Scientific Myths That You Think Are True

Table of Contents

Background

Science is known as the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world, and it follows a systematic methodology based on evidence. It includes a lot of branches, such as physics, chemistry, and biology. This means that scientific facts are based on many studies, research, and experiments to ensure that correct information is being given to people. However, even if science involves systematic methods and gathering of pieces of evidence to prove that information is correct, there are still science “facts” out there that a lot of people believe in but are not true, or what are called myths.

It is hard enough to understand science, particularly when there are lots of myths floating around that aren’t actually true. In fact, science errors are everywhere. The sad part is that some of the scientific misconceptions are believed by a lot of people. That’s why in this post, we are giving you some of the scientific myths that you think are true but are actually not. This way, we can all spread the correct information when educating other people.

SCIENTIFIC MYTHS THAT YOU THINK ARE TRUE

Myth #1: A penny dropped from the Empire State Building can kill a person on the sidewalk.

the Empire State Building

According to a popular myth, when you drop a penny from the Empire State Building, you can kill someone below. However, it was tested by MythBusters, and it is not true. They created a gun that can fire a penny at 64.4 miles per hour, which is the same speed at which a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building would hit the ground.

They launched the gun into a ballistic dummy and found out that it only caused small damage. They also shot each other, and while it stung, it did not really do any harm, which is certainly not enough to kill someone. Apparently, this popular myth is not true, as a penny can’t collect enough speed from the highest point of the Empire State Building to do any harm. [1]

Myth #2: Matter only has three states: Liquid, Solid, and Gas.

liquid, solid, and gas states of matter

Everything in this world is made up of matter, even the small, non-visible particles called molecules and atoms. At school, students were taught that there are three states of matter which are solid, liquid, and gas. But aside from these, there are two more states of matter that exis, which are plasma and Bose-Einstein condensates or BEC. Plasma is made up of positively charged particles that have been stripped from their negative charge. Since it is made of charged particles, it can also conduct electricity.

Bose-Einstein condensates, on the other hand, is a new state of matter that is made by combining lasers and magnets. It is also used to study quantum mechanics on a macroscopic scale and used to simulate black holes. With this, we can say that matter does not only have three states but a total of five. [2]

Myth #3: In the Southern Hemisphere, toilet flushes spin in a different direction.

flushing toilet

The Coriolis effect can make objects on Earth curve when they should go straight. Due to this effect, a lot of people believe that toilet bowls flush in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere than in the Northern Hemisphere. The Coriolis effect is real. However, toilet flushes spinning in a different direction in the South Hemisphere are not. It does not affect the flush of your toilet as the Earth does not spin fast enough to adjust to the trajectory of such a small flow of water. Instead, the direction in which the water drains in your toilet depends on the design of the toilet bowl and the water pressure in your area. [3]

Myth #4: Glass is a high viscosity liquid.

sheets of glass

When you look at medieval European cathedrals, you will notice that the glass on their windows sometimes looks odd. Some panes are thicker at the bottom compared to the top, which makes them appear to have melted. According to tour guides, internet rumors, and even high school chemistry teachers, glass is actually liquid. And since it is hard, it must be a supercooled liquid.

However, that is only a myth. Glass is neither a liquid nor a solid but an amorphous solid. It is in a state somewhere between those two states of matter. However, the liquid like properties of glass are not enough to explain the thicker-bottomed windows as glass atoms move too sluggishly for changes to be visible.

When glass is made, the material, which usually contains silica, is cooled quickly from its liquid state. However, it does not solidify when its temperature drops below its melting point. It becomes an amorphous solid as it is cooled more under the glass-transition temperature. Past this point, the molecular motion of the atoms of the material has slowed to nearly a stop, and the material is now glass. For practical purposes, like holding a drink, glass is a solid but disorganized one. [4]

Myth #5: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

powerful lightning

This is among the most popular science myths that we often hear. It is actually a phrase used to reassure someone that whatever bad thing has happened won’t happen again. However, in reality, lightning can and will strike the same place twice, whether during the same storm or even after centuries.

