The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.
—Sir Winston Churchill, 1941 address to the U.S. Congress
This is a subversion of Did Not Do the Research—the research wasn't done, but the writer was still correct on at least a few points—by complete fluke.
This can be hard to tell from Shown Their Work, and can often only be seen in context with the rest of the work--Shown Their Work would prove to have all research shown, Accidentally Accurate is pretty much hit and miss.
If research not available at the time of the writing proves them right, that's a case of Science Marches On meeting this trope. If the theory would never have been accepted by researchers working in whatever field (e.g. Professor Alexander Abian's theory that we should blow up the moon to stop Typhus), it's just the writers fertilizing some Epileptic Trees. If the writer was just showing off an obscure fact that he or she knows, that's Shown Their Work. Compare: Right for the Wrong Reasons. For the same principle applied to tactics, see Strategy Schmategy.
- In a 1940s Donald Duck comic book, there was a case where his nephews' solution to receive a boat from the bottom of the water by using ping-pong balls. Fast forward to MythBusters, where Adam and Jamie were able to be the concept to the test. Much to their surprise, the ducks got this concept right.
- In the Fantastic Four comic series, The Human Torch was weak to asbestos, which was known to be resistance to fire. However, overtime, it can be dangerous for anyone who uses it as protection from fire, like Victoria Murdock aka Asbestos Lady, and it can be proven to be fatal. By having asbestos being views as villainous move, Stan Lee got this concept correct back in 1947... 23 years before the formation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
- Many Dramatic Readings of My Immortal scoff at the line which says that it was snowing and raining at the same time. This is known as "sleet" and it very much happens in the real world. If you believe one of the people who confessed to writing it as a Troll Fic, the author thought it was impossible and put it in as a joke.
- It has also "rained" slush, which also works.
- Any paleontologist watching Jurassic Park could, among other things, call out the movie for its depiction of velociraptors as man-sized monsters when real raptors were about the size of turkeys. Only two years prior to the movie's release, however, paleontologists discovered Utahraptor, which really was about the size of the raptors in the movie. And at the time the book was written, Gregory Paul had proposed reclassifying Deinonychus as Velociraptor antirrhopus, believing the species to be similar enough to Velociraptor mongoliensis to justify it being a different species in the same genus, rather than in its own genus. Crichton chose to follow Paul's nomenclature, rather than the standard.
- The creators of Ice Age made Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel, as a joke. Recently, scientists unearthed a sabre-toothed squirrel.
- The idea of Jews going after their Nazi captors, like in Inglourious Basterds, actually did happened most following the liberation of many concentration camps. In other words, for Quentin Tarantino to have Jews at war against their former Nazi captors was correct.
- Iron Man 2 has a scene where it's claimed nobody speaks Latin as it's a dead language: a Critical Research Failure mixing up "Dead" and "Lost" languages. It is however true that nobody speaks real Latin anymore, as the pronunciation has been lost and the Italian pronunciation currently used as a substitute would be incomprehensible to a native.
- Improperly used adjectives are all over The Eye of Argon (amongst other linguistic woes). Surprisingly, the "scarlet" emerald isn't one of them: they're also called red beryls. But it's unlikely that Jim Theis knew this.
- In Eclipse, Bella, Edward, and Jacob hide out in the mountains on the same evening that there is a freak snowstorm. There really was a freak snowstorm in that region of the United States in June 2006.
Live Action TV
- SeaQuest DSV had an episode where a character claims to have found something in the handwriting of the Greek poet Homer. This has to be incorrect, because it would be impossible for a blind man to write something that wasn't written down for many years. While it's not clear whether the writers knew it, there is a significant amount of scholarship debating whether Homer was actually blind and whether The Odyssey was actually written, as opposed to an oral narrative.
- Se Lo Que Hicisteis made a joke where they referred to the Dragon Balls as "Chinese balls", which refers to.... huh, anal beads. Dragon Ball is a Japanese series, but of course, All Asians Are Alike and All of Asia is China, so the show must hail from China, right? Except the balls are originally named in Gratuitous Chinese (A fact all Spanish dubs removed), so they're technically right. It's unlikely the guys who keep on saying the Maneki Neko is Chinese knew this...
- A season 34 episode of Saturday Night Live had a sketch about people who would benefit from the 2008 bailout that happened when the global economic meltdown was still fresh. Darrell Hammond and Casey Wilson played a couple named Herbert and Marion Sandler (no relation to Adam) who screwed Wachovia Bank out of a lot of money and profited from the economic meltdown. Now, considering that there were two other fictional characters introduced before them, you'd expect Herbert and Marion to be fakes, too, right? Not in this case: turns out Herbert and Marion Sandler were real people who did exactly what the sketch said they did (Lorne Michaels didn't realize this until after the sketch aired), making the brief clip of them being described as "People who should be shot" by a lower-third graphic tasteless (which explains why the NBC website video and the televised reruns got rid of that scene in the "2008 Bailout" sketch).
