From old wives tales, to frankly incorrect information, science is littered with myths that just don’t seem to disappear. Thanks to modern science, and cutting-edge technology, we are one step closer to the truth. See how many of these myths you still believe with our list of science class myths, debunked.
1. Listening to Mozart Will Make You (Or Your Baby) Smarter
This theory, dubbed the “Mozart Effect”, was the result of a study by psychologist Frances Rauscher, which found that college kids performed better in tasks that required spatial and abstract reasoning while listening to Mozart. The study inspired products like Baby Mozart– CDs that expectant mothers could play to their baby geniuses in the womb.
Can listening to classical music really make your baby smarter? According to numerous studies, listening to music in general does lead to a temporary improvement in cognitive ability and abstract reasoning. However, it wasn’t Mozart that was particularly special, all music and even some narrated books seem to offer temporary boosts.
2. Chameleons Change Color to Camouflage Themselves
Wikimedia Commons/ Yosemite
Thanks to cartoons and heavily edited videos many people have been lead to believe that chameleons have the ability to blend into anything from trees to chessboards. Chameleons naturally already blend into their environments, often matching the colors of tree or leaves.
Most of their color changing ability isn’t used for camouflage, but surprisingly, to stand out. Chameleons can be very aggressive during mating season, and their color changes are used to communicate to other mates or competitors. Another emerging theory is that chameleons adjust their coloring to control their body temperature.
3. Human Blood Can Be Blue
Blood coursing through our veins may appear blue, but that is the result of an optical illusion- when light hits our skin, blue light is reflected back, giving the illusion that the blood is blue. The deeper the blood vessels are, and the paler a person’s skin, the bluer the blood appears.
In reality, human blood is always red due to the presence of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, contains iron. Iron turns red when it reacts to oxygen. Levels of oxygen may change how bright or dark blood appears, but it is always red.
4. Earth’s Proximity to the Sun Determines the Seasons
Many people learn in science class, that the seasons are dependent on how close the Earth is to the sun. Many people believe that summer appears when the Earth is closest to the sun, and that winter begins when it is further away. While this may make sense, it’s not correct.
Earth spins on an axis, or imaginary pole running from top to bottom. Because the axis is slightly tilted, different parts of the planet experience the sun’s direct rays throughout the year as the Earth orbits the sun. The earth is actually closer to the sun during wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere, and summer when it is farthest.
5. Chewing Gum Takes Seven Years to Digest
Chewing gum is one of the most hotly contested confections to hit store shelves. According to an article in the Guardian, London spends a whopping £10m a year cleaning up this sticky candy. But is it true that it cannot be digested? Thankfully, science has popped this bubble of fallacy.
The only ingredient difficult to digest is the gum base — usually a natural or synthetic polymer. This isn’t to say the gum sits around for almost a decade. As we learned in science class, it simply moves, relatively intact, from your digestive system and out through your stool.
6. Camels Use Their Humps to Store Water
Contrary to what many believe, the camel does not store water in its impressive hump, it stores fat. The fat stored in the camel’s hump is used to nourish the animal in case food becomes scarce, as it often does in the desert.
As the camel burns through its fat storage, the hump can deflate and become droopy until its next meal. Camels can drink up to 30 gallons of water at a time, this precious water is actually stored in the camel’s bloodstream, allowing it to survive more than a week without water.
7. The Great Wall of China is Visible From Space
One of the most oft-repeated myths in science class is that The Great Wall of China can be seen from space. This impressive structure runs roughly 4,500 miles and snakes across the Chinese landscape. While the construction of this magnificent wall is shrouded in legend, the truth behind this rumor isn’t.
According to astronauts the wall can only be seen while in low orbit — and only under certain weather conditions. One reason that the wall is difficult to make out, is that it was constructed using materials that are similarly colored to other features in the landscape. Because there’s little contrast, it’s almost impossible to see from orbit.
8. The Tongue Has ‘Taste Bud Zones’
One of longest lingering science myths is that the tongue is divided into specific regions used to distinguish certain tastes: bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. The idea goes back more than a hundred years, to a German scientist named David Pauli Hänig. However, his theory has left a bad taste in the mouths of scientists.
Research has shown that taste buds are actually found in surprising places like the roofs of our mouths and in our throats. While it’s true that certain parts of the tongue are more sensitive to specific tastes, our mouths are filled with receptor cells which send information to our brains distinguishing between tastes.
9. We Only Use 10% of Our Brain
A common science myth which began in the late 1800s has found its way from science class to the silver screen — the idea that we only use ten percent of our brains. Films like Limitless and Lucy explore what could happen if we unleashed our “full potential.” So are humans only using a small percentage of their brain, leaving a lot of untapped potential?
According to neurologist John Henley, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.” In fact, by using advanced imaging technology, scientists can see that the brain is actually in constant action, even while a person is sleeping.