When you see a lightning strike, you are seeing the discharge of electricity that has built up in a cloud. It is very strong that it breaks through the ionized air. It is a very quick process that takes only around 30 milliseconds. Right after one lightning strike, it reverberates in quick succession. Therefore, multiple strikes can happen at the same place within a short period. And technically speaking, the lightning is already striking more than once. [5]

Myth #6: Bananas grow on trees.

banana plants

We often hear people saying “banana tree.” However, that is not right because bananas do not grow on trees but on plants. A banana plant is probably among the largest plants in the world. It can’t be considered a tree as it does not have a wooden trunk and branches. Instead, it has layers of skin placed in circles. These layers are actually the lower ends of the banana leaves. Therefore, we can say that it is a clump of leaves. The flower bud of the plant grows in the stalk, which is in the middle of the leaves. From the flower bud, it grows a bunch of banana fruits. [6]

Myth #7: Water conducts electricity.

a wet electric socket

Many of us were taught that water conducts electricity. It is the main reason water and electricity should not mix, as it can cause electric tremors for those who come into contact with the dangerous pair. However, when you think about it and dive into the depths of chemistry, the truth is that pure water is not a good cathode of electricity. In fact, pure water is an insulator, and it won’t allow electricity to flow through it.

However, the thing is that it is difficult or near impossible to find pure water. Tap water, rainwater, and seawater all contain lots of impurities, like sodium, calcium, magnesium, and ions. These are charged when they exist in water, which lets electricity flow through the liquid. Therefore, water is capable of conducting electricity due to the dissolved ions and impurities it contains. However, pure water alone does not conduct electricity. [7]

Myth #8: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon.

the Great Wall of China

It has become a space-based myth that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon. However, according to astronauts and NASA, it certainly is not visible from the moon. But you can see a lot of other results of human activity. This theory dates back to 1938. It was repeated, and it grew until astronauts landed on the lunar surface. According to astronauts, all that you can see from the moon is a beautiful sphere that is mostly white, some blue, and patches of yellow. No man-made object is visible. However, from space, there are lots of man-made things that can be seen, such as cities at night, major roadways and bridges, airports, and reservoirs. [8]

Myth #9: Earth is the only planet with water.

the planet Earth

It is only a myth that Earth is the only planet with water. This is because a lot of scientists believe that many planets, as well as moons, have subsurface oceans. Evidence points that other planets and moons, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, have oceans. Therefore, Earth is not the only one with water. However, Earth is the only known planet to have consistent and stable bodies of liquid water on its surface.

The search for liquid water is essential to the search for life beyond Earth. While scientists used to focus on the search on finding planets with liquid water on their surface, that is quite changing. It’s because, here on Earth, there are examples of life flourishing in some of the most extreme conditions, like the complex ecosystems around hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. With this, scientists are reconsidering whether life could exist below an icy surface even within our solar systems, on moons like Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. [9]

Myth #10: Sugar can make kids hyper.

sugary foods

The sugar-hyperactivity myth is based on one study done in the mid-1970s wherein a doctor removed the sugar from one child’s diet, and that child’s behavior improved. Since then, many larger studies have been conducted without proving sugar causes hyperactivity. Interestingly enough, researchers discovered that parents are more likely to say that their kids are overly active when they think they have consumed sugar.

In one study, parents were asked to rate their children’s hyperactivity after consuming a drink with sugar. Unknown to the parents, the drink was actually sugar-free. However, the parents still rated their child as more hyperactive. Therefore, it is just an example of a placebo effect. [10]

Myth #11: Genes determine race.

DNA molecule

Many people believe that they can determine their race through their genes. However, this belief is only a myth, and there is no truth to it. Race is a real notion that we use as social beings. Therefore, it can’t be found in our genes. Biological ancestry, on the other hand, is real, and it is distinct from race. This means that where our ancestors came from can be seen in our DNA to a certain degree. However, ancestry does not map onto race, not even close. [11]

Myth #12: A virus can be killed.

illustration of a virus

This is something that a lot of us believe in. Well, it can be heard from commercials for disinfectants, cleaners, and more, that their products can kill viruses. But that is just a myth. Why? A virus can be deactivated and destroyed. However, it can’t be killed as it was not alive to start with. One of the necessities for life is the ability to reproduce, and viruses can’t do that. A virus can only survive by carjacking a cell first. Therefore, there is no way you can kill a virus. [12]

