Forget What You Thought You Knew About Science: 40 Myths That Need To Be Debunked Once And For All

The world is a wondrous place, with so much to learn and marvel at. But in our quest for understanding, sometimes we can be fooled by myths that appear to be true, even if science says otherwise. So if you think you know what the tallest mountain on Earth is, how many senses human beings have, or how the seasons of the year work, read on. Because countless “facts” you’ve probably heard actually have no basis in reality whatsoever.

40. Confronted with danger, ostriches bury their heads in the sand

We’ve all heard the assertion that ostriches, when confronted by uncertainty, will “hide” by burying their heads in the sand. It’s certainly a funny notion, but it doesn’t exactly bear scrutiny. Ostriches really have been observed with their heads in the ground, but they’re not doing it because they’re afraid. They’re probably just checking on their eggs, which they lay in underground nests.

39. Hearing Mozart in the womb makes babies smarter

Expectant parents naturally want the best for their unborn babies, so they’ll do what they can to aid their development. Some people even play their baby Mozart in the hope that it’ll make the kid more intelligent. But there isn’t actually any evidence to suggest that this does help. So you don’t have to feel guilty anymore for listening to Prince… around your unborn anyway.

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38. Human ancestors were apes

When it comes to human evolution, a serious misconception can sometimes crop up. It revolves around the notion that humans actually evolved from apes. This is, of course, a big misunderstanding. The truth is that both humans and apes are descendants of the same ape-like species. We still don’t know what this animal was, though, hence we call it the missing link.

37. Humans possess just five senses

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Many of us were taught that humans are equipped with five senses, but we actually have way more than that. Some people suggest that it’s closer to 18, but we can definitely say that it’s no less than nine. Examples of these additional senses are equilibrioception, thermoception and interoception, which respectively refer to how we perceive our own balance, the temperature around us, and how our insides feel.

36. Cracking joints causes arthritis

Lots of people get freaked out when someone cracks their knuckles – it just seems like a bad thing to do. But in reality there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that the habit’s actively damaging. And there are certainly no signs that it induces arthritis despite what many squeamish folk might think.

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35. Thomas Edison created the first ever lightbulb

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So many inventions are attributed to Thomas Edison, but there’s a notable one that shouldn’t be. Many people think he came up with the lightbulb, yet someone else actually beat him to the punch – and by some margin. This was Warren de La Rue, who came up with the contraption almost four decades before Edison. We hope that switches on a light for you.

34. Bats can’t see

We’ve all heard the expression “blind as a bat,” but did you know that it’s completely irrelevant? In reality bats do have eyes – and they work just fine. It’s true that the creatures don’t perceive as much color as we do, but their eyes have evolved to see in places that would be too dark for us.

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33. Fingernails keep growing after we’ve passed

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When the remains of a person begin to decompose, it might appear that their hair and nails continue to grow. Don’t be too freaked out, though, as this is just an illusion. What’s actually happening is that the deceased’s skin has dried out and retreated, making the hair and nails seem bigger.

32. Mice favor cheese over anything else

We’ve all grown up watching cartoons where mice steal little chunks of cheese. Yet this isn’t at all based on reality, as there’s no scientific evidence to suggest the creatures prefer cheese to anything else. In fact, it’s more likely that they’d be happier to come across chocolate or cereal.

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31. Twinkies stay fresh for eternity

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Over the years, Twinkies have developed a reputation for never expiring. And some rumors have gone so far as to suggest that they’d survive a nuclear holocaust. The reality, however, is far less impressive, with the cake treats going off within the space of a month after production.

30. Tossing a penny from a skyscraper is deadly

Though you definitely shouldn’t do it, the truth is that flinging a penny from the top of a skyscraper isn’t that dangerous. Pennies aren’t at all heavy, and they’re not the most aerodynamic of objects, either. So if one falls from a great height and clips someone on the head, it’ll be irritating – but it shouldn’t be fatal.

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29. The dinosaurs were totally wiped out by an asteroid

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Around 65 million years ago most of the life on Earth was destroyed. Though we don’t know for sure what happened, the leading theory is that the extinction was set in motion by an asteroid smashing into the Earth. It’s often presumed that this event completely wiped out the dinosaurs, but the truth is that some species survived. Modern birds, for instance, can trace their lineage to the dinosaurs that made it through those times.

