There are times when it can be difficult to distinguish facts from fiction. Sometimes this can be due to the fact that we hear something so often that even if it is false, we believe it to be true. These myths are listened to from various places and people, including parents and students. It can be even more increasingly difficult when you are trying to determine whether something is scientific fact or fiction. A primary goal of education is to debunk common myths that have provided miseducation. That means choosing those myths that stem from the internet, folk wisdom, or by word of mouth.
Many of us have been easily intrigued by a myth at some point or another. We may have been fascinated by the story or merely the idea. In fact, many people who hold a misconception of science do not even know that their statements are false or incorrect. When they are told their ideas are a misconception, it can be difficult to accept these long-known beliefs. What can be especially concerning fantasies is that people continue to build knowledge of their current understandings. Read on to find out some of the most common science myths that everyone believes.
24. Myth: If you drop a penny from a tall building, it will kill someone
It has long been passed on from one generation to the next that if a penny is dropped from an incredibly tall building, it can not only harm, but kill a person. The myth is that if by dropping a penny from the very top of a building, such as the Empire State building, it would muster up enough speed on its way down that it could kill a person. However, it is crucial to understand that this myth is rife with incredibly illogical physics. In reality, the penny will reach a top speed between 30 and 100 miles an hour, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
The truth is that although it may sting for a second, it is not enough to kill anyone. Pennies are extraordinarily lightweight and only weigh about one gram. It would just tumble and flip around the entire journey to the ground. While it might be slightly annoying to hit you, it is not enough to kill you. That is a common scientific myth that is often passed on from one generation to the next. While it may be said as a joke, consistently sharing it continues to fuel this myth.
Many of us have been told that giving children too much sugar makes them extremely hyper. Further, many people forego giving their children or loved one’s sweets because of the sugar content, especially around bedtime. I have heard this from my grandparents, parents, and almost every other adult in my life. However, the truth is that there is very little evidence to support that sugar causes hyperactivity. Often these favorable sweets are at exciting events, such as birthdays, weddings, and holiday parties.
The rush of energy often associated with sugar consumption is actually due to the actual environment’s excitement. When children are around one another, they feed off each other’s energy because it is exciting to be around your friends. Birthdays, weddings, and holiday parties do not happen every day, so the excitement that builds when these events occur result in a rush of energy. Sugary treats can sometimes contain other ingredients, such as caffeine, that also contribute to hyperactivity.
21. Myth: We all swallow up to seven spiders in our sleep each year
The fact that people swallow up to seven spiders a year in their sleep is not valid. The science of it is that only three or four spider species live in most North American homes. They tend to be found either weaving their webs or hunting in areas where humans are not present. They wouldn’t intentionally crawl into your bed because there is no prey. Spiders have no interest in humans and do their best to avoid us at all costs. Vibrations are known to warn spiders of imminent danger. With that said, a sleeping human is likely to be terrifying to a spider.
A sleeping person is not only creating vibrations by breathing but through their beating heart. Some people might even be snoring, which would further enhance vibrations. A sleeping person is not something a spider would willingly approach. That’s great news for someone who has a fear of spiders. Besides, for those that are light sleepers, it is feasible to assume they would also feel a spider crawling on their face. Unless someone is sleeping with their mouth open, a spider is highly unlikely to be able to get in. Although it is possible someone could swallow a spider, it would be an incredibly random event.
20. Myth: Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death
The fascinating idea that hair and fingernails continue to grow after death is merely a myth. While nails and hair may continue to grow, it is only an illusion. Once someone passes away, their body stops supplying oxygen to the cells in the body. Without the needed oxygen, the body stops producing glucose, which provides the cells with its nutrients. When someone passes away, one of the first things to occur is dehydration. Without the ability to maintain tissue maintenance, the water evaporates from the body, and it dries out the skin. As the body dries, it also shrinks. Instead of the hair and nails growing out, the skin on the fingers is pulling in, which leaves more of the hair nail exposed.
