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    After 9/11, the Defense Department wanted to poison Afghanistan's food supply

    After 9/11, the Defense Department wanted to poison Afghanistan's food supply

    One of the strangest things the media do is to bury huge revelations deep in the bowels of a larger story. A perfect example occurs in "10 Days in September," an epic eight-day series that ran in the Washington Post. In part six, Bob Woodward and Dan Balz are recounting the Bush Administration's activities on September 17, 2001, six days after the 9/11 attacks. Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have headed to the Pentagon to be briefed on action against Afghanistan by a two-star general from the Special Operation Command:

    Rice and Frank Miller, the senior NSC staffer for defense, went with the president to the Pentagon. Before the briefing, Miller reviewed the classified slide presentation prepared for Bush and got a big surprise.

    One slide about special operations in Afghanistan said: Thinking Outside the Box — Poisoning Food Supply. Miller was shocked and showed it to Rice. The United States doesn't know how to do this, Miller reminded her, and we're not allowed. It would effectively be a chemical or biological attack — clearly banned by treaties that the United States had signed, including the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

    Nice took the slide to Rumsfeld. "This slide is not going to be shown to the president of the United States," she said.

    Rumsfeld agreed. "You're right," he said.

    Pentagon officials said later that their own internal review had caught the offending slide and that it never would have been shown to the president or to Rumsfeld. 

    4 votes
    Hitler's blood relatives live in New York City

    Hitler's blood relatives live in New York City

    Adolph Hitler never had kids, so we tend to take for granted the idea that no one alive is closely related to him. But historians have long known that he had a nephew who was born in Britain and moved to the United States. Alois Hitler, Jr., was Adolph's older half-brother (their common parent was Alois Sr). Alois Jr. — a waiter in Dublin — married an Irish woman, and, after moving to Liverpool, they had a son, William Patrick Hitler.

    Pat, as he was called, moved to Germany as a young adult to take advantage of his uncle's rising political stature, but Adolph just gave him minor jobs and kept him out of the limelight. After being subtly threatened by Rudolph Hess to become a German citizen, and having gotten tired of being dissed by Adolph, Pat came to America in 1939 and went on a lecture tour around the US, denouncing his uncle. (For his part, Adolph referred to his nephew as "loathsome.") While World War II was raging, Pat joined the US Navy, so he could fight against Uncle Adolph. Afterwards, he changed his last name, and this is where the trail goes cold.

    That is, until US-based British reporter David Gardner was assigned to track down and interview William Patrick. Originally given two weeks to file the story, Gardner realized that finding Hitler's long-lost nephew was tougher than it first appeared. He worked on the story during his spare time for several years, unearthing old news clippings, filing requests for government documents, interviewing possible relatives, and chasing a lot of dead ends.

    He finally discovered that William Patrick had ended up in a small town in Long Island, New York. Pat had died in 1987, but Gardner showed up unannounced on the doorstep of his widow, Phyllis, who confirmed that her late husband was Adolph Hitler's nephew. She also mentioned that she and Pat had sons, but she quickly clammed up and asked Gardner to leave. The two never spoke again.

    After more legwork, Gardner found that Pat and Phyllis produced four children, all sons. The eldest, born in 1949, is named Alexander Adolph. (Just why Pat would name his firstborn after his detested uncle is one of many mysteries still surrounding the Hitler kin.) Then came Louis in 1951, Howard (1957), and Brian (1965). Howard — a fraud investigator for the IRS — died in a car crash w 1989, and Louis and Brian continue to run a landscaping business in the small New York community. Alex lives in a larger Long Island city. He twice spoke to Gardner but didn't reveal very much, saying that the family's ancestry is "a pain in the ass." Alex said that his brothers made a pact never to have children, in order to spare their progeny the burden of being related to a monster. He denied having made such a vow himself, despite the fact that he is still childless.

    Gardner sums it up: "Although there are some distant relations living equally quiet lives in Austria, the three American sons are the only descendants of the paternal line of the family. They are, truly, the last of the Hitlers." 

    2 votes
    The Bayer company made heroin

    The Bayer company made heroin

    Aspirin isn't the only "wonder drug that works wonders" that Bayer made. The German pharmaceutical giant also introduced heroin to the world.

