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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Old Wives’ Tales: Fact or Folklore?

Old wive's tales debunked by Allison Ford at Divine Caroline. Who exactly are these old wives, and why do they seem to have an opinion about everything? Toads, warts, eating, swimming, swallowed gum, carrots, eyesight, chocolate, and acne.

Before modern medicine and technology, women were the keepers of medical information. They delivered babies, healed the sick, and were considered experts in nutrition, children, folk medicine, herbs, and death. The “old wives” of these tales were most likely just wise village women—grandmothers, mothers, midwives, and healers. Perhaps once rooted in truth, now old wives’ tales are synonymous with unsubstantiated traditional beliefs and urban legends. They exist for everything from health to pregnancy to forecasting the weather. Some old wives’ tales are just silly superstitions, but some may just have a nugget of truth.

Touching Toads Will Give You Warts
Toads aren’t exactly the cuddliest animals, so maybe that’s why the old wives were so spooked by them. But contrary to popular belief, they can’t give you warts. Warts in humans are only spread by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, and reptiles do not carry the virus. This fallacy may have originated because toads do have bumps on their backs that slightly resemble warts and people could have been sufficiently freaked out to believe that the toads were the cause. In fact, those bumps aren’t warts at all. They’re glands that store toxins to protect the toads from predators. So handling a toad won’t give you warts, but the toad might release a poison and teach you not to pick up toads anymore.

Don’t Swim for an Hour After Eating, Or You’ll Cramp Up
Just think of all the time wasted in the summer, waiting poolside for your lunch to digest. Mothers have been warning their kids not to swim after eating since at least the 1950s, despite the fact that there is not a single recorded instance of someone drowning after suffering a cramp. If you eat and then start rigorously exercising, the blood that should be rushing to your stomach to aid in digestion gets diverted to your arms and legs, causing a cramp or stitch. Cramps don’t usually happen to kids who are just splashing in a pool though. You’d need to be doing laps or seriously exerting yourself in order to be at risk, and even then, cramps are pretty easily ameliorated. This tall tale may have originated with overprotective parents who wanted an Adult Swim.

Swallowed Gum Takes Seven Years to Digest
Nope, not even close. Humans have chewed on plants and other natural substances for thousands of years and this specious claim might have been made up by mothers who were tired of hearing their kids make smacking noises all day, or who thought that gum chewing was low-class. Gum doesn’t break down in the digestive system, but it passes through like anything else. If you’re regularly swallowing wads of gum, then they could meld into a giant blob in your stomach and cause some problems, but the occasional swallower of gum has nothing to worry about.

Eat Carrots for Better Eyesight
Carrots do contain beta carotene, which is important for eye health among other things, but eating copious amounts of carrots doesn’t improve vision. There is some evidence that vitamin A and beta-carotene can reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, but a person would have to eat about 370 baby carrots per day and I don’t know anyone who loves carrots that much. Some say that in World War II, the English wanted to conceal their use of a new air radar system, so they claimed that Royal Air Force pilots ate lots of carrots, which is why they developed superior vision. It’s unclear whether or not this story is true. Although there’s typically no harm in eating lots of carrots, excess consumption can turn your skin an orange hue. There is one known death from eating WAY too many carrots.

Eating Bread Crusts Will Make Your Hair Curly
No, diet cannot make your hair curly (or straight). The bread crust myth is thought to have originated in Europe about 300 years ago, when many people lived on the brink of starvation. Curly hair was seen as a symbol of health and prosperity, as well as an indicator of youth. Those who had enough to eat (including bread) were generally healthier, so bread became associated with healthy, curly hair. Crusts actually tend to be the most nutrient-dense and healthful parts of bread. They contain more fiber and antioxidants than the rest of the loaf, so while eating them might not give you ringlets, it might make your hair shine a little brighter.

Chocolate Will Give You Acne
It’s possible that this myth originated when scientists discovered that overactive sebaceous glands produce a fatty substance called sebum, which can lead to acne. Chocolate is high in fat, and sebum is high in fat, so the thinking was that if you ate a lot of chocolate, more sebum (and acne) would be produced. It was a pretty big jump to a conclusion that’s given grief to teenagers for years. Chocolate does contain fat, but not the same type that’s found in our skin. The only way it can cause acne is if you rub it onto your face.

If You Pluck a Gray Hair, Two More Will Grow Back in Its Place
Gray hair can proliferate quickly, so it’s natural that once you see one gray hair, you start noticing them all over your head, as if they’ve multiplied overnight. But follicles produce one strand of hair, no more, no less. Plucking a gray hair won’t cause more to grow. Actually, plucking can cause you to lose hair, since yanking can damage the follicle or destroy it completely. It’s okay to tweeze the occasional stray gray, but if your hair is already thin or thinning, getting it colored might be your best bet.

Even though many old wives’ tales have been debunked as superstitious myth, their origins as folk medicine remain important. Luckily, we know that we don’t have to be so superstitious. Go ahead, have a candy bar, take a dip in the pool, and pick up some toads.

From the web site, Divine Caroline:
Old Wives’ Tales: Fact or Folklore?
By Allison Ford
First published April 2009


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The American Revolutionary War was not won by using guerilla tactics

There is a popular notion that the American colonists strictly used guerilla tactics and acted as snipers from the forest, hiding behind trees and rocks, picking off British Redcoats in ambush. This is a myth of the American Revolution.

Most people imagine that the British soldiers were the only ones marching in formation out in the open and following the rules of European warfare. Even though guerilla tactics are not how the Americans won the Revolution, this myth is based on reality to a certain extent. In fact, according to Anthony J. Joes, the guerillas' contribution was extremely important to American independence.

There were certainly instances of the Americans using guerilla tactics, particularly following Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and later in the South by such partisan leaders as Francis Marion. These guerilla bands managed to wear down Cornwallis' force with hit-and-run tactics and the destruction of supplies, making his army more vulnerable when they finally confronted the main Continental Army at Yorktown. Furthermore, American riflemen, or rangers, when led by officers who knew how to utilize them correctly such as Daniel Morgan and Nathanael Greene, were extremely effective.

But for the most part, it is untrue that the Americans won the war by using cover, while the hapless British stood in the open in ranks to be shot by the hidden Americans. In fact, the British already had 75 years of experience with this type of guerilla warfare in North America, especially during the French and Indian War.

