Misconceptions

Michelangelo Made His Money With Forgeries

Michelangelo built his career on lucrative forgeries, although he went beyond mere imitation. He often borrowed drawings to make copies of them, keeping the original and passing off the copy as the real thing to the owner. In 1496, when he was only 21, he copied the marble sculpture Sleeping Eros. Through an art dealer, Michelangelo sold the fake for a large sum of money to Cardinal Raffaele Riario, a Roman antiquities collector. Instead of becoming angry when he learned of the forgery, Riario became the artist’s first patron.

The Unlikely Origins Of The Phrase ‘Politically Correct’

You’ve probably come across a variation on the phrase “politically correct.” It’s an insult that implies its target is so bloodless they’ll say the stupidest things to avoid causing offense. It also usually implies they’re a “lefty-liberal” who should be ashamed of their PC attitude.

But the origins of “politically correct” are stranger than its current form suggests. Far from originating as a right-wing insult, it started life as a left-wing term of approval.

Chaucer’s Day Job As A Swindling Wool Merchant

In 1386, Geoffrey Chaucer took a post at the head of London’s wool trade. It was such a corrupt position that his career ended when the position was abolished for all trades across the board, as it was deemed too broken to fix. At the time, merchants, exporters, and officials were making a fortune taking bribes, skimming off the top of the profits, taking false weights, and running any of a number of scams. Just how involved in this all Chaucer was, we’re not sure, but it definitely puts his stories of The Canterbury Tales in a rather different light.

Cats Aren’t Really Domesticated

Ask anyone who doesn’t like cats and you’ll hear them testify that they’re standoffish, only occasionally sociable, and would be absolutely fine with digging into us for a meal should we die in our sleep. While others swear that cuddly little Fluffy would never do that, it turns out that there are only a few genes that separate Fluffy from the king of the jungle. There are about 13, to be more precise, and it’s only the genes that govern things like fear and docility that have changed. The rest of the house cat is still a wild cat, and researchers are now saying that at best, they’re only semi-domesticated.

The British Invasion Didn’t Revolutionize Music Quite Like We Thought

Music has long been tied to culture more than to science, but when researchers decided to take a good, hard look at music from a scientific point of view, they found that there were a couple of popular notions that just didn’t hold up any more. By isolating all the basic elements that made up 50 years of Top 100 songs, they were able to see that not only did the changing music trends of the 1960s start before the British Invasion, but that, contrary to popular belief, music isn’t undergoing the slow process of homogenization, either.

The Awful Tapeworm Diet Probably Never Actually Happened

According to the story, one of the most disgusting diet fads in history was the tapeworm diet. People eager to lose weight would swallow pills with tapeworms or tapeworm eggs and let the worms do their work. Only, there’s such an absolute lack of evidence that it was ever actually a real thing, it’s looking like it’s always been an urban legend (that likely came from a humor columnist) … until people today started doing it for real.

Why Technology Might Not Help Restore Sight To All Blind People

In some cases, sight can be partially restored to people who have been blind for a long time. However, the brain rewires the senses to compensate for blindness, meaning that most long-term blind people may never fully regain their sight. In the blind, the visual cortex can route sound for echolocation and touch for reading Braille. But the blind can still mentally picture objects like tables, except for color.

When Montana Residents Lost Their Right To Free Speech

After the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, the Patriot Act was enacted, causing some Americans to fear that their days of free speech were over. However, Montana residents had already experienced a frightening loss of their free speech rights in the early 1900s during World War I. At that time, Montana’s new Sedition Law made it a crime to criticize the US government, including any opposition to the war. Even trivial infractions could be punished with fines and long prison sentences. The convicted were finally pardoned in 2006, but they were all dead by that time and the pardons couldn’t undo the damage to their lives.

All Humans Have Alien Genes

Conventional science tells us that our genes are passed down from our parents in a vertical, tree-of-life structure. But new research suggests that humans have experienced horizontal gene transfer (HGT)—meaning we’ve acquired foreign or “alien” genes from other organisms in our environment—in at least 145 cases. However, our human DNA has also invaded other organisms, including the genome of the bacteria that causes gonorrhea. Even the oxygen we breathe exists because of HGT.

Tolkien Created Elvish Before He Wrote His Famous Novels

Most people are aware that J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. However, he was first and foremost a philologist, one who studies language. He had an immense interest in language syntax and construction and began creating his Elvish languages many years before he published the now-famous novels.