A couple of weeks ago, The Economist magazine ran an article about the state of US railroads. I was amazed to learn that US freight lines are among the most profitable and efficient in the world. My surprise was based on my last source of information about the imminent collapse of our nation’s unprofitable railroads. I scraped up some memory files to recall my previous source of information—the Reader’s Digest. Now I haven’t read that magazine in decades, so my information on railroads had not been updated since the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. Not surprising since my interest in railroads is minimal. My outdated information had no effect on my life—but it could have if I’d been considering buying stocks in freight companies as an investment option—or been voting or voicing my opinion on proposed government regulation of freight lines.
Keeping up with new developments on everything in the world is impossible, of course. But realizing the gap in my 40-year-old information about railroads and current reality has made me realize that the older we get, the more likely we are to base our opinions on facts we learned years ago that are not true today.
Examples of old information I still hear quoted as absolute truth are: 1) The suicide rate in Scandinavian countries is the highest in the world because of their socialist government. True right after WWII—but what Europeans weren’t depressed after that devastation? 2) Mormons practice polygamy—well, still technically possible in the Celestial Kingdom. 3) Animal protein is essential for a healthy diet—okay, not healthy, but a porcine contribution is essential to a good BLT. 4) Classroom size makes no difference to education—my pet peeve as a teacher. Fortunately, new research has proven that one wrong.
Mark Twain, once said, “It’s ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Scary to think how many 30 and 40-year-old facts that are no longer true reside in deep crevasses of my brain. Too bad human brains can’t call up a menu, check stored information for current accuracy, and delete what no longer serves a useful purpose.