December 20, 2023

This list is inspired by Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned in 2020. Everything listed here must include a citation or link to a reference source that’s not Wikipedia. It’s interesting that many interesting facts’ stated in media turn out to be false or myths after a little research. Another rule is that I don’t go looking for these, I want to just come across them in my reading or conversation.

Never stop learning!

  1. Bumble bees like to play; for example by rolling little wooden balls.

  2. The path of lightning strikes can be controlled using lasers.

  3. The phrase spend a penny’ comes from the Great Exhibition of 1851. Brighton plumber George Jennings, who invented the Crystal Palace’s public toilets, charged one penny to use them.

  4. A foundation started by former President Jimmy Carter has helped reduce cases of guinea worm disease from 3.5 million in 1986 to just 13 in 2022.

  5. In 2022 the United States Congress made lynching a federal hate crime punishable by law. The bill was named after 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.

  6. The names of some gene symbols have been changed to prevent Microsoft Excel autocorrecting’ them into dates. Despite geneticists being warned about spreadsheet problems, 30% of published papers contain mangled gene names.

  7. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour.

    I really wanted Edward IIIs law requiring all men over the age of fourteen to practice archery every Sunday to still be law, as stated in The Illustrated Etymologicon. It isn’t.

  8. Body odour can indicate whether a man is single or in a committed romantic relationship. The BO of single men smells more strongly.

  9. Using aks’ instead of ask’ is a feature of Multicultural London English (MLE) but dates back to Anglo Saxon English.

  10. Recipients of a bone marrow transplant may become a chimera, the technical term for the rare person with two sets of DNA. DNA analysis of one patient showed his DNA (but also that of his donor) and all of the DNA in his semen belonged to his donor. If the marrow donor has a different blood group, the patient’s blood group will eventually change to the donor’s type.

  11. In 1922, Lenin declared that March 8th should be designated officially as women’s day.

  12. Dance Your Ph.D. is a contest wherein scientists express their research through the medium of dance. My favourite is Biochemical & Biophysical Studies of the COVID-19 N Protein from 2021.

  13. Leonardo da Vinci’s mother may have been an enslaved woman.

  14. The famous cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album was taken from a 1970 PhD thesis called Radio Observations of the Pulse Profiles and Dispersion Measures of Twelve Pulsars by Harold D. Craft, Jr. (September 1970).

  15. Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin whitepaper has been included with every new version of the Mac operating system since 2018.

  16. The steam engine that pulled the ill-fated train that fell into the Silv’ry Tay in 1879 was salvaged. It remained in service for over 50 years and was known as The Diver”.

    (I learned this on a visit to the McManus Galleries* in Dundee)*

  17. A woman who spent 500 days alone in a cave from 2021 to 2023 explained she rapidly lost her sense of time. The loss of time was so profound that when her support team came to retrieve her, she was surprised that her time was up, believing she had only been there for 160-170 days.

  18. A team of scientists who spent five years studying the poo of 647 babies found nappy samples contained 10,000 species of virus — over 90% of these had been seen before. This is a good thing, because the viruses are bacteriophages that infect and kill bacteria.

  19. The King’s Champion present at the coronation of Charles III is a member of the same family that have held that office for nearly 1,000 years, since William the Conqueror.

  20. Jack Daniels learned his trade from an enslaved man named Nathan Nearest” Green. Later he employed Nearest Green as Master Distiller, the highest position in the business of distilling.

    I learned this from visiting Rose Macpherson’s Museum of the Forgotten at Dundee School of Art.

  21. England’s first all-black production of Romeo and Juliet was staged by black American prisoners of war in Dartmoor Prison during the War of 1812.

  22. In 1825 the London and Edinburgh Vacuum Tunnel Company tried to fund a carefully matured” plan for a vacuum tube transport system between those two cities. The system, powered by steam engines every two miles, promised a five minute journey time!

    Despite that hyperbole, The Dalkey Atmospheric Railway in Ireland operated between 1844 and 1854.

  23. Data from 69 separate studies found people tended to drink heavily on days when they were in a good mood rather than (drowning their sorrows) on days when they felt down.

  24. In June 2023 the German government started to give everyone who turns eighteen years-old €200 to spend on the arts.

  25. A Stand-up comedy routine was discovered in a medieval manuscript from 1480 by a researcher at the National Library of Scotland. It appears the routine was copied directly from a minstrel’s repertoire.

