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10 Science Myths You Probably Still Believe –

 

Look, there’s a lot of science out there, so perhaps it’s understandable that not everybody can be 100% right all of the time, but there are certain myths and misconceptions out there that, despite being roundly and decisively debunked, adamantly refuse to die.

Most of us know that the internet is not to be trusted, but we generally trust our parents and teachers to give us the right information. Sadly, however, many of these myths are learnt at our mothers’ knees or, even worse, in science textbooks. What’s more, with the half life of knowledge, even those tidbits of information that were thought to be true when we first learnt them, could have since been disproven.

So what can you do? Other than hang the sense of it and resign yourself to living in ignorance and fear for the rest of your days, that is.

There’s no easy way to sort the fact from the fiction, but sometimes even a little bit of interrogation into some of the most popular old wives’ tales cause them to fall apart at the seams.

The best parts is that, because these myths are so widely circulated, the chances of you being able to gleefully correct someone once you learn the truth are pretty high.

10. Days Get Shorter In The Winter

Wikipedia

Surely this one is true? It certainly feels dark and horrible in the winter.

This, however, gets a thumbs-down on a technicality, as the first day of winter, December 21st/22nd, is also the shortest day of the year, meaning that the subsequent days of winter after that are actually getting progressively longer.

Similarly, the first day of summer is also the longest day of the year, meaning that the subsequent days get progressively shorter.

In fact, if you were to split the year up into two halves between the two solstices, winter and summer, at a single location they each contain exactly the same amount of daylight.

9. Tongue Rolling Ability Is Genetic

Wikipedia

Between 65 and 81 percent of people on the planet can roll thier tongue and most people will learn that this is down to their genes. Seeing as we knew by the 1950s that pairs of twins could have different tongue rolling abilities, this seems highly unlikely.

In reality, it’s likely to be a developmental difference. Perhaps a trick that is learnt by some in early infancy by discovering a certain group of muscles, but others never master it, a bit like ear-wiggling. In fact, an experiment in the 1940s found that the skill could be taught, increasing the number of tongue rollers in a group of of 6–12 year olds by 20%. For the same reason you can learn how to walk, but not how to have blue eyes, this implies that it is not genetic but learnt behaviour.

If this were true, then two non-rolling parents could never produce a tongue roller, providing a simple alternative to paternity testing.

8. The Earth Is Closer To The Sun During Summer*

Pixabay

*In the northern hemisphere.

Apologies to the southerners out there, this is a very northern-centric misconception.

It seems to make logical sense to us that the hottest days of the year would coincide with the closest point in the Earth’s elliptical orbit (or the perihelion if you want to get fancy), but in reality, we are at our cosiest with our solar neighbour in January.

In actual fact, the reason why it is hotter during the northern summer months is to do with the Earth’s tilt on its axis. During this time, the Earth is tilted towards the sun, causing its rays to hit us more directly, whereas during the winter months, the rays hit us at a more oblique angle, making it cooler.

This is, of course, all reversed in the southern hemisphere when the hottest months do indeed coincide with the perihelion.

7. Water Conducts Electricity

Imgur

Whilst it’s probably not a great idea to take your toaster into the shower with you, water is actually not a great conductor of electricity.

In fact, the conductivity of water is based on how many impurities it has in it, as it is actually there that are conducting the electricity. Seawater, for example, is an excellent conductor of electricity due to its high salt content, but distilled water that has had all of its impurities removed will act as an insulator at normal voltages.

Tap water, although it tastes fresh, also has impurities in it and will conduct electricity, which is why it is still a bad idea to use electrical items in your bathroom.

6. Water Is Blue Because It Reflects The Sky

Wikipedia

Most of us learn this as a kid, when our beleaguered parents have spent all day answering our persistent questions about the world. By the time the “Why is the sea blue?” question rolls around, they’re too tired to even google it and will probably have told us that it’s because it reflects the sky (unfortunately, this usually leads to the “Why is the sky blue?” conversation).

In fact, water is blue because it’s blue.

In small quantities, it appears to be clear, water’s blue hue becomes more and more apparent as the volume increases. Large quantities of water are actually blue, regardless of the colour of the sky, because it absorbs longer light wavelengths (the “red” end of the spectrum) and scatters the shorter blue wavelengths. Basically, the ocean is blue for the same reason the sky is blue.

