Despite what some may say, science is not an inaccessible discipline (or, more accurately, series of disciplines) exclusive to academics. But due to this perception, many basic elements of the various scientific fields become warped, perverted, or switched over time and gelled in the minds of the populace as absolute fact. While obviously not everyone remains ignorant of the realities behind the myths, it is the sad truth that many of the following facts remain entirely obscured in the common consciousness – victims of myth and misconception in spite of reliable evidence to the contrary. This list compiles many frequently overlooked or misunderstood elements of science and backs them up with research from university or government sources as tangible proof.
1. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. : While data on deaths and injuries resulting from the potentially fatal combination of water and electricity is extremely difficult to find, it remains a sadly common accident. The government of Mesa, Arizona offers up sensible advice on dealing with electricity in the safest manner possible.
2. Do not mix ammonia and bleach together. : While death does not generally factor into the equation, blending ammonia and bleach together releases extremely harmful chlorine and other noxious gases that can cause serious damages to the lungs and brain – if not outright kill, of course. The State of New Jersey provides more details on using these cleansers safely.
3. Acid into water, never water into acid. : The reliable mnemonic relating the procedure to A&W Root Beer helps students and chemists alike remember that the opposite effect may result in painful or disfiguring chemical burns. University of Oregon has more information on this and other lab safety tips.
4. What goes up, must come down. : Anyone shooting a bullet or other dangerous projectile straight into the air ought to think towards one major aspect of Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, as explained by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
5. An object at rest stays at rest… : …because of Newton’s First Law of Motion, here discussed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Put simply, a resting object will not begin moving until another one places some sort of force upon it.
6. An object in motion stays in motion… : …also due to Newton’s First Law of Motion. Probably something to consider before trying to shoot a viral video for YouTube.
7. Matter is neither created nor destroyed. : Burning an ex’s stuff in a supposedly defiant display of independence and vengeance will never make it actually go away thanks to the Law of Conservation of Matter, further explained here by the University of Houston. As matter is neither created nor destroyed – but rather changes state – it may be a better idea to save the lighter fluid and just donate their old books and clothing to charity instead.
8. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. : As with matter, energy only changes between different states rather than spontaneously popping in and out of existence. The University of Georgia offers up a great explanation its official name – First Law of Thermodynamics.
9. What constitutes a chemical change. : Chemical changes – such as burning, cooking, decomposition, and others – permanently alter the composition of an object. Rhode Island College provides more information on the different types and what they involve.
10. What constitutes a physical change. : Unlike chemical changes, those of the physical variety (cutting, carving, breaking, etc.) only alter the shape or form of an object and leave their core compositions intact. Utah State Office of Education uses the creation of a baseball bat as an example.
11. Red and yellow, kill a fellow… : …red and black, friend of Jack. This mantra helps amateur and professional naturalists alike tell the difference between the deadly coral snake and the entirely harmless scarlet kingsnake. University of Georgia offers more information on this sterling example of biomimicry in action.
12. Spiders are not insects. : Many people lump spiders in with the insects, but their eight legs, simplistic eye structure, and lack of wings do not place them in that classification. Rather, biologists consider them arachnids, related more to scorpions and ticks than wasps and ants. An accessible, in-depth overview of spiders (especially those in Texas) is available from Texas A&M University.
13. Dolphins and whales are not fish. : Because of their shape and aquatic habitat, people continuously mistake dolphins, whales, and porpoises as fish. As endothermic creatures with hair, mammary glands, and the ability to give birth to live young, they fully qualify as mammals – specifically, cetaceans. University of California at Berkeley hosts more information on these beloved creatures.
14.Bats are not birds. : Due to the fact that they actually fly rather than glide, many people still adhere to the belief that bats are birds. In reality, their hair, endothermic body heating, milk production, and giving birth to live young land them squarely in the mammalian classification. Read through the Encyclopedia Smithsonian for further information on these unique animals.
