Tuesday, July 22

The Debunker: Can Warm Summer Nights Cause “Heat Lightning”?

by Ken Jennings

Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, July is the beginning of the “dog days” of summer, the hottest period of the year. But you know what’s cool on a hot day? Knowledge. Grab a tall glass of lemonade, settle down in a hammock under a shady tree, and let Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings set you straight on some shamefully persistent misinformation about hot stuff.

The Debunker: Can Warm Summer Nights Cause “Heat Lightning”?

You’re sitting on your porch on a warm, humid summer night. Without warning, off on the horizon, you see flashes of lightning. After a few minutes’ pause, the lightning continues. But the whole time, you haven’t felt a drop of rain—in fact, there’s not a cloud in the sky. Even weirder, none of the lightning was accompanied by thunder! This is clearly no ordinary lightning.

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Tuesday, July 15

The Debunker: Did Benjamin Franklin Invent the Franklin Stove?

by Ken Jennings

Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, July is the beginning of the “dog days” of summer, the hottest period of the year. But you know what’s cool on a hot day? Knowledge. Grab a tall glass of lemonade, settle down in a hammock under a shady tree, and let Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings set you straight on some shamefully persistent misinformation about hot stuff.

The Debunker: Did Benjamin Franklin Invent the Franklin Stove?

Benjamin Franklin was certainly one of the great inventors of his time, and his lively intellect led to a series of innovations we still benefit from today: bifocals, the lightning rod, the flexible urinary catheter. Yes, every time an old person is able to finish their Sudoku while not getting struck by lightning and/or peeing his hospital bed, we have Ben Franklin to thank.

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Tuesday, July 08

The Debunker: Are Meteorites White-Hot When They Land?

by Ken Jennings

Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, July is the beginning of the “dog days” of summer, the hottest period of the year. But you know what’s cool on a hot day? Knowledge. Grab a tall glass of lemonade, settle down in a hammock under a shady tree, and let Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings set you straight on some shamefully persistent misinformation about hot stuff.

The Debunker: Are Meteorites White-Hot When They Land?

First of all, let’s settle this “shooting stars” thing once and for all. Feel free to make a wish on a streak of light in the night sky, but what you’re seeing is, of course, not a star. It’s a meteoroid—a small chunk of a comet or an asteroid. When the meteoroid enters the atmosphere, friction produces a burst of light and heat, which we call a meteor. If the whole thing doesn’t burn up during its descent, a fragment of rock may fall to Earth, at which point it becomes a meteorite. Got it? The order is asteroid -> meteoroid -> meteor -> meteorite.

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Tuesday, July 01

The Debunker: Is Human Body Temperature 98.6°?

by Ken Jennings

Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, July is the beginning of the “dog days” of summer, the hottest period of the year. But you know what’s cool on a hot day? Knowledge. Grab a tall glass of lemonade, settle down in a hammock under a shady tree, and let Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings set you straight on some shamefully persistent misinformation about hot stuff.

The Debunker: Is Human Body Temperature 98.6°?

My mom was a slave to the thermometer. A temperature of 98.6° meant that, even if I felt lousy, I was perfectly healthy and had to go to school. Anything higher meant a fever, so I could stay home and watch game shows and General Hospital. Anything lower meant I wasn’t holding the damn thing in my mouth right, and I got just one more chance before she’d go back to the medicine cabinet to get (ominous music sting!) the other thermometer.

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Tuesday, June 24

The Debunker: Are Wedding Dresses White to Symbolize Virginity?

by Ken Jennings

“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote Robert Burns, and while it’s always sad when a poet doesn’t know how to spell an easy word like “love,” it’s undeniably true that June is the most romantic month of the year. To this day, it’s the most popular month for Americans to get married, just ahead of August and May. We’ve asked Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy! champion and relationship guru, to puncture four matrimonial myths that have stuck around for years, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. If you’re not ready to have all your marital misconceptions shattered, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Debunker: Are Wedding Dresses White to Symbolize Virginity?

It was rarely a nice day for a white wedding at the turn of the 19th century, so it’s a good thing Billy Idol wasn’t trying to make a go of it as a singer then. Bridal gowns up back then were typically practical affairs: black, brown, or gray dresses that could be reused throughout married life. But then, on February 10, 1840, everything changed.

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Tuesday, June 17

The Debunker: Can Catholic Priests Be Married?

by Ken Jennings

“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote Robert Burns, and while it’s always sad when a poet doesn’t know how to spell an easy word like “love,” it’s undeniably true that June is the most romantic month of the year. To this day, it’s the most popular month for Americans to get married, just ahead of August and May. We’ve asked Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy! champion and relationship guru, to puncture four matrimonial myths that have stuck around for years, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. If you’re not ready to have all your marital misconceptions shattered, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Debunker: Can Catholic Priests Be Married?

