Seven ‘Facts’ You Learned In School That Are No Longer True

Seven ‘Facts’ You Learned In School That Are No Longer True
Image: iStock
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Over time, even facts we consider steadfast truths can change. People used to think doctors could forgo washing their hands before surgery. Knowledge is ever-evolving. The seven ideas below probably changed since your school days. Re-educate yourself.

THEN: Pluto is a planet.

NOW: Pluto isn’t a planet.

We’ve known since the late 1800s that a ninth planet, after Uranus, potentially existed. In 1906, Percival Lowell, the founder of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, even began a research project intended to locate the mysterious ‘Planet X.’

Then in 1930, a 23-year-old newbie at the facility found it. The discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, had been tasked with systematically comparing photographs of the sky taken weeks apart to search for any moving objects. He eventually saw one and submitted his finding to the Harvard College Observatory. After an 11-year-old English girl named the new planet (for the Roman god of the underworld), we started including Pluto as a planet in our solar system.

But in 2003, an astronomer found a larger object beyond Pluto — which he named Eris, according to NASA. The new information caused a bunch of other astronomers to question what really makes a planet a planet, and they decided, based on size and location, that Pluto just didn’t make the cut. Neither did Eris, actually. Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet.

Needless to say, elementary schools kids were pretty bummed. But there may be hope. Researchers have recently been debating whether to make Pluto a planet again.

THEN: Five (or three) kingdoms of classification exist.

Image: iStiock

NOW: There might be as many as eight kingdoms.

Depending when you grew up, your school science teacher probably lectured about three main kingdoms of life – animals, plants and bacteria (monera) — or five, including fungi and protists, too.

Either way, we’ve expanded our classification of life since then.

The more species we find and analyse, the more complex labelling life becomes. In addition to the five kingdoms above, we now know of archaea, previously thrown under monera. Archaea superficially look like other one-celled organisms called eubacteria, but they’re completely different.

Even larger systems exist which further divide eubacteria into two more kingdoms or separate chromista from all the other protists.

THEN: Diamond is the hardest substance.

Image: iStock

NOW: Ultrahard nanotwinned cubic boron nitride is the hardest substance

We’ve known about two substances harder than a diamond since 2009: wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite, according to Scientific American. The first resists indentation with 18% more fortitude than a diamond, and the second — a whopping 58%.

Unfortunately, both substances are rather unusual and unstable in nature. In fact, the study’s authors, published in the journal ‘Physical Review Letters,’ only calculated the new substances’ hardness, instead of actually testing it using a tangible specimen. That makes the discovery a bit theoretical.

But another contender was published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Nature. In the simplest terms, researchers compressed boron nitride particles to form ‘ultrahard nanotwinned cubic boron nitride.’ They simply re-organised the particles like an onion, or a flaky rose, or those little Russian dolls that fit inside one another, as the team explained to Wired.

As a result, expect women everywhere to start asking for ultrahard nanotwinned cubic boron nitride engagement rings. Because those really are forever.

THEN: Witches in Salem were burned at the stake

Image: iStock

NOW: They were actually hanged.

Even if you didn’t read Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ in high school, you probably learned somewhere that the townspeople of Salem burned witches at the stake.

But that never happened, according to Richard Trask, a town archivist for Danvers (formerly known as Salem Village.) He also chaired the Salem Village Witchcraft Tercentennial Committee from 1990 to 1992 and wrote a book detailing the time period called ‘Salem Village Witch Hysteria.’

At the time of the trials, New England still followed English law, which listed witchcraft as a felony punishable by hanging — not burning at the stake, Trask said. In Europe, however, the church labelled witchcraft heresy and did tie up suspected practitioners and light them on fire. You can see where the confusion started.

THEN: Israelite slaves built the pyramids

Image: iStock

NOW: Egyptians workers built the pyramids themselves.

Even movies like ‘The Prince Of Egypt’ perpetuate the idea that slaves built the pyramids. Although many think the Bible tells us they did, the book doesn’t mention the story specifically.

This popular myth reportedly stems from comments made by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin when visiting Egypt in 1977, according to Amihai Mazar, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

‘No Jews built the pyramids because Jews didn’t exist at the period when the pyramids were built,’ Mazar told the AP.

Recent archaeological finds actually show that Egyptians built the pyramids themselves. Workers were recruited from poor families in the north and south but were highly respected, earning crypts near the pyramids and even proper preparation for burial.

Slaves wouldn’t have been treated so honorably.

THEN: Folding a piece of paper more than seven times is mathematically impossible.

Image: iStock

NOW: The record stands at 13.

Whether in art class or science, this rumour definitely spread among the masses. But Britney Gallivan, a California high school student, didn’t bite.

She, with some volunteers, bought a giant, $US85 roll of toilet paper and proceeded to blow everyone’s mind by folding it a surprising 11 times. She realised everyone else who tried had been alternating folding directions, and even developed an equation, based on the thickness and width of the specific paper, explaining why you shouldn’t.

