It’s time to put an end to the most alluring science myths, misconceptions, and inaccuracies passed down through the ages.
To help the cause we’ve rounded up and corrected dozens of the most shocking science “facts” that are bizarrely wrong about food, animals, the Earth, biology, space, alcohol, andhealth.
MYTH: There are bugs in your strawberry Frappuccino.
This one is no longer true.
Before April 2012, Starbucks’ strawberry Frappucino contained a dye made from the ground-up bodies of thousands of tiny insects, called cochineal bugs (or Dactylopius coccus).
Farmers in South and Central America make a living harvesting and smashing the bugs that go into the dye. Their crushed bodies produce a deep red ink that is used as a natural food coloring, which was “called cochineal” red but is now called “carmine color.”
Starbucks stopped using carmine color in their strawberry Frappucinos in 2012. But the dye is still used in thousands of other food products from Nerds candies to grapefruit juice. Not to mention cosmetics, like lovely shades of red lipstick.
MYTH: Eating food within 5 seconds of dropping it on the floor is safe.
Flickr / Rubbermaid Products
It’s the worst when something you really wanted to eat falls on the floor. But if you grab it in five seconds, it’s ok, right?
The five-second-rule isn’t a real thing. Bacteria can contaminate a food within milliseconds.
Mythbusting tests show that moist foods attract more bacteria than dry foods, but there’s no “safe duration.” Instead, safety depends on how clean the surface you dropped the food on is.
Whether you eat it or not after that is up to you, but if the people that walk on that floor are also walking around New York City, for example, we wouldn’t recommend it.
MYTH: The chemical tryptophan in turkey makes you sleepy.
Who doesn’t love the post-Thanksgiving nap? After all, turkey contains tryptophan an amino acid that is a component of some of the brain chemicals that help you relax.
But plenty of foods contain tryptophan. Cheddar cheese has even more than turkey, yet cheddar is never pointed out as a sleep inducing food.
Experts say that instead, the carbs, alcohol, and general size of the turkey-day feast are the cause of those delicious holiday siestas.
MYTH: There’s beaver butt secretions in your vanilla ice cream.
But castoreum is so expensive, at up to $70 per pound of anal gland (the cost to humanely milk castoreum froma beaveris likely evenhigher), that it’s unlikely to show up in anything you eat.
In 2011, the Vegetarian Resource Group wrote to five major companies that produce vanilla flavoring and asked if they use castoreum. The answer: According to the Federal Code of Regulations, they can’t. (The FDA highly regulates what goes into vanilla flavoring and extracts.)
It’s equally unlikely you’ll find castoreum in mass-marketed goods, either.
MYTH: Eating chocolate gives you acne.
For one month, scientists fed dozens of people candy bars containing 10 times the usual amount of chocolate, and dozens of others fake chocolate bars.
When they counted the zits before and after each diet, there was “no difference” between the two groups. Neither the chocolate nor the fat seemed to have any effect on acne.
MYTH: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Apples are packed with vitamin C and fiber, both of which are important to long-term health, but they aren’t all you need.
And if certain viruses or bacteria get into your system, an apple will unfortunately do nothing to protect you.
Go ahead and get that flu shot, even if you eat apples.
Source: Business Insider
MYTH: Organic food is pesticide-free and more nutritious.
MYTH: Natural sugar like honey is better for you than processed sugar.
A granola bar made with honey instead of high-fructose corn syrup is not better for you.
That’s because sugar in natural products like fruit and synthetic products like candy is the same: “Scientists would be surprised to hear about the ‘clear superiority’ of honey, since there is a near unanimous consensus that the biological effect of high-fructose corn syrup are essentially the same as those of honey,” professor Alan Levinovitz told Business Insider.
The problem is that candy and other related products typically contain more sugar per serving, which means more calories a difference you should actually be watching out for.
MYTH: Milk does a body good!
This is an incredibly successful bit of advertising that has wormed its way into our brains and policiesto make milk seem magical.
The US Department of Agriculture tells us that adults should drink three cups of milk a day, mostly for calcium and vitamin D.
However, multiple studies show that there isn’t an association between drinking more milk (or taking calcium and vitamin D supplements) and having fewer bone fractures.
Some studies have even shown an association with higher overall mortality, and while that doesn’t mean that milk consumption itself was responsible, it’s certainly not an endorsement.
MYTH: Coffee stunts your growth.
Most research finds no correlation between caffeine consumption and bone growth in kids.
In adults, researchers have seen that increased caffeine consumption can very slightly limit calcium absorption, but the impact is so small that a tablespoon of milk will more than adequately offset the effects of a cup of coffee.
Advertising seems to be largely responsible for this myth: Cereal manufacturer named C.W. Post was trying to market a morning beverage called “Postum” as an alternative to coffee, so he ran ads on the “evils” of Americans’ favorite hot beverage, calling it a “nerve poison” that should never be served to children.