    The company was looking for a cough suppressant that didn't have problematic side effects, mainly addiction, like morphine and codeine. And if it could relieve pain better than morphine, that was a welcome bonus.

    When one of Bayer's chemists approached the head of the pharmacological lab with ASA — to be sold under the name "aspirin" — he was waved away. The boss was more interested in something else the chemists had cooked up — diacetyl- morphine. (This narcotic had been created in 1874 by a British chemist, who had never done anything with it.)

    Using the tradename "Heroin" — because early testers said it made them feel heroisch (heroic) — Bayer sold this popular drug by the truckload starting in 1898. Free samples were sent to thousands of doctors; studies appeared in medical journals. The Sunday Times of London noted: "By 1899, Bayer was producing about a ton of heroin a year, and exporting the drug to 23 countries," including the US. Medicines containing

    smack were available over-the-counter at drug stores, just as aspirin is today. The American Medical Association gave heroin its stamp of approval in 1907.

    But reports of addiction, which had already started appearing in 1899, turned into a torrent after several years. Bayer had wisely released aspirin the year after heroin, and this new non-addictive painkiller and anti-inflammatory was well on its way to becoming the most popular drug ever. In 1913, Bayer got out of the heroin business.

    Not that the company has kept its nose clean since then:

    A division of the pharmaceutical company Bayer sold millions of dollars of blood-clotting medicine for hemophiliacs — medicine that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS — to Asia and Latin America in the mid-1980s while selling a new, safer product in the West, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.... [I]n Hong Kong and Taiwan alone, more than 100 hemophiliacs got HIV after using Cutter's old medicine, according to records and interviews. Many have since died. 

    2 votes
    The Ten Commandments aren't the Ten Commandments

    The Ten Commandments aren't the Ten Commandments

    First Amendment battles continue to rage across the US over the posting of the Ten Command-ments in public places — courthouses, schools, parks, and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine. Christians argue that they're a part of our Western heritage that should be displayed as ubiquitously as traffic signs. Congressman Bob Barr hilariously suggested that the Columbine massacre wouldn't have happened if the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue) had been posted in the high school, and some government officials have directly, purposely disobeyed court rulings against the display of these ten directives supposedly handed down from on high.

    Too bad they're all talking about the wrong rules.

    Every Decalogue you see — from the 5,000-pound granite behemoth inside the Alabama State Judicial Building to the little wallet-cards sold at Christian bookstores — is bogus. Simply reading the Bible will prove this. Getting out your King James version, turn to Exodus 20:2-17. You'll see the familiar list of rules about having no other gods, honoring your parents, not killing or coveting, and so on. At this point, though, Moses is just repeating to the people what God told him on Mount Si'nai. These are not written down in any form.

    Later, Moses goes back to the Mount, where God gives him two "tables of stone" with rules written on them (Exodus 31:18). But when Moses comes down the mountain lugging his load, he sees the people worshipping a statue of a calf, causing him to throw a tantrum and smash the tablets on the ground (Exodus 32:19).

    In neither of these cases does the Bible refer to "commandments." In the first instance, they are "words" which "God spake," while the tablets contain "testimony." It is only when Moses goes back for new tablets that we see the phrase "ten commandments" (Exodus 34:28). In an interesting turn of events, the commandments on these tablets are significantly different than the ten rules Moses recited for the people, meaning that either Moses' memory is faulty or God changed his mind.

    Thus, without further ado, we present to you the real "Ten Commandments" as handed down by the LORD unto Moses (and plainly listed in Exodus 34:13-28). We eagerly await all the new Decalogues, which will undoubtedly contain this correct version:

    I. Thou shalt worship no other god.
    II. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
    III.. The feast of unleavened bread thou shalt keep
    IV. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
    V. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
    VI. Thrice In the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord God.
    VII. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
    VIII. Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
    IX. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. X. Thou shalt not seethe a kid [ie, a young goat] in his mother's milk. 

    2 votes
    World War III almost started in 1995

    World War III almost started in 1995

    What were you doing on January 25, 1995? Whatever it was, it was almost the last thing you ever did. On that day, the world came within minutes of a nuclear war between the US and Russia.

    Norway and the United States had launched a research rocket (for charting the Arctic) from a Norwegian island. Following standard protocol, Norway had alerted Russia in advance about the firing, but the message never made its way to the right people. In the middle of the night, Russian radar detected what looked like a nuclear missile launched toward Moscow from a US submarine.

