Your Common Knowledge Is Probably Wrong

There are all sorts of beliefs we have that are (easily) knowably wrong. We believe them because we “just picked it up” (esp as children), but also things we are formally taught that got stale (or was the consensus but was subsequently proved wrong). This is very common in politics esp about exciting, yet, contentious events like elections. There is a lot of effort at sense making near the event but assembling strong evidence is difficult. My favourite personal example is the belief I held for decades that Perot was  spoiler for Bush against Clinton (more precisely, that Bush would have won, ceteris paribus, except for Perot…feel free to weaken as you see fit). But, my understanding of this paper supports that Perot did not spoil against Bush.

But there’s all sorts of beliefs which persist. I don’t bundle up like many people and so if it’s cold out and I’m wearing shorts, people will warn me about my increased risk of getting a cold. (No. Cold weather seasons are correlated with more colds but almost certainly in a way that affects bundlers and non bundlers alike.)

A few years back I picked up a bio textbook just to browse. I was pretty good at biology back in high school and that image persisted. Whoa, was I waaaaay out of date. Just the dominance of cladistic theory in taxonomy is a huge and fundamental move. (I didn’t know what a clade was! It’s fair to say that I was a total ignoramous about biology in spite of my history and self perception.)

Societies make it bar to update our common knowledge. Essentially, the burden is on us. Ideally, public schools would offer free refresher courses for life designed in light of what we were taught before.

As it stands, it’s up to us. There are more freely available resources than ever (from Wikipedia to eTextbooks and videos and online course syllabuses) but sorting the junk from the junk is daunting.

Check out this list of medical myths. One of my favourites is 5: cold weather (or being cold, getting wet, etc) can give you a cold. I find it particularly amusing since key plot twists of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility turn on it but also because I am a person who, by most people’s estimation, underdresses for the weather. I have be told with vehemence that I was going to get deathly ill because I was wearing shorts and it was cold.

The mutated version I generally encounter is that being cold weakens the immune system. As I have an autoimmune disease, my reaction is generally “Good”.

Their 10, eating late a night causes weight gain, may not be as false as they think. There’s recent evidence that time restrict feeding skewed earlier in the day increases weight loss. Which just shows that being open to revision, rather than “getting it right” is the key virtue.


One thought on “Your Common Knowledge Is Probably Wrong

  1. Pingback: More Erroneous Common Knowledge | Mitigated Frenzy

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