MYTH: Eating ice cream will make your cold worse.
If you’re home sick with a cold, you can totally go ahead and comfort yourself with some ice cream.
The idea that dairy increases mucous production is very fortunately not true, according to researchers and a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, who says “in fact, frozen dairy products can soothe a sore throat and provide calories when you otherwise may not eat.”
MYTH: Sugar is as addictive as heroin.
In the 2009 book “Fat Chance,” the author, Dr. Robert Lustig, claims that sugar stimulates the brain’s reward system the same way that tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and even heroin does, and therefore must be equally addictive. Lustig even cites studies that show parts of our brain that light-up from a sugary reward are the same parts that get excited for many types of enjoyable activities, from drinking alcohol to having sex.
The problem, however, with these types of scientific studies of the brain is that “In neuroimaging, there is no clear-cut sign of addiction,” Hisham Ziaudden, an eating behavioral specialist, told Levinovitz.
So, scientists don’t know what addiction in the brain looks like, yet, and until that mystery is solved we should not be living in fear from something as fanciful as sugar addiction.
MYTH: Sugar and chocolates are aphrodisiacs.
In the mid 19th century before sugar purportedly caused diabetes or hyperactivity sugar was thought to ignite sexual desire in women, children, and, more controversially, the poor.
One vintage Kellogg advertisement even claimed “Candies, spices, cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and all strong essences powerfully excited the genital organs and lead to the [solitary vice].”
So don’t get worked up over sugar. There’s little to no evidence to support the notion that it or any food, including chocolates stimulates sexual desire.
MYTH: Sugar causes hyperactivity in children.
Numerous scientific studies have tried and failed to find any evidence that supports this off-the-wall notion.
The myth probably emerged in 1974, when Dr. William Crook wrote a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which published it. “Only in the past three years have I become aware that sugar … is a leading cause of hyperactivity,” the letter stated.
A letter does not include the rigorous scientific research that a paper does, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health: “The idea that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse is popular, but more research discounts this theory than supports it.”
MYTH: Dogs and cats are colorblind.
Dogs and cats have much better color vision than we thought.
Both dogs and cats can see in blue and green, and they also have more rods the light-sensing cells in the eye than humans do, so they can see better in low-light situations.
This myth probably comes about because each animal sees colors differently than humans.
Reds and pinks may appear more green to cats, while purple may look like another shade of blue. Dogs, meanwhile, have fewer cones the color-sensing cells in the eye so scientists estimated that their color vision is only about 1/7th as vibrant as ours.
MYTH: Lemmings jump off cliffs in mass suicides.
Lemmings do not commit mass suicide.
During their migrations they sometimes do fall off cliffs, or if they wander into an area they are unfamiliar with.
MYTH: Sharks don’t get cancer.
Back in 2013, researchers reported a huge tumor growing out of the mouth of a great white shark, and another on the head of a bronze whaler shark.
And those aren’t the only cases of shark cancers. Other scientists have reported tumors in dozens of different shark species.
The myth that sharks don’t get cancer was created by I. William Lane to sell shark cartilage as a cancer treatment.
MYTH: Ostriches hide by putting their heads in the sand.
When threatened, ostriches sometimes flop on the ground and play dead.
Source: San Diego Zoo
MYTH: People get warts from frogs and toads.
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.
MYTH: This dinosaur is called a Brontosaurus.
Many people would call this dinosaur a Brontosaurus even Michael Crichton did in “Jurassic Park.”
It is actually called the Apatosaurus. The myth emerged some 130 years ago during a feud between two paleontologists.
MYTH: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away.
This one is a big exaggeration. Jaws is not coming for you from across the ocean if you bleed in the water.
Shark have a highly enlarged brain region for smelling odors, allowing some of the fish to detect as little as 1 part blood per 10 billion parts water roughly a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool.
But it the ocean is much, much, much bigger and it takes awhile for odor molecules to drift. On a very good day when the currents are favorable, a shark can smell its prey from a few football fields away not miles.
MYTH: Bats are blind.
Being “blind as a bat” means not being blind at all.
While many use echolocation to navigate, all of them can see.
Source: USA Today
MYTH: Goldfish can’t remember anything for longer than a second.
Goldfish actually have pretty good memories.
They can remember things for months, not seconds like many people say.
Source: ABC News
MYTH: Giraffes sleep for only 30 minutes a day.
Giraffes have fairly typical sleeping patterns.
To debunk this one, researchers closely monitored a herd of five adult and three young giraffes for 152 days, counting all of their naps and deep sleeps.
The animals typically slept overnight and napped in the afternoon (sound familiar?).
In total, each giraffe slept about 4.6 hours every day.
Source: European Sleep Research Society
MYTH: Sharks die if they stop swimming.