    The military immediately called President Boris Yeltsin, awakening him with the news that the country appeared to be under attack (no word on whether Yeltsin had been in a vodka-induced drunken slumber). The groggy president, for the first time ever, activated the infamous black suitcase that contains the codes for launching nuclear missiles. He had just a few minutes to decide whether to launch any or all of the country's 2,000 hair-trigger nukes at the US.

    Luckily for the entire world, while Yeltsin was conferring with his highest advisors, Russia's radar showed that the missile was headed out to sea. The red alert was cancelled. World War III was averted.

    What makes this even more nerve-racking is that Russia's early-warning systems are in much worse shape now than they were in '95. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers explains that while Russia needs 21 satellites to have a complete, fully-redundant network capable of accurately detecting missile launches, as of 1999 they have only three. Heaven help us if some Russian bureaucrat again forgets to tell the command and control center that a nearby country is launching a research rocket. 

    2 votes
    The world's museums contains innumerable fakes

    The world's museums contains innumerable fakes

    The next time you're marveling at a painting by Picasso, a statue by Michelangelo, or a carving from ancient Egypt, don't be absolutely sure that you're looking at the genuine article. Art fakery has been around since ancient times and is still in full swing — museums, galleries, and private collections around the world are stocked with phonies. This fact comes to us from an insider's insider — Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In his book False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes, he writes:

    The fact is that there are so many phonies and doctored pieces around these days that at times, I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones. In the decade and a half that I was with the Metropolitan Museum of Art I must have examined fifty thousand works in all fields. Fully 40 percent were either phonies or so hypocritically restored or so misattributed that they were just the same as forgeries. Since then I'm sure that that percentage has risen. What few art professionals seem to want to admit is that the art world we are living in today is a new, highly active, unprincipled one of art fakery.

    Ancient Egyptian objects are particularly likely to be bogus. Furthermore, Hoving estimates that the fraud rate for religious artifacts from pagan and early Christian times is literally 99 percent. As many as 5,000 fake Dürers were created after the master's death, and half of Vienna master Egon Schiele's pencil drawings are fakes.

    But it isn't just current con artists making this junk; the ancients did it, too. For around a millennia, Romans couldn't get enough of Greek statues, gems, glasses, and other objects, so forgers stepped in to fill the demand. Hoving writes:

    The volume was so great that Seneca the Elder (ca. 55 BC - AD 39) is recorded by a contemporaneous historian as remarking that there were no fewer than half a dozen workshops in the first century AD working full time in Rome on just colored gems and intaglios. Today it's almost impossible to tell what's genuinely ancient Greek and what's Roman fakery, because those gems and intaglios are made of material that dates to ancient times and the style is near perfect.

    Art forgery isn't the realm of nobodies, either. During certain periods of their lives, Renaissance masters
    Donatello and Verochio put bread on the table by creating faux antiquities. Rubens painted copies of earlier artists. El Greco's assistants created five or six copies of their boss' work, each of which was then passed off as the original (and

    they're still wrongly considered the originals).

    Hoving reveals that pretty much every museum has at one time or another been suckered into buying and displaying fakes, and many are still showing them. Of course, most of the examples he uses are from the Met, but he also says that phony works still sit in the Louvre, the Getty, the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Vatican, among others. (Hoving estimates that 90 percent of the ancient Roman statues in the Holy See's collection are actually eighteenth-century European knock-offs.)

    Revealing further examples, the Independent of London catalogs three Goyas in the Met that are now attributed to other artists; Rodin sketches actually done by his mistress; Fragonard's popular Le baiser à la dérobée (The Stolen Kiss), which seems to have been painted by his sister-in-law; and many Rubens works actually created by the artist's students. According to the newspaper: "The Rembrandt Research Committee claims that most works attributed to Rembrandt were in fact collaborative studio pieces."