Both sides fought primarily in the open, in formation. The military gains made by the colonists increased after the Continental Army was trained in the traditional and more formal methods of European warfare. Baron Frederick von Steuben, with experience in the Prussian War, was engaged by General Washington for this purpose. When von Stueben took over training at Valley Forge, he put a single standard and methodology into the American army, so they could work better together. Through his influence and discipline in creating a regular army matching the British in tactics, the Americans were then able to defeat the British on the battlefield. They then became a match for the British on the open ground in every respect. The Americans had been hampered by various methods and commands of maneuver, with few large-scale training drills. Von Stueben changed that, setting a single standard and training the army to use it, and then the Americans proved their ability to use these techniques at the Battle of Monmouth.

Some of the confusion may be because Generals George Washington and Nathanael Greene successfully used a strategy of harassment and progressively grinding down British forces instead of seeking a decisive battle, in a classic example of asymmetric warfare. Nevertheless the theater tactics used by most of the American forces were those of conventional warfare. One of the exceptions was in the South, where the brunt of the war was upon militia forces who fought the enemy British troops and their Loyalist supporters, but used concealment, surprise, and other guerrilla tactics to much advantage. General Francis Marion of South Carolina, who often attacked the British at unexpected places and then faded into the swamps by the time the British were able to organize return fire, was named by them "The Swamp Fox." However, even in the South, most of the major engagements were battles of conventional warfare. However the guerrilla tactics in the South were a key factor in the prevention of British reinforcement to the North, and that was a decisive factor in the outcome of the war.

Certainly on occasion the Americans used cover, hiding behind trees and rock walls. The start of the war at Lexington and Concord is a prime example, and the New Jersey Militia, used it well also. Most battles were fought using some form of linear tactics—they would fire volleys, and often stood in lines. Both sides used cover when they could. The slow rate of fire made maneuvering important, so units fought and moved in lines, even in the woods, so they could protect against bayonet charges.

◊ ◊ ◊

Most historians estimate that only about 30-40 percent of the colonists were Patriots. Approximately 30-40 percent were loyal to the British ("Loyalists" or "Tories"). And the rest, about 30-35 percent did not really care who won ("Neutrals").

Redcoats (British Regulars)
As regimental reputations were built on battlefield gallantry, armies began to develop more colorful uniforms. This was psychological warfare. A distinctive uniform of a well known regiment would instill fear in their opponents, often causing them to retreat rather than stand and fight. Each of the European nations created their own styles and colors of uniforms. This system remained in place until World War I. Since then, some individual regiments still have "full dress" or a ceremonial uniform in addition to the service or field uniform.

The traditional enemy of the colonists was the Indian. The tactics used to fight the Indians were quite different from those of massed European armies. The Patriots' use of Indian tactics inflicted numerous casualties upon the British, but it did not win battles.

It wasn't until the Continental Army, and to a lesser degree, the militia, mastered the art of 18th century warfare—standing in ranks and trading volleys and finally capturing the battle field at bayonet point, did the American colonists start winning battles.

Linear tactics remained the rule through­out the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century. The mass carnage caused by the invention of the machine gun in World War I forced these time honored tactics to change.


Some of this information was originally published in Myth Information by J. Allen Varasdi, Ballantine Books, 1989.






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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Myths of the Old West

The Old West, with little or no government, was a generally peaceful place, not the violent frontier often depicted. There were probably fewer than a dozen bank robberies in the entire period from 1859 through 1900 in all the frontier West.

The frontier West was not the violent "Wild West" depicted by the press and history teachers who don’t know history. Before 1900 there were no successful bank robberies in any of the major towns in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, or New Mexico, and only a pair of robberies in California and Arizona. Lots of people carried concealed weapons, so potential robbers were always vulnerable. Criminals don’t want to get hurt doing their criminal acts, so they aren't as likely to pick prey that appears willing to fight back.

In 2000 there were about 7,500 bank robberies, burglaries, and larcenies in the United States. Normally, these crimes are pulled off with no injuries or deaths.

What is particularly remarkable about bank robberies today is that there are far more of them than there were a century ago, even after accounting for the increase in population. Was the United States really plagued by bank robberies in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Did gangs of armed men in black hats routinely plunder banks in small western towns? Not quite. Historians Larry Schweikart and Lynne Doti, in their study of banking in the "frontier west," found that western bank robberies were almost nonexistent in the "Wild West" period. Over the four decades from 1859-1900 in 15 states (including Nebraska), there were only about half a dozen bank robberies. As Schweikart has noted, bank robberies began to be a serious problem in the western United States only in the 1920s, when the automobile allowed criminals to quickly cross the state line—and when the physical security of banks became less important to their success.

There are more bank robberies in modern-day Dayton, Ohio, in a year than there were in the entire Old West in a decade, perhaps in the entire frontier period.

One of the enduring images of movies and television about the frontier west in America is the bank robbery. In a typical Hollywood scene, several riders, clad in long coats—despite summertime frontier temperatures of up to 125 degrees—slowly enter town, conspicuously scanning the cityscape for lawmen. The riders tie up their horses and enter the bank in broad daylight. Then they move with lightning speed to draw their guns, force the cashier or president to open the safe, throw the money in saddlebags, and hightail it for their horses outside. In a cloud of dust, they scramble out of town, with an occasional gunshot from one of the befuddled sheriffs trailing behind. The townspeople may mount a posse, but this belated action proves ineffective, as the crooks gleefully reach their hideout, the next town, or Mexico, whichever comes first.

There is one thing wrong with this scenario: it almost never happened. In 1991, Lynne Doti and Larry Schweikart published Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation, in which they surveyed primary and secondary sources from all the states of the “frontier west.” This included every state west of the Missouri/Minnesota/Texas line, specifically, Arizona, California, Colorado, the Dakotas, Kansas, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The time frame was 1859-1900, or what most historians would include in the “frontier period.”

The western bank-robbery scene is pure myth. Yes, a handful of robberies occurred. In the roughly 40 years, spread across these 15 states, there were three or four definite bank robberies; and in subsequent correspondence with academics anxious to help “clarify the record,” perhaps two or three others were pointed out.