15. Never put a magnet near electronics. : According to Argonne National Laboratory – among many, many other reliable sources, of course – magnets and their accompany fields can negatively interfere with or outright damage most electronics.
16. Frozen water is capable of cracking metal containers. : State Farm Insurance offers up some great tips on preventing bursting plumbing in a home, which affects up to a quarter-million families a year in the United States alone. Even though cold contracts, the act of freezing water creates a solid with the dangerous ability to split open even metal confines.
17. A light year is not a unit of time. : Although the term “year” factors into the nomenclature, a light year actually measures extremely long distances and is used in mapping galaxies, planets, stars, and other astronomical phenomena. NASA states that light years are equivalent to about 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers and stem from how quickly a beam of light will travel in the span of a year.
18. Heat expands. : Heat causes the atoms and molecules of a substance to vibrate more, and subsequently expand as a result. The researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have much more to say on the subject.
19. Cold contracts. : Boston University provides some great information on how cold contraction works when juxtaposed with heat expansion, providing all the necessary formulas to illustrate the point.
20. Antibiotics can render birth control pills ineffective. : According to the Mayo Clinic, antibiotics do have an effect on whether or not oral contraceptives work – however, their true risk has been a bit overblown. Those on low doses especially need to consider alternate forms of preventing pregnancy, though it is a wise idea for any woman on birth control pills to do so if antibiotics are needed. Rifampin has already been proven to negate their efficiency.
21. Lightning is electricity. : Many people find lightning dramatic and frightening, but few pause to remember that it is, in fact, a massive discharge of electricity resulting from an imbalance of positive and negative particles. Therefore, individuals must react to it as such – in other words, avoiding waters and conductive metals when bolts have been spotted. Check out National Geographic’s quick, concise overview of lighting and how it works.
22. Thunder is the sound of lightning heating up atmospheric gas. : Because sound travels significantly slower than light (the fastest known element in the universe), thunder will always lag behind a lightning strike. The Weather Channel Kids! explains that thunder results when gases in the sky become suddenly heated by an electrostatic discharge and offers up an easy formula for figuring out the location of a storm.
23. Computers cannot do anything without a human command at some point. : Eastern Mennonite University hosts a simple overview of what computers can and cannot actually do (clicking the link leads to a download of a .doc file). Although computer technology is capable of calculations and processes far faster than that of a human brain, at some point in a person had to give the commands that needed execution. Laptops may be much quicker at retrieving information than their owners, but they are still beholden to their desires.
24. Space is not a complete vacuum. : Few physicists or astronomers would argue that there are certainly elements of a vacuum in outer space – in fact, NASA Quest explicitly states that the majority of the universe is comprised of such an environment. However, gas molecules and other particles still flit about and prevent it from being classified as a true vacuum.
25. Rats do not carry the plague. : Rats in and of themselves are never actually to blame for the onset of bubonic plague – in spite of their abundance, they did not inherently cause the Black Death and other instances. Rather, the CDC places the blame fully on the Yersinia pestis bacteria strain as transported through the Oriental rat flea. These frequently derided rodents only served as carriers for the fleas rather than the agents of the disease themselves.
26. Humans are not the only animals who use tools. : Humanity oftentimes arrogantly points to its use of tools as one reason it stands as superior to other species. However, as this informative site from Tufts University points out, a diverse number of animals possess the intelligence and resourcefulness to creatively use elements of their environments to make their lives easier.
27. Humans are not the only animals who use slave labor. : Biologists – including those at North Carolina State University – have noted the unusual behavior of the rare and aptly-named slavemaker ants. As their nomenclature implies, these intriguing insects actually keep members of a rival species in servitude, stealing their eggs and enslaving the adults for petty labor tasks.
28. Humans are not the only animals known to display homosexual behavior. : Many critics denounce homosexuality in humans as unnatural, however a multitude of biologists have observed such behaviors in a diverse variety of animal species. As this article from National Geographic points out, chinstrap penguins, some primates, dolphins, fruit bats, some beetles, some birds, sheep, and other animals have all been observed engaging in homosexual or bisexual activity.