28. Blood is a blue color inside the body

It’s easy to see why people believe that blood is a shade of blue when it’s inside the body. After all, that’s what it seems like when you look at your own veins. But that blue color is actually caused by the way in which light interacts with your body’s tissue. The blood coursing through the veins themselves, meanwhile, is most definitely red.

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27. Humans use a mere tenth of their brains

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We might like to believe that we’re only accessing a fraction of our brain’s potential, but sadly it just isn’t true. Though it’s a widely held belief, there’s no proof whatsoever to suggest that we only use a tenth of our brains. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly points towards the contrary.

26. Elephants are freaked out by mice

There’s definitely something amusing in the notion of a giant elephant being terrified of a teeny-tiny mouse. But it’s unlikely. Despite the rumor, elephants don’t seem to have any particular aversion to the rodents. Having said that, their eyesight isn’t great, so maybe a mouse scuttling past would actually give them a fright.

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25. The Great Wall of China can be easily spotted from the Moon

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There’s long been a rumor that the Great Wall of China would be visible if you stood on the Moon. But this simply, isn’t true. And we can be sure because a person who’s been up there has told us so. Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean remarked, “The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow…No man-made object is visible at this scale.”

24. Water is a conductor of electricity

It’s a falsehood to suggest that water is able to conduct electricity, but you still shouldn’t take a dip during a lightning storm. If you introduced electricity to purified water, everything would be fine – but water tends not to be completely pure. Instead, it generally contains minerals that most definitely allow for electrical charges to flow.

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23. Our Moon has its dark side

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When we look up at the night sky, we can obviously only see the part of the Moon that’s facing us. But that doesn’t mean that the other section’s in a perpetual state of darkness. In fact, it receives just as much sunlight as the side that we’re able to see.

22. The Sahara is the planet’s largest desert

When we think of deserts, we tend to imagine red sands and intense sunlight. The largest desert of this kind is undoubtedly the Sahara, but there are other types, too. Polar deserts are much, much colder, defined by icy expanses and freezing temperatures. Both the Arctic and Antarctica polar deserts are bigger than the Sahara, with Antarctica being the largest on Earth.

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21. Chameleons switch their color to help them hide

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It’s such a cool idea, but sadly it doesn’t hold up. Chameleons are capable of changing color, but the array of shades available to them isn’t infinite. Plus, they don’t do it so that they can blend in with their environment. It actually has to do with regulating their temperature and communicating with one another.

20. The North Star glows brighter than any other

From our perspective here on Earth, the North Star – otherwise known as Polaris – is special. As other stars in the sky appear to move over the course of a night, the North Star stays still. So Polaris definitely stands out, but there are roughly 50 other stars visible from Earth that are brighter.

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19. Swallowed gum will stay in your system for seven years

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You should definitely dispose of your gum in the trash after you’ve finished chewing it. But if you do swallow, it won’t stay in your system for seven years, as folklore has long suggested. Your body will take the tiny bits it can from the substance, and then it’ll pass the rest as waste.

18. The Neanderthal was less advanced than us

Given we were the only species of human to survive, we might think of ourselves as more advanced than our archaic cousins. But the fossil record tells us otherwise. If we consider the Neanderthal, we can see that they used tools, made fires, and consumed plants with medicinal qualities. These are complex behaviors.

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17. Houseflies only live for a day

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Houseflies certainly don’t have the longest of lifecycles, but they tend to live for longer than a day. Some can even keep going for a month or so. There are fly species that do have really short lives, however. The mayfly, for instance, won’t make it past a day, with some even meeting their demise after five minutes.

16. Antibiotics help to destroy viruses

This particular myth is especially important to dispel. Some people believe that taking antibiotics is an effective means of getting rid of a virus. Not only is this inaccurate, but it’s also potentially damaging. Antibiotics destroy bacteria, not viruses. But if a person takes too many antibiotics, certain bacteria can then become immune to such a treatment. These so-called “superbugs” can be really dangerous, so antibiotics should be avoided unless truly needed.

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15. The Moon impacts how we behave

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Many people believe that the appearance of the Moon can really affect the way we act. The assertion is so prevalent, in fact, that scientists have even looked into the matter. But the thing is, they haven’t found any direct evidence to suggest that it’s true. Usually, wayward behavior can be explained by some other factor besides the Moon.