Gallivan was a keynote speaker at the 2006 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Environmental Science in 2007. And since then, she’s appeared on MythBusters.

In 2012, students at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts, broke Gallivan’s record, folding paper 13 times.

THEN: The Great Wall Of China is the only man-made structure visible from space.

Image: iStock

NOW: Many man-made places are visible from space.

Technically, this wasn’t ever a solid ‘truth’ — just a fact third-graders ubiquitously included in their class reports and diorama presentations. In fact, rumours that you can see the landmark, not only from a spaceship, but all the way from the moon, date back as far as 1938.

In 2003 though, the first Chinese astronaut finally shattered the myth.

The party responsible, a man named Yang Liwei, admitted he couldn’t see the Great Wall from space, according to NASA.

Other photos surfaced here and there. The consensus became that you can, indeed, catch glimpses of the Wall but only under the right conditions (snow on the structure) or with a zoom-capable camera. You can also see the lights of large cities — and major roadways and bridges and airports and dams and reservoirs.

The moon factoid, however, is totally wrong.

‘The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation,’ Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean told NASA. ‘No man-made object is visible at this scale.’

To further clarify, people probably mean these structures are visible from satellites orbiting Earth — but that’s not actual space.

This article first appeared on Business Insider.


  • The problem with the Pluto thing is that if we were to change the definition of a planet to include Pluto, kids wouldn’t have to learn the names of 9 planets, they’d need to learn the names of thirteen (the IAU recognizes Ceres, Pluto, Eris, Haumea and Makemake as dwarf planets) and there are another six that are almost certain to be accepted (Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, Salacia and two that are as-yet unnamed). As we map more of the Kuiper belt, it’s expected that we could find up to 200 bodies that are similar to Pluto, and if we look beyond the belt there’s expected to be up to 10,000.

    Pluto is only treated differently because at the time of its discovery we didn’t know any better. Now we do, and the thing with a scientific definition is you can’t be selective and have an exception for one thing.

  • Because learning the name of 19 things instead of nine is too hard for kids these days. This is why Australia is going down the toilet academically.Won’t be long before lefty loser academics want to cut learning the times table from 1 to 10 instead of 12. And really, who needs to remember all 26 letters of the alphabet? You could get rid if “Z” for a start to make it easier for the attention deficit snapchat/netflix generation.

  • Pyramids were not built by Egyptians, slaves or otherwise. They were not built as tombs, they pre-date the early kings and queens of Egypt.
    Start today, collect as many people as possible who can fit in the area of a pyramid and tell them to build a pyramid without modern tools, invent some tools from what surrounds them in that area, where are the trees to make logs which do not roll on sand, find people to quarry the huge stoneblocks, feed them etc;
    Find a source of food and water, find their nightly shelter, find more people to cook the food and deliver it to the workers.
    Research what was in the Nile Valley before it filled with sand when Earth was in a different position, before the current North, South was in a different place.
    The ‘facts’ told to school children, and adults were, and still are assumptions and myths by the thousands, and many are in a Book of Fiction, absorbed by the gullible in our midst, the oldest scam ever created by scammers.

    • If you stop the conspiracy and mythological theories it simply explained as a social-economic program, and a brilliant one at that. Keep people busy or they go crazy.

      What do you as a leader of the known world do to keep your civilians busy and feed and also keep your neighbours busy and feed… pay them to work for you. The slavery thing never made sense, cause it would of ended up being an incomplete monument to the first recorded revolt in history.

    • You what now?

      You do realise you can go visit the workers village of those that built the pyramids. There’s also a bunch of records and documents relating to the building of the pyramids. Yes the techniques are not there but how they organised and paid workers. As well as many other aspects.
      There’s a major logical fallacy with your example of putting a bunch of random people and telling them to build a pyramid. People today are not ancient egyptians with the knowledge and experiences of the ancient egyptian civilisation. The techniques, tools and methods were built up over a long period of time and many generations. We have a totally different frame of reference to figuring out these problems. We also do know a lot of techniques which are so simple to us today we may not think that to get a vertical straight like you tie a rock to a string. To get a vertical horizontal line, you have a trench with water.
      Obviously your comment infers the Egyptians couldn’t move rocks and do such complex constructions. Yet there’s countless examples of giant stones moved and placed by ancient egyptians which are not pyramids.

  • Right Javelo.
    Christ was not resurrected from the dead.
    Aliens built the pyramids.
    They probably made the world too.
    Aliens must be gods.
    Or …God is an alien?

  • 1: Pluto was a planet. Pluto isn’t a planet. The words ‘planet’ and ‘kingdom’ are ours to define and ours to re-define.

    2: Attacking the nature of fact by observing that temporal events occur, is infantile.

    3: Physics prevents us folding paper, not math.

    4: Theists have an abysmal track-record for testing theistic claims, ridiculous to trust them.

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