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Violence in the Old West

In the real Dodge City of history, there were five killings in 1878, the most homicidal year in the little town's frontier history. In the most violent year in Deadwood, South Dakota, only four people were killed. In the worst year in Tombstone, home of the shoot-out at the OK Corral, only five people were killed. The only reason the OK Corral shoot-out even became famous was that town boosters deliberately overplayed the drama to attract new settlers. They cashed in on the tourist boom by inventing a myth.

The most notorious cow towns in Kansas—Abilene, Dodge City, Ellsworth, Wichita, and Caldwell—did see more violence than similar-sized small towns elsewhere. But not as much as you might think. Records indicate that between 1870 and 1885, there were only 45 murders in those towns.

There is no evidence anyone was ever killed in a frontier shoot-out at high noon.

Billy the Kid was a pyschopathic murderer, but he didn't kill 21 people by the time he was 21 years old, as the legend says. Authorities can account for three men he killed for sure, and no more than a total of six or seven.

Wild Bill Hickok claimed to have killed six Kansas outlaws and secessionists in the incident that first made him famous. But he lied. He killed just three—all unarmed.

Bill Cody's reputation as a gunslinger was mostly from his own fiction. He freely admitted that he fabricated all the excessive shooting in those dime novels. But he was a good shot and is said to have proved it repeatedly at the bison-killing contests where he earned the nickname Buffalo Bill. But he didn't kill many Indians, and when he was old, his estranged wife revealed that he have been wounded in combat with Indians only once, not 137 times as he claimed.

◊ ◊ ◊

An interesting question is why there were so few bank robberies. Certainly people in the Wild West were no less greedy than later generations of criminals. In the 1920s, for example, a spate of western bank robberies plagued the Great Plains states: rewards soared, bank insurance was offered for the first time, and western bankers discussed bank robberies with increasing frequency at their meetings. Career criminals such as Bonnie and Clyde became infamous for their ability to strike quickly and escape. So if the crooks didn’t change, what did?

Equally interesting is the simultaneous rise of government regulation aimed at bank failures—but not robberies. After the 1890s almost every western state began to regulate other types of bank behavior to “protect” the consumer. Why were there so few bank robberies before the government got involved?

Symbolic Building
Besides demonstrating an affinity for business and personal wealth, the banker had to show the community that he meant business by constructing a building that would symbolically reflect stability, permanence, and safety.

The buildings were in the dead center of town, with other stores on each side. This left only two walls “open” to blasting without disturbing residents, who tended to sleep above their establishments. The bank front faced into the town, and smashing through it would be obvious. That left the rear wall the most vulnerable. Even then, however, blasting through a wall was no easy (or quiet) chore. Bankers double-reinforced rear walls, and should the robbers get inside, they still had to deal with an iron safe. Safe storage of money was a key to successful banking: one Oklahoma banker kept his cash in a small grated box with rattlesnakes inside; an Arizona banker had a safe, but put his money in a wastebasket covered by a cloth, hoping thieves would take the safe and ignore the rest. Still others slept, literally, with the bank’s assets under their bed.

Eventually, though, early iron safes appeared. Constructed in the “ball-on-a-box” design, they featured a large metal box on legs that held important documents. Actual gold and silver, plus paper money, was stored on top of the box in a large “ball safe,” which proved daunting to separate from the bottom, or, more important, to haul off. Dynamite could break it off from its base, but what does one do with a huge round iron ball? The absence of plastic explosives made surgical entrance difficult, though certainly not impossible. These safes were later abandoned in favor of more conventional Diebold safes, named after the Cincinnati company that supplied many of them. The rectangular safes sported metal doors several inches thick. Again, one could penetrate them given enough time, but that was a luxury most thieves lacked. In short, penetrating a vault or safe constituted a major, difficult undertaking that most robbers avoided. But for our purposes here, the key is that the vault and safe, along with the building itself, made up the “symbols of safety” that reassured depositors their money was safe.

Indeed, many western banks commonly left the vault open during the day to allow customers a full view of the safe. Customers also saw fine wooden counters, excellent brass finishings (sometimes gold), and in banks in larger cities, beautiful chandeliers and marble floors. Ornate and ostentatious materials and furnishings contributed to the overall message of the owner’s wealth, the bank’s permanence, and the institution’s stability and safety. Once regarded as irrelevant or odd, it turns out that the fine interiors had a definite purpose in maintaining the solvency of frontier banks.

Direct Approach
Given the difficulty of liberating cash from such buildings, it is not surprising that robbers usually chose the more direct approach. Several gunslingers marching headlong into a bank may have seemed like a good idea to some, and certainly Butch Cassidy’s gang pulled off the successful Telluride robbery in such a mode. His gang had the advantage of Cassidy’s brilliant planning: a shrewd evaluator of horse flesh, Cassidy had stationed (Pony Express-style) horses at exactly the points where he knew his own horses would be wearing out, ensuring that his gang had fresh mounts all the way to their hideout. Even so, one has to search extensively to find bank robberies of even this type. There was one in Nogales, one in California, and perhaps a couple in other locations. But like the rear-wall blasting, the front-door robbery is notoriously absent in western records.

So where did the myth of the western bank robbery arise? Some of it can be traced to Missouri, where the James and Quantrill gangs plundered at will during the Civil War era. Their expeditions ranged as far north as Northfield, Minnesota.

But Hollywood is the likely culprit, certainly guilty of misrepresentation.


The Non-Existent Frontier Bank Robbery By Larry Schweikart, January 2001. (Larry Schweikart teaches history at the University of Dayton.)

Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History By Richard Shenkman, 1988

Bank Robberies and Rational Crooks


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pirates and Democracy

There are many popular images and beliefs about pirates that are incorrect. For example, unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many pirate crews operated as limited democracies.

Here are just a few of the popular images and beliefs about pirates that are incorrect.

Pirates were barbaric at times, and even quite cutthroat. And certainly above all, they were thieves. But, despite this ugly business, they did have strict rules of order, and by the seventeenth century, there even existed a pirate government.

Unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many pirate crews operated as limited democracies. Both the captain and the quartermaster were elected by the crew. Captains were elected for their leadership and naval knowledge (not for their dueling skills), although they were typically fierce fighters. Someone the crew could trust.

