A Guide to QI. Series I, Episode 10 'Inland Revenue'

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The first question on this week's QI was about Karachi's attempt to persuade its citizens to pay its tax.  Here's an article about the world's most glamorous tax-collectors:

Here is the news article about the Bank Robber in the Netherlands who claimed his gun as a deductible expense:


and here is the story of Tennessee's so-called crack-tax:


Our fact about Diocles, who we think was the richest sportsman of all time, came originally from a wonderful magazine called Lapham's Quarterly; here's an article from The Telegraph:


But we have one caveat
: It's impossible to judge the relative amounts when comparing Roman Italy and USAian America. The statistics in the above article make him look like he's by far the richest by looking at Diocles's relative wealth compared with his compatriots, but other stats - such as looking at how much gold you could buy with his winnings would make him an order of magnitude less rich than Tiger Woods.

The question about Mary and Joseph not going home for a census came from our resident historian, Justin Pollard.  He cites the following books, if you'd like to learn more:
The Nativity: History and Legend and The Historical Figure of Jesus.  We've had a couple of queries about this subject, citing Gaius Vibius Maximus:

"Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their districts to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census, and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments."
I think this is one we will revisit here on the Quibble Blog soon, so stay tuned.

The question about modern-day censuses came from Geographic Magazine May 2011, and here's a great article about a German census protest which wasn't mentioned on the show:


A year ago, we talked about the tongue-eating louse, and Dara was incredulous:

When we found out that fish don't have tongues - which we think is Quite Interesting in itself, and remembering that we'd punished Dara in the past, we thought it a great opportunity to redress the balance.

Thankyou to Andrew Cassely who points out to us that Ramanujan was *not* the first Indian to join the Royal Society, that honour actually goes to Ardaseer Cursetjee a 19th century shipbuilder. 

And thankyou to Richard Mulholland who gives us the following interesting fact about the number 12,407:

12,407 has only two prime factors, 19 and 654, and if one takes the sum: 12,407 =19*654 and
adds the digits individually until one ends up with single figure results, one will get the following:

(1+2+4+0+7)     =       (1+9)   *(6+5+3)
        (1+4)         =       (1+0)   *(1+4)
           5            =         1        *5

which is another true equation.

Which we agree is Quite Interesting, so maybe the search goes on for another boring number?

The Harold Macmillan story comes from the National Archives here:


and here is the wonderful StraightDope on the Eye of Providence and the US Dollar:


The Aztecs called themselves Mexica, which made for an excellent General Ignorance question:


Finally, there is some controversy about which is the heaviest bird that can fly.  We said the mute swan (having found the information in the Encyclopedia Britannica) but we've had many e-mails from ornithologists claiming that in fact the bustard is bigger.  Do you know for sure?  Send any evidence that you might have to elves@qi.com but in the meantime, here is some evidence that mute swans are not, as their name suggests, mute:

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In reference to the "interesting" property of 12,407 = 19 * 654, in which their digital roots also satisfy the equation 5 = 1 * 5. I must point out that the same holds true for any sum. The method of casting out nines, as it is called, is used for checking the result of a calculation based on this property.

e.g. 123 * 45 + 6789 = 12324

The digital roots of the numbers are:
1+2+3 = 6;
4+5 = 9;
6+7+8+9 = 30, 3+0 = 3;
1+2+3+2+4 = 12, 1+2 = 3

Repeating the sum using the digital roots,
6 * 9 + 3 = 57
Calculating the digital root of the result,
5+7 = 12, 1+2 = 3, which is the same as that of the result, meaning that the original calculation has a good chance of being correct.

The answer to the census question is of course: Joseph.

I am astonished that your program portrayed the physician Luke as a liar.

The program claimed that Luke knowingly falsified his Gospel account, that he concocted a Roman Census as a way of explaining why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem.

The program claimed that Luke deliberately misled his audience in order that they should believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.

What!? This is not 'quite interesting'. It is quite indefensible.


That the Romans used the census as a method of tax assessment would appear to be well established.

I am sure that other qibble commentators have cited the edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus. I understand a copy can be inspected in the British Library.

Hence there would appear to be clear evidence that Rome did indeed issue Census edicts. A point that the program flatly denied.

Your qibble post suggested that you were reviewing this. It has been 18 months since the broadcast. Did your review come to any conclusions?


Actually I am appalled that the historical basis of the Gospel of Luke should be assailed in such a slippery fashion.

Some people rely on your program for entertaining fact. I know. I used to be one of them.

This is hardly a trivial matter. This was a misinformed attack on the veracity of one of the Gospel accounts about Jesus Christ.

In broadcasting this calumny, you could not have done a greater injury to the English speaking world.


Are we really to believe that Luke fabricated such a colossal thing as a Roman Census, merely to persuade his audience that Mary and Joseph moved from one part of Palestine to another part of Palestine?

Are we really to believe that his detailed and meticulous presentation of the Good News about Christ, should include such an obvious falsehood as an imaginary Roman Census?

Rather, we find that Luke is possessed of the true historical sense. Commentators have found him accurate again and again. And when you least expect it, again.

Read for yourself in Luke 1 - “I have traced all things from the start with accuracy”. QI researchers should take a leaf out of his book.

Please 'make sure of all things' before presenting it as fact. The fact that something is sensational does not make it true. In this case it was clearly a mistake to give blind credence to your resident myth-torian. (per your qibble notes)


I have enjoyed Steven Fry's TV and Radio work ever since his appearance on University Challenge. Which I recall watching in black and white.

I am saddened that such an erudite man should allow himself to be used as a sock-puppet in this way.

For shame.

Tom Gettins
21 April 2013

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by eggshaped published on November 14, 2011 1:06 PM.

A Guide to QI. Series I, Episode 9 'Illness' was the previous entry in this blog.

A Guide to QI. Series I, Episode 11 'Infantile' is the next entry in this blog.

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