33 Common Myths We’re All Obsessed with
A step-by-step debunking of our colloquially held beliefs
The internet has made it much more difficult for people to get away with telling lies. Still, despite the democratization of information and rampant hordes of fact-checkers and truth-sleuths, you can find silly beliefs as old as the 1700s that permeate today.
Take the Five-Second Rule, for instance: Despite overwhelming evidence that proves otherwise, a majority of society still believes that it’s okay to eat food off of the floor, so long as it’s only been there for five seconds or fewer. (It’s not.) And a surprising number of people are still hesitant to go swimming right after they eat, believing that a post-chow dip will bring about serious cramping. (It won’t.) Yes, these colloquially held beliefs are total malarkey. But that’s just the tip of the surface. In fact, our collective consciousness is full of similar nonsense. Herein, you’ll learn the truth. And for more myths that won’t go away, don’t miss The 30 Most Egregious Exercise Myths of All Time.
Myth: The Great Wall of China is visible from space.
Reality: This common myth was fueled even further in 2004 when the International Space Station took a photo of the Great Wall of China from space. The result? A photograph of a bunch of mountainous ranges, with a supposed sliver of the Great Wall in view. But as astronaut Alan Bean once said: “The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation. No man-made object is visible at this scale.” With the naked eye, the Great Wall of China is about as visible from space as your childhood bedroom.
Myth: Adding salt to water makes it boil faster.
Reality: The difference is negligible. As chemistry professor Lesley-Ann Giddings explained to Live Science, “The temperature of saltwater will get hotter faster than that of pure water, but it still has a higher boiling point, and the mass is still greater when you add salt to the same volume of water. This doesn’t mean that the saltwater boils faster.” For kitchen secrets that actually work, check out the 17 Ways You’re Using Your Kitchen All Wrong.
Myth: All deserts are hot like the Sahara.
Reality: Deserts are not defined by their temperatures, but by their inhabitability and amount of precipitation. Most of the world’s most famous deserts are unreasonably hot, but there are some deserts that also experience brutally cold winters. Known as Cold Deserts, these arid areas can be found everywhere from Iran to Greenland, and most of them get an average of 26cm of rainfall per year.
Myth: Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.
Reality: Scientists have never found a link between knuckle cracking and arthritis. However, cracking your joints can lead to reduced grip strength and swelling, so you should be careful about how often you crack. And for more common untruths regarding your body, check out the 40 Health Myths You Hear Every Day.
Myth: Animals see in black and white.
Reality: “[Animals] don’t see all of the colors that we see, but they can actually distinguish between colors,” veterinarian Barbara Royal explained to the Huffington Post. And to dispel the common myth that dogs are better than cats, learn the 20 Ways Cats Are Better Than Dogs.
Myth: Bulls hate the color red.
Reality: Believe it or not, bulls can’t even see the color red. What bulls in a bullfight are actually charging at is the motion of the muleta as the matador whips it through the air.
Myth: Dropping a penny from a building can kill someone.
Reality: Don’t fret if you accidentally drop some change from the top of the Empire State Building. When popular TV show Mythbusters tested this theory out, they found that dropping a penny at 64.4 miles per hour—the speech at which a penny would hit the ground when tossed from the Empire State Building—did little damage to a ballistics dummy. The hosts even shot each other with pennies going at the same speed and, surprise, they didn’t die.
Myth: Bats are blind.
Reality: According to Rob Mies, the executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation, some of the bigger bat species “can see three times better than humans.” And though bats prefer to make their way around dark caves with enhanced hearing and echoes, or echolocation, their eyes work perfectly well.
Myth: The sun is yellow.
Reality: According to the Stanford Solar Center, “It is a common misconception that the sun is yellow or orange or even red. However, the sun is essentially all colors mixed together, which appear to our eyes as white.”
The reason we see the sun as yellow or orange most of the time is because those colored wavelengths are the only ones that make it through the atmosphere to our eyes. The other colors—green, blue, and violet—become scattered by the atmosphere, and they are what makes the sky look blue during the day!
Myth: You’ll get sick if you go swimming right after you eat.
Reality: It is a commonly held belief that your muscles will cramp should you swim right after eating, but this just isn’t truth. Yes, the body requires extra blood in order to digest, but not nearly enough to prevent your arm and leg muscles from working as they should. Your bigger concern while swimming is the sun, as you need to watch out for the 20 Ways a Sunburn Harms Your Overall Health.
Myth: Bananas grow on trees.
Reality: The plant that a banana grows on is commonly referred to as a “tree.” But in reality, it’s actually considered an herbaceous plant, as its stem is not made of woody tissue.
Myth: You must wait 24 hours before filing a missing persons report.
Reality: This isn’t the case in most parts of the world—the United States included. In fact, the NYPD specifically notes that “there are no requirements to wait a specified amount of time before contacting the [police].”
Myth: Hair keeps growing after death.
Reality: A person’s hair might appear to keep growing after death, but it actually isn’t. When you die, the skin surrounding your hair starts to recede due to dehydration, creating the illusion of post-mortem hair growth.
Myth: Fortune cookies are part of Chinese culture.
Reality: Today, you’ll receive a fortune cookie stuffed with a cheesy message and random “lucky” numbers at the end of every Chinese meal. But according to historians with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the true creator of the fortune cookie was Suyeichi Okamura, a Japanese immigrant who ran a confectionary store in northern California during the early 1900s. When Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II, Chinese Americans seized the opportunity to take control of the fortune cookie industry—and this is why you see so many of these cookies in Chinese restaurants today.
