury who was likely the top poet of his genre.

      It strikes me that the race to the moon was beneficial in the same way that war can be beneficial, and without the casualties. It invigorated our collective national identity in a burst of patriotic competition against our sworn enemy while at the same time spurring educational improvement in math and science and providing economic consensus for investment in technology. Sometimes in my ardor to be rational I forget the emotional mien of the body politic. Further, it occurs to me that this is the same element that is missing in the current economic debate, an element the president tried to recover in his speech at noon today by appealing to our common heritage as Americans. But without a common threat I fear that mere words are not going to close the divide.

      Having recognized all that, I do have some defense for my words. My “absurd notion” statement was intended to describe the Mars mission, not the Apollo moon landings, and so with that clarification I will stand by the sentiment. Despite their apparent similarity the differences between the two missions are vast in time, resources and danger. When you study the hard numbers and then consider that putting humans in space is no longer new, it simply doesn’t make sense to me.

      The ISS doesn’t make sense any more either. It was a popular and exciting project in its time, one that created an impetus for international cooperation and got nationalities together in a common effort, but there again, the newness has worn off and it is revealed for what it is – an extremely expensive experiment that has little scientific or industrial value beyond refining physiological adaptability to a zero-G environment. Other than the poetic aspect, space work can be better done by robots than humans.

      As always, you complement me with thoughtful comments. Thanks.



      • Jim,

        The photo I sent along with my comment didn’t post, but it was a shot from the Mars orbiter of a tiny speck of a Rover literally perched on the rim of Santa Maria crater.

        In any case, I respect your views here. I do understand the difficulty of a Mars mission, but that difficulty just makes it all the more attractive as a project. Unfortunately, the will to do such things has evaporated. That’s sad to me. But I confess to a prejudice in this case. As a Bradbury fan, one of his books I read the most was “The Martian Chronicles,” which I probably reread three or four times as a kid. I always hoped that human exploration of Mars would happen during my lifetime, but, alas, I will die disappointed in that respect.

        There is a romance involved in the manned missions and when it comes to the stars, I am definitely a romantic. Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” (which, even as a religious zealot, I skipped church on Sunday night to watch) will always be part of my psyche.



  3. Jim,

    I think you are misinformed about this fluoride you speak of. Nothing is a greater threat to our essence and freedom.

    Yours truly,

    Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper
    Burpleson Air Force Base
    “Peace is Our Profession”


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