29. Vampire bats do not drink (human) blood. : Unlike many of their relatives, vampire bats do actually drink blood. But contrary to popular assumption, they have absolutely no interest in humans. According to University of Pittsburgh, they much prefer birds and livestock as their prey, with the latter suffering almost no pain or injury from a bite. Humans are at a far higher risk of contracting rabies than sustaining any blood loss.
30. Silencers do not completely silence guns. : Firearm silencers and suppressors, as with many things, actually do not work in reality the way Hollywood thinks they do. The venerable How Stuff Works details how they actually operate, revealing that, while they do in fact quiet some of the noise, they do not eliminate it completely.
31. Eating poppy seeds will not always result in a failed drug test. : The common myth about eating poppy seeds can lead to failing a drug test has a solid foundation in reality, as heroin, morphine, codeine, and other opiates are created from the plants. But Indiana University sheds some light on the reality of the situation, pointing out that only the seeds of opiate poppies cause false positives. For those who have eaten the offending poppyseeds, however, there are ways to determine whether or not the opiate traces come from narcotics or a harmless bagel.
32. Evolution does not always means advancement. : Many people associate the theory of evolution and natural selection as inherently improving upon a species. While this does factor into the equation, of course, the real evolutionary process actually extends further than that. As University of California Berkeley details in its comprehensive guide, it also involves negative changes as well.
33. The “5 second rule” is a fallacy. : Popular schoolyard mantras dictate that any food dropped on the floor fails to pick up microbes within the first 5 seconds. Paul Dawson, a food scientist at Clemson University, discovered that bacteria climbs onto food particles immediately upon contact and thus dispelled this eerily common myth.
34. There is actually gravity in space. : Northwestern University lays to rest the general claim of zero gravity in outer space by explaining how its influence relates to distance. Every entity in the universe is actually subjected to some degree of gravitational pull, no matter its location.
35. Lightning can actually strike the same place twice. : Information on lightning striking the same location multiple times abounds online, but no research acts as the most compelling evidence to the same extent as NASA’s exhaustive testing of the myth at hand. Not only can it hit a target more than once, but the likelihood of it happening ended up being 45% higher than anticipated.
36. Not all scientists follow the Scientific Method. : Truthfully, scientists use a variety of different experiment structures. While the scientific method familiar to all school-aged children makes for one such possibility, it cannot always be used in every situation. University of Rochester stresses its importance in developing critical thinking, but explains how many situations see no benefits from using the scientific method and an alternate route towards discovery is needed.
37. Cutting a worm in half results in two new animals. : Generally, cutting a worm in half will result in two glistening chunks of dead meat. However, as Cornell University points out, depending on how the slicing occurs it could yield one dead tail and one fully functioning body that eventually regenerates the lost segments. Some may have mistaken the twitching, dying nerve endings by the tail as a sign of life rather than the last impulses of a severed body part.
38. The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space. : Many posit that the Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure visible from outer space – even the moon. In reality, NASA reveals that the impressive architecture blends into the surrounding landscape from lower Earth orbit, while major cities and their major landmarks can. However, at a certain distance, absolutely no human construction is visible.
39. Black holes can actually be detected. : Because they exist as extremely dense phenomena from which nothing – not even light – may escape, logic follows that it is impossible to actually figure out where black holes sit. However, astronomers use the physics equivalent of context clues as a means of mapping out their locations. Black holes unsurprisingly leave a significant impact on the surrounding environment, and Cornell University outlines everything they look for as a means of seeking out these mysterious cosmic entities.
40. Males are not always needed for reproduction. : Animals such as the whiptail lizard and some breeds of shark reproduce using a unique method of asexual reproduction in a non-hermaphroditic species. Whiptail lizards, for example, exist in almost exclusively female societies and copulate with one another to encourage egg laying. Nova hosts an article from the Journal of Fish Biology on how the process works in the blacktip shark.