You often hear sharks can breathe only when swimming pushes water over their gills.
That’s true of some sharks, but many others like bottom-dwelling nurse sharks can pump oxygen-rich water over their gills without swimming.
All sharks lack swim bladders, however, so if they stop swimming they will sink to the bottom. Luckily a shark’s body is incompressible and rapid descents or ascents don’t harm them.
MYTH: Poinsettias contain deadly poison.
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.
Source: The New York Botanical Garden
MYTH: Humans got HIV because someone had sex with a monkey.
HIV probably didn’t jump to humans through human-monkey sex.
It probably jumped to humans through hunting of monkeys for bushmeat food, which led to blood-to-blood contact.
MYTH: Dropping a penny from the Empire State building could kill someone.
Flickr user Charles 16e
Dropping a penny from the Empire State building is very unlikely to maimanyone.
A penny weighs roughly 1/11th of an ounce and tops out at 50 mph in freefall, which isn’t fast enough to kill. It’d hurt like heck, though.
MYTH: The great wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space.
From the International Space Station 250 miles up, you can see the wall and many other man-made structures. From the moon, you can’t see any structures at all only a dim glow of city lights.
MYTH: The moon’s gravity pulling on water causes the tides.
This is only half true.
On the side of Earth that’s facing the moon, the moon’s gravity does indeed pull water toward it to cause tides.
On the other side of Earth, however, gravity is weaker (from the moon’s pull on the other side) and it’s the inertia of water from the Earth’s rotation at work: spinning at about 1,040 mph flings ocean water into a slight bulge we recognize as the tide.
MYTH: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Lightning does strike twice.
Some places, like the Empire State Building, get struck up to 100 times a year.
MYTH: The Earth is a perfect sphere.
The Earth rotates at about 1,040 mph. That’s about 60% the speed of your typical bullet after it shoots out of the muzzle.
This inertia slightly flattens the planet’s poles and causes a bulge of rock around the equator.
Due to global warming and the melting of glaciers (and less weight pushing down on the crust), scientists think that bulge is now growing.
MYTH: Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth.
The world’s tallest mountain technically is not Mount Everest.
Mount Everest is the tallest mountain above sea level, but if we’re talking mountain base-to-summit height, then the tallest is the island of Hawaii that peaks as Mauna Kea.
Everest stands 29,035 feet above sea level. Mauna Kea only stands 13,796 feet above seal level, but the mountain extends about 19,700 feet below the Pacific Ocean. Over half of it is submerged.
That puts the total height of Mauna Kea at about 33,500 feet nearly a mile taller than Everest.
Source: Tech Insider
MYTH: Water conducts electricity.
flickr user: elitatt
Pure or distilled water doesn’t conduct electricity well at all.
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.
MYTH: There was a global warming pause.
Earth’s average surface temperature hasn’t really budged since the start of the 21st century, but 70% of the planet is covered in water and that’s where 90% of heat trapped by global warming ends up.
In fact, warming of the oceans has caused them to thermally expand, creating a huge share of the sea level rise that scientists see today.
MYTH: Tectonic plates move because volcanism pushes them apart.
Older edges of a tectonic plate are cooler and denser, causing them to sink into the mantle where they’re recycled. Where two plates are being yanked apart by this sinking, ocean ridges appear.
That’s where the tectonic plate is being built by hot, buoyant rock that convects upward and emerges from the stretched-out weak point. The resulting volcanism isn’t what pulls two plates apart.
MYTH: The Sahara is the biggest desert on Earth.
Not all deserts are hot and full of sand. They need only be dry and inhospitable.
Antarctica fits the bill, since it receives only two inches of precipitation a year and has few land animals.
At 5.4 million square miles compared to the Sahara’s 3.6 million square miles, the Bottom of the World is a vastly larger desert.
MYTH: Diamonds come from coal.
Instead, they’re carbon that is compressed and heated 90 miles below the surface of the Earth. Coal is found about 2 miles down.
MYTH: People in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat.
During the early Middle Ages, almost every scholar thought the Earth was round, not flat.
This myth picked up steam in the 1800s, right around the same time the idea of evolution was rising in prominence and religious and scientific interests clashed.
MYTH: Summer is warm because you are closer to the sun.
The northern hemisphere of the Earth is not closer to the sun when it is summer, nor is the southern hemisphere during its summer.
It is always warmer during the summer because Earth is tilted; during its year-long orbit, our home planet’s tilt allows the sun’s energy to hit us more directly.
MYTH: Lightning causes thunder.
A scientific and philosophical nitpick here, but lightning is just a stream of electrons zapping from cloud to cloud or ground to cloud. This in turn heats air into a tube of plasma that’s three times hotter than the surface of our sun.
That tube violently expands and contracts nearby air, creating an unmistakable crack and rumble not the flow of electrons itself.
