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30 "Facts" You Always Believed That Aren't True

Correcting the record on history's most common misconceptions.

You're living in The Matrix and you don't even realize it.

All right, that's being dramatic. But it is true that many of the assumptions you make about life, the universe, and everything in between might not be entirely certifiable and are, as it so happens, based on tall tales, shoddy information, and, in egregious cases, outright falsities. (Whiskey blanket? No such thing.) To help you parse through this information overload, we've gathered the 30 most common misconceptions of all time. So read on, and correct the record once and for all. And for crazy facts that are, well, actually facts, don't miss the 40 Facts So Funny They're Hard to Believe.

Toilet Seats Are Full of Germs

Toilet Seat Things You Believed That Aren't True

It's one of the most commons misconceptions that the seats of a toilet are full of germs—after all, the bathroom is hardly the most sanitary place. But a study conducted by the University of Arizona found them to in fact be relatively clean, thanks to the fact that they are often disinfected or washed. In fact, they were found to have 10 times fewer germs than cell phones.

Alcohol Warms You Up

Man Drinking Whiskey Things You Believed That Aren't True

It feels good to have a sip of whisky on a cold day, but that burning sensation is not some kind of interior warmth, as you are often told that it is. In fact, alcohol dilates blood vessels, causing blood to be pumped closer to the skin, leading to a drop in your core body heat. So if you're cold, reach for a blanket, not a flask. And for more falsehoods, here are the 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For. 

You Lose Most of Your Body Heat Through Your Head

Older Couple in Hats Things You Believed That Aren't True

We are often told to wear a cap in the cold because 90 percent (or about that) of our body heat escapes through our heads. In fact, according to the British Medical Journal, you just lose about 7 to 10 percent of your body heat there—not much more than you would lose through any other exposed part of your body, whether hands, shoulders, or ankles. For more myth busting, check out the 40 Facts From the 20th Century That Did Not Age Well.

Specific Tastes Correspond to Different Parts of the Tongue

Woman's Tongue Things You Believed That Aren't True

Nope—try putting something salty on the "sweet" part of your tongue and see if things are really laid out so geographically.

Cracking Knuckles Leads to Arthritis

Cracking Knuckles Things You Believed That Aren't True

Yes, cracking your knuckles is extremely annoying and distracting to those around you, but this displacement of "synovial fluid" from in between your joints does not lead to arthritis as is often claimed.

Though folks at Harvard Medical School's blog do point out something knuckle-crackers should keep in mind: "Chronic knuckle-crackers were more likely to have swollen hands and reduced grip strength. And there are at least two published reports of injuries suffered while people were trying to crack their knuckles." For more habits that might not be so bad after all, check out our list of the 40 Health Myths You Hear Every Day.

The Earth Orbits Around the Sun

Earth Orbiting Around the Sun Things You Believed That Aren't True

Actually, the Earth does not orbit around the Sun. Before you think we are some kind of flat-earth conspiracy theorist, let Cathy Jordan, a Cornell University Ask an Astronomer contributor, explain: "Technically, what is going on is that the Earth, Sun and all the planets are orbiting around the center of mass of the solar system," she writes. "The center of mass of our solar system is very close to the Sun itself, but not exactly at the Sun's center."

Caffeine Dehydrates You

Businessman Drinking Coffee Things You Believed That Aren't True

Drinking coffee makes you dehydrated, goes the common theory. While caffeinated drinks do have a slight diuretic effect (making you have to hit the head), researchers have not found any increased risk of dehydration in coffee drinkers compared to non-drinkers.

Coffee Comes From Beans

Coffee Beans Things You Believed That Aren't True

Why wouldn't it? You buy a pound of "beans" at the store and a major coffee chain is named "Coffee Bean." But the name doesn't actually make any sense, since coffee in fact comes from the pit inside the coffee fruit. If we were being accurate, we would refer to them as "coffee seeds."

Coffee Stunts Your Growth

Coffee Things You Believed That Aren't True

One more coffee misconception: The belief that we shouldn't give kids coffee at an early age, because it might stunt their growth, is based on zero scientific support. There are other reasons why you might not want to give a kid a venti Frappuccino—astronomical sugar content leading the charge—but a slowed-down growth is not one of them.

Sugar Can Be as Addictive as Heroin

Woman Eating Sugar Things You Believed That Aren't True

Some brain imaging studies have found that sugar activates similar parts of the brain as seriously addictive drugs, like heroin. But as Hisham Ziaudden, an eating behavioral specialist, explains: "In neuroimaging, there is no clear-cut sign of addiction." Just because that part of the brain is activated, doesn't mean that the person experiencing it is actually addicted to the substance.