Last month, Pope Francis said for the first time that he might consider ending priestly celibacy. “The door is always open,” he told surprised reporters. “It is not a dogma of faith.” It’s true enough that, according to the Bible, many of the early apostles were married (Peter has a mother-in-law in Matthew chapter 8) and many priests were married over a period of a thousand years before the practice was finally banned by the First Lateran Council in 1123.

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Tuesday, June 10

The Debunker: Is It Dangerous to Marry Your Cousin?

by Ken Jennings

“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote Robert Burns, and while it’s always sad when a poet doesn’t know how to spell an easy word like “love,” it’s undeniably true that June is the most romantic month of the year. To this day, it’s the most popular month for Americans to get married, just ahead of August and May. We’ve asked Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy! champion and relationship guru, to puncture four matrimonial myths that have stuck around for years, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. If you’re not ready to have all your marital misconceptions shattered, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Debunker: Is It Dangerous to Marry Your Cousin?

It was good enough for great scientists like Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, not to mention literary geniuses like H. G. Wells and Charlotte Perkins Gilman and musical prodigies from Grieg to Stravinsky. I’m talking, of course, about the God-given privilege of marrying one’s first cousin. (If you’re opposed to the whole aunt-as-mother-in-law thing, I supposed you could alternatively point out that Carlo Gambino, Saddam Hussein, and Jesse James were cousin-cuddlers.)

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Tuesday, June 03

The Debunker: Do Half of All Marriages End in Divorce?

by Ken Jennings

“Oh, my Luve’s like a red, red, rose / That’s newly sprung in June,” wrote Robert Burns, and while it’s always sad when a poet doesn’t know how to spell an easy word like “love,” it’s undeniably true that June is the most romantic month of the year. To this day, it’s the most popular month for Americans to get married, just ahead of August and May. We’ve asked Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy! champion and relationship guru, to puncture four matrimonial myths that have stuck around for years, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. If you’re not ready to have all your marital misconceptions shattered, speak now or forever hold your peace.

The Debunker: Do Half of All Marriages End in Divorce?

This gloomy prediction, always a hit at wedding toasts, has been in currency for almost forty years, ever since the advent of no-fault divorce in the United States led to a boom in both divorces and scare numbers like this one. It’s true that the trends of the 1970s, if extrapolated, once had experts worrying that the likelihood of divorce could one day hit even odds. But that never happened. Instead the divorce rate leveled out, then declined. In the early 2000s, divorce hit its lowest level since 1970, and has hovered there pretty consistently ever since: about 3.5 divorces per every thousand Americans per year.

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Tuesday, May 27

The Debunker: Is Presidents Day a National Holiday?

by Ken Jennings

In a series of “Debunker” columns from a few years back, Ken Jennings shattered a few beloved myths about the presidency—Abraham Lincoln didn’t write the Gettysburg Address on an envelope, JFK didn’t kill the hat. So why take on four more White House whitewashes this month? It’s a matter of some urgency: Ken has a fun new book out this month about such matters. So get ready to whistle along to “Fail to the Chief” as KJ blows up everything you thought you knew about the leader of the free world.

The Debunker: Is Presidents Day a National Holiday?

The presidential holiday in February was created not by the mattress and used car salesmen who are so fond of it today, but by an act of Congress in 1879. The holiday was officially named “Washington’s Birthday,” just as it is today. Since Abraham Lincoln was born in February, there’s been some movement toward making the holiday a day to celebrate both presidents, or all presidents (even the loser ones), or the presidency in general. Many states have followed suit: 17 call it “Presidents’ Day” (check the apostrophe—multiple presidents), 4 call it “President’s Day” (just one president, no indication of which one), and 5 call it “Presidents Day” (no apostrophe, anyone’s guess). Only fifteen states call it “Washington’s Birthday,” as the U.S. government still officially does.

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Tuesday, May 20

The Debunker: Did Teddy Roosevelt and His Rough Riders Take San Juan Hill?

by Ken Jennings

In a series of “Debunker” columns from a few years back, Ken Jennings shattered a few beloved myths about the presidency—Abraham Lincoln didn’t write the Gettysburg Address on an envelope, JFK didn’t kill the hat. So why take on four more White House whitewashes this month? It’s a matter of some urgency: Ken has a fun new book out this month about such matters. So get ready to whistle along to “Fail to the Chief” as KJ blows up everything you thought you knew about the leader of the free world.

The Debunker: Did Teddy Roosevelt and His Rough Riders Take San Juan Hill?

“It was a splendid little war,” ambassador John Hay wrote to his friend Theodore Roosevelt in 1898, reminiscing about the eight weeks of the Spanish-American War. Leaving aside the little matter of 17,000 deaths, the war with Spain was indeed splendid for the political career of Roosevelt, who had resigned his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to fight in Cuba. The legend of Roosevelt leading his “Rough Riders” up San Juan Hill and saving the day is probably the most iconic thing people remember about the war. But most people’s knowledge of Teddy’s ragtag band of volunteers is a little, well, rough.

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