We have been looking at facts in this week’s assemblies and thinking about how best we can use them. Fake news may be one of the best known phrases of the decade, but our species has been making things up since the first day of our existence, so it is hardly a revealing surprise that we live in a world where it is hard to tell the difference between truth and lies.

The QI organisation, headed by John Lloyd, about whom I wrote earlier in the year, prides itself on the accuracy of its facts.  Each of the books in their series links to their website, where you can cross-check the data and find out more, which has always struck me as a great way to encourage intellectual curiosity.

All of what follows comes from 1,411 QI Facts to Knock You Sideways, published in 2014.  I think each fact is interesting in its own right, though the point of the exercise is to try to encourage people to ask interesting questions and to interrogate the data to find out more, because a good definition of learning is going to the edge of your comfort zone and then going a bit further.

If ‘fun facts for fact fans’ is an expression that might be heard in your house, I would highly recommend these books for an inexpensive and interesting Christmas present (and, no, I’m still not on commission!), and hopefully one that will stimulate debate over the turkey and Brussels sprouts.  So, here goes – enjoy!

  • 5% of cats are allergic to humans; Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler were all scared of cats; human beings have as many brain cells in their stomachs as cats have in their brains; a cat’s brain can store a thousand times more data than an iPad.
  • China gets a new skyscraper every five days; in Beijing, two million people live underground; China is the world’s largest consumer of red wine; between 1908 and 1965, Winston Churchill drank 42,000 bottles of champagne.
  • There are more plastic flamingos in the USA than real flamingos; there are more statues of lions in the world than there are real lions; by 2019, there will be more Lego figures on Earth than people; 95% of the spiders in your house have never been outside.
  • The lawnmower is the most dangerous item in the garden; the second most dangerous is the flowerpot; in 2007, 210,000 Americans were injured by lawnmowers; the smell of freshly cut grass is a plant distress call.
  • Oxford University was over 300 years old when the Aztec Empire was founded; when Harvard University was founded, Galileo was still alive; when the Pyramids were built, woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth; nobody knows how old the Grand Canyon is.
  • People in Britain who wake in the middle of the night are most likely to do it at 3.44 a.m.; the Japanese sleep two hours a night less than the Chinese; blind people are twice as likely to smell things in their dreams as sighted people; no one knows why we yawn.
  • Eight million years ago, guinea pigs were the size of cows; American cows produce four times as much milk as they did in 1942; a cow with a name will produce 450 more pints of milk in a year than one without a name; British fishermen work seventeen times harder than they did in the 1880s, to catch the same number of fish.
  • There are more than a thousand species of banana, but we only eat one of them; there are more CCTV cameras in the Shetland Islands than in San Francisco; taking a photo of something reduces your ability to remember it; 90% of people live in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Goats can’t cry; rats can feel regret; in 2007, police in Iran detained 14 squirrels suspected of spying; spiders seem bigger the more scared you are.
  • 95% of people don’t wash their hands properly before leaving a public toilet; when having their photograph taken, Victorians said ‘prunes’ instead of ‘cheese’ to make themselves look more serious; in 2013, nine babies born in the UK were called Cheese; the most common sentence in the Harry Potter books is ‘Nothing happened’.