    It's enough to make you question the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 

    3 votes
    Carl Sagan was an avid pot-smoker

    Carl Sagan was an avid pot-smoker

    When you're talking about scientists who achieved rock-star status in the second half of the twentieth century, the late astronomer and biologist Carl Sagan is right up there with Stephen Hawking. His Cosmos (1980) is one of the most popular science books ever written, planting itself on the New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks and staying perpetually in print ever since. It was a companion for the PBS television series of the same name, which — along with numerous Tonight Show appearances — introduced Sagan and his emphatically stated phrase "billions and billions" into pop culture. His sole novel, Contact, was turned into a love-it-or-hate-it movie starring Jodie Foster as an erstwhile scientist searching for extraterrestrial life, with

    Matthew McConaughey as a New Age flake who, inevitably, makes his own form of contact with her.

    Besides his pop-culture credentials, Sagan was pals with numerous legendary Nobel Prize-winners while still in college, picked up a Pulitzer Prize for his book Dragons of Eden, and consulted for NASA, MIT, Cornell, and RAND. He designed the human race's postcards to any aliens that might be out there — the plaque onboard the Pioneer space probes and the record on the Voyager probes.

    So it might come as a bit of a surprise that Sagan was an avid smoker of marijuana. Some might even call him a pothead.

    In his definitive biography of the celebrity scientist, Keay Davidson reveals that Sagan started toking regularly in the early 1960s and that Dragons of Eden — which won the Pulitzer — "was obviously written under the inspiration of marijuana." Davidson says of Sagan:

    He believed the drug enhanced his creativity and insights. His closest friend of three decades, Harvard psychiatry professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a leading advocate of the decriminalization of marijuana, recalls an incident in the 1980s when one of his California admirers mailed him, unsolicited, some unusually high-quality pot. Grinspoon shared the joints with Sagan and his wife, Anne Druyan. Afterward, Sagan said, "Lester, I know you've only got one left, but could I have it? I've got serious work to do tomorrow and I could really use it."

    Perhaps letting Sagan bogart the pot was Grinspoon's way of returning a favor, since Sagan had contributed an essay to Marihuana Reconsidered, Grinspoon's classic 1971 book on the benefits and low risks of reefer. For almost three decades, the author of this ode to Mary Jane was anonymous, but in 1999 Grinspoon revealed that "Mr. X" was Sagan.

    In the essay, Sagan wrote that weed increased his appreciation of art, music, food, sex, and childhood memories, and gave him insights into scientific and social matters:

    I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of Gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious [sic] in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics.... I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.

    The staunchly atheistic/humanistic Sagan comes perilously close to mysticism in some passages:

    I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness....

    I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it's as if two people are reading each other's minds. 

    0 votes
    Work kills more people than war

    Work kills more people than war

    The United Nations' International Labor Organization has revealed some horrifying stats:

    The ILO estimates that approximately two million workers lose their lives annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses, with accidents causing at least 350,000 deaths a year. For every fatal accident, there are an estimated 1,000 non-fatal injuries, many of which result in lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty. The death toll at work, much of which is attributable to unsafe working practices, is the equivalent of 5,000 workers dying each day, three persons every minute.

    This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 death* per year). According to the ILO's SafeWork programme, work kills more people than alcohol and drugs together and the resulting loss in Gross Domestic Product is 20 times greater than all official development assistance to the developing countries.

    Each year, 6,570 US workers die because of injuries at work, while 60,225 meet their maker due to occupational diseases. (Meanwhile, 13.2 million get hurt, and 1.1 million develop illnesses that don't kill them.) On an average day, two or three workers are fatally shot, two fall to their deaths, one is killed after being smashed by a vehicle, and one is electrocuted. Each year, around 30 workers die of heat stroke, and another 30 expire from carbon monoxide.

    Although blue collar workers face a lot of the most obvious dangers, those slaving in offices or stores must contend with toxic air, workplace violence, driving accidents, and (especially for the health-care workers) transmissible diseases. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that poisonous indoor air in nonindustrial workplaces causes "[t]housands of heart disease deaths [and] hundreds of lung cancer deaths" each year.

    But hey, everybody has to go sometime, right? And since we spend so much of our lives in the workplace, it's only logical that a lot of deaths happen — or at least are set into motion — on the job. This explanation certainly is true to an extent, but it doesn't excuse all such deaths. The International Labor Organization says that half of workplace fatalities are avoidable. In A Job to Die For, Lisa Cullen writes:

    In the workplace, few real accidents occur because the surroundings and operations are known; therefore, hazards can be identified. When harm from those hazards can be foreseen, accidents can be prevented....

