One example that particularly drives me nuts is in the history of astronomy. There is this persistent myth that people constructed "epicycles upon epicycles" with the geocentric Ptolemaic model of planetary motion, and that it was getting more and more complex to accurately represent observation. The truth is that no one ever added any complexity before Copernicus made his heliocentric model, which Kepler found to be more or less accurate as Ptolemy's. However, the story of Ptolemy's model collapsing under the weight of its own complexity is a nice story, and people like the phrase "epicylces upon epicycles". I have seen multiple astronomy professors repeat the myth.
But that isn't what I wanted to ask about...
There is this interesting piece of text in Wikipedia's Burning Man article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_manThe annual event now known as Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burned a 9-foot (2.7-meter) wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described his inspiration for burning these effigies as a spontaneous act of "radical self-expression".
This text is copied and pasted, usually verbatum all over the internet. But was there really a little wooden dog? This is the only photo of the 1986 man that I can find. I can't see the dog, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't there:
The wikipedia quote is sourced from Brian Doherty's 2004 book, "This is Burning Man". Enough of it can be previewed online to catch the relevant passage:
That appears to be all that is said about the dog. Is this account correct, and are there even that many people who can verify? Does anyone even know what it looked like, and is there a photo? Was it actually burned with the man? Is it a myth, or reality?Larry and Jerry went down to the ocean with their kids - Tristan, four, and Robin, five - who brought with them, Larry remembers, a wooden dog they had built, an act they failed to repeat, providing Larry with a stern fatherly example of the importance of follow-through for his son (no one remembers the Burning Dog now). A handful of other friends came along - whom, specifically, neither Larry or Jerry remembers for sure.