Myth #13: Jonas Salk discovered the cure for polio.

hand holding a polio vaccine

The term “discovered” made it seem as easy as finding the cure on a piece of paper that is left in a drawer somewhere. The truth is, Jonas Salk took eight years of work in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh to do what he did. Also, this is a myth because he did not discover a cure. But instead, he created a vaccine. This means that even now, if you do not have a polio vaccine and you contract the disease, there is still no treatment for you. [12]

Myth #14: The moon has a dark side.

the moon above the sea

One of the most popular albums of the band Pink Floyd is titled “The Dark Side of the Moon.” This perpetuated the myth that the moon indeed has a dark side. However, this is wrong. The moon has no dark side, or at least not in the way you might think. It has a side that we never see from Earth, but that side is not dark all the time. Therefore, the right way to call it is the “far side of the moon.” The far side of the moon has just the same waxing, and waning light as the near side does. [13]

Myth #15: Primitive humans and dinosaurs crossed paths.

a 3D illustration of a dinosaur

It is only a myth that primitive humans and dinosaurs crossed paths. Humans and non-avian dinosaurs never shared our planet together. The non-avian dinosaurs died about 66 million years ago. Modern humans, on the other hand, are currently thought to have appeared around 300,000 years ago, which is more than 65 million years after the non-avian dinosaurs disappeared.

But we can also note that not all the dinosaurs disappeared. It’s because birds descended from some of the few dinosaur species to survive the end of the Cretaceous and are likely a type of theropod. Therefore, technically, birds are dinosaurs, and we are still living with them today. However, as humans evolved far from our mammalian ancestors millions of years ago, birds have also changed significantly. [14]

Myth #16: The north star is the brightest star.

Polaris in the night sky

Polaris is known as the north star. It is more or less located directly above the north pole of the earth along its rotational axis. However, contrary to popular belief, the north star is not the brighter star in the sky. But it is quite easy to find even if you are in the city. For instance, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the north star can help you orient yourself and find your way because it is located in the direction of the true north or geographic north. If you are wondering what the brightest star is, if it is not the north star, it is the dog star or Sirius. [15]

Myth #17: It takes seven years to digest chewing gum when swallowed.

lots of chewing gum

Chewing gums are known to be chewed rather than to be swallowed. There is also a myth that suggests that swallowed gum sits on the stomach for seven years before it is digested. However, this is not true. Chewing gums are not harmful if swallowed. Like with other foods, most people empty their stomachs 30 to 120 minutes after eating, and that includes gum. The base of chewing gum is insoluble, similar to the fiber base of raw vegetables, corn, and seeds. But don’t worry, as it will not stick to your stomach or intestines. It will simply travel the same path as food and is excreted in the stool. [16]

Myth #18: Carbonated water is not as hydrating as flat water.

a glass of carbonated water

A lot of people also believe that carbonated water is not as hydrating as regular or flat water. However, this is not true. At 100% water, seltzer and sparkling water are just as hydrating as flat water. Some of them also come in flavored and unflavored varieties, but that does not have any effect on how hydrating they are. However, you need to keep an eye out for carbonated water that contains added sugars as those are not healthy. [17]

Myth #19: The Sun is yellow.

the Sun in the sky

When asked to draw the Sun, most of us would color our drawings yellow as that’s how we see the sun when we look up in the sky. But the Sun being yellow is actually just a myth. In reality, the actual color of the Sun is white. It only appears yellow due to the atmosphere of the earth that scatters blue light more efficiently than red light. The small deficit in blue light means our eyes perceive the color of the Sun as yellow. The more atmosphere the light of the Sun passes through, the more blue light is scattered. Therefore, during sunrise and sunset, there is a greater percentage of red light in the spectrum of the Sun, which often gives remarkable results. [18]

Myth #20: The chemical tryptophan in turkey makes people sleepy.

a turkey on a table

A lot of people feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the time, the sleepiness of people is blamed on the turkey they eat as it contains tryptophan. It is an essential amino acid that is used in the process of making serotonin, which helps balance the mood. The byproduct of the tryptophan-to-serotonin process is melatonin, a hormone known to regulate sleeping and waking. While it is tempting to blame the turkey, the tryptophan that it contains likely does not make people sleepy on its own.