10. Opossums Sleep Upside Down
North America’s only marsupial, the opossum, is frequently depicted hanging from its tail as it sleeps. While this may make for an adorable image, real adult opossums are unable to balance their body weight with just their tail. While young opossums can use their tail to hang around, they can only do so for short periods of time.
The opossum has a prehensile tail which is flexible enough to grasp and wrap itself around branches, which helps stabilize the often arboreal creature. While their tails can’t help them during bedtime, they can be used to carry nesting material, and eat.
11. You Lose Most Of Your Body Heat From Your Head
One of the most commonly repeated myths (especially by concerned parents) is that body heat escapes mostly from our heads. According to Richard Ingebretsen, an expert in wilderness medicine, this theory is incorrect. According to research, we lose body heat through any type of exposed area — whether it’s our heads or exposed legs.
In fact, the head is only a small percentage of our body meaning it wouldn’t be responsible for making us lose the majority of our body’s heat. Although the head doesn’t specifically release heat, it is a target for frostbite.
12. Rusty Nails Cause Tetanus
Many people believe that stepping on a rusty nail is a one-way ticket to tetanus. While rusty nails and metal are usual ways to contract tetanus, the infection has nothing to do with rust. Tetanus is caused by the Clostridium tetani (C tetani) bacteria which infects the nervous system, causing severe muscle spasms and even death.
Contrary to the myth, it is the soil typically found on rusted nails that carries the deadly bacteria. In fact, one doesn’t even need to receive a puncture wound to become infected — tetanus can be contracted by even a small crack or scratch on the skin.
13. Drinking Alcohol Kills Your Brain Cells
A myth repeated in science class, and throughout our lives, is that drinking alcohol kills your brain cells. While drinking these adult beverages may not necessarily kill brain cells, it can drastically damage them. Alcohol, a neurotoxin, reaches your brain five minutes after drinking.
Excessive drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning which can cause permanent brain damage, and even death. Alcohol use is associated with lower levels of cognitive function, brain atrophy, impaired ability to regenerate new brain cells, and issues with memory. Drinking can also create a deficiency in thiamine or vitamin B1, causing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome- a neurological disorder which is similar to dementia.
14. Ostriches Bury Their Heads in the Sand
The idea that the ostrich would bury its head in the event of danger has become a metaphor for people who prefer to ignore their problems, instead of face them. Unlike these avoidant characters, ostriches do not bury their heads.
These flightless birds can put up quite the fight when threatened. There are times, however, when the ostrich drops and flattens its body to the floor. This position can give the illusion that it’s buried its head. Ostriches lay their large eggs on land, occasionally they will use their beaks to rotate the eggs as they incubate — again, giving the illusion that they’re hiding their heads.
15. A Penny Dropped From the Empire State Building Can Kill You
A physics myth that has circulated in science classes for decades has been the theory that if you throw a penny from the top of the Empire State Building, the height and velocity will reach high speed, resulting in lethal force.
This theory was disproven by a physics professor named Louis Bloomfied, who created a penny-dispensing helium balloon, which would drop the coins from hundreds of feet above. According to the professor, the pennies are “aerodynamically unstable” causing air resistance and low speed. He did warn that other, more aerodynamic items like pens, wouldn’t lose much speed and can be dangerous.
16. Touching A Toad Will Give You Warts
Toads have had their fair share of being associated with everything from witchcraft, to human skin conditions. But is the reputation we’ve given these amphibious creatures deserved? Does touching a toad result in us developing their signature warts? The answer, no.
The warts on a toad actually are poison glands which can secrete a deadly toxin. The warts on humans come from a virus known as HPV. This virus causes skin cells to rapidly grow, created bumps on the skin’s surface. The virus can be contracted by touching an infected person or a surface with the virus, such as the shower floor or a locker room.
17. A Severed Earthworm Will Regenerate Into Two Earthworms
Despite earthworm experts proving the contrary, many people believe that severing an earthworm will cause the animal to regenerate into two separate worms. The truth is if an earthworm’s tail is severed, than the earthworm can regenerate, or regrow, a new tail.
If the front part is severed, where the worm’s head and vital organs are located, than the worm will typically die. Flatworms however, can regrow from any severed piece of their body — they can grow a head from a tail, or even be sliced in threes to make three worms.
18. Diamonds Come From Coal
Diamonds may be forever, but the myth that they were created from coal seems to be sticking around equally as long. Most people learn in science class, that diamonds were formed by coal. This is incorrect. Coal was formed by land plants decaying, which began growing long after diamonds were formed.
Diamonds typically form through four ways: Diamonds formed in the Earth’s mantle are pushed to the surface during powerful volcanic explosions, they’re created where continental plates move under one another called subductions zones, asteroid impact sites, or in space and found in meteorites. The vast majority of diamonds come as the result of volcano eruptions.
