It’s the ultimate insult. You’ve spent years studying, memorizing, and taking tests to prove that you understand some of the world’s most fundamental workings.
You’ve missed television shows, nights out with your friends, and binge-gaming sessions — and for what? For a whole lot of “facts” that weren’t even remotely true, that’s what. Yup, you heard it here first: A lot of that stuff you were studying was just plain fake news. These are some of the biggest lies you’ve learned in school. “Science is a liar sometimes!” “Oh boy.
A girl’s best FRAUD
The world is full of incredibly awesome natural phenomena. Unfortunately, the shiniest of these phenomena you learned about as a child does not exist. Diamonds, as the story goes, are made from coal that’s been subjected to a huge amount of pressure. Superman says so, so it must be true, right? Let’s ask Dr. Kat Arney of The Naked Scientists.
According to her, geological studies have shown natural diamonds were actually created about a billion years ago by factors like temperatures in the thousands of degrees and the kind of pressure you’d feel if you had around 100 miles of earth and rock on top of you.
Those forces acted on carbon-rich minerals to form diamonds, and diamonds can also be formed by high-impact strikes caused by meteorites either hitting the Earth or hitting each other in space. What definitely wasn’t involved? Coal.
We know coal has nothing to do with diamonds because coal only started forming about 300 to 400 million years ago, long after the Earth started making diamonds. In order to get coal, you need plants, and plants didn’t happen until about 450 million years ago. That makes diamonds even cooler. It makes your teacher less cool.
Survival of the FIt-est
When you learned about evolution, chances are your teachers talked about how natural selection and survival of the fittest shaped the world today.
If you were the type of student who pointed out something was off because humans still have some major design flaws — like not being able to see in the dark while the lions that wanted to eat our ancestors clearly could — well, your teachers probably told you to shut the heck up. “SHUUUUT UUUUUPPP.” “Shut up! Shut up!” That’s because they were teaching it wrong. According to Princeton biological anthropologist Alan Mann, survival of the fittest isn’t based on how tough or smart a creature is.
The important thing is how likely they are to reproduce. Mann says you can look at it this way: “Evolution acts to produce function, not perfection.” That’s why we still can’t see in the dark, why we still pass on deadly genetic diseases, and why we haven’t grown awesome prehensile tails like those Saiyan guys from Dragon Ball Z. UC Berkeley researchers took on ideas about natural selection, and your teacher was wrong there, too. Natural selection isn’t about organisms trying to adapt, it’s about random genetic mutations that happened to increase odds of reproduction.
They also say that “survival of the fit enough” is a better way to think of the process. There you have it — you’re not here because your ancestors were the best, but because they were “eh, sure — good enough.”
Taste of deceit
Remember back in middle school, when you were taught your taste buds were arranged in groups and you tasted different things — bitter, salty, sweet, and sour — in different areas of the tongue? If you were the kid who put a salty pretzel on the tip of your tongue and wondered why you could still taste saltiness, you were right to be skeptical.
The tongue map dates back to 1901, and according to LiveScience, it was the work of a German scientist named D.P. Hanig. He was measuring how sensitive certain areas of the tongue were to certain tastes, and later that turned into the idea that different parts of the tongue only taste certain things. We even know who screwed things up — a Harvard psychology historian with the epic name of Edwin Boring.
He transcribed Hanig’s data in 1942 but didn’t label his graph correctly. It’s wrong for another reason, too, because we also have the ability to taste something called umami. That’s not even on the standard tongue map. It’s almost as if the tongue is an extremely complex and sensitive object that can’t be easily reduced to pithy half-truths. “UHHHHHGGGGG. That is tart. That is really tart.” External stimu-LIE Quick, name your senses.
Taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight, right? It’s so well-known that M. Night Shyamalan wrote about The Sixth Sense like it was something epic and unheard of, but grown-up science says we keep teaching the five sense thing because kids’ underdeveloped brains can’t understand what their senses really are.
According to psychologists at the University of Glasgow, it was actually Aristotle who came up with the idea of five senses, and while we’re not actually sure what the right answer is, it sure isn’t five. The problem comes in defining just what a “sense” is. One answer is that we only have three senses that correspond to the kind of stimuli our bodies can interpret — chemical, light, mechanical.
Another possibility is that we have a whopping nine senses, adding mechanoreception — which includes things like balance and muscle stretch — pain, temperature, and interoreceptors. That’s just a fancy way of saying “when you know you’ve got to take a leak, when you’re thirsty, and when your stomach’s had enough and it’s time to stop shoving food in your head.” Break those nine out into their components, and you can legitimately argue for 21 or 33 senses. Whatever the answer is, it’s definitely not five.
Roy G. FIB
Whenever most people draw a rainbow, they’ll go with seven standard colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. But QI suggests picking seven colors is just the Western world continuing its obsession with seven: days of the week, musical scales, and all that jazz. It was Isaac Newton who decided on seven colors when he was observing rainbows. He added orange and indigo to the previous five.
If you go back farther, you’ll find Greek philosophers said there were three — red, yellow-green, and purple. Homer, for some reason, insisted there was only one color in a rainbow: purple. “What if it was purple?” Not so clear now, is it? The answer is even worse: there’s no “real” number to find.
The rainbow’s shading from one color to the next means there’s no definite, solid way to separate one from another. ScienceBlogs worked out the math, using wavelengths to estimate that there are around a million different colors you’re actually seeing when you look at a rainbow. And purple is one of them.
Stretching the truth
Black holes are one of the most mysterious, confusing phenomenons in the universe, so it goes without saying there’s a lot we don’t know about them. First, let’s take a look at the idea they’re funnel-shaped. You probably saw that drawing in your textbooks, but it’s totally wrong. Kind of. According to Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, they’re actually spherical.
That funnel shape you see drawn all the time is actually an attempt to depict the four-dimensional phenomenon of bending gravity in the two dimensions on your piece of paper. Now, the crushing thing.
Were you taught that anything passing a black hole’s event horizon is sucked in and crushed under its insane gravity? It’s the opposite: things get stretched out. Black holes are huge, and their size means there’s a massive difference in gravitational pull even across relatively short spaces — say, for example, your 6-foot self.
It’s such a drastic change that if you’re swimming toward a black hole, your head is going to feel hundreds of millions of times more gravity than your feet, and that’s going to stretch you — not crush you — in a process called … “Spaghettification.” … No wonder your teachers lied.
Neuro-LIE-gical This idea is so prevalent even among adults that entire movies are based on the premise that using more than 10 percent of your brain will turn you into some sort of superpowered demigod — or a flash drive. The scientific community has a name for those movies — they’re called “stupid movies.” And, yes, people still believe their pseudo science.
“What the hell is wrong with you people?” Scientific American has debunked this entire myth and has possibly even found the source of the idea, if not for the incredibly specific number of 10 percent — it’s a 1907 text called The Energies of Men.
But this idea is just not true. Now, we know that although our brains make up a relatively small percentage of our meat-sacks, it uses about 20 percent of the energy we burn. Researchers have used imaging technology to get a peek at which parts of the brain govern which functions, and we do use all of it for both conscious and unconscious activities. We even use it when we’re sleeping.
Mayo Clinic neurologist John Henley erases any doubt: “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.” Sorry, folks. You’ve already got all the brainpower you’re going to get. “Bummer. This is a bummer, man.