Source: Scientific American
MYTH: Your blood turns blue when it’s out of oxygen.
Your blood is never blue: It turns dark red when it’s not carrying oxygen.
Blood only looks blue because you are seeing it through several layers of tissue, which filters the color.
Source: UCSB ScienceLine
MYTH: Every gene in your DNA codes for exactly one protein.
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. And many other genes don’t make proteins at all.
Source: Annual Reviews Of Biochemistry
MYTH: Humans have five senses.
Sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch are just the beginning.
Don’t forget about balance, temperature, and time, as well as proprioception the body awareness that helps us not walk into things all the time and nociception, our sense of pain.
Source: Business Insider
MYTH: The hymen is a sheet of tissue that blocks a women’s vagina.
Guys, the hymen is a thin membrane that only partially blocks the vaginal opening if a woman is born with one at all.
Also, plenty of activities other than sex can stretch or damage the hymen, including exercise or inserting a tampon.
MYTH: Eating a lot of carrots gives you great night vision.
Vitamin A is a major nutrient found in carrots, and it is good for the health of your eyes especially those with poor vision. But eating a bunch of the vegetables won’t give your all-seeing superpowers.
The myth is thought to have started during as a piece of British propaganda during World War II. That government wanted to secret the existence of a radar technology that allowed its bomber pilots to attack in the night.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
MYTH: Blonde and red hair colors are going extinct.
Blondes and redheads are not “going extinct.”
Genes rarely die out, and recessive genes, like those that lead to red or blonde hair color, can be carried from generation to generation without creating the hair color. (As much as 40% of some populations, for example, carry a gene that leads to red hair color.)
When two people with the correct recessive genes have a baby, there’s a good chance the kid will have red or blonde hair color even if the parents don’t have red or blonde hair themselves.
MYTH: Pregnancy gives you “baby brain” and makes you dumb.
Studies on this turn up mixed results, at best.
Some studies on changes to working memory during pregnancy do show a small effect on the brain, though other studies show no negative impacts whatsoever.
There’s actually growing evidence that being pregnant makes women more organized and smarter, at least, according to a study on rats.
It makes sense, though, since pregnant women and new mothers have a lot more to worry about and think about for their brains to keep up they may even be getting a boost.
MYTH: Hair and nails keep growing after death.
Hair and fingernails do not keep growing once someone dies.
Instead, the skin dries out and shrinks, giving the appearance of further growth.
MYTH: Humans can’t grow new brain cells.
You are not born with all of the brain cells you will ever have.
There is plenty of evidence that the brain continues to produce new cells in at least a few brain regions well into adulthood, through a process called neurogenesis.
Source: The Scientist
MYTH: Some people have photographic memories.
flicker user: slalit
There’s actually no such thing as 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 the fidelity of film or a camera sensor.
Source: Moments of Science
MYTH: People only use 10% of their brain.
This myth has been debunked over and over again, but it just won’t die.
Just because you’re not doing math equations and juggling while you write a sonnet doesn’t mean you aren’t using all the parts of your brain at once.
You can use your entire brain, and you do the brain is 3% of the body’s mass but uses 20% of its energy.
Source: Scientific American
MYTH: “Left-brained” people are creative. “Right-brained” people are analytical.
Flickr / Shaheen Lakhan
It’s a common old canard: Creative people are right-brained, while the logically-minded are left-brained. False.
It’s true that different hemispheres of your brain are more engaged in certain tasks (the left side is dominant in language, for example), but studies have never found overall left- or right-brain dominance in individuals.
MYTH: The bigger your brain is, the smarter you are.
Humans don’t even have a particularly impressive brain-to-body-mass ratio.
The winner in that category among mammals is the humble tree shrew, though that’s largely because its body is so tiny.
MYTH: It takes 7 years for gum to digest if you swallow it.
flickr user: sembrandogirasoles
Gum is mostly indigestible, but the occasional swallowed piece will pass through your intestines and exit the other side, just like anything else you eat that your body doesn’t need and can’t digest.
The only cases where swallowed gum has caused a problem is when that gum is swallowed along with other things that shouldn’t be in your stomach.
Scientific American cites a case where a 4-year-old girl suffered a gastrointestinal blockage from a wad of gum with four coins inside of it.
MYTH: Your microwave can give you cancer and disrupt your pacemaker.
Microwave radiation won’t cause cancer, it just heats food up.
Only a few types of radiation cause cancer, and these depend on the dose. Radiation from the sun can cause skin cancer, for example, but just enough helps your body make Vitamin D, too.
Microwaves also won’t disrupt apacemaker. However, things like anti-theft systems, metal detectors, powerful refrigerator magnets, mobile phones, and even headphones can mess with the heartbeat-keeping devices.
MYTH: Shaving makes your hair grow back thicker.
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 sharp and stubbly instead of smooth.
Source: Mayo Clinic