Instead, eating foods with tryptophan in addition to lots of carbs leads to sleepiness. Carbohydrates can be consumed in foods like potatoes, bread, sugary drinks, and desserts. Aside from that, alcohol consumption can also be blamed for your sleepiness after Thanksgiving dinner. [19]

Conclusion

These are some of the scientific myths that you think are true, but all are only misconceptions. No matter how strict the methods of science are when it comes to studying certain things, somehow, a few misconceptions still have seeped their way into the culture. Gladly, there are lots of scientists and experts who are putting their efforts into exploring these myths and explaining why they are false through scientific facts. We hope that the information you’ve learned in this post will help you in spreading the right science facts to the people you know to avoid being misinformed.

References

[1] Shamsian, J. (2015, December 21). Can you really kill someone by dropping a penny off the Empire State Building? Business Insider. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.businessinsider.com/drop-penny-off-empire-state-building-2015-12

[2] Farrugia, D. M. (2018, February 4). Myth debunked: Three states of matter? Times of Malta. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/Myth-debunked-Three-states-of-matter.669760

[3] How It Works, T. (2017, May 2). Do toilets flush in different directions in the northern and Southern Hemisphere? How It Works. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.howitworksdaily.com/do-toilets-flush-in-different-directions-in-the-northern-and-southern-hemisphere/

[4] Curtin, C. (2007, February 22). Fact or fiction? Glass is a (supercooled) liquid. Scientific American. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-fiction-glass-liquid

[5] Gonzalez, N. (n.d.). Can lightning strike the same place twice? Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/story/can-lightning-strike-the-same-place-twice

[6] Mohanty, M. (2001, July 1). Do bananas grow on trees? Pitara Kids Network. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.pitara.com/science-for-kids/planet-earth-for-kids/do-bananas-grow-on-trees/

[7] Ashish. (2022, January 16). Is water really a good conductor of electricity? Science ABC. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.scienceabc.com/pure-sciences/do-you-think-that-water-conducts-electricity-if-you-do-then-youre-wrong.html

[8] Dunbar, B. (2005, May 9). China’s wall is less great in view from space. NASA. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/workinginspace/great_wall.html

[9] US Department of Commerce, N. O. and A. A. (2013, June 1). Are there oceans on other planets? NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/et-oceans.html

[10] Ansel, K., & Ellis, E. (2022, June 29). Sugar: Does it really cause hyperactivity? EatRight. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/sugar-does-it-really-cause-hyperactivity

[11] Jarry, J. (2019, August 18). Are you there, race? it’s me, DNA. Office for Science and Society. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-general-science/are-you-there-race-its-me-dna

[12] Kluger, J. (2014, March 7). Top 10 science myths. Time. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://time.com/15628/top-10-science-myths/

[13] McFall-Johnsen, M. (2019, November 25). There is no permanent dark side of the Moon, and this simple animation by a former NASA scientist explains why. Business Insider. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.businessinsider.com/former-nasa-scientist-video-shows-moon-has-no-dark-side-2019-11

[14] Scharping, N. (2020, April 24). Did humans and dinosaurs ever live together? Discover Magazine. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/did-humans-and-dinosaurs-ever-live-together

[15] Dyches, P. (2021, July 28). What is the North Star and how do you find it? – NASA solar system exploration. NASA. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/1944/what-is-the-north-star-and-how-do-you-find-it/

[16] DukeHealth, E. (Ed.). (2013, August 27). Myth or fact: It takes Seven Years to digest chewing gum. Duke Health. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.dukehealth.org/blog/myth-or-fact-it-takes-seven-years-digest-chewing-gum

[17] Kennedy, K. (2022, April 27). Does sparkling water count as fluid? EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/does-sparkling-water-count-as-fluid/

[18] Gunn, D. A. (2021, November 20). What color is the sun really? hint: It’s not yellow. BBC Science Focus Magazine. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/what-colour-is-the-sun/

[19] Summer, J. (2022, June 17). Does Turkey make you tired? Sleep Foundation. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/what-is-tryptophan