19. Elephants Have ‘Elephant Graveyards’
One of the most frightening scenes in Disney’s The Lion King, is when the young lions venture into an eerie “elephant’s graveyard.” The idea that elephants have an innate ability to travel to a certain area when they feel they are approaching death, has existed for centuries.
Some scientists believe older or starving animals will travel to places with more food, and subsequently die there. Other times, multiple bodies are the results of mass die-offs caused by droughts, poaching, and poisoning-by humans or from natural pathogens. Researchers have observed elephants gathering at the sites of death, and even touching the bones of familiar members of the herd.
20. “You’re Not Always Going To Have A Calculator In Your Pocket”
Many people can still remember the words of their math teacher, warning them to learn their arithmetic because, “you’re not always going to have a calculator in your pocket.” While learning math skills is vital, technology has progressed to the point that we all now carry a mini computer and calculator in our pocket — the cellphone.
The inclusion of a calculator first appeared in 1993, and quickly became a standard feature for mobile devices. Because of how easily accessible calculators are, some educators have even reconsidered the way they teach new generations of tech-savvy math students.
21. Thomas Edison Invented the Light bulb
In their science class, most students remember Thomas Edison as the inventor with the bright idea to create the light bulb. While Edison was an extremely prolific inventor with more than 1,000 patents to his name, he didn’t exactly invent the light bulb.
Edison experimented with thousands of different theories in order to create a more efficient, safer, and less expensive version of the already existing incandescent electric light. While the concept of his invention didn’t come completely from him, he was able to refine it to the point where his creation resembles modern light fixtures used today.
22. Urine Neutralizes Jellyfish Stings
One of the most common myths you may have learned in science class was that urine could neutralize a jellyfish sting. This myth was further perpetuated with the infamous episode of Friends in which Monica is the unlucky victim of this now debunked treatment.
According to scientists, urine may actually cause the jellyfish’s stingers to release more venom, causing more pain. Vinegar, not urine, should be used to douse the area. The vinegar should deactivate the stinging cells. Next, you can use tweezers to pluck off any remaining tentacles, avoiding any friction which releases more venom. Lastly, apply heat or take a hot shower or bath.
23. “Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice”
The phrase “lightening never strikes the same place twice” is often used to assure someone that the bad, or sometimes positive, thing they experienced won’t happen again. In reality, lightning does strike in the same place — sometimes during the same storm, and sometimes years later.
Lightning occurs when ice particles collide within a thundercloud, resulting in electrical charges. The negative charges move toward the ground where they meet positive charges, and explode as lightning. Scientists believe that sometimes the charges move back up to the thundercloud, creating a repetitive cycle of strikes. Not only can lightning strike twice, but buildings like The Empire State Building are struck almost 100 times a year.
24. Goldfish Have A Three Second-Long Memory
While animals like dolphins, chimpanzees, and dogs have a reputation for their complex brains, science is proving that fish have some impressive noggins as well. It turns out that goldfish have a memory that extends long past the three seconds your science class taught you.
They can learn to associate sounds and items with food, they can even be taught how to jump through hoops and play soccer. Pet goldfish have the ability to recognize their owner, and some have learned how to push a lever to receive their meal.
25. Bats Are Blind
Often associated with horror movies, these misunderstood and maligned winged mammals are also the subject of an ongoing myth — that bats are blind. In reality, bats are not blind at all, and some bats actually possess very good vision.
Most students learn in science class, that some bats use echolocation- they emit ultrasonic sound waves, which bounce off objects like insects, and produce echoes. Large fruit-eating bats like flying foxes, rely on their keen vision to find food. Some studies show that their vision may be three times as good as a human’s. All bats use their eyesight to attain food, find their roosts, and avoid predators.
Improvement In Controversial Surgery Gives Short People A Reason To Smile
What do Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Prince have in common? Cultural icons? Sure. Dead? Unfortunately, yes. But did you know that all three icons are a part of the 5'8" and under club? That makes them each at least one inch shorter than the average US male, and unlikely sex symbols in a culture that celebrates tall guys. Given...
Trader Joe’s Forced to Release Statement After Viral Petition
As the world continues to pay attention to the systemic racism that affects minorities, an Oakley High School student’s note of a company’s racial insensitivities made waves around the world. The 17-year-old student’s Change.org petition went viral after pointing out racial stereotypes of Chinese and Mexican cultures commonly featured on the packaging. For example, Trader Joe’s calls its Chinese food...
Heroic Nurse Saves Three Babies During Tragic Beirut Explosions
Nurses are often underappreciated heroes. They commit themselves to helping others during health crises, and they try their best to make patients forget about their troubles; whatever it takes to make a difference.A nurse in Beirut, Lebanon couldn’t have predicted the disastrous explosions that devastated the capital city on August 4, 2020. She was working at her hospital when the...