Tuesday, July 26

The Debunker: Do Lightning Rods Attract Lightning?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

Lightning kills as many as 24,000 people every year, and injures ten times as many. It's a real safety issue, not one of these overhyped 11-o'clock-news dangers, like shark attacks. When you've got bolts of electricity blazing out of the sky with a currents of 50,000 amps and temperatures up to 50,000 degrees, you don't want to fool around. Thank goodness Benjamin Franklin took the time in 1749 to dream up the lightning rod, a grounded metallic terminal that can be placed atop a lightning-vulnerable building. This way, lightning can be drawn to earth without causing too much damage on the way.

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Tuesday, July 19

The Debunker: Can Defibrillators "Restart" a Stopped Heart?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Can Defibrillators "Restart" a Stopped Heart?

If TV medical dramas have taught me nothing else, it's this: you can magically turn a dead person into a not-dead person by rubbing two little paddle things together, yelling "Clear!" and jolting them in the chest. L.A. improv classes probably spend at least two or three sessions practicing the "defibrillator jerk" they'll need to master if they're ever going to play Heart Attack Patient #2 on Code Black.

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Tuesday, July 12

The Debunker: Did Thomas Edison Electrocute an Elephant to Discredit AC?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Did Thomas Edison Electrocute an Elephant to Discredit AC?

In the late 19th-century land rush to light America's cities with electricity, the two biggest players were Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. The Edison Electric Light Company was expanding its direct current (DC)-based system, but Westinghouse Electric Company had licensed inventor Nikola Tesla's patents for an alternating current (AC) grid. This was VHS vs. Betamax writ large, with the future of the 20th century at stake. The stakes were so high, in fact, that the competition quickly got ugly, with Edison's company colluding with "activists" to convince the public that AC was a public health hazard that would soon be electrocuting consumers left and right, and even manipulating the State of New York into executing criminals with Westinghouse AC generators in hopes of sullying the brand.

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Tuesday, July 05

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

by Ken Jennings

In July 1820, Danish scientist Hans Christian Oersted published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the relationship between electric current and magnetic fields, effectively kicking off our modern electric age. You may think about electromagnetism every July when you look at your power bill and see how it spikes when your air conditioner is on. In honor of everyone getting zapped by the electric company this month, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to set us straight on some high-voltage misconceptions about electricity, correcting all of our shocking ignorance. He knows "watts" up. He keeps current.

The Debunker: Are Power Lines Insulated?

If you've ever watched birds sitting idly on power lines, footloose and electrocution-free, you might have inferred that the black coating on the outside of the wires is rubber or some other kind of insulating material. After all, as a nation, we wouldn't be stringing hundreds of thousands of miles of hot electric death across the landscape, would we? Surely we're better than that.

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Tuesday, July 28

The Debunker: Does Searing Meat "Seal In the Juices"?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, July, season of the backyard barbecue. If you're a vegetarian, we'll throw some kind of veggie burger on the grill and quietly pity you, but for most of us in the summer, meat is where it's at. But how much do you actually know about the flesh of the dead animals that you're consuming? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here all month to chew the fat with us about some particularly stubborn meat misconceptions. Are you ready to work on your protein proficiency? Let's see what Ken's cooked up today.

The Debunker: Does Searing Meat "Seal In the Juices"?

The German chemist Justus von Liebig was the Alton Brown of his day. In 1847, he published his landmark Researches on the Chemistry of Food to great international acclaim, influencing chefs like Auguste Escoffier and cookbook pioneers like Britain's Eliza Acton. One of Baron Liebig's most successful innovations: the idea that meat should be quickly seared, so as to form "a crust, or shell, which no longer permits the external water to penetrate into the interior of the mass of flesh. . . . The flesh retains its juiciness, and is quite as agreeable to the taste as it can be made by roasting."

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Tuesday, July 21

The Debunker: How Many Pounds of Undigested Red Meat Are There in My Colon?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, July, season of the backyard barbecue. If you're a vegetarian, we'll throw some kind of veggie burger on the grill and quietly pity you, but for most of us in the summer, meat is where it's at. But how much do you actually know about the flesh of the dead animals that you're consuming? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here all month to chew the fat with us about some particularly stubborn meat misconceptions. Are you ready to work on your protein proficiency? Let's see what Ken's cooked up today.

The Debunker: How Many Pounds of Undigested Red Meat Are There in My Colon?

That title sounds like the worst carnival guessing booth of all time, but it's actually an important question. Many otherwise bright people believe the longstanding urban legend that the average human intestine is packed with a delicious meat filling—like a Hot Pocket, I guess. "Five pounds" of meat is the most commonly quoted quantity, thanks in large part to a quote in the movie Beverly Hills Cop, of all places! But this factoid is, if you'll pardon the expression, full of crap.

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Tuesday, July 14

The Debunker: Did Hamburgers Originate in Hamburg?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, July, season of the backyard barbecue. If you're a vegetarian, we'll throw some kind of veggie burger on the grill and quietly pity you, but for most of us in the summer, meat is where it's at. But how much do you actually know about the flesh of the dead animals that you're consuming? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here all month to chew the fat with us about some particularly stubborn meat misconceptions. Are you ready to work on your protein proficiency? Let's see what Ken's cooked up today.

The Debunker: Did Hamburgers Originate in Hamburg?

Here are some things that originated in Hamburg: Christmas wreaths, the Beatles' stage show, the luxury cruise ship, Angela Merkel. And here is one thing that did not originate in Hamburg: the hamburger. That's right: the hamburger was never eaten in the northern German city for which it's named—not until Americans brought it over in the 20th century, that is.

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Tuesday, July 07

The Debunker: Is a Rare Steak Really "Bloody"?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, July, season of the backyard barbecue. If you're a vegetarian, we'll throw some kind of veggie burger on the grill and quietly pity you, but for most of us in the summer, meat is where it's at. But how much do you actually know about the flesh of the dead animals that you're consuming? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is here all month to chew the fat with us about some particularly stubborn meat misconceptions. Are you ready to work on your protein proficiency? Let's see what Ken's cooked up today.

The Debunker: Is a Rare Steak Really "Bloody"?

Remember Jack Rabbit Slim's, that '50s-style nostalgia restaurant from Pulp Fiction, the one with all the fake cars and celebrity look-alikes that looks like in real life it would have blown through its investors' capital in about a week? At Jack Rabbit Slim's, you may recall, the only two options for ordering your meat are "burnt to a crisp" or "bloody as hell." (What would happen to the poor diners who just want their steak or cheeseburger medium, I'd like to know. Would they be summarily run out of the diner by a waiter who looks like Joe McCarthy? Executed by a waiter who looks like Charles Starkweather?)

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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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