The same thing happens with the hair. Unlike the rest of the body, hair and fingernails are not impacted in the same manner and do not shrink. Many funeral homes have to apply large amounts of moisturizing cream to human bodies to keep it from becoming apparent even after just a few days. Men with long beards require even more moisture to keep the shrinking at a minimum.
19. Myth: Lightning will never strike the same place twice
We have all heard this saying. It is often said to provide comfort to someone that whenever something wrong has occurred, it won’t happen again. However, it has also been said when something good happens. For instance, when someone wins the lottery – because what are the odds that something so unlikely will occur again? The truth is that lightning can and will strike the same place twice. A lightning strike is the discharge of electricity that has built up in a cloud. It is so strong that it breaks through the ionized air and creates the lightning bolt that we see. That is referred to as a stepped ladder that travels downward until it reaches the ground. There is a quick flash and, after striking, reverts in quick succession.
Essentially, multiple strikes can occur in the same place in a short period. If you want to get technical, the lightning is already striking more than once. Even during the same thunderstorm, there is absolutely nothing stopping a lightning bolt from hitting the same place it had previously crossed. Lightning does tend to favor high areas such as tall trees or buildings simply because they are closer and more comfortable to reach. As a storm passes through a field, it might strike the same object multiple times until it finds a new item.
18. Myth: Polaris is the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere
Stargazers have often been told, and believed, that Polaris is the brightest star in the sky. Often referred to as the North Star, it most certainly stands out amongst the others. However, you might be surprised to learn that it is not the brightest star in the sky. In fact, it is about the 50th brightest star seen from Earth. The star, Sirius, is much more brilliant in comparison. Sirius is close to Orion’s belt and is best seen during the winter in the sky’s southern part. A star’s brightness is measured in magnitudes of one to six—the lower the magnitude, the brighter the star.
Sirius has a magnitude of -1.47, whereas Polaris holds a magnitude of 1.97. It’s essential to be mindful that a star’s brightness appears to us on Earth and is entirely different from a star’s luminosity, which is the energy a star emits. The unique feature of Polaris involves its position and how it marks North. Unfortunately for Sirius, Polaris takes the spotlight and even has an entire satellite radio company named after it.
The statement that we only fully utilize such a tiny percentage of our brain’s power and potential is a complete myth. It has gained fuel and widespread belief to speculate about the extent of our abilities if we used our brain’s full capacity. The myth originated from a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of neurological research. Some people often believe this myth when they are stumbling over a complex problem or forgetfulness of a piece of information. They think that they possess an untapped potential in these moments that could help them figure the issue out quicker. The reality is that we use all of our brains.
The only instances in which there are unused regions of the brain contain brain damage or disease. Movies have even been based on this myth by depicting characters that tackle remarkable acts by unlocking their brain’s full potential. There is scientific evidence to show that this is a myth. Brain imaging scans show that almost all regions of the brain are active even during routine tasks. Besides, the brain requires approximately 20 percent of the body’s energy. It would not make sense to have such a large amount of energy reserves used by such a tiny amount of the brain.
16. Myth: Meteors are heated by friction when they enter the atmosphere
When you are cold and rub your hands together, you feel the warmth between your fingers. Rubbing two objects together ultimately creates friction, which produces heat. That has also been seen when people rub two sticks together in an attempt to light a fire. Given this scientific information, it would be logical to think that a meteoroid that comes diving into Earth the friction creates a fireball. However, you might be shocked to find out that is not the case. Instead, the meteoroid’s speed entering the atmosphere compresses the air in front of it—the compression of air results in it heating up along the way.
Like the speed at which you move your hands to warm up, the increased pressure as the meteor moves through the air creates a high enough heat to make the meteor so hot it glows and is visible to us. Another meteor myth is that they are always hot when they hit the Earth. The truth is that they are almost always cold. They are so cold that they may even be covered in frost.