Quartermasters provided for equal disposition of the booty, and pirate courts settled disputes. When not in battle, the quartermaster usually had the real authority on the ship. Pirates injured in battle might be afforded special compensation similar to medical or disability insurance. Prisoners were usually allowed to either join the pirates or sail off on their own ships.

There is little evidence to support the notion of buried treasure. Even though pirates raided many ships, few, if any, buried their treasure. Often, the "treasure" that was stolen was food, water, alcohol, weapons, or clothing. Other things they stole were household items like bits of soap and gear like rope and anchors, or sometimes they would keep the ship they captured (either to sell off or because it was better than their ship). Such items were likely to be needed immediately, rather than saved for future trade. For this reason, there was no reason for the pirates to bury these goods.

Pirates tended to kill few people aboard the ships they captured, oftentimes they would kill no one if the ship surrendered, because if it became known that pirates took no prisoners, their victims would fight to the last and make victory very difficult. Contrary to popular opinion, pirates did not force captives to walk the plank. The standard technique for getting rid of unwanted passengers was simply to heave them overboard.

In reality, many pirates ate poorly, and often lived on bananas and limes; few became fabulously wealthy; and many died young.

In the "golden age of piracy" (1650-1730), the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government as propaganda. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds.

If you became a merchant or Navy sailor then—plucked from the docks of London's East End, young and hungry—you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates rebelled against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains, and created a different way of working on the seas. The pirates showed clearly and subversively that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal Navy. This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

In the 1700s, a legitimate life on the high seas—on either a merchant ship or in the British Navy—was about as bad as that of most lower-class citizens. Life was tough. While the gentry in England enjoyed their fine goods, ample property, and lives of luxury, the poor spent most of their time in the mines and mills, chained to a life of crushing labor, sadistic beatings, and marginal subsistence.

Many seamen turned to piracy to escape the harsh and unjust discipline on the merchant ships, where they were subject to the whims and ways of sadistic and psychopathic officers who enjoyed using an array of punishments. Naval and merchant seamen were frequently flogged, keel-hauled, hanged from the yardarms, forced to eat cockroaches, towed from the ship’s stern, and more. What’s worse, many of these men were pressed into service against their will.

Some of this information was originally published in Myth Information by J. Allen Varasdi, Ballantine Books, 1989.




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Monday, April 13, 2009

MYTH: Natural is good and man-made is bad

There is a misconception that human exposures to carcinogens and other toxins are nearly all due to synthetic chemicals. On the contrary, the amount of synthetic pesticide residues in plant foods are insignificant compared to the amount of natural pesticides produced by plants themselves. Of all dietary pesticides, 99.99 percent are natural.

  • Natural vs. Synthetic

  • Natural Toxins in Food

  • Natural Poisons

  • 99.99% of all the Pesticides we eat are Natural Pesticides

  • DDT and Malaria
One of the craziest myths of all time is forced upon us every day: “Natural is good and man-made is bad.” This is a fallacy. There is no difference whatsoever between a “natural” chemical, such as Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) from a fruit, and a synthetic sample of the same material. It is also not the case that “natural” chemicals, i.e., those produced by plants and animals, are always “good” while “man-made” chemicals are always “bad.”

The idea that there is some fundamental difference between “natural” and “man-made” chemicals is a very common misconception, often fueled by marketing campaigns for “chemical-free” products. Nature isn't good and nature isn't bad. It's just the way things are.

Many natural organisms can kill you. Such as natural poisons. What exactly is a poison? Paracelsus made the point in the 16th Century that the dose is the important factor. Some years ago a death occurred due to the overconsumption of carrots. The victim turned orange and died.

Dioxin is a dangerous man-made compound, but it is still a million times less toxic than botulinum. One teaspoon of botulinum could kill a quarter of the world’s population, yet some people choose to inject it in the form of Botox®. The popular non-surgical method of temporarily reducing or eliminating frown lines, forehead creases, crows’ feet near the eyes and thick bands in the neck. The toxin blocks nerve impulses and temporarily paralyzes the muscles that cause wrinkles. This gives the skin a smoother appearance.

There really is no one chemical known as "dioxin." It is a made-up word, fueled by environmentalists and the foolish media. It is the name given to any of a family of 75 compounds called dibenzo-para-dioxins composed of benzene and oxygen atoms.

Nature’s poisons outrank those synthesized by chemists, both in number and in toxicity. Nature is the world’s best chemist: five of the seven most deadly known compounds occur in nature.

Dangerous chemical compounds: (N=natural, S=synthetic)

N - Botulinum toxin
N - Tetanus toxin
N - Diphtheria toxin
S - Dioxin*
N - Muscarine
N - Bufotoxin
S - Sarin

*Dioxin is very controversial. Widely considered a very deadly chemical, fueled by media hysteria, it in fact is only dangerous in high doses. According to Encyclopedia Britannica: "Toxicologists mistakenly concluded from studies on laboratory animals that TCDD (dioxin) was one of the most toxic of all man-made substances… Subsequent research, however, discounted most of these inferences, which were based on the effects of very high doses of TCDD on guinea pigs and other peculiarly susceptible animals. Among humans, the only disease definitely found related to TCDD is chloracne, which develops shortly after exposure to the chemical."

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has evaluated the health of industrial workers exposed to dioxin levels 50 times as high as the exposure received by Vietnam veterans (from dioxin in Agent Orange). These workers have shown no increase in cancer risk.

The bottom line on dioxin is that, like alcohol, it can be dangerous in larger quantities (but it is easier to die from alcohol). Fears of cancer, birth defects and such are not being substantiated in the real world. So while dioxins should be treated with care and professional attention, there is no need for the public to panic every time they hear the word "dioxin."

The Next Ten (Most Deadly) Chemicals:

N - Strychnine
S - Soman
S - Tabun
N - Tubocurarine chloride
N - Rotenone
S - Isoflurophate
S - Parathion
N - Aflatoxin
S - Sodium cyanide
N - Solanine

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is one of the most commonly used preservatives and is an essential nutrient for humans. It occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables but is not very stable and is often destroyed upon cooking. Vitamin C can be synthesized from glucose in the laboratory and the product is EXACTLY the same as the naturally occurring substance.