    Most jobs have expected, known hazards. Working in and near excavations, for example, poses the obvious risks of death or injury from cave-in.... When trenches or excavations collapse because soil was piled right up to the edge, there is little room to claim it was an accident. 

    2 votes
    Electric cars have been around since the 1880s

    Electric cars have been around since the 1880s

    A blacksmith in Vermont — Thomas Davenport — built the first rotary electric motor in 1833 and it to power a model train the next year. In the late 1830s, Scottish inventor Robert Davidson rigged a carriage with an electric motor powered by batteries. In his Pulitzer-nominated book Taking Charge, archaeology professor and technology historian Michael Brian Schiffer writes that this "was perhaps the first electric car."

    After this remarkable achievement, the idea of an electric car languished for decades. In 1881, a French experi-menter debuted a personal vehicle that ran on electricity, a tricycle (ie, three wheels and a seat) for adults. In 1888, many inventors in the US, Britain, and Europe started creating three- and four-wheel vehicles — which could carry two to six people — that ran on electricity. These

    vehicles remained principally curios-ities until May 1897, when the Pope Manufacturing Company — the country's most successful bicycle manufacturer — started selling the first commercial electric car: the Columbia Electric Phaeton, Mark III. It topped out at fifteen miles per hour, and had to be recharged every 30 miles. Within two years, people could choose from an array of electrical carriages, buggies, wagons, trucks, bicycles, tricycles, even buses and ambulances made by numerous manufacturers.

    New York City was home to a fleet of electric taxi cabs starting in 1897. The Electric Vehicle Company eventually had over 100 of them ferrying people around the Big Apple. Soon it was unleashing electric taxis in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC. By 1900, though, the company was in trouble, and seven years later it sputtered out.

    As for cars powered by dead dinosaurs, Austrian engineer Siegfried Marcus attached a one- cylinder motor to a cart in 1864, driving it 500 feet and thus creating the first vehicle powered by gas (this was around 25 years after Davidson had created the first electro-car). It wasn't until 1895 that gas autos — converted carriages with a two-cylinder engine — were commercially sold (and then only in microscopic numbers).

    Around the turn of the century, the average car buyer had a big choice to make: gas, electric, or steam? When the auto industry took form around 1895, nobody knew which type of vehicle was going to become the standard. During the last few years of the nineteenth century and the first few of the twentieth, over 100 companies placed their bets on electricity. According to Schiffer, "Twenty-eight percent of the 4,192 American automobiles produced in 1900 were electric. In the New York automobile show of that year more electrics were on display than gasoline or steam vehicles."

    In the middle of the first decade of the 1900s, electric cars were on the decline, and their gas- eating cousins were surging ahead. With improvements in the cars and their batteries, though, electrics started a comeback in 1907, which continued through 1913. The downhill slide started the next year, and by the 1920s the market for electrics was "minuscule," to use Schiffer's word. Things never got better.

    Many companies tried to combine the best of both approaches, with cars that ran on a mix of electricity and gas. The Pope Manufacturing Company, once again in the vanguard, built a working prototype in 1898. A Belgian company and a French company each brought out commercial models the next year, beating the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight to the market by over a century. Even Ferdinand Porsche and the Mercedes Company got in on the act. Unfortunately, these hybrids never really caught on.

    Didik Design — which manufactures several vehicles which run on various combinations off electricity, solar power, and human power — maintains an extensive archive on the history of electric and electro-fuel cars. According to their research, around 200 companies and individuals have manufactured electric cars. Only a few familiar names are on the list (although some of them aren't familiar as car manufacturers): Studebaker (1952-1966), General Electric (1901- 1904), Braun (1977), Sears, Roebuck, and Company (1978), and Oldsmobile (1896 to the present). The vast majority have long been forgotten: Elecctra, Pfluger, Buffalo Automobile

    Company, Hercules, Red Bug, and Nu-Klea Starlite, to name a few. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison teamed up on an electric car, but, although some prototypes were built, it never was commercially produced. Though they have faded from mass cultural memory, electric cars have never been completely out of production.

    The reasons why electrics faded into obscurity while gas cars and trucks became 99.999 percent dominant are complex and are still being debated. If only they hadn't been sidelined and had continued to develop apace, the world would be a very different place. 

    1 votes
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