17 Science “Facts” That Are Actually Not True
How many do you still believe?
Myth: Water conducts electricity
While this is a science myth, it doesn’t mean you should bring your toaster in the bath with you. The reason you shouldn’t swim in a lightning storm doesn’t have to do with the water itself. Pure water is actually an insulator, which means it doesn’t conduct electricity. The danger comes from the minerals and chemicals in it called ions, which have an electric charge. While pure water is theoretically safe around electricity, it’s nearly impossible to find in the real world because even distilled water has ions. Check out these other 51 “fun facts” that are total lies.
Myth: Blood is blue in your body
A widely shared myth is that blood is blue until it is exposed to air or replenishes its oxygen. Because veins are a greenish blue, that theory sounds reasonable enough. But the fact is, human blood looks the same in your body as outside: red. That hue is brighter when it’s oxygen-rich and darker when it needs that oxygen replenished, but it’s red all the same. The tissue covering your veins affects how the light is absorbed and scattered, which is why the blood circulating your body looks blue. Don’t miss these other 50 myths about the human body.
Myth: Dinosaurs were scaly beasts
The giant, scaly lizards you see in Jurassic Park probably don’t look that close to what actual dinosaurs looked like. While scientists are still debating what the oldest and biggest species were covered with, one thing is for sure: At least some had feathers. Velociraptor arm fossils have bumps that look just like the ones keeping modern birds’ wings in place, and bones of a Siberian species discovered in 2014 was surrounded with imprints of feathers. While some scientists argue larger species like the tyrannosaurus rex didn’t need big feathers, others theorize that they had at least some form of light feathering, like how elephants are mammals but don’t have thick fur.
Myth: Humans only use 10 percent of their brains
The idea of unlocking hidden brain power might make a compelling storyline for a movie, but it simply wouldn’t happen in real life. One fact playing into the myth is that 90 percent of brain cells are “white matter” that help neurons survive, and only ten percent is the “grey matter” of neurons in charge of thinking. But that white matter could never be used for brain power, so claiming 90 percent of our brain is wasted is like saying you waste peanuts when you throw out the shells. Any fMRI scan will show you that even saying a few words lights up way more than ten percent of your brain. Scientists haven’t uncovered any area of the brain (much less 90 percent) that doesn’t affect thought, movement, or emotion in some capacity. Check out these other 55 health myths that won’t go away.
Myth: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure you can see from the moon
Interestingly, this myth has been around at least since 1932, when a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! cartoon deemed the Great Wall of China is “the mightiest work of man—the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon.” Of course, that was almost 30 years before a machine would touch down on the moon, so the claim was entirely unfounded. Astronauts have now confirmed that even the Great Wall actually can’t be seen from space, except at low altitudes. Even at those (relatively) low heights, it’s actually easier to see roads and plane runways, whose colors don’t blend into the ground like the Great Wall’s do. Not that the landmark isn’t impressive—find out what it’s really like to repair the Great Wall of China.
Myth: Chameleons change color to match their surroundings
Yes, chameleons can change color by stretching and relaxing cells that contain crystals, which affects how the light is reflected. They can’t change into any color to match their surroundings, though, and their color changes don’t have much to do with camouflage. Instead, chameleons use the crystals mainly for communication (dark colors signal aggression, like when a female doesn’t want to mate), but also temperature control (lighter colors reflect the heat). Those changes aren’t directly used for camouflage, though—just the opposite, in fact. The dull brown and green “resting colors” of chameleons blend in with their surroundings until they switch it up. Other animals are masters at hiding, too—can you spot the animals camouflaged in these photos?
Myth: Neanderthals were a less evolved human ancestor
First of all, let’s get one thing straight: Neanderthals aren’t ancestors to modern humans. The two species lived at the same time, mostly in different areas of the globe. When the species did cross paths, there’s even evidence that they interbred. But evidence doesn’t suggest they were cognitively inferior to humans. Fossils show Neanderthals made tools, used fire, cleaned their teeth, ate medicinal plants, buried their dead, and maybe even cared for their sick and wounded. Scientists no longer think Homo sapiens wiped out their Neanderthal cousins. Neanderthals likely were already dying out as the climate changed, while modern humans’ trade networks, diverse diets, and innovative tools helped them survive.
Myth: Earth is the only planet with water
Of course, we have yet to find any intelligent life living off interstellar water, but H2O isn’t unique to Earth. Dark streaks that change on Mars suggest there isn’t just ice on the Red Planet—liquid salt-water likely flows on it. What’s more, NASA discovered that beneath a layer of ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa, there’s an ocean containing twice as much water as we have on Earth. Could faraway planets with water sustain intelligent life? Only time will tell.
Myth: It takes seven years to digest chewing gum
Don’t freak out if you can’t find a trashcan and need to swallow your gum. The truth is that your body can’t digest gum, not even in seven years. That doesn’t mean it sticks inside your system, though. It will pass through your digestive system without being broken down, then come out in the bathroom like anything else. If kids swallow too much, the gum could block their intestines, but that’s extremely rare. Don’t miss these other 21 common food myths you need to stop believing.
Myth: Goldfish have three-second memories
Fish are smarter than you thought. One study found the freshwater fish African Cichlids could remember the feeding zone of an aquarium after moving to a different tank for 12 days. Lest you think goldfish are any different, another study looked specifically at goldfish and whether they could tell the difference between two different classical songs. They weren’t quick learners, but after more than 100 sessions, the fish would bite a bead associated with the correct song 75 percent of the time. If their memories were really three seconds, that kind of training wouldn’t be possible. Here are some more science trivia questions most people get wrong.