Popular Myths in Science

Status: Urban Legends
LiveScience.com has a list of the 20 Most Popular Myths in Science. Included in the list are classics such as these:

It takes seven years to digest gum.
Hair and fingernails continue growing after death.
A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian.
Humans use only 10 percent of their brains.
You get less wet by running in the rain.
Eating a poppy seed bagel mimics opium use.

Oddly enough, they also throw a few strange-but-true items into this list of myths, such as these:

Chickens can live without a head.
Yawning is "contagious".

Science Urban Legends

Posted on Sat Feb 18, 2006

More content from the Hoax Museum:


errmm the poppy seed one is wrong though they did it on a show called brainiac in the uk with a priest and after the preist ate the bagel he was tested positive for opiom although it might be insinuating that you dont get the same effects as opiom dunno
Posted by JR  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  08:44 AM
I remember having an argument at work about one of these: the water in different hemispheres one. I argued that it was a myth, and it got a little out of hand, though not quite to the stage of throwing punches.

Some people might think it's a little silly to fall out over something so trivial - but I still stand by what I said at the time - how can people hang on to such a silly assertion when they presumably use sinks and baths, and therefore see water flowing down the plughole the "wrong" way all the time? Or don't they ever wash? Fume, fume...
Posted by NH  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  10:08 AM
Does anybody really believe seasons are caused by the Earth's varying distance from the sun? That's elementry school level science.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  10:56 AM
The Mythbusters have denied alot of these myths in their shows. They're just too cool for school.
Posted by Dracul  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  01:15 PM
I'm always hearing people say that hot water feezes faster than cold water-- i.e. if you put an ice tray full of warm water and an ice tray full of cold water in freezers the same temperature, you'll get ice faster from the warm water. Nobody who believes this can explain to me any theory by which it could possibly be true, but, of course, that doesn't discourage their belief at all.
Posted by Big Gary, on another quail hunt  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  02:20 PM
I do recall hearing of an experiment about the running in the rain thing. They weighed their clothes and everything -- and I think there was a slight difference. But I can't recall where I read it. (warning sirens go off)
Posted by cvirtue  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  02:35 PM
"Chickens can live without a head ... True ... One robust fellow lived a full eighteen months."

... eighteen months?????? How did it eat and drink without his head? Was it a freak experiment maybe, artificially feeding the chicken?
I've seen chickens can walk and flap their wings after they're beheaded, but shouldn't they bleed to death in at least a couple of minutes?
Posted by Henri  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  03:11 PM
It would be more correct to say that a chicken can live without part of its head. The most famous case was Mike the Rooster, who survived (sort of) a botched beheading in Colorado in 1945. Instead of making him into soup as originally intended, his owners, Lloyd and Clara Olsen, took him on tour to fairs and carnivals and so forth. His beak and face were completely cut off, but enough of his brain remained to keep his heart, lungs, and other organs working for some months. I suppose he could also crow, since birds don't need their mouths to do that. The keepers fed him by putting some kind of gruel directly into his esophagus with a dropper. He finally choked to death on his own mucous, at least according to one version of the story.
This story is covered in the documentary video, "A Natural History of the Chicken," among other places. Frankly, Mike's story doesn't freak me out nearly as much as the woman in the same video who likes to go swimming with her pet chicken while singing opera. It beggars description; you have to see it for yourself.
Posted by Big Gary, on another quail hunt  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Sat Feb 18, 2006  at  04:39 PM
Mythbusters has done 2 shows of the rain myth. First they suspended pvc pipes from the ceiling of a warehouse and pumped water through these pipes simulating rain. Jamie and Adam walked and ran in this "rain" numerous times. After this run/walk, they then measured the jumpsuits they were wearing and determined that it is better to walk than run. They revisited the myth after many emails from fans. On the second attempt, they decided to wait until it was actually raining outside and try this again. This time, it was determined that running was better than walking. I believe it is better to run than walk because you are in the rain in less time.

I think the yawning one IS contagious. I yawned as soon as I read that yawning isn't contagious. Whenever I see someone else yawn, there is no stopping me from yawning as well. *yawn*
Posted by dae dae  on  Sun Feb 19, 2006  at  07:15 PM
Gary, the hot water freezes faster than cold water phenomenon is called the Mpemba effect. Wikipedia has an article about it. My understanding is that for making ice cubes with hot and cold water out of a tap, the phenomenon doesn't hold true. What you expect to happen will happen (the cold water will freeze faster). But water at very high temperatures will freeze faster than water at slightly less high temperatures. (Though this isn't quite the same as saying that hot water freezes faster than cold water.)
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Mon Feb 20, 2006  at  01:46 AM
Yawning: It's some level of socially-contagious. I've been watching my kids to see when they manifest it, and they haven't yet; they've just turned four.
Posted by cvirtue  in  deleted  on  Mon Feb 20, 2006  at  05:14 PM
"...But water at very high temperatures will freeze faster than water at slightly less high temperatures. (Though this isn't quite the same as saying that hot water freezes faster than cold water.)"

Boy, it sure isn't!
Posted by Big Gary, on another quail hunt  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Mon Feb 20, 2006  at  07:10 PM
Yawning is contagious, as any MT (medical transcriptionist) knows. Hearing a dictator yawn will always cause one to yawn, so that blows the idea that it's caused by too little oxygen in the room, since I'm not in the same state or time zone as the dictator (although in the same country as this hospital is kind enough not to send its dictation to India for transcription).
Posted by Purple-Hair MT  in  northwest of normal  on  Sun Feb 26, 2006  at  07:53 PM
...the 'cant grow new brain cells' myth is true. The blurb talks about sprouting new synapses (connections), but says nothing about actually growing new cells.
In fact, brain cells do not 'fix' themselves when killed, at least not naturally. I believe there have been successful attempts to encourage new cell development in birds, but again, this sort of thing is not done by your brain by itself. You lose 10,000 of em per day, and they do not get replaced.
Posted by Bubbah del Brio  on  Mon Aug 14, 2006  at  09:53 PM
Here are a few of some myths that I haven't seen busted yet (but I haven't seen all of the episodes)

1. Does it really take 7 years to dissolve gum?
2. Can chicken soup really "cure" the common cold?
3. Is a dog's mouth cleaner than a human's?
4. Water drains backwards in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Earth's rotation.
5. A falling cat will always land on its feet.
6. You get less wet by running in the rain.
7. Does the five second rule really work?
Posted by Cary Marie  in  Florida  on  Wed Mar 14, 2007  at  10:18 PM
forget that last post ALL of those are on that site that was posted already. sorry about that!
Posted by cary Marie  on  Wed Mar 14, 2007  at  10:19 PM
Regarding the the "myth" that hot water freezes faster than cold water. This is actually true. I have a degree in physics and was required to demonstrate this phenomena in one of my undergraduate labs. Obviously it only works under certain conditions. For example, boiling water will not freeze in less time than water one degree above freezing. In the example you stated about ice cube trays in the freezer, what most likely happens is that there is a thin layer of frost in the freezer. Frost is an insulator while ice conducts heat better. Thus as the warm water melts the frost it achieves better thermal contact with its surroundings and therefore cools at a faster rate.
Posted by Benjamin  in  Minnesota  on  Tue Feb 21, 2012  at  12:18 AM
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