15. Myth: Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.
Many people crack their knuckles as a nervous or fidgeting habit. You may have done it a time or two in your life and then been immediately scolded by your mom, who told you that doing so will give you arthritis. As it currently stands, there is no substantial evidence that supports that knuckle cracking leads to arthritis. The cracking noise that you hear after you crack your knuckles is not bad either. Your joints are where two bones attach and provide the ability to move a body part. Inside those joints is a small pocket of synovial fluid that surrounds the bones.
These fluids aid in helping the bones move back and forth without rubbing against one another. When you bend or pull your joints, it creates a gap between your bones. The gap then sucks in the synovial fluid. The rush of fluid into the void is what makes the noise that you, and others, hear when you crack your knuckles. Pressing on the joint can create a loud popping noise as the bubble breaks, and the joint space returns to normal. While it makes sense to believe that excessive pushing or stretching of the joints to the point of cracking can lead to some form of arthritis, you’ll be pleased to know that your nervous habit is not likely to have long-term impacts.
Almost everyone has heard of the five-second rule. It is something that many of us have listened to, even as a child. In scientific terms, the five-second rule suggests that if you quickly grab the dropped food from a contaminated surface, the microorganisms on that surface will not have time to transfer it onto your food. You might be saddened to learn that this common statement is, in fact, a myth. You should be aware that any food item that comes into contact with a surface will pick up some type of bacteria. It is nearly impossible to know what kind of bacteria or the amount on the surface. Unlike your hands, you can’t sanitize the food you have dropped.
There can be some confusion that some environments and surfaces are safer than others. The moisture levels, type of surface, and contact time on the ground all contribute to the degree of cross-contamination. Food that is already moist or sticky will have more bacteria stick to it than dry food. You might also be surprised to learn that food dropped on the carpet will have less contamination compared to food that is dropped on a wooden or tiled floor. Whether you habitually eat food that has fallen on the floor or insist on throwing it away, there are bacteria everywhere. Unfortunately, we don’t know what kind or how much. The safest thing to do is err on the side of caution and throw the dropped food away.
13. Myth: A lot of things about Napoleon Bonaparte – which leads to problems with the “Napoleon Complex” Theory.
Many myths have been spread regarding Napoleon Bonaparte. One of the most common is that he was short, aggressive, and had a fiery temper. In fact, this myth has inspired the term Napoleon complex, a widespread belief that short men tend to compensate for their lack of height through aggressive and confrontational behaviors. While not always applied to humans, it is often referred to with animals where conflicts arise over both mates and resources. If resources are minimal, smaller male animals have more to gain by attacking the larger males. Even if their odds are not great, they are willing to take those chances.
As it turns out, Napoleon was likely an average height. He was approximately five feet and seven inches, which is only an inch or so below that period’s average male adult height. The confusion stemmed from the British and French measurement systems used at the time of Napoleon’s reign. They used the same terms even though the actual measurements varied greatly. Napoleon was known to surround himself with tall soldiers, and so these members of his guard naturally made him appear shorter in stature than them. It has also been said that Napoleon was a mean spirit, which only further escalated his confrontational reputation.
12. Myth: Swallowed gum will remain in your body for seven years
Most people empty their stomachs anywhere from 30 to 120 minutes after eating. Gum is no exception. While our bodies do not possess digestive enzymes to break down gum bases specifically, the base of gum is insoluble, which is similar to the fiber base of raw vegetables and seeds. Although gum would stick to the bottom of your shoe, you do not have to worry about it sticking to the stomach wall or intestinal tract. Instead of hanging around in your body, it will move through the same path as your food. Swallowing your gum is never recommended. Too much gum can cause gastrointestinal issues or constipation.