Some argue that “Synthetic chemicals bioaccumulate in our bodies.” Well, naturally occurring compounds can accumulate in our bodies too. For example, vitamins A and D are fat-soluble vitamins and can accumulate in fatty tissues. Large excesses of these vitamins can cause death just as an accumulation of some synthetic chemicals can. There is no reason why synthetic compounds should accumulate to a greater extent than naturally occurring ones.

If we didn't have chemical preservatives that would be as great a disaster for our food supply as the loss of all forms of refrigeration.

Natural toxins in food
Natural toxins in food can be just as dangerous as synthetic ones. Garlic, mustard, and horseradish all contain allyl isothiocyanate, which can cause cancer. Barbecued meat contains the carcinogen benzopyrene.

Milk products can be toxic for those who lack the enzyme needed to digest it. Parsley, carrots, and celery are good for you, but nevertheless, they contain myristicin, which in large quantities can cause hallucinations, liver damage, and even death.

We all consume a wide variety of natural toxins in an average week. Since we only consume very small amounts of each of the different toxic compounds at any one time, our livers can process the toxins and they are broken down by a range of metabolic pathways. We are exquisitely designed to cope with a whole variety of substances in small quantities that would be poisonous in larger amounts. It is possible to overdo it and suffer the negative effects of these toxins, but in most cases this is rather difficult. For example, caffeine is toxic, but you would have to drink 85 cups of coffee at one sitting to die from caffeine poisoning.

Examples of this kind illustrate that there is no difference between the negative effects of some synthetic chemicals and those of many of the chemicals that occur naturally in the things we eat. The quantity consumed is a vital factor in the effect produced.

Organic food is NOT better for you. This is a common misconception not borne out by the research evidence. In properly controlled investigations on the same dry weight of organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables, analysis showed the same amounts of vitamins, minerals etc. If all the food in the world was organic, so much manure would be needed that there would need to be three times as many cows.

Poisonous mushrooms are certainly natural, and 32 different mushrooms have been associated with fatalities. And an additional 52 have been identified as containing significant toxins. By far the majority of mushroom poisonings are not fatal, but the majority of fatal poisonings are attributable to the Amanita phalloides mushroom. The most toxic mushrooms contain a clear, odorless, tasteless liquid that looks like water. Just a couple of drops in a drink will kill the victim by miserable death a few weeks later. At one point it was used for chemical warfare.

All parts of the beautiful oleander plant contain poison—several types of poison.

Nicotine is a toxic poison. It's natural and addictive, and some say that it kills 1,000 Americans every day. Nicotine is actually a natural pesticide. Not many people realize that nicotine is also sold commercially in the form of a pesticide.

Nature also produces natural pesticides like opium, cocaine, THC (in marijuana), caffeine, digitalis, etc. Pine trees and citrus tree contain a natural pesticide, terpene, that protects them from pests. Citrus peel oil (it is in frozen orange juice) and it is very potent against fire ants and other insects.

Viruses, bacteria, mycoplasmas, and parasites are all natural. Does this mean small pox is good? Viruses can cause cancer. Natural sunlight (in excess) can cause skin cancer. Other natural chemicals that are toxic and dangerous include venom from snakes, spiders, bees, scorpions.

Cyanides are produced by certain bacteria, fungi, and algae and are found in a number of foods and plants. Cyanide is found, although in small amounts, in lima beans, apple seeds, peaches, mangoes and bitter almonds. There are genuinely hazardous cyanide levels in the kernels of apricots and peaches. Many cyanide-containing compounds are highly toxic, but some are not. When cyanide is in combination with other substances, it is sometimes not toxic.

It is estimated that more than 2,000 plant species contain cyanide, a lot of which are our everyday foods. Cyanide exists in its simplest form in nature as a gas: hydrogen cyanide. Fatal cyanide poisoning from our food is very rare. The amount we ingest with our food is usually very minute and our body can handle it with ease. However unnatural sources of cyanide can be very dangerous, and our bodies may not be able to deal with it. The most dangerous cyanides are hydrogen cyanide and salts derived from it, such as potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide, among others.

Nature lovers should know that Chinese herbal remedies often contain mercury, lead, and arsenic!

Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in most water supplies. Fluoridation is an adjustment of the natural fluoride concentration to increase it to about one part of fluoride to one million parts of water. Fluoride is toxic, but at low levels it is harmless. A potentially fatal dose would be approximately 5 mg. of fluoride per kg. of bodyweight.

Most scientists agree that pesticide residues pose a smaller threat to our health than do naturally occurring substances found even in organically grown food. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that pesticides account for just 0.01 percent of the cancer risk associated with food.

Naturally occurring pesticides (found even in organically grown food) are present in the human diet in concentrations 10,000 times greater than man-made pesticides. The obsession with synthetic pesticides is absurd when you consider that natural pesticides produced by plants to ward off insects or animals, which are proving carcinogenic in lab animal tests just as often as their synthetic counterparts, constitute over 99.99 percent of all the pesticides we eat.

Current procedures to test whether a chemical causes cancer entail exposing animals, usually rats or mice, to massive doses of the chemical, then killing the animals and checking for tumors. But there are major problems with this procedure.

One, animals aren't necessarily the best stand-ins for humans. In fact, 30 percent of the time, a chemical that causes cancer in mice won't do so in rats and vice versa, even though these species are much closer to each other than they are to humans. Also many chemicals that cause cancer in rats and mice do NOT cause cancer in hamsters. Chemicals have very different effects on different animals, even on closely related animals like rats, mice, and hamsters.

For another, the dose given the animals is on average almost 400,000 times the dose that the Environmental Protection Agency tries to protect humans against.

The assumption in the testing is that whatever causes cancer in a few rats out of a few dozen at massive doses will, in a population of hundreds of millions of humans, also cause human cancers, even at much smaller doses.

But this is a flawed theory (generally called "linear" or "no-threshold," or "one molecule" theory). This directly contradicts what is known about chemical poisoning, which says that virtually anything at a high enough dose can kill a person, even if at a low dose it is actually therapeutic or even necessary to life, such as vitamins and salt.

Vitamin A in small doses is necessary for life, while large doses will kill you. Eating a lot of salt-cured meat has been linked to stomach cancer, but no one can live without some salt.

Fifty percent of all synthetic chemicals tested in massive doses on laboratory animals have caused tumors. While 50 percent of synthetic chemicals are carcinogenic, 50 percent of the natural chemicals are also carcinogenic.