Twinkies Last Forever

Twinkies Things You Believed That Aren't True

You might imagine that if the apocalypse ever came, the only thing left in the store would be Twinkies. But while these snacks get a reputation as immortal, in fact, like any food that includes moisture, they start to break down fairly quickly, even when in their packaging. As Business Insider explains, "Twinkies are less than optimal to eat after about 25 days on a shelf."

Sharks Smell Blood from a Mile Away

Shark in Ocean Things You Believed That Aren't True

Many a good (and ridiculous) scary movie scene has relied on the fear of sharks' super-sensitive sense of smell, being able to detect a single drop of blood in an ocean. But as the American Museum of Natural History explains, "While some sharks can detect blood at one part per million, that hardly qualifies as the entire ocean." And for more wild facts from the animal kingdom, don't miss the 40 Mind-Blowing Amazing Animal Facts.

Penguins Mate for Life

Penguin Couple Things You Believed That Aren't True

We love the heartwarming stories of adorable penguins who meet their match and stay in a committed relationship for life. Humans have so much to learn from these creatures, right?

Well, though it's true that penguins are monogamous, they do not stay that way for life, and many change partners from one season to the next. If you really want to pick up some advice on love, learn the 50 Ways to Be A Much More Romantic Man.

Chameleons Change Their Color Depending on Their Surroundings

Chameleon Things You Believed That Aren't True

If you set a chameleon on a red surface, it turns red; put it on something yellow, and yellow it becomes. In fact, the creature's mood, temperature, and the light hitting it are what influences coloration. As the Naked Scientists explain, "a calm chameleon is a pale greeny color. When it gets angry, it might go bright yellow, and when it wants to mate, it basically turns on every possible color it can which shows that it's in the mood. This is not unique to chameleons."

Swimming Right After Eating is Dangerous

Man Swimming Things You Believed That Aren't True

You know the deal: Wait at least 30 minutes after eating before jumping into the pool, or else your digestive tract will use up the blood that should be going to your arms and legs. This is nonsense, according to Duke Primary Care Timberlyne physician Mark Messick, who says, "the body does supply extra blood to aid in digestion, but not enough blood to keep your arm and leg muscles from properly functioning. Your biggest danger related to eating and swimming is probably a minor cramp."

Iron Maidens Were Used as Medieval Torture Devices


Iron Maiden Torture Device Things You Believed That Aren't True

Whether you're a fan of English metal bands or not, you're probably familiar with the torture device of the iron maiden—that horrible closet-like apparatus with spikes protruding from all sides, just waiting to impale its sad victim from all sides. In fact, the thing never existed. It was essentially a hoax popularized by a couple guys during the late 18th and 19th centuries that's proven too nasty to look into more deeply.

Police Require a Waiting Period Before Filing a Missing Person's Report

Woman Reporting Missing Person Things You Believed That Aren't True

You might get the impression from watching police procedurals that there the police don't like to jump the gun on reporting a missing person—generally asking the concerned friend or family member to wait 24 to 48 hours before the report can be filed…to really be sure the person is really missing. In fact, there is no waiting period at all. If you suspect someone is missing, report it.

Salty Water Boils Faster

Adding Salt to Boiling Water Things You Believed That Aren't True

Every pasta recipe calls for a similar step: toss salt into the pot of boiling water. Many believe that the reason for doing this is because it will encourage the water to boil faster. In fact, it has been found in experiments to make a slight difference, but as Middlebury College assistant professor of chemistry Lesley-Ann-Giddings told LiveScience: "You would really have to put a lot of salt in there to make significant difference."

Wet Hair Can Cause a Cold

Wet Hair After Shower Things You Believed That Aren't True

For the most part, we've come to accept that being in the cold does not have any connection with catching a cold. But even though this has been generally accepted, many still haven't shaken the equally untrue belief that going out into cold weather with wet hair can have a similar result. Just like being in the cold, wet hair may make you uncomfortable, but it does not cause a cold—only viruses do that.

