35 Science ‘Facts’ That Are Totally Wrong
Here’s our comprehensive list of the most shocking science “facts” that are actually wrong. These myths, old wives tales, and misconceptions have been passed down through the ages, but we are here to put an end to that.
Have some we missed? Send them along to Science (at) businessinsider.com.
Most diamonds aren’t formed from compressed coal. Rather they are compressed and heated 90 miles below the surface of the Earth, while Coal is found about 2 miles below the Earth’s surface.
flickr user Seth Lemmons
Being “blind as a bat” means not being blind at all. While many use echolocation to navigate, all of them can see.
DeeAnn Reeder/Bucknell University
Poinsettias won’t kill you or your pets, though you still shouldn’t eat them. The flowers might make you a bit sick with some gastrointestinal issues.
Dropping a penny from the Empire State building won’t kill someone. The penny will top out at 50 miles per hour, which isn’t fast enough to kill.
Flickr user Charles 16e
Blondes and redheads are not “going extinct.” Genes do not go extinct. Recessive genes, like the gene for red or blonde hair color, can be carried from generation to generation without emerging as a hair color.
Hair and fingernails do not keep growing once someone dies. Instead, the skin shrinks, giving the appearance of further growth.
The color of your snot doesn’t indicate if you have a bacterial or viral infection — It can vary from clear to yellow to green with a variety of illnesses.
Pure water doesn’t conduct electricity well. The reason we can get shocked when standing in electrified water is because water we come across will be contaminated by minerals, dirt, and other things that will conduct electricity.
flickr user: elitatt
Frogs or toads won’t give you warts, but shaking hands with someone who has warts can. The human papillomavirus is what gives people warts, and it is unique to humans.
Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand when threatened. Actually they don’t bury their heads at all. When threatened, ostriches flop on the ground and play dead.
Your blood is never blue but rather dark red when it’s not carrying oxygen. It only looks blue because you are seeing it through your skin.
Giving children sugar doesn’t make them hyper. In several trials, kids were just as hyper when given sugary or sugar-free drinks.
It is possible to stand an egg on its head on any day of the year, not just on the Spring Equinox. It just requires a skilled egg handler and a textured egg shell.
flickr user: Christopher Hsia
Cracking your knuckles might annoy your office mates, but it doesn’t give you arthritis. Causes of osteoarthritis include age, injury, obesity, and genetics.
flickr user: orijinal
Organic food isn’t free of pesticides. However, pesticide levels on both organic and non organic foods are so low that they aren’t of concern, according to the USDA.
Stress doesn’t play a large role in chronic high blood pressure. Acute stress can temporarily increase blood pressure, but overall it’s not a main cause of hypertension. Things like genetics, smoking, and a bad diet are much bigger factors.
Lightning does strike twice. And some places, like the Empire State Building, get struck up to 100 times a year.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Lemmings do not commit mass suicide. During their migrations they sometimes do fall off cliffs, if they wander to an area they are unfamiliar with.
You are not born with all of the brain cells you will ever have. There is ample evidence that the brain continues to produce new cells in at least a few brain regions well into adulthood, through a process called neurogenesis.
Many people would call the dinosaur below a Brontosaurus — even Michael Crichton did in Jurassic Park — but it is actually called the Apatosaurus. The myth was started by two feuding paleontologists during the Bone Wars, 130 years ago.
One gene does not equal one protein. Many genes make multiple different proteins, depending on how the mRNA from the gene is sequenced and cut up in the cell. Some genes don’t make proteins at all.
Getty Images/William Thomas Cain
Goldfish actually have pretty good memories. They can remember things for months, not seconds like most people say.
HIV probably didn’t jump to humans through human-monkey sex, but through hunting of monkeys for food that led to blood-to-blood contact.
flickr user: kvn.jns
Dogs and cats don’t see in shades of grey. They can see in blue and green. Dogs have a wider field of vision than humans but cannot see as far in front of them as we can.
People don’t use “just 10%” of their brains. We use the entire brain for different processes at different times. We couldn’t survive if we scooped out 90% of it.
Getty Images/Matt Cardy
Only a small percentage of people with Tourette syndrome randomly yell out swear words — it actually encompasses a lot more than that, including involuntary movements and different sound tics. The swearing tic is called coprolalia.
During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained that the Earth was round, not flat. The myth that people thought the Earth was flat was started in the 1940s by the Members of the Historical Association.
Sharks can and do get cancer. The myth that they don’t was created by I. William Lane to sell shark cartilage as a cancer treatment.
The Northern Hemisphere of the Earth is not closer to the sun when it is summer. It is warmer in the US during summer because we are tilted toward the sun, so its energy hits us more directly.
The Great Wall of China isn’t the only man-made structure visible from space. Depending on your definition of space, either you can still see other man-made structures, or you can’t see it or other structures. From something like the Moon, you can only see our lights.
There is no such thing as someone having a “photographic” memory — only very good memories. Even people with exceptional or autobiographic memories don’t recall events with visual details precise enough to mimic a camera.
flicker user: slalit
Microwave radiation won’t cause cancer, it just heats food up. In fact only a few types of radiation cause cancer, and these depend on the dose — just like radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer but just enough helps your body make Vitamin D.
It’s a myth that McDonald’s burgers don’t rot. Actually they will rot given the right conditions — water and warmth for the microbes that break the food down.
Shaving your hair doesn’t make it thicker, it just makes it feel coarser for a time. That’s because the ends of the hairs are blunt instead of tapered.
Chewing gum does not take seven years to digest. Actually, we won’t digest it at all, but the body passes it normally, within several hours.
flickr user: sembrandogirasoles