- On an episode of Wheel of Fortune, host Pat Sajak joked that the show had only used the category Fictional Family eight times when it came up in one round. At the end of the show, the research department found out that it actually had been used only eight times.
- In a game of the original Hollywood Squares, Buddy Hackett was asked which country has the most doctors, to which he jokingly answered "The country with the most Jews! I would say Israel. you have a doctor in every family, it's a cousin, could be an uncle. Couple of specialists...". The contestant agreed, prompting Buddy to ask "You agree with that?" before host Peter Marshall revealed the correct answer was indeed Israel, much to Buddy's amusement.
- Only as a proportion of the population. Numerically, the US has the most Jews, and Russia has the most doctors.
- Something like this happened in The Wire with the character Kenard, who's seen briefly in season 3 and comes back in season 5 where he assassinates Omar. The writers didn't actually realize that it was the same kid and only realized he'd been cast in both roles later, making it an unintentional case of Chekhov's Gunman.
- In-Universe Example: Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode called "Future Imperfect", in which Riker supposedly woke up sixteen years into his future, but it was actually a hologram created by Barash. As it turns out...
- ...Riker commented that it's unlikely to have a Ferengi helmsmen. Nog became an ensign nine years later.
- ...Riker noted that there were more Klingons in Starfleet, notably a female that he passed on a deck. B'Elanna Torres, a female Klingon/Human Hybrid worked as a chief engineer on a Starfleet vessel four years later.
- ...Picard tells Riker that peace talks with the Romulans began four years ago (relative to the "future" that Riker was in), and that Riker's ship was instrumental in doing so. It's pretty much just that, right down to the date.
- ...and finally, Troi is seen wearing a Starfleet uniform, although she didn't wear one in the show at the time. She started doing so two years later, although it was during the same series.
- Community had a joke where Britta is said to have a favourite superhero character called X-Man. It's presented in-universe as a joke, with Britta either not knowing the names of the actual X-Men character she likes and calling the character X-Man instead. However, there's actually a real character named 'X-Man' in the Marvel continuity. The character, X-Man, is an alternate-universe version of Cyclops’ future son, Cable.
- One theory about Fermat's Last Theorem is that Fermat's proof was actually wrong, but the results were correct anyway. In fact, this is almost universally believed within the mathematical community. Fermat always did turn out to have a proof when he said he did, so it's likely that he at least thought he could prove this. But given the insane complexity of Andrew Wiles's proof, very few mathematicians believe that 17th century mathematics could have produced any solution at all, much less a simple one. Both of the theorems Wiles' used to make his proof were twentieth-century in origin. Also, the theorem holds the record for the most wrong proofs.
- And it's not just the complexity of the proof that's a limiting factor here - Fermat only knew about as much math as a seventh grade child. Repeated attempts to prove the theorem with math that basic failed, which made people throughout history despair that there was no proof.
- It's unlikely that Maria Nayler was talking about Boolean logic when she sang the line "one and one still is one" in Robert Miles' "One & One", but she hits the nail on the head.
- "A stopped watch is right twice a day."
- The Greek philosopher Leucippus created the atomic theory, as an argument against another philosopher, Parmenides. While Parmenidies argued against the idea that a state of nothingness could exist, Leucippus argued that there were in fact voids and that everything that was not a void was made of small units of matter that assembled to create larger ones. Aristotle scoffed at the argument, stating that in a complete absence of matter, motion would no longer encounter friction and allow for infinite speeds, which he saw as ridiculous. Well, turns out that what Aristotle used to try and discredit the theory is pretty close to what actually occurs to objects in motion in space.
- The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey typing randomly at a keyboard will type out the complete works of William Shakespeare given an infinite amount of time.
- More generally, he'll type out every book that has ever been written or ever will be. And a whole bunch that are almost right, except for one letter. And as many that are right except for two letters. And so on...
- In his famous Pachelbel Rant, musician-comedian Rob Paravonian makes some very inaccurate claims about the piece, such as getting the date wrong by more than a century. However, the one thing that he admits that he doesn't know is the composer's first name, but guesses that it's Johann, since "they're all named Johann". Turns out he's dead right about that one.
- The play Abigail's Party makes a humorous reference to putting red wine (Beaujolais) in the fridge, as a comment of misguided middle class aspirations in the 70s. However, playwright Mike Leigh later learned that Beaujolais is one of a few red wines that is best when chilled.
- In The Mikado, W.S. Gilbert used the name "Ko Ko" because he thought it was funny sounding, and didn't know at the time that it is a legitimate Japanese name.