5. There Are Left Or Right Brained People

Mercedes

Regardless of what that quiz on Facebook said, you’re not actually left- or right-brained. The myth is that logical and analytical people have a dominant left side of their brain, and creative people have a dominant right side.

The myth probably arises from the idea of lateralization in neuroscience – that is, that the regions for certain functions are found in one side of the brain. The speech centres, for example, are usually contained in the left side of the brain for right-handed people.

That previous point also highlights another problem with the theory of left and right brainedness, and that is that the lateralisation of your brain often relates to the “dominant” side of your body as opposed to your arbitrarily perceived character traits. In fact, studies of over 1,000 brain scans have shown that there is no evidence that some people use one side of their brain more than the other, and that our personalities and abilities arise from using the brain as a whole.

The myth mostly just seems to serve the purpose of giving “creative types” something to feel smug about.

4. One Dog Year Is Equal To Seven Human Years

Giphy

No one really knows where the 7:1 myth comes from and, in fact, it wasn’t always seven. A 13th century source puts it at 9:1 and an 18th century naturalist named Georges Buffon put it closer to 10:1. In actual fact, the lifespan and maturity rates of dogs are just not comparable to humans in many ways.

Firstly, the lifespan of dogs vary between breeds and sizes, so there would be no one-size-fits-all solution anyway. Oddly, in a break from the general rule of nature, dogs’ lifespans are inversely related to their size, meaning that smaller dogs live longer.

Secondly, dogs mature much faster than humans in their early years and much slower in their later years, often reaching sexual maturity in the first year of life. If humans really aged seven times slower than dogs, then we would all be ready to get married and have babies by the age of seven, and still enjoy the fitness of youth well into our 80s.

3. Elephants Are The Only Mammal That Can’t Jump

Giphy

To be fair, it is true that elephants can’t jump. Despite their bulk, elephants have pretty weak lower leg and ankle structures that would be incapable of lifting four tonnes of elephant any higher than they need to.

It is not true, however, that elephants are the only mammal that can’t jump. Sloths, hippos, rhinos and giraffes all fall into the category of non-jumping mammals, mostly because they simply don’t need to (although hippos, rhinos and giraffes can lift all four feet off the ground when they run).

If we widen our search for non-jumpers to the animal kingdom in general (as the myth sometimes implies that elephants are the only animals that can’t jump) then there are plenty to choose from. Have you ever, for example, seen an earthworm jump?

2. Bees Die After They Sting You

Warner Bros

We often view bees and the friendlier, fluffier version of wasps, and the myth that they die after stinging you probably has a large part to play in this. The poor bee is sacrificing its life in defence of queen, country and sugary snacks, what a noble little insect, whereas wasps can sting you as much as they like, making them buzzing b*stards.

Apart from the fact that it’s not true.

There are 20,000 species of bee, and only one of those species, the honeybee, will die if they sting you. The rest will merrily sting away if they feel they are being threatened.

If you want to find a true villain in the story, then it might be worth knowing that it is only ever the female worker bees and wasps that sting, male bees are harmless, and can be identified by their smaller size in comparison with the males.

1. Drink Lots Of Milk For Healthy Bones

Wikipedia/ImperialWarMuseums

This is hammered into us from an early age, but is milk really all that good for bones?

It turns out that the answer is not as clear cut as the dairy industry would have you believe. A massive study in Sweden, conducted with 61,400 women and 45,300 men over the course of 20 years, found that drinking milk could actually increase the risk of fractures in women, and increased mortality for both sexes. The explanation offered for this unexpected result was the possibility that milk’s sugar content increases oxidative stress in the body, aging it prematurely.

Other studies have also failed to find a protective relationship between milk and osteoporosis and others suggest that it may even contribute to the risk of prostate and ovarian cancers, autoimmune diseases, and some childhood ailments.

Whilst we can’t rule out the possibility that other factors, such as general lifestyle and activity levels of those in milk-drinking countries, are playing a part in the results – correlation is not causation after all – things aren’t looking good for the cows.

 

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