7 times in history alternative facts fooled us and how we can avoid them in the future.

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," said press secretary Sean Spicer during his first time in the White House briefing room. That claim: totally false.

According to the D.C. Metro, "subway entries Friday, during President Trump’s inauguration, totaled about 570,557 in a 20-hour period," which is lower than the totals of the previous three presidential inaugurations. The Women's March, held the day after the inauguration, saw more than 1 million entries.

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that," said counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway in a heated interview with "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd.


Predictably, "alternative facts" have been all over the internet this week.

Even Merriam-Webster issued a brilliantly worded rebuttal to Conway's creation of "alternative facts."

"Alternative facts" aren't a new political tool. They've been used throughout history by people in power to maintain control and status. But each time we've been able to debunk these myths in the name of progress.

Here are seven times throughout history alternative facts were used — and later proven false:

1. Alternative fact: The world is flat.

Oftentimes alternative facts are accepted as truth until real facts and information can be sought out and proven, much like with the first global explorers who took to the seas in search of new lands.

What you see below was considered common knowledge during the Middle Ages. The Earth was "flat."

The Greeks discovered the Earth was round. Everyone outside of Europe believed it. It wasn't until the late Middle Ages that everyone inside of Europe finally caught up.

Washington Irving wrote “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus” in 1828. From the title, you'd think it's a biography but in reality, it was mostly fiction and said that "Europeans learned from Columbus’s trips to the New World that the planet was round."

Because of this storyline and others like it, children were taught that up until Columbus, everyone thought the world was flat.

Photo by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images.

Actual fact: The world is round.

Ancient Greek astronomer Eratosthenes is credited with discovering the spherical nature of the Earth in 240 B.C., 700 years before the Middle Ages and 2,000 years before Washington Irving picked up his first pen.

2. Alternative fact: Jesus was white.

The world's most famous refugee is often historically depicted as a blue-eyed, pale-skinned messiah:

"Sacred Heart of Jesus" via N. Currier/Library of Congress.

Actual fact: Jesus would not have been white.

Assuming Jesus existed, the BBC documentary "Son of God" used modern technology to show us what he would have actually looked like, based on ancient skulls of Semite people from the same era and geographical location.

Image from "Son of God," BBC.

3. Alternative fact: Slavery is a good thing.

In the 1820-30s, politicians in southern states defended slavery by professing the "positive good" of it and how important it was for the American economy. They claimed it allowed Africans to be civilized because white masters were letting them learn from them. (I did not make this up.)

Actual fact: Slavery is awful, inhumane, and wrong.

It took a bit longer in the U.S., but the British began the process of outlawing slavery and the slave trade in 1807. The moral ineptitude of treating humans like property and even valuing them as 3/5 of a person is a dark side of American history. It all finally came to a head with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. This eventually helped end the Civil War but claimed up to 750,000 lives, including Lincoln's.

Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

4. Alternative fact: Jews are the reason for Germany's problems.

Jospeh Goebbels was Hitler's minister of propaganda. Goebbels was a master of illusion and he used the murder of a German diplomat by a young Polish-Jew to launch the massive campaign to end Judaism. He did this by convincing the masses that the Jews were responsible for all of Germany's problems.

Image by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Actual fact: Germany needed an excuse to go to war in order to fix their economy that hadn't recovered from the last war.

The incarceration and murder of over 6 million Jews was the result of the German people looking the other way and believing in the above mentioned alternative facts. They had lost a lot of land in the previous global battle and were more than happy to launch into the worst war the world has ever seen. But we learned that lesson and hopefully will never let something like that happen again.

Image by Horace Abrahams/Keystone/Getty Images.

5. Alternative fact: AIDS is a gay problem.

White House press secretaries shouldn't make fun of minority groups ... but in the '80s, Larry Speakes was caught on tape espousing crude homophobic jokes when asked about the AIDS crisis. This sentiment carried over to mainstream thinking, with people assuming only gay people got AIDS.

Actual fact: AIDS can be transmitted in many ways.

About half the people who have died from AIDS in the U.S. since the epidemic began were gay men. Is that a large percentage? Sure. But the alternative fact created the perception that HIV/AIDS was not only a disease solely among gay men, but also one that it was only sexually transmitted.

6. Alternative fact: Iraq had WMDs.

We have been at war for 15 years because of this alternative fact.

Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images.

Actual fact: Nope. They didn't.

"The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction reports that the intelligence community was 'dead wrong' in its assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the U.S. invasion," according to CNN.

7. Alternative fact:  Trump's inauguration had the largest, hugest, most "bigly" crowds ever.

Actual Fact: Photographic evidence.

Left photo by Lucas Jackson/Getty Images, right photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

Each of these examples was a heavily pushed alternative fact created by the ruling religion, class, race, military, or administration. But each was debunked.

Sometimes with technology. Sometimes with pure math. Sometimes with common sense, and sometimes with compassion. We are better off as a (round) planet because of it.

It's important to be critical of the media you consume and not listen to the loudest frequency on your social media feed (even if it is behind the seal of the president). With many unbiased, impartial news sources available at our fingertips through a free press, it's important to take advantage of them.

So next time the White House press secretary tells you something hilariously untrue, just know that in less than four years you can cast an alternative vote.

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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