Myth: Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day.
Reality: On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army successfully defeated France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. (That’s right: this annual tequila-soaked revelry has nothing to do with Mexican independence.) Mexico’s victory was short-lived, but people all around the globe celebrate this day each year with fireworks and fiestas.
Myth: Twinkies have no expiration date.
Reality: Sorry, but Twinkies aren’t going to fend off hunger during a zombie apocalypse. According to Theresa Cogswell, vice president for research and development at Interstate Bakeries Corp.—and a self-proclaimed Twinkie fanatic to boot—the sweet snack only has a shelf-life of 25 days. While still a long life as far as pastries are concerned, it’s unlikely that your Twinkie stash will make it through a nuclear invasion.
Myth: In the 1700s, everyone thought the world was flat.
Reality: For thousands of years, there have existed people who didn’t buy this crock. Around 500 B.C., Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher, was allegedly the first person to have proposed the theory. Just decades later, in 350 B.C. Aristotle declared with certainty that the Earth was, in fact, a globe. It just took a couple millennia for everyone to come ’round to the fact that, well, our planet is round.
Myth: There is only one universal sign language.
Reality: Sign language is not another language like English or French. Rather, it is another form of communication entirely, with variations depending on the country and region. In America, for instance, you’ll find American Sign Language, whereas in Britain you’ll find British Sign Language, a different form of communication entirely.
Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
Reality: Study after study after study has dispelled the idea that vaccinations can cause autism. There is simply no correlation between the two.
Myth: Sugar causes headaches.
Reality: It’s not the sugar itself that’s causing a headache, but a rapid drop in your blood sugar levels. For some people, eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal causes excess production of sugar-regulating hormone insulin, which in turn makes glucose levels drop and causes that throbbing headache.
Myth: Using your laptop on your lap will cause infertility.
Reality: This myth gained traction in 2011 when Argentinian researchers published a study in Fertility and Sterility claiming that the radiation emanating from laptops could affect sperm production. However, other scientists were quick to debunk the findings, and even the study’s researchers eventually admitted that the findings were a bit unrealistic.
Myth: You should pee on someone if they get stung by a jellyfish.
Reality: Not only is this not an effective treatment method, but scientists have even found that it can worsen the sting. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the proper way to treat a jellyfish sting is with hot water, not urine.
Myth: Einstein failed math.
Reality: No, he never failed math. This myth has been circulating since the early 1900s, but Einstein himself put this myth to rest in 1935, saying: “I never failed in mathematics. Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.” The genius did flunk his college entrance exams—but even then, he excelled in the math portions. And for more of history’s fallacies, read up on The 40 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
Myth: Every living thing dies.
Reality: While yes, most living things do die eventually, there is one species of jellyfish that doesn’t technically perish. Known as the Turritopsis dohrnii, this essentially immortal sea creature revert, so to speak, back into a juvenile state after adulthood, so it can live out yet another life alongside its offspring. And for more fascinating facts about the seven seas, don’t miss the 30 Facts About the World’s Oceans That Will Blow Your Mind.
Myth: President Richard Nixon was successfully impeached.
Reality: He probably would have been, but it never came to that. Official impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon began on February 6, 1974, but the 37th President resigned on August 9, 1974, before anyone could ever successfully remove him from office. And if you love American history, then check out the 30 Craziest Things U.S. Presidents Have Done.
Myth: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Reality: This common idiom has no truth to it. In fact, the Empire State Building is struck by lightning about 23 times a year.
Myth: Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.
Reality: Brown eggs are no healthier than white eggs. The color of an egg’s shell is simply determined by the type of chicken laying them. Chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs, and chickens with brown or red earlobes lay brown ones.
Myth: Going outside with wet hair makes you sick.
Reality: Stepping outside in sub-zero weather with wet hair might make you chilly, but it won’t get you sick. Colds are caused by a virus, and they don’t care whether your hair is wet or dry.
Myth: Dogs sweat via panting.
Reality: Dogs do rely on panting to regulate their body temperatures and cool themselves down, but it isn’t how they sweat. Rather, dogs sweat through the merocrine glands located in their paw pads. And dogs heat up easily, so make sure to read up on the 5 Genius Ways to Keep Your Dog Cool This Summer.
Myth: Peanuts are a type of nut.
Reality: Despite their misleading name, peanuts are actually a type of legume crop. Though they’re commonly served with nuts, like walnuts and almonds, they are more closely related to clovers and chickpeas.
Myth: It takes years to digest swallowed gum.
Reality: Chewing gum is hard to digest if swallowed, but it doesn’t quite take seven years. Rather, the parts of the gum that are digestible are digested immediately, and the rest are excreted via your stools.
Myth: The odds are 50-50.
Reality: A group of Stanford University researchers proved this common misconception wrong when they flipped a lot of quarters and found that a coin was more likely to land on the face that it started on. The researchers put your actual odds at closer to 51-49, so pay attention to what side of the coin faces the sky.
Myth: The Five-Second Rule.
Reality: Don’t take your chances with food on the floor. When researchers at Clemson University left bologna and bread on a surface contaminated with salmonella for just five seconds, they found that the samples collected anywhere from 150 to 8,000 bacteria. And for more ways to stay healthy, don’t miss the 40 Ways to Make Your 40s Your Healthiest Decade.
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