  26. The first child with three parents’ was born in the UK this year. This technique can be used to prevent health conditions caused by mutations to mitochondria and uses nuclear DNA from the parents and moving it to a donor egg or embryo that has had its nuclear genetic material removed.1

    I find mitochondria fascinating, especially the fact that my own mitochondrial DNA is a dead-end.

  27. I discovered a business near where I live, that has been making sealing wax in Edinburgh since 1752. Bank of England’ wax is designed to create a sealed closure that will crack and crumble when opened and has made using the same recipe for almost 300 years.

  28. Rinsing rice before cooking it does not make it any less sticky and starchy.

  29. The first man diagnosed as autistic died on June 15th 2023, aged 89. Donald Triplett was autism’s Case 1’ when diagnosed in the 1930s.

  30. As the inventor of the postage stamp, the UK is the only country in the world that doesn’t have its name on its stamps.

  31. Spain performs more than half of all egg donation treatments across Europe.

  32. New research shows Vlad Dracula (The Impaler) may have produced tears with blood in them.

    Analysis of a letter written by Dracula shows evidence he may have suffered from may have suffered from a medical condition known as hemolacria.

  33. A woman in Australia had a live 8cm long worm removed from her brain during surgery. She was undergoing surgery to treat forgetfulness and depression following an MRI scan.

  34. New research shows a future colony on Mars should avoid neurotic people in order to succeed. In this instance neurotic’ is defined as an individual with a high degree of competitiveness, aggressive interpersonal characteristics, and inability to adapt to boredom or a change in routine.

  35. There is a Microsoft Excel World Championship competition.

  36. Of 57 British Prime Ministers only one (Margaret Thatcher) has a science degree. By contrast 20 of those Prime Minsters were educated at Eton College.

  37. The 1933 case of the Paisley snail in the ginger beer laid the foundation for the modern law of negligence. 2It’s such an important case that it has its own small monument.

  38. The snow in the Wizard of Oz was made of crystallised Asbestos.

  39. For many years Volkswagen’s best-selling product was a sausage (catalogue item no. 199 398 500 A) made at the company headquarters in Wolfsburg, sold to staff and given to customers.

  40. Tattoo ink can collect in the lymph nodes so even if someone is found with no arms, you can tell whether they’ve had tattoos and the colour of the ink used.

  41. Workers on the Millennium Bridge in London hung a bale of hay from the bridge to warn shipping of work under the bridge. An ancient bylaw requires that a bridge’s owner warn passing ships of any reduction in headroom beneath the bridge with a white light at night and, during the day, a straw bale, large enough to be conspicuous”.

  42. In English we have no past tense for go’. We use went’, the past tense for the rarely used word wend’.

  43. Only 50 countries worldwide have drinkable tap water. 19 of the 20 countries with the safest water are in Europe.

  44. Caramac bars ceased manufacture in 2023 after over 60 years.

  45. The singer Pink is giving out copies of banned books during concerts in Florida. Books that are banned in the state include The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

  46. The Italian regional bank Credito Emiliano accepts young Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses as collateral against bank loans.

  47. Scottish banknotes are privately-issued notes. Scottish banks need to hold a combination of Bank of England banknotes, UK coins and funds worth at least the value of all of the banknotes they have in circulation. Some of these banknotes are of very high value, including £1 million banknotes (known as Giants) and £100 million banknotes (known as Titans).

  48. Historic Scotland is proposing to list a Skatepark in Livingston (the Livi’) as a building of special architectural and historic interest.

  49. The expedition that found the Wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance located it within minutes of the 100 anniversary of his burial on South Georgia.3

  50. The grandson of the tenth president (1841 to 1845) of the United States is still alive. John Tyler was born in 1790 (just 14 years after the nation’s founding); his grandson Harrison Ruffin Tyleris 95.

  51. Yellow-tailed scorpions have been living in the walls of Sheerness Docks in Kent for hundreds of years.

  52. This week Halley’s comet reached its farthest point away from the Sun. It will be closest to Earth on July 28th, 2061.

  1. I learned this from listening to Radio 4’s In Our Time. I Particularly enjoy the way each episode immediately hits the ground running, as Melvyn Bragg opens with something like …

    In 1523, Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos were burnt at the stake in Brussels, becoming the first Lutherans executed by the Council of Brabant.”↩︎

  2. Ironically, that looks like a bit of a trip hazard!↩︎

  3. I learned this from reading The Ship Beneath the Ice: The Discovery of Shackleton’s Endurance by Menson Bound.↩︎


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