- One of the biggest points of academic contention about Hamlet is whether or not the titular Prince of Denmark is actually mad, or just faking it. The Vikings did allegedly have some sort of taboo against killng a person afflicted with madness, which makes pretending to be one a viable survival trait for the son of a usurped Danish king. Apparently, it's doubtful that Shakespeare would have been aware of this.
- Even so, it's not entirely a coincidence. While Shakespeare wouldn't have known about this taboo, the authors of his source material would have. He probably kept the Obfuscating Insanity plot without understanding its social context.
- Examples from The Simpsons:
- In the commentary for the episode "The Crepes of Wrath", the writers note that the bit about adding antifreeze to wine was a parody of an incident where some wine was found contaminated with antifreeze, but that, obviously, the contamination wasn't deliberate. Except that the contamination was discovered when a winery started listing antifreeze as a business expense, and it was very deliberately added to make the wine sweeter.
- While the writers may have known that a torus is one of the contenders for the shape of the universe, Homer certainly didn't know that when he told Stephen Hawking about his theory of a doughnut-shaped universe.
- In "Two Bad Neighbors" (first aired January 14, 1996), Homer pranks George H. W. Bush with cardboard cut-outs of "George Bush Jr. and Jeb Bush". According to the DVD commentary, the writers (and the 1996 audience) had no idea that George Bush, Sr. actually did have a son who shared his name and thought it was just Homer being an idiot as usual. Four years later, and suddenly it's like Homer knew all along.
- Abe Simpson once recalls his father talking about America being the greatest thing since sliced bread. He then says that sliced bread had been invented the previous winter. It was just meant as an old fart joke, but given that he served in WWII and wikipedia:Sliced bread#History the first automatic bread-slicing machine was invented in 1928, the writers were surprisingly accurate with this one.
- Dolphins are frequently given an Alternative Character Interpretation as violent, venal and murderous animals, unlike their "actual" gentle and caring personality. As anyone who has studied dolphin behavior can tell you, this interpretation is truer than you might believe. It's not clear which, if any, writers knew this when they used it.
- The Simpsons did this in "Treehouse of Horror XI".
- The Pet Professional also did this.
- As did The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 also plays on this, as dolphins attack the Satellite of Love with interplanetary dolphin warships.
- King of the Hill did it with Hank getting raped by the dolphin at the La Grunta resort.
- It's worth noting that the Dolfury from Mortasheen is almost definitely not a case of this. The setting and monsters are created by a biology enthusiast fascinated with the so-called "dark side" of nature, and who often seems to hold "cutesy critters" like dolphins in open contempt. The chances that he didn't know that making his dolphin-derived monsters violent sadists who are popularly (and not necessarily incorrectly) regarded as one of the only monsters that are genuinely evil was Truth in Television to some degree closely approaches zero.
- The Futurama episode "The Cyber House Rules" features the line, "This jigsaw of a pacifier factory makes me want to have children with you even more." Originally the line was "This jigsaw of a barn makes me want to have children with you even more." By coincidence, the Swedish word for children is barn, a cognate of the archaic English "bairn" when means "children". "Bairn" is etymologically related to "born".
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: It's Common Knowledge that diamond is overall the hardest natural substance on earth; what only a relatively small handful of people know, however, is that for all that durability, diamond is astonishingly brittle. It is, in fact, not only possible, but surprisingly easy to take a hammer and chisel to a large chunk of the stone for the purposes of breaking off smaller fragments suitable for either jewelery or industrial purposes. So when Jimmy baited a T-Rex into slamming headlong into an enormous stone to get a smaller one suitable for his jury-rigged time travel remote, in the episode Sorry, Wrong Era? Not only is that possible, but completely and utterly plausible; the show uses unabashedly wrong and fictional science just because it coasts along on both Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny, so chances are good that the writers behind the show didn't do their homework this time either.
- South Park did an episode with a character called Sexual Harassment Panda that satirized how difficult subjects are often presented to children in a sugar-coated manner. Turns out there is a program called P.A.N.D.A. that deals with a topic like that.
- In the Family Guy episode "I Take Thee Quagmire", Quagmire is stuck in a relationship with a clingy woman, Joan. In an effort to help, Peter makes a video that clearly had Quagmire faking his death with Joe as a ninja and Cleveland, who’s black, as a Nazi. Considering Peter’s low intelligence, it’s a strange fact that there was a man named Hans Massaquoi, who was shunned by the Nazi Germany, but remarkably he wasn't never persecuted unlike other listed as “undesirable” such as the Jews. Instead, Massaquoi was just treated as a second-class citizen despite his willingness to join the Hitler Youth; he was even able to train as a machinist. To top it off, Massaquoi is half-black on his father's side. As strange as it sounds, Peter was oddly correct on "black Nazi".