Many Americans are focusing on synthetic chemicals that may cause cancer in humans, but are blissfully ignorant of the natural carcinogens. There are over 1,000 natural chemicals in a cup of coffee, only 22 have been tested. Of these, 17 are carcinogens. But don't worry about drinking coffee. The problem isn't the coffee—it's the high-dose animal tests. Too many people ignore the fact that rodent tests have shown natural chemicals to be carcinogenic just as often as synthetic chemicals.

By weight, there is more carcinogen-causing chemicals in a cup of coffee than you are likely to get in synthetic pesticides in a whole year. Yet, the average daily intake in coffee is 1,000 times the tolerance level the EPA allows for synthetic pesticides.

Organic apple juice often contains up to 137 naturally occurring volatile chemicals, of which five have been tested. Two of these five have been found to be carcinogenic in laboratory animals.

Pesticide residues (that are eaten by consumers) are nothing to worry about. However, with farmhands, it's different since their levels of exposure are far greater, and so it is good that we have strict rules of exposure for them and for chemical workers. But I don't think anyone's ever died of residues.

Eliminating essential chemical pesticides will likely increase cancer rates.
Synthetic pesticides have significantly lowered the cost of plant foods, thus making them more available to consumers. Eating more fruits and vegetables is thought to be the best way to lower risks from cancer and heart disease (other than giving up smoking; our vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber come from plants and are important anti-carcinogens). If you eliminate essential synthetic pesticides, you make fruits and vegetables more expensive, which means people will then eat less of them, and more will die of cancer. Huge expenditures of money and effort on tiny hypothetical risks does not improve public health. Rather, it diverts our resources from real human health hazards, and it hurts the economy.

There is a misconception that human exposures to carcinogens and other toxins are nearly all due to synthetic chemicals. On the contrary, the amount of synthetic pesticide residues in plant foods are insignificant compared to the amount of natural pesticides produced by plants themselves. Of all dietary pesticides, 99.99 percent are natural: They are toxins produced by plants to defend themselves against fungi and animal predators. Because each plant produces a different array of toxins, we estimate that on average Americans ingest roughly 5,000 to 10,000 different natural pesticides and their breakdown products. Americans eat an estimated 1,500 milligrams of natural pesticides per person per day, which is about 10,000 times more than they consume of synthetic pesticide residues. By contrast, the FDA found the residues of 200 synthetic chemicals, including the synthetic pesticides thought to be of greatest importance, average only about 0.09 milligram per person per day.

Another misconception is that synthetic toxins pose greater carcinogenic hazards than natural toxins. On the contrary, the proportion of natural chemicals that is carcinogenic when tested in both rats and mice is the same as for synthetic chemicals—roughly half. All chemicals are toxic at some dose, and 99.99 percent of the chemicals we ingest are natural.

And yet another misconception is that the toxicology of man-made chemicals is different from that of natural chemicals. Humans have many general natural defenses that make us well buffered against normal exposures to toxins, both natural and synthetic. DDT is often viewed as the typically dangerous synthetic pesticide. However, it saved millions of lives in the tropics and made obsolete the pesticide lead arsenate, which is even more persistent and toxic, although all natural. While DDT was unusual with respect to bioconcentration, natural pesticides also bioconcentrate if they are fat soluble. Potatoes, for example, naturally contain fat soluble neurotoxins detectable in the bloodstream of all potato eaters. High levels of these neurotoxins have been shown to cause birth defects in rodents.

Carrots contain natural chemicals that have been found to cause cancer in rodents in massive doses. This is also true of apples, bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, and many other unprocessed foods. Further testing is likely to eventually find natural rodent carcinogens in essentially everything we eat. We are surrounded by a sea of carcinogens, most of which are natural compounds occurring normally in a variety of foods. The body's defense mechanisms are able to resist these carcinogens in small doses, though often not in the massive amounts which laboratory rodents receive.

Many of those naturally occurring chemicals are themselves pesticides, developed not by industrial chemists but by mother nature. Plants couldn't survive if they weren't filled with toxic chemicals. They don't have immune systems, teeth, claws, and they can't run away. So throughout evolution they've been making newer and nastier pesticides. They're better chemists than Dow or Monsanto. They've been at it a long time. Monsanto, Dow, and Uniroyal are amateurs compared to Mother Nature's pesticide factory.

Potatoes contain two chemicals, solanine and chaconine, which kill insects in the same way that synthetic organophosphate pesticides do. A single potato contains about 15,000 micrograms of these natural pesticides. And yet you're eating only about 15 micrograms of man-made organophosphate pesticides a day.

The typical, newer pesticides use a tablet about the size of an aspirin to treat an acre and is about as toxic to humans and animals as table salt. What they attack are enzymes particular to the pest species. They are not toxic to humans because they are not particular to human systems.

Although charges that eating food with DDT residues caused cancer or even killed humans directly—charges made most prominently in the late Rachel Carson's best-selling 1962 book Silent Spring—later proved to be unsubstantiated, DDT prompted concern that it was causing havoc in the ecosystem because it persisted in the body's tissue and could thus be passed along the food chain.

According to the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, however, none of the pesticides still in use on American crops are persistent.

DDT itself was a tremendous improvement over previous non-synthetic chemical pesticides. It was treated as a miracle chemical when it first appeared and given credit for saving millions of lives, according to the World Health Organization.

But DDT was banned in 1972 before other chemicals were ready to take its place, a ban that some scientists claim shows the damage that anti-pesticide extremism can cause.

The government of Sri Lanka halted the spraying of mosquitoes with DDT. Consequently, the incidence of malaria jumped from nearly zero to 2,500,000 cases and 10,000 deaths before the country began spraying again. Malaria kills! Compare this to known deaths caused by DDT—none. Millions of people were dusted with it and sprayed with it to kill lice and fleas and it never did anyone any harm.

One problem with the environmentalists' argument is their claim that the tiny amount of pesticide residue left on food puts us all at risk of cancer. (About 1 percent of fruits and vegetables have residues above the legal limit; most have none at all.)

This stems from assumptions that a human will react the same way to a chemical as a rodent in a laboratory will. But 30 percent of the chemicals that cause cancer in rats at high doses do not harm mice, and vice-versa. With such a discrepancy between closely related species, what does that say about extrapolating from either of them to humans?

