Wednesday, February 21

The Debunker: What Color Is Puce?

by Ken Jennings

February means Fashion Week in New York, where style trends are born and the newest looks are big business. But what about the rest of us? What about you, a randomly chosen non-supermodel reading a short trivia piece on the Internet? What do you know about fashion? Don't get me wrong, you look great today, but there are a lot of sartorial misconceptions that make the rounds in our culture. We've asked Ken Jennings, who is well-dressed at least by the low standards of Jeopardy! contestants, to go through our closets and throw out all the wrong stuff we thought we knew about our clothes.

What Color Is Puce?

Have you heard of the Mandela Effect? It's a modern phenomenon of collective false memory, named for the (apparently not uncommon) misconception many people have that Nelson Mandela died sometime in the 1980s. In the past, when a bunch of people were wrong about a clear point of fact, we called this "being wrong." But today, many tender-hearted millennials who misremember their childhood have become convinced that their memories are unimpeachable and there must, therefore, be a paranormal explanation that will vindicate their false beliefs. Perhaps they've somehow been recently transported to this alternate reality in which Mandela died in 2013. Sounds implausible? Sure, but I dare you to prove they didn't switch universes!

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Wednesday, February 14

The Debunker: What Do Scotsmen Wear Under Their Kilts?

by Ken Jennings

February means Fashion Week in New York, where style trends are born and the newest looks are big business. But what about the rest of us? What about you, a randomly chosen non-supermodel reading a short trivia piece on the Internet? What do you know about fashion? Don't get me wrong, you look great today, but there are a lot of sartorial misconceptions that make the rounds in our culture. We've asked Ken Jennings, who is well-dressed at least by the low standards of Jeopardy! contestants, to go through our closets and throw out all the wrong stuff we thought we knew about our clothes.

The Debunker: What Do Scotsmen Wear Under Their Kilts?

There's a logical goof called the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, in which the speaker consistently re-defines his terms in the face of new evidence. The original case, from a 1975 book by philosopher Antony Flew, imagines a Scot reading a news article about a sex maniac on the loose in England. "No Scotsman would do such a thing!" he says. The next day, he sees a second article about a similar crime spree in Scotland. "No true Scotsman would do such a thing," he still insists.

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Wednesday, January 31

The Debunker: Was Pompeii Buried in Lava When Mount Vesuvius Erupted?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Was Pompeii Buried in Lava When Mount Vesuvius Erupted?

Mount Vesuvius, a stratovolcano on the Gulf of Naples, erupted violently in the year 79 AD, destroying the resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. "Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore," wrote the Roman author Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption and then the death of his own famous uncle, Pliny the Elder, in the subsequent cataclysm.

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Wednesday, January 24

The Debunker: Are Volcanoes Full of Lava?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Are Volcanoes Full of Lava?

Just because I'm "The Debunker" doesn't mean I'm an irritating pedant full-time. But this particular installment does hinge, in part, on a bit of semantic hair-splitting. Yes, volcanoes can vent lava, which is molten rock. But that doesn't mean that a volcano contains lava. That's because molten rock is only called "lava" after it erupts onto the surface. When it's still underground, it's called magma instead.

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Wednesday, January 17

The Debunker: Is Krakatoa "East of Java"?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Is Krakatoa "East of Java"?

At the 1970 Academy Awards, a not-very-good Gregory Peck astronaut drama called Marooned defeated a not-very-good Maximillian Schell volcano drama called Krakatoa, East of Java for the Best Visual Effects statuette. Neither film really would have deserved the "Academy Award Winner!" sticker on its video box, but there we are. Krakatoa, East of Java was a Cinerama disaster movie set on the ill-fated Indonesian isle, and opened to widespread moviegoer apathy. It was then re-released a few years later under the title Volcano with a "Feelarama" low-frequency soundtrack added, in the hopes that a booming bass rumble in the eruption sequence would entice audiences. Nope again.

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Wednesday, January 10

The Debunker: Should We Freak Out about the "Supervolcano" Under Yellowstone?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Should We Freak Out about the "Supervolcano" Under Yellowstone?

Pseudo-scientific fearmongering about the end of the world is nothing new. When Halley's Comet passed by us in 1910, for example, one French astronomer theorized that all life on earth might suffocate as we passed through the "cyanogenic gases" coming off the tail of the comet. Hucksters made tons of money selling anti-comet pills and elixirs and gas masks, which looks pretty silly in hindsight.

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Wednesday, January 03

The Debunker: Are Most Volcanoes Mountains?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Are Most Volcanoes Mountains?

Picture a volcano. I bet it looks more or less like the ones kids build for the fifth-grade science fair, right? Big smoking mountain, crater on top? Possibly located on a tropical island and all ready for Tom Hanks to hurl himself into?

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Wednesday, December 27

The Debunker: Should You "Warm Up" Your Engine on a Cold Day?

by Ken Jennings

December is a month full of festive observances, but one of the most important often gets overlooked: National Impaired Driving Prevention Month! Between all the holiday merrymaking and the terrible road conditions, it's a pretty good time to think more carefully about our driving. But what if not everything you think you know about the rules of the road is accurate? We have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings behind the wheel all month to set you straight. Buckle up, check your blind spot, and pull away from the curb when it's safe and legal to do so.

The Debunker: Should You "Warm Up" Your Engine on a Cold Day?

In 2009, a study done at Vanderbilt University found that the average American believes that you should idle a car for more than five minutes on a wintry morning. I'm sure we can all picture some grumpy Midwestern dad heading out first thing to start up his car, and then shoveling the walk or finishing breakfast for fifteen minutes while his engine "warms up."

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Wednesday, December 20

The Debunker: Is It Sometimes Safer Not to Wear a Seat Belt?

by Ken Jennings

December is a month full of festive observances, but one of the most important often gets overlooked: National Impaired Driving Prevention Month! Between all the holiday merrymaking and the terrible road conditions, it's a pretty good time to think more carefully about our driving. But what if not everything you think you know about the rules of the road is accurate? We have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings behind the wheel all month to set you straight. Buckle up, check your blind spot, and pull away from the curb when it's safe and legal to do so.

The Debunker: Is It Sometimes Safer Not to Wear a Seat Belt?

Since the United States first required new cars to be fitted with seat belts in 1968, they've become one of the great public safety advancements of our time, saving close to half a million lives in this country alone. Wearing your seat belt is now required in forty-nine of the fifty U.S. states (live free or die, New Hampshire!) but that doesn't always stop the grumbling from drivers and passengers who find them uncomfortable. Sometimes these skeptics will claim, crediting murky law-enforcement statistics or hearsay, that wearing a seat belt is often more dangerous in an accident than not wearing one. For example, what if your car was on fire and your seat belt keeps you from getting to safety?

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Wednesday, December 13

The Debunker: Do UPS Drivers Never Turn Left?

by Ken Jennings

December is a month full of festive observances, but one of the most important often gets overlooked: National Impaired Driving Prevention Month! Between all the holiday merrymaking and the terrible road conditions, it's a pretty good time to think more carefully about our driving. But what if not everything you think you know about the rules of the road is accurate? We have Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings behind the wheel all month to set you straight. Buckle up, check your blind spot, and pull away from the curb when it's safe and legal to do so.

The Debunker: Do UPS Drivers Never Turn Left?

Now that you know you're probably turning left wrong it's time to consider the real existential question: should you be turning left at all?

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