However, it is good to know that the occasional intentional or accidental swallow won’t damage your digestive system. Gum typically contains sweeteners and flavorings that may cause an upset stomach. Aside from those, there is not much inside the gum that is useful for the body to utilize. The myth likely came from adults attempting to teach their kids not to eat or swallow non-food items. It’s important not to make a habit out of it. While the swallowed gum will not stick in your gut for seven years, your best bet is just to spit it out when you are done with it.
11. Myth: Adding salt to a pot of boiling water helps… something.
Amateur chefs seem to swear by this tale. Although technically, the story is slightly accurate, the difference is minimal. If you add one teaspoon of salt to a liter of water, the difference in boil time will be a few seconds, if that. Occasionally, adding salt to water can do the exact opposite and cause it to take longer for the water to boil. The salt increases the boiling point of water, which is when the water’s tendency to evaporate is greater than its tendency to remain a liquid on a molecular level.
When the salt is added to the pot, the boiling point elevation phenomenon goes into effect. Boiling point elevation occurs when a non-volatile solute such as salt is added to a pure solvent, such as water, to create a solution — saltwater. The result is that the saltwater requires more exposure to the heat to boil than water alone, so the boiling point is elevated, and the time it takes to get the water to boil increases. Adding salt to the water makes the water hotter, but it still doesn’t make it boil faster. If you prefer your water boils faster, just leave it as it is!
10. Myth: Adult brains can not generate any new brain cells
The majority of your brain cells are formed while you are in the womb. However, certain parts of your brain continue to create new neural cells during infancy. Neurogenesis is the process in which new neurons, or brain cells, develop in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the brain region responsible for learning information, storing long-term memories, and regulating emotions. As you age, you naturally lose neurons. Over time, this can impact different aspects of your memory. Even in your old age, the brain can produce over 700 new neurons in the hippocampus per day. While that may not seem like much since the brain contains billions of neurons, this amount still has precious benefits and properties.
Neurogenesis might be able to help protect against Alzheimer’s and depression. Depression slows neuron production, and research has shown that a series of depression episodes can shrink the hippocampus by 10 percent. The science behind neurogenesis continues to grow and evolve. It has been said there are activities you can do to increase neurogenesis. These include regular exercise for both your body and brain. The aerobic exercise led to increased cell production and an increase in the amount of genetic information being encoded. Enriched learning environments also contribute to the survival of old cells and the production of new ones.
9. Myth: A full moon in the night sky impacts behavior
Many people who work with the elderly will say that when there is a full moon, the behavior of the residents changes too. The full moon has long been associated with unusual or bizarre human behaviors and activities. It is so common that you might hear ‘it must be a full moon’ in a conversation discussing abnormal behaviors or situations. However, it has yet to be scientifically proven. The proposed reason that the full moon impacts our behavior has to do with the moon’s gravitational force. The most well-known effect of the gravitational force is the oceans’ tides. Since our bodies are about 80 percent water, it’s long thought that we are also susceptible to this gravitational force.
Science has shown that the moon’s gravity doesn’t impact humans the same way it does the oceans. The moon’s gravitational forces are not strong enough to affect the human brain’s activity. Besides, the moon’s pull only creates tides in open bodies of water such as oceans and lakes. Closed water bodies, such as those inside our bodies, are not affected by this gravitational force. Finally, the moon’s gravitational pull is just as strong during a new moon as it is during a full moon. There are no theories about unusual behavior during the new moon. This myth has long been fueled by one generation to the next; it is also a popular storyline in movies.
8. Myth: Consuming more vitamin C prevents the common cold
Although consuming vitamin C is unlikely to prevent a cold in most people, taking it consistently before any symptoms can help alleviate the duration of those symptoms. Your body does not make vitamin C. However, it is needed for overall health. It aids in boosting your immune function, bone structure, iron absorption, and healthy skin. Since we don’t produce vitamin C, we must consume it through our diet. Incorporating citrus fruits, strawberries, green vegetables, and tomatoes can help ensure you get the necessary vitamin C.