Another questionable assumption is that chemicals that cause tumors in rodents when administered in huge doses will cause tumors in humans at a fraction of those doses. It ignores the scientific axiom "only the dose makes the poison." The iron in a tablet that many adults take regularly has killed babies. Eating a lot of salt-cured meat can increase the risk of stomach cancer, but everyone needs some salt or else they'll die.

It bears repeating that the important rule of toxicology is: The dose makes the poison. If exposure to a chemical is extremely low, then the likelihood of being harmed by the chemical is also low. Some substances that are deadly in large doses may be beneficial in small doses.

Some minerals, such as iron and potassium, are vitally important parts of our diet, but they would poison us if consumed in large quantities. Our bodies naturally contain traces of arsenic and other chemicals that are considered potent carcinogens. The most important factor is the amount of these elements, because that is what determines whether they are beneficial or poisonous. Before you can decide whether toxic chemicals endanger our health, we need to know the level of our exposure to them.

Over 99 percent of the cancer risk associated with food comes from naturally occurring substances in food. Food additives account for approximately 0.2 percent of food-related cancer risks. Pesticides make up 0.01 percent and animal drugs, 0.01 percent.

The cancer risk from pesticides is so low as to be indistinguishable from zero, and is thousands of times less than the cancer risk associated with naturally occurring carcinogens in our diets.

Even though animal tests are not reliable guides for determining risks for humans, you can see in the list below that based on animal tests, the risk factors posed by pesticides and food additives are very low compared to the various foods and drinks we ingest.

Source and daily exposure Risk factor
Wine (1 glass) 4,700.0
Beer (12 ounces) 2,800.0
Cola (1 serving) 2,700.0
Bread (2 slices) 400.0
Basil (1 gram) 100.0
Cooked bacon (100 grams) 9.0
Water (1 liter) 1.0
Additives and pesticides in food 0.5
Additives and pesticides in bread and grain products 0.4
Coffee (1 cup) 0.3


Bruce Ames, "Ranking Possible Carcinogenic Hazards," Science 236 (April 17, 1987), p. 271.










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Sunday, April 5, 2009

What Kevin Trudeau doesn't want you to know

You've probably seen master huckster Kevin Trudeau on TV, pushing his book "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About." Some of the most worthless garbage ever!

The author of the bestselling "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" claims to be a consumer advocate in the Ralph Nader mold. But the infomercial king just wants your cash.

Many a late-night channel surfer has been numbed to sleep by endless infomercials hawking ab machines, penis enlargers, psychic readings and baldness cures. But how about a 30-minute faux talk show featuring a slick "expert author" who promises natural cures for cancer, diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome and who claims that the FDA, drug companies and food industry have withheld such cures from the public in order to keep making bigger and bigger profits?

Step right up folks, and tune in to the paranoid world of master huckster Kevin Trudeau, whose book "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" has climbed to the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list for advice titles. The Federal Trade Commission virtually banned Trudeau from the airwaves in an attempt to "shut down an infomercial empire that has misled American consumers for years." But by shifting his business model from selling supposed cure-all products to peddling books, which are protected by the First Amendment, Trudeau has been able to slip past federal regulators and continue to sell snake oil to the masses -- first through his infomercial and now via mainstream book retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Reno R. Rollé, an executive consultant who handles U.S. retail and international distribution for "Natural Cures," says the book has sold nearly 3 million copies since the infomercial debuted in September 2004, and he sees no end in sight to its success. "No one knows where this thing is going to max out. We're just printing as many books as we can," Rollé says. "We're poised to make history here. What we're doing could revolutionize the book publishing industry."

Even before hitting the bestseller list, Trudeau, who is in his early 40s, had built a billion-dollar empire as a prolific infomercialteer, selling various health and self-improvement products under the cover of night. This despite a two-year stint in federal prison in the early '90s after pleading guilty to credit card fraud, and a 1996 tangle with the Illinois attorney general, who accused him of running a pyramid scheme while working for a health-products company called Nutrition for Life. Trudeau and a co-defendant settled that case, paying $185,000 to Illinois and seven other states; during that time, the U.S. Postal Service and Securities and Exchange Commission also investigated his business dealings.

A close look at Trudeau's later run-in with the FTC, in 1998, during which he and seven cohorts were accused of making "false or unsubstantiated" claims in advertisements on radio and television infomercials, sheds much needed light on his character and says a lot about how seriously (or not) we should take "Natural Cures." Ads for the "Sable Hair Farming System," Trudeau's own "Mega Memory System," "Doctor Callahan's Addiction Breaking System," "Action Reading," "Eden's Secret Nature's Purifying Product" and "Howard Berg's Mega Reading" all came under scrutiny they could not withstand.

"We're going to be sharing Dr. Callahan's revolutionary breakthrough that he discovered while studying quantum physics," the addiction infomercial went, before claiming that the system cured compulsive eating, as well as alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction, and led to weight loss without dieting or exercise. "This technique will take 60 seconds to apply and works virtually 100 percent of the time," the FTC noted as another claim. It said that the "videotape sold in the infomercial showed Dr. Callahan demonstrating his technique -- a series of gestures, including tapping the face, chest and hand; rolling the eyes; and humming, which, if mimicked, were the supposed addiction cure." The claims were false, according to the FTC.

Another Trudeau product, "Howard Berg's Mega Reading," offered a home study program guaranteed to boost reading speed and comprehension 10 times over. "I have a letter here from a girl who has brain damage," Berg confided in another infomercial. "She was in a car accident and half her brain stopped functioning. It was electrically dead." According to the FTC, "he then claimed that after using his system for a brief period -- as long as a coffee break -- her reading speed increased from three to 600 words per minute..." Not surprisingly, the FTC deemed the Berg program bogus as well.

And Trudeau's own "Mega Memory System," which asserted that everyone has an innate photographic memory that could be tapped into with his help, was unmasked too. To show how fraudulent the system was, the FTC cited snippets of the infomercial, such as: "Kevin Trudeau's breakthrough techniques were developed while working with blind and mentally handicapped students. Their recall ability increased from 15% to 90% in just 5 days," as well as the infomercial's claim that the system was "guaranteed to work for you."