41. It is not easier to balance an egg on the first day of spring. : Wayne Osborn of Central Michigan University put the urban legend of eggs balancing better on the Spring Equinox to the test, ultimately revealing that the actual day does not matter in the slightest.
42. Humans use way more than 10% of their brains. : Another popular science myth dictates that the human brain only operates at 10% capacity, with 90% either unused or housing functions the populace may not know about. University of Washington traces the origin and perpetuation of the misconception and reveals that mankind actually uses every part of their brains for various reasons.
43. Sugar does not cause hyperactivity. : In actuality, there is no link between sugar consumption and hyperactive behavior. According to John Willis Lloyd at University of Virginia, some researchers discovered that it may even have the opposite effect. The correlation may come into play with sugar’s significant role in caffeinated beverages, which have been known to act as a stimulant for hyperactivity.
44. Carrots do not improve night vision. : Though an excellent source of Vitamin A, carrots cannot improve upon already perfect vision, nor can they grant a boost to seeing in the dark. While granting consumers with enough beta carotene to help maintain their eyesight to lend some credence to the myth, any positive effects carrots may have on night vision remain negligible at best. In fact, the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at Australian National University in Canberra published research on the psychosomatic element of carrots and night vision.
45. Daddy Longlegs are not the most venomous spiders in the world. : One extremely common myth regarding spiders involves the toxicity of the daddy longlegs variety. At least two different species go by that moniker, and neither of them have been known to produce venom – or even bite a human to begin with! University of California, Riverside provides an in-depth explanation of the spiders in question and how the misconceptions came into existence.
46. Toads do not cause warts. : In spite of their bumpy appearance, absolutely no correlation exists between handling toads and getting warts. For one thing, these blemishes result from exposure to the human papilloma virus, which cannot even be found in reptiles in the first place. Medline Plus at the National Institute of Health offers up a bevy of information and resources on the cause and treatment of warts – none of which mention toads at any point.
47. Shaving does not cause thicker, darker hair. : Mayo Clinic weighs in on the myth that shaving directly causes hair to grow back thicker and darker, providing a much-needed dose of reality to a concerned populace. Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D. sheds light on how genetics determine hair structure and the ways in which the perception of coarser, darker strands initially came into play.
48. Eyes will not stick when crossed. : Mothers around the world frequently admonish their children for crossing their eyes by telling them they will stick that way. These threats carry absolutely no water, however, as at worst crossing eyes for long periods of time will result in fatigue and headaches. Berkeley researchers provide an informative glimpse into how the medical condition known as strabismus actually causes crossed and/or lazy eyes – at no point does merely clowning around factor into the state.
49. Glass is a solid, not an extremely viscous liquid. : Due to its odd structure and occasionally unusual behavior, some believe glass to be a highly viscous liquid at room temperature rather than a solid. While their conjectures to make some modicum of sense, Florin Neumann at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln came to the conclusion that this perception stood as an urban legend. Glass exists as an “amorphous solid” with a few shared characteristics with liquids, but structurally fits the profile of a solid to a far greater extent.
50. Hair and nails do not continue to grow after death. : Vampire mythos and other tales of the dead often declare that hair and nails keep growing long after an individual has been buried. While the concept makes for intriguing speculative fiction, it fully remains just that – untrue! As the human body decomposes, the skin begins shrinking back and creates the illusion that the subcutaneous bits of hair and nails that begin peeking out are actually actively growing. Keratin – the substance that comprises both nails and hair – dies along with the body. University of Arkansas at Little Rock provides a revealing timeline on postmortem decomposition and its role in forensic investigations.
No matter the root cause, these scientific facts and their accompanying research remain frequently misunderstood, misinterpreted, or completely forgotten in the popular perception. The aforementioned pieces of information ought to dispel many common myths and help keep people knowledgeable and – in some cases – even healthier, happier, and safer.
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