There has been much research done on the correlation between vitamin C and the common cold. Researchers found that taking daily vitamin C for most participants did not reduce the risk of getting a cold. However, it is essential to note that consistently taking vitamin C before the onset of symptoms has shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms. If you want vitamin C benefits, you will need to consume it every day and not just when you start to feel cold symptoms. It is ideal for getting your vitamin C from food rather than a supplement because you also get other necessary nutrients. If you consume the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, you are sure to hit your vitamin C target. The recommended daily allowance is 75 mg per day for women and 90 mg a day for men. Too much vitamin C will end up being excreted in the urine.
From Earth, the moon’s surface never seems to change. Some have speculated that since we see the moon’s bright side, the side beyond our view is a dark side. It has been thought that the dark side is a frozen, dark surface absent of sunlight. The idea of the dark side of the moon has continuously captured the human imagination for decades. However, in understanding the science behind the moon’s orbit, there is proof there is no dark side after all. Despite what Pink Floyd says. No matter where we are on Earth, we see and always have seen only one side of the moon. Since it rotates on its axis in the same amount of time that it takes the body to orbit our planet, the moon’s same half face is exposed continuously to viewers on Earth.
The timing is caused by tidal locking, which occurs when a larger astronomical body, such as Earth, exerts a strong gravitational pull on a smaller body, such as the moon. That forces one side of the smaller body always to face the bigger one. Due to tidal locking, only 59 percent of the moon’s surface will ever be seen from Earth. The remaining 41 percent will remain a mystery. Even though we cannot physically see it, the moon’s far side is no more or less dark than the side that we do see. Since the moon is a sphere and light shines outward from the sun, one hemisphere of the moon is illuminated at all times, especially during a lunar eclipse. The hemisphere that is fully lit is only the moon’s side that we see from Earth during a full moon.
Albert’s parents worried when he was younger because he began to talk comparatively late so much that they consulted a doctor. He did incredibly well during his elementary years and received near-perfect grades. As a teenager, he cared about his performance amidst the pressures from his family. However, the myth stemmed from the fact that Albert was a bit begrudging towards the school system. He disliked memorization based learning and got a bit impatient with his teachers. So much so that Einstein would often talk back to his teachers. More accurately, he could be described as a bored student, not because he despised school but because he already understood most of the material. He would often be disciplined for daydreaming, but he was also studying advanced books in his free time.
This myth also came from the story that Albert flunked an exam to attend the University of Bern. Although the story is true, he didn’t fail it due to the letter grade. In fact, Einstein missed the standards for acceptance. He took the entrance test when he was only 16 years old and took the test in a language he was not fluent in. Later, Einstein took one of the most critical tests for students his age and did exceptionally well. Albert Einstein was brilliant and had all the brainpower, but only when he chose to use it.
5. Myth: Exploding in space due to the pressure differences
Media suggests that humans are pressurized internally, and if exposed to the shallow pressure of space, the internal pressure will make the human body explode. Upon the sudden decompression in a vacuum, air expansion in a person’s lungs can cause lung rupture unless the air is immediately exhaled. By breathing out before the exposure, a human can survive for anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds. However, after those few seconds, the lack of oxygen will lead to unconsciousness. Being deprived of oxygen, your brain goes into shutdown mode to conserve your energy. If you are left out in space for too long, which is a mere two minutes, then all of your other organs will have to shut down from the lack of oxygen.
One piece of advice from astronauts is not to hold your breath. The valves and tubes that make up your throat were not meant to have a lungful of atmospheric-pressure air against a pure vacuum. If you attempt to keep a big breath in, you will experience the same thing that scuba divers do from ascending too quickly from deep waters – ruptured lungs. Although you do not want to be in space without the proper equipment, you can be assured that exploding is just a myth. The lack of oxygen will lead to unconsciousness, which eventually leads to death by asphyxiation, but no explosions.