In the end, Trudeau settled the case; he was fined $500,000 in consumer redress and warned against making false product claims in the future. But this didn't deter him. In 2003, the FTC charged Trudeau once more, this time citing another product, Coral Calcium Supreme. The FTC argued that claims made in Trudeau's infomercial by Dr. Robert "Bob" Barefoot that calcium derived from coral reefs near Okinawa, Japan, could treat or cure cancer and other ills -- such as multiple sclerosis and heart disease -- went far beyond existing scientific evidence concerning the health benefits of calcium. Trudeau settled that case as well. But this time, in addition to being fined $2 million, he was also banned from "appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public" forever.

Afterward, Trudeau loudly complained that the FTC was censoring him and started a Web site called The Whistleblower, on which he tries to fashion himself as a new Ralph Nader -- a selfless consumer advocate opposing powerful institutions and defending regular folk. But Trudeau's claims of persecution and martyrdom are hard to swallow for many. "He wasn't censored -- that's just total fantasy," says Dr. Stephen Barrett, a health-fraud expert who runs a network of watchdog Web sites, including Quackwatch. "What's happened is that he's just not allowed to sell products with false claims. That's the only censorship going on."

"Trudeau is the undisputed king of false infomercial advertising," he continues. Barrett's alarm over Trudeau's tactics heightened with the coral calcium infomercial. "It was just one lie after another, all orchestrated by Trudeau," Barrett says. He isn't any more impressed by Trudeau's current infomercial for the bestselling "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About."

The book, which Trudeau self-published, is a paranoid mixture of self-evident and widely known health facts with very few, if any, natural cures. It is almost amusingly campy -- except that the information is so odd, and alarmist. "Natural Cures" is poorly sourced and peppered with jaw-dropping absurdities, such as "The sun does not cause cancer. Sun block has been shown to cause cancer" or "All over-the-counter nonprescription drugs and prescription drugs CAUSE illness and disease." Or, this tribute to logic and language: "If you read the labels of everything you put in your mouth, you would see the name [sic] of various chemicals. All the chemicals listed are dangerous man-made chemicals. They are poisons. If you were to take any of those chemicals and ingest a large amount at one time, you would probably die. Therefore they are in fact poisons."

His prose style mimics the gibberish favored by online spam advertisements, and he frequently uses SCREAM CAPS to emphasize OBVIOUS POINTS. At one point, Trudeau implies that he was an undercover government agent and that, because of his inside knowledge, the government and powerful corporations are out to get him -- though he doesn't share what any of his highly prized knowledge is. And always lurking somewhere is the nefarious "They" of the book's title -- the FDA and the FTC, who are in cahoots with the drug companies, which hold back the real natural cures because they won't make any money if you're healthy.

On every page, he stokes the paranoia and anger generated by recent high-profile corporate and government scandals, as well as the ire against the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. But don't worry, not only will his book save you, but you can also go to his Web site, NaturalCures.com, for more information and for the "real cures," all for a lifetime membership of $499 or a monthly fee of just $9.95. In essence, the infomercial sells the book, which sells the Web site --which nets Trudeau tons of money.

But there's nothing strictly illegal about Trudeau and "Natural Cures." Heather Hippsley, assistant director for the division of advertising practices at the FTC, who supervised the commission's case against Trudeau, explains: "Books are fully protected speech. He can author a book and voice his opinions ... The line is: Informational materials, OK. Products and services, banned."

Peer-review systems -- like the one in place on Amazon.com -- do their best work in warning potential buyers of bad or faulty products. On the Amazon site, over 500 people have weighed in on "Natural Cures" so far. Yet, although reviews have been almost overwhelmingly negative -- in Amazon's "star rating" scheme, the book is averaging a two -- sales haven't slowed. Despite headlines like "'Scams they don't want you to know about"; "Trudeau is worse than the drug companies!"; "Left feeling totally duped"; "Natural Cures he Contiunous [sic] Not to Tell U About"; and "The Book Just Simply Sucks," "Natural Cures" hovers at the top of the Amazon bestseller list week after week.

Indeed, all the negative Amazon reviews in the world probably won't keep people from checking out "Natural Cures." "What's driving sales is not people buying the book but people buying the infomercial," says Sam Catanese, president and CEO of Infomercial Monitoring Service, which tracks the direct-response television marketing industry. In fact, according to Catanese's data, "Natural Cures" was recently the most-run infomercial on television -- 139 times in one week. (The runner-up was a distant second, appearing 96 times.)

Read the full article on Salon.com

"What Kevin Trudeau doesn't want you to know"
By Christopher Dreher
Jul 29, 2005

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Cotton Gin

In 1792 Eli Whitney invented a decent version of mechanical cotton picker. He named it the cotton gin. The term "gin" is an abbreviation for engine, and means "machine." It was not named in reference to the alcoholic beverage. Whitney thought the name would sound more colloquially appealing to the southern cotton growers.

The cotton gin dramatically changed the South's economy, but didn't make Whitney rich. His machine was very efficient, but also amazingly simple. So simple that any country handyman could copy it—and they did. By 1797, his company was out of business.

But some historians claim that the first cotton gin was invented in Asia and perfected in Santo Domingo in the 1740s—fifty years before Whitney produced his gin. The Santo Domingo gin, however didn't work on the slippery seeds of American cotton. Whitney's machine did. But it was equipped with a wire brush that needed constant cleaning. A few years later a man named Hodgen Holmes invented a gin with sawteeth, which didn't need so much cleaning. Much more efficient and useful was Holmes's gin, and that gin is what apparently enabled the South to crown cotton as king.

Eli Whitney is famous due to his cotton gin invention, but he's also famous for a more important contribution: the system of mass production based on interchangeable parts. This was first applied to the gun-manufacturing industry, and led to the greatest change ever seen in economic history—mass production and the assembly line.

Hold on . . . this is in question as well. Historians claim that Whitney didn't devise the principle of interchangeable parts. He was not even the first person to try to use it in the manufacture of weapons. More than a decade before Whitney won a contract to make arms for the government, a Frenchman, Honoré Blanc, made firing mechanisms for muskets out of interchangeable parts.

Much of this information was originally published in:

Myth Information by J. Allen Varasdi, Ballantine Books, 1989

Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History By Richard Shenkman, 1988


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