Deodorant Causes Cancer

Man Putting on Deodorant Things You Believed That Aren't True

Stories persist that studies have found a connection between breast cancer and the use of antiperspirants—by allowing chemicals to enter the body through the pores or small cuts in the skin. But, if you're an antiperspirant user you will be glad to hear that according to Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and cervical cancer for the American Cancer Society: "There is absolutely no scientific evidence that antiperspirants cause or even increase a woman's risk for breast cancer." For more on the insidious disease, bone up on the 15 Most Common Type of Cancer.

Black Holes Are Cosmic Vacuum Cleaners

Black Hole Things You Believed That Aren't True

Black holes are mysterious and scientists have many unanswered questions about them still, after decades of study. But what we do know is that the common perception of these phenomena as empty, star- and planet-devouring monstrosities, with such strong gravitational force that nothing can escape, is false.

A Coin Thrown From a Great Height Can Kill Someone

Jar of Coins Things You Believed That Aren't True

Speaking of gravity, you've probably heard the one about how throwing a coin from the top of the Empire State Building (or some even taller structure) can gain so much velocity on the way down that by the time it reaches street level, it could kill the unlucky person it lands on. In fact, this is bunk. If you were hit by the coin it would likely sting, but fatality would be unlikely. And speaking of coin, meet the man who made a lot ($16.5 million to be exact) on YouTube just last year.

Einstein Flunked Math

Albert Einstein Things You Believed That Aren't True
Getty Images

We love the story of how Albert Einstein struggled in his studies and, according to some spurious accounts, even failed out of math class. But in fact, according to a biography of the genius by the Albert Einstein Archives, he received high marks in his classes (even if the teachers did not see him as a remarkable kid). If he didn't take to school, it had more to do with the fact that he didn't like "the school's expected mindless obedience and discipline aimed at instilling authoritarian civic virtues."

Napoleon Was Short

Napoleon Things You Believed That Aren't True
Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Anyone who has been accused of having "a Napoleon complex" was probably not the tallest guy in the room. But while the perception persists that this historical giant was in reality a tiny guy, it's based on little actual fact. In truth, he was a respectable (especially in France at that time) 5'7".

Shaving Makes Hair Grow Back Thicker

Woman Shaving Things You Believed That Aren't True

You've probably heard that the first time you shave, it makes the hair grow back thicker—whether you're a swimmer shaving your legs for a big meet or a high school kid trying to get rid of unwanted fur. But, as Scientific American explains, this is all perception: "The very act of cutting may make hair appear thicker for a short time. A human hair shaft is like a pencil or javelin that tapers at the end. So when a razor slices away the tip, it may appear that the remaining hair, and subsequent stubble, is thicker or darker than it was before the cut." The reality is that the hair is no thicker than it was before you trimmed it.

Humans Have Five Senses

Man Smelling Flowers Things You Believes That Aren't True

Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Are we forgetting any? About 15 others, according to some neuroscientists who include among our sense such capabilities as nociception (the ability to feel pain), chronoception (ability to feel the passing of time), and equilibrioception (sense of balance).

Brown Bread Is Healthy

Brown Bread Things You Believed That Aren't True

Just because a loaf is brown doesn't make it better than the loaf that is white. As Livestrong explains: "Contrary to popular belief, brown bread doesn't automatically translate to mean 100 percent whole wheat bread. To ensure you are buying the most nutritious bread option, read labels and check to see that the first ingredient listed is either whole wheat or 'whole meal' flour."

Eating Carbs Puts on the Pounds

Pasta Things You Believed That Aren't True

Despite the many hit diets that promote cutting carbs from your meals, this dietary component is not inherently fattening. Like any other kind of food, eating too much of it will lead to weight gain, but as Livestrong helpfully puts it, "Instead of avoiding carbohydrates, focus on eating healthy carbs in the proper portion size." For carbs to eat, try slating into your diet more of the 10 Carbs That Won't Derail Your Six-Pack.

Protein Shakes Are Great for You

Protein Shake Things You Believed That Aren't True

Speaking of dieting, another common assertion from a number of fad diets is that you should load up on protein after a workout—particularly in the form of shakes. While some of these products can be healthy or have healthy benefits to them, the British Dietetic Association states that many of the products are marketed in "wrong and immoral" ways. They discourage the use of the shakes as a "substitute not a supplement."

It Takes 7 Years for Gum to Digest

Woman Chewing Gum Things You Believed That Aren't True

Some even say it takes 10 years, but whoever is telling you that is full of it. In fact, some of that chewing gum does digest and the rest passes through your gastrointestinal tract like any other waste. It doesn't just sit there for years to digest. Next, don't miss the 100 Awesome Facts About Everything.

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Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
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