4. Myth: Dogs sweat by their characteristic panting
In the peak of the warmer months, dogs can be seen panting. It has long been thought that panting is a dog sweating. Dogs pant as a means of evaporative cooling. When a dog gets too hot, it will open its mouth and breathe heavily. As the water evaporates from the dog’s tongue, nasal passages, and lungs, its body temperature is lowered. While dogs primarily use panting to cool themselves down, they also sweat. Dogs sweat through their paws. Paw pads are a specialized type of skin that is heavily keratinized to make them challenging for walking on. Paw pads contain merocrine sweat glands that function similarly to human sweat glands.
Since most dogs are covered in fur, if sweat glands were located on their bodies, the sweat would not be able to evaporate, and when sweat evaporates, that’s when cooling takes place. That is why it is much more efficient for dogs to have sweat glands in their paw pads, with specialized skin and little fur. Sweating does play a small role in cooling your dog down. Dogs rely on panting to control most of their temperature regulation. They also rely on vasodilation to help them cool off, which is expanding blood vessels, especially in their ears and face. When the blood vessels grow, they bring the hot blood closer to the skin’s surface, which allows it to cool down before returning to the heart. That helps to regulate the dog’s internal body temperature. The next time you see a dog panting, you can know that they are trying to cool down but not sweating through their mouth.
3. Myth: Bats are blind and only use echolocation to help them get around
Contrary to a common myth, bats are not blind. Bats see in black and white and can see better at night than we can. They lack color receptors. However, in low or dim light, we are not able to see colors either. Although they commonly use echolocation to get around and hunt during the night, there have been suggestions that they occasionally prefer using eyesight versus sound when hunting. Many fruit bats, which drink nectar rather than hunt insects, don’t use echolocation at all. This myth may have arisen from the fact that bats don’t see as well as we can in daylight or because they have the option to use sounds to navigate without sight.
Some people have also thrown out the phrase ‘you’re blind as a bat,’ which further fuels the myth that bats are blind. It is used as a figure of speech to describe the faulty vision and is based on the assumption that bats cannot see. Another potential for this myth is that bats often fly incredibly close to objects. However, that is due to curiosity rather than their inability to see. Their unique flight patterns and fear of getting caught in your hair (another myth) have contributed to this myth. A bat’s eyes are more attuned to low-light conditions to better aid in finding prey.
Although there is much miscommunication, antibiotics are only active in killing bacteria. They are not able to kill viruses. The common cold and flu are caused by viruses against which antibiotics do not affect. In fact, the more antibiotics we use, the more resistant bacteria will be selected out and will increase in number. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics for viral infections are among the single most significant drivers of antibiotic resistance.
The drug-resistant bacteria can then create ‘superbugs’ that can cause a much worse illness than what was being treated initially. It has been identified that many doctors write out antibiotics for patients due to urging from parents. Others will prescribe antibiotics when there is a possibility that it is either a bacterial or viral infection. Rather than letting days pass waiting on results, the doctors prescribe antibiotics to be proactive. However, people must understand that antibiotics do not kill viruses, and taking medications for a virus can cause more harm than do good.
The brain is made up of neurons and glial cells. These cells communicate with each other sending signals from one part of the brain to the other, telling your body what to do. There is a significant difference between having a drink now and then and drinking in excess. Chronic heavy drinking has long been associated with mental deficits. Heavy consumption can damage the connections between brain cells over long periods, even if the cells are not killed. It can also affect the way your body functions. Also, alcohol consumption during periods of critical brain development is hazardous.
However, moderate drinking has been shown to have several health benefits, including improved cognitive abilities and lowered cholesterol levels. While drinking alcohol might not kill brain cells, research does suggest that high levels of alcohol can interfere with neurogenesis or the formation of new brain cells. Too much alcohol can have other health consequences, including nutritional and absorptive deficiencies. Long-term drinking can cause brain atrophy or shrinkage shown in brain diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. While alcohol may not kill your brain cells, you should still be mindful of the amount and frequency that you are consuming it.