Forgo factoids, find facts

The inventor of the guillotine was not executed with a guillotine. Goldfish don’t have 15-second memories. Albert Einstein was not bad at math in his grade school years.

These are easily checked slices of so-called common knowledge, yet they persist to this day because they’re incredibly easy to share and make the recipient feel smarter for having consumed such simple information.

It’s time to kill the bad facts.

The biggest common thread throughout every school of education on this campus is the idea that every student should be able to employ critical thinking. We’re all paying thousands of dollars to be here, might as well put that to good use.

It’s even possible for a not quite correct image to be presented by simply deleting information one doesn’t want to present.

Sure, the friendly-looking ex-CNN reporter seems to be reporting on the latest news from the White House, yet even the most cursory of research shows she’s only talking about things that cast our government in a positive light, including skipping over the infamous health care bill’s failure to pass the Senate.

Arguably the biggest piece of news on the airwaves at the time, yet Real News didn’t cover it.

Huh, wonder why?

Given we live in an America where the executive branch of the government has started a Facebook video series akin to USSR state-run propaganda television, now more than ever it’s important to keep one’s wits about them.

As a student body, we should look for these false or cherry-picked facts as the semester progresses.

Just because someone with a doctorate tells you that for every five miles of highway one mile must be straight so that planes may land in a time of war, doesn’t mean it’s true. If anything, these easily communicated non-facts have much more interesting true roots to them than the actual factoid.

In the May/June 2000 issue of Public Roads, Richard Weingroff wrote a delightful piece on this very topic, digging up a 1943 plan that might have sparked the long-shared “one in five rule” myth.

In essence, Commissioner of Public Roads Thomas MacDonald proposed a plan to boost the economic growth of aviation in the United States by building many small air strips near highways, even going as far as to coordinate with nearby gas stations so they’d stock aviation fuel for said planes.

The plan was never executed, but for a brief moment we considered building an infrastructure that would’ve drastically changed the average American’s interaction with air travel. It would’ve become much cheaper and easier to commute via small plane, and owning a smaller plane probably would’ve become much more achievable.

Of course, this truth doesn’t fit in 140 characters as easily as simply telling someone every five miles of interstate highway has to have one mile of perfectly straight road so Air Force One could land in a time of war.

A skeptical approach often proves best, my friends in education.