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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
Dr.George Fishbeck. A TV scientist who would teach children how to look out for bad science. We need more men like him.
I thought I’d put together a list of a few scientific myths that I’ve overheard, then researched and found out to be completely false. For the record, I don’t watch Myth Busters but I’d imagine that a few of the myths I write about may have been busted by them already. Regardless, none of my sources are from their show:

1. The Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon.
I was reminded of this fact twice by my little brother and once on television by a news commentator. However, after doing a bit of research on NASA and a few other science sites it turns out that this notion is completely false. Several tests were carried out by astronauts and it turns out that it’s not even visible from high altitudes outside of the earth's atmosphere.

2. The human body needs to drink eight glasses of water a day.
I was reminded of this supposedly scientific fact every day by my auntie. Luckily I avoided her advice because in the recent months a few publications have outwardly denied these drinking requirements. In fact, some scientific research has suggested that drinking this much water may have negative effectives on your health. Personally, I think the average person should just drink when they’re thirsty. There’s a huge complex network inside your body designed specifically to inform you when you need water, when you’re dehydrated, and when you need to release water. I’d trust that inner-advice over a men’s health mag.

3.Sneezing several times in a row is the same as an orgasm.
I hope I’m the only one who has come across this lie. For some reason, the people who share this false info are always so adamant about it being completely true. To be brief: It’s not; the two actions have very little in common.

4. Sneezing with your eyes open could cause your eyeballs to pop out.
My older brother told me this one when I was younger and I actually believed it for awhile until I forgot about it and then someone reminded me about it again. When I did remember it, I looked it up and it turned out that there are some people who can sneeze without even closing their eyes; None of them have reported detached eyeballs.

5. 5-Second-Rule.. It doesn’t matter how long food has fallen on the ground for, the instant it touches the ground it has the potential of picking up dangerous bacteria. In fact, it doesn’t even have to touch the ground. The falling food just has to be close enough to the ground for the airborne bacteria and particles that hover around the ground to touch it. If you don’t believe the ground has dangerous bacteria then consider the fact that many doctors require shoes to be taken off or replaced when entering hospital rooms.

6. We only use 10% of our brains. I hate this myth because I used to believe it right up through high school and would even share my little trivia with friends. It’s not completely my fault though, because back then a lot of people on television were spreading the rumour. It was told to me by my brothers, my friends, a teacher, a supposed scientist, a billboard advertisement, David Letterman and a few news-shows like Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel. However, just looking at a typical MRI scan will reveal that much more than 10% is used; in fact, almost all of the brain is used. Some activities use less brain power than others but all areas of the brain are used and often several different areas are used at the same time.

7.Cellphones and laptops reduce sperm-count. This one isn’t a myth, I actually put it in the list because people have mistaken it as just a myth. However, it turns out that it’s partially true. Cellphones that give off heat while in the front pocket or laptops that are placed on laps and thus near the genitals can cause a significant reduction in sperm count. The explanation is simple: Sperm are susceptible to temperature changes. The good news is that the short-term damage is reversible, the bad news is that there doesn’t seem to be studies that comment on whether prolonged or continuous exposure is reversible. Similarly, there haven’t been any studies on what occurs if there hasn’t been enough time provided for healing between the exposure to heat. So it’s better to play it safe and place your laptops on desks and cellphones elsewhere for now.

After I made a list of people asked me to create some more. wrote: "As much as I enjoyed your tearing down the easy strawmen-like "scientific myt...
As I thought up this list, I came up with many many many more examples in my head of ones that were wrong. Many of which are due to Hollywood movie...




I actually think of it #5 in the opposite way (and this was shown in Mythbusters, btw) that a piece of food on the ground for 3, 5, 10seconds, and even an hour collects the same amount of bacteria. So the 3 second rule is no better than the 10 second rule, and you can feel justified in eating the eclaire you found on the ground. (I may be off on the exact times...but I'll leave it to the reader to verify as an exercise.)
REPLIES: PhilWalker



Replying to alishahnovin:
Your times are way off, actually. And it did show there was some correlation - though it didn't result in a big difference, either way, you were getting a fair bit of bacteria. Maybe that's how these scientific myths get started...

From the NY Times: The Five-Second Rule Explored, or How Dirty Is That Bologna?
REPLIES: alishahnovin



Replying to PhilWalker:
Hm, very true. I'm propagating myths!

It would be interesting to see some stats (if they exist) of how many myths have been debunked since the internet. While Mythbusters is a cool show, I personally have learned of more myths through sites like Snopes.



I've never thought of the "5-second rule" as a "scientific myth", only a superstitious myth, like kissing a piece of food you've dropped up to God to make it clean. Same with sneezing and eyeballs and orgasms. These never struck me as propositions based on science (however bad the science), but as merely childish urban myths. Although, in fairness, some people actually claim that there are empirical backings for that stuff.

As for the Only-use-10%-of-your-brain thing, I think that people like this one because it "mystifies" the human brain. People never talk about a dog or a giraffe only using a small portion of their brain, but when it come to us - the arrogantly brainy humans - we seem to like to make a special case out of ourselves either by taking the species down a peg by suggesting that we don't really know what's going on up there physically or scientifically, or elevating te species by suggesting that the wonder of human consciousness must be something intangible and unexplainable, something that our mere 10% of "conscious" consciousness can't grasp. In either case we're "mystifying" our minds, as I said. It seems pretty silly to suggest that evolution would produce a big heavy brain for us to balance on top of our bodies and have 90% of be apparently useless. It also seems Freudian, that is, to suggest that most of our mind is contained in an "unconscious".

Maybe a better distinction would be voluntary and involuntary. Most of our body and brain's functions are involuntary, maybe up to 90% of them. I, for one, am glad that my heart and bowels do their job without me having to think about it. I'd say that 10% is actually a lot of wiggle room, as far as direct control of your brain goes. Anyway, that's assuming a strict separation between the 10% that we supposedly control (or is voluntary) and the 90% that we don't. Such a dichotomy has to be a false one. It's all a complex everything else.

As much as I enjoyed your tearing down the easy strawmen-like "scientific myths" (like the sneezing and 5-second rule ones) I think it would be more interesting to address the common misconceptions about real science, the kind that do violence to legitimate scientific claims. I'm thinking of, say, anti-evolutionists who like to point out how silly it is that modern apes could be ancestors of humans. And, of course, they're right about this. But they're right because they're wrong. That is, they mischaracterize evolution and the claims made about i by evolutionary scientists. Modern apes are not our ancestors, but our kin. Both modern apes and human evolved from a common ancestor, one that's long gone.

Anyway, that's just an example. I'm sure you know of a lot more bad popular renderings and misconceptions about science than I do. I'd like to hear some of them.



I think I was the 'someone' who told you about the eye-popping when you sneeze with them open one. I wished your list was longer, it was fun to read.



Replying to Hogan:
As Alishah has shown the 5-second rule has some merit to it: "Does something on the ground for 5 seconds has more bacteria than something that has been on the ground for 10?" But I think your idea is good on its own and will try it. It unfortunately won't be as interesting to the common public who only follow myths such as "drinking water 8 times a day" but it may be interesting to those who follow science as a hobby.

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