Popular Fallacies Explained and Corrected

A. S. E. Ackermann
The Old Westminster Press
Edition / Year: 
3rd Edition, 1924

After reading this book at bedtime I fell into a restless dream. I dreamed I was at a party, standing quietly in a corner, uncertain of why I was there or what occasion it was. Out of the crowd a nasal voice addressed me, and I turned to see A. S. E. Ackermann staring intently at me. He coughed and repeated his words.

"You know that saying,

That it is Impossible to Get a Fruit Stain out of a Cloth until the Fruit is out of Season?

"I don't."

"Well many people believe it. Anyway, I have proved them wrong. Today I removed blackberry stains from a handkerchief and it's still only August."

"How astonishing. You must be very proud."

"Yes, certainly. I doubt anyone has done the experiment before. On similar lines, you know how some people think

That tobacco is a good thing with which to stop bleeding

"Do they now? Extraordinary. Did you test that one on yourself?"

"No, because First Aid to the Injured by Dr. Peter Shepherd, revised by Robt. Bruce, M.R.C.S says there is great danger of the patient becoming poisoned."

"A pity."

"Speaking of blood, you have doubtless heard from some ill-informed quarters 

That Sugar is Made from Bullock's Blood

"You are going to tell me it isn't, aren't you?"

"Well, yes, although interestingly bullock's blood is used in the process. They make charcoal out of it and use that to de-colour the sugar."


"I don't think anyone who eats meat can be fastidious about sugar. But people have strange ideas about food. For instance, some think

That to Smell Bread is an Antidote for Having Eaten Too Much Mustard"

"Oh, I do hope you put that to the test."

"One day perhaps, although I wonder, how much mustard is too much, exactly? It's debatable. Unlike the idea

That Man Possesses a Free Will

"Come now, you are not putting whole schools of philosphers into the same bin as the bread-smelling mustard eaters?"

"Francis Galton, in his memoirs, said he came to see that Free Will does not exist – and that is enough for me."

"Galton was a great statistician but in this case I fear the sample size is too small."

"Hmph. Such foolishness. I'll wager you think

That if your Feet are Wet and you have to keep your Boots on, it is a good thing to poor Whisky into your Boots

I chuckled. "My feet would still be wet, but they would smell of whisky. What a waste."

"Very well then, but perhaps then you are in the faction which holds

That the Primrose was Lord Beaconsfield's favourite flower

"I am not. I find myself on the fence with regard to his floral predilictions."

"Lady Dorothy Nevill and Mr. Gladstone, no less, opined that he preferred the lily."

"Indeed? No-one would argue with that pair."

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then a smile came to his lips. "Even so I am sure you believe

That Frankenstein was a monster, as is implied in the phrase 'The monster Frankenstein'

At which point I awoke, finding my sheets all tangled around me and the duvet on the floor.

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Wise words indeed. It is true that there is no such thing as free will and that anyone who believes this is a knave. But I do rather enjoy the smell of bread and reckon that it could resolve quite a number of ills. Anyone who believes this is not necessarily a knave: at worst, a pillock.

Francois, I am not sure what free will is, so for all I know it may exist. It is like something you see out of the corner of your eye, but as soon as you look at it, it vanishes. On this point I suppose I am Schroedinger's knave. As for the smell of bread, I suspect sniffing glue may be a better cure for too much mustard. Time marches on, and new remedies replace the old.

I actually read this book many years ago -- in the early 1980s, to be precise. While grinning at your mockery of some of its content, I'd say that -- at least according to my recollection -- there's quite a lot of useful stuff in it. I also rather relished Ackermann's willingness to perform simple experiments to test popular misconceptions.

Hi John, 'useful' might be a bit of a stretch but it's certainly interesting and yes, fair play to Ackermann when he does his ur-Mythbusters bit. 

Mythbusters: Laundry Edition

(they blow up the washing machine at the end)

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