14. The seasons are based on how close Earth is to our Sun

It might seem logical that the seasons are determined by the position of our planet in relation to the Sun. But in reality, it has to do with how the planet is angled. So summer isn’t defined by the Earth being close to the Sun, but rather by the fact that it’s angled in such a way as to receive a lot of sunlight.

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13. A dog’s mouth is more hygienic than a human’s

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There’s a common misconception that dog’s mouths are more germ-free than people’s. Well, no. And common sense alone should tell us that. Unlike humans, dogs aren’t equipped with hands, so they use their mouths to pick stuff up and clean themselves. This means that they’re faces are often up close and personal with some very unsanitary things.

12. We lose the most amount of heat from the tops of our heads

When it’s a cold day outside, we’ll likely put on a woolly hat to keep our bodies from losing warmth. While this is certainly a good idea, it’s not because the head is particularly prone to heat loss. In actual fact, a hatless head loses just as much heat as any other exposed body part.

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11. Water drains in a different direction either side of the equator

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The Coriolis effect dictates that hurricanes rotate in different directions, depending on whether they’re north or south of the equator. And if you’ve seen The Simpsons, you might believe that this can also be observed when water travels down a drain. But Lisa Simpson was wrong on this subject – the Coriolis effect only applies at a much bigger scale.

10. No other mountain on Earth is taller than Everest

At more than 29,000 feet above the surface of the ocean, Mount Everest is commonly touted as the world’s tallest mountain. But you might be shocked to learn that this isn’t the case. The tallest mountain is actually Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, which measures over 4,000 feet more. We don’t tend to consider it the highest mountain, though, because it’s largely underwater.

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9. Bulls are angered by red things

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The controversial sport of bullfighting would have it seem that bulls are sent into a fury when they see a red cloak. The thing is, though, their reaction is more to do with the way the fabric moves, rather than its color. In actual fact, bulls are colorblind when it comes to reds and greens.

8. Goldfish completely forget after just three seconds

Goldfish get a bad rap when it comes to their memory. We’re often told that they forget things after just three seconds, but experiments say otherwise. One, for example, involved playing fish a particular noise when they were being fed. They came to associate this sound with food. Later researchers triggered the noise again – and many of the fish swam over to investigate – months after they’d last heard it.

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7. Too much candy makes kids go nuts

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We can all remember being told as kids that eating too much candy would pull us into a state of hyperactivity. Well, it turns out that sugar really doesn’t specifically impact the way children go about their business. It might simply be the case that grown-ups pay attention to particular behaviors that seemingly point towards this being true.

6. Opossums fall asleep upside down

You may have heard that opossums sleep much like bats – namely, by hanging upside down. It’s definitely an amusing thought, but sadly it doesn’t quite ring true. The creatures do have remarkably strong tails, and they really can support their own weights with them. But they can only do this for bursts of time – and certainly not during a nap – because they’d plummet to the floor.

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5. Matter exists in only three different states

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Our Universe is made up of matter, which itself exists in a variety of states. As schoolchildren, many of us were informed that these were liquid, gas and solid. Well, matter certainly does exist in these three states – but what of plasma? Plasma is a state of matter that’s distinct from the other three. And there’s also another state we now know as Bose-Einstein condensate.

4. Dogs can’t see color

It’s a widespread belief that dogs are unable to perceive color, but the truth is more complicated. The truth is that dogs aren’t colorblind, but they do detect color in a different way to humans. So in addition to whites, blacks and grays, dogs are able to see shades of green and blue, too. Woof that down!

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3. Lightning bolts can’t hit the same spot more than once

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Contrary to the popular saying, lightning can, indeed, strike the same place twice. Though it might feel like an unlikely thing to happen, there’s actually no scientific basis for suggesting that it can’t. In reality, a spot that’s already been hit is no more or less likely to be struck again than anywhere else.

2. Bananas come from trees

You may have heard of a “banana tree,” but such a thing doesn’t actually exist. Sure, the things that bananas grow on look like trees, but they’re actually classified as herbs. And given that they can reach as high as 25 foot tall, they’re said to be the biggest herbs in the world.

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1. Peeing on a jellyfish sting helps with the pain

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If you’re unfortunate enough to step on a jellyfish, do not pee on the sting! Not only would such a gross act be ineffective, but it could also make things worse. The sodium that’s contained in urine could interfere with the sting and cause extra venom to be excreted. So ignore that bizarre piece of advice and seek out professional medical help.

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