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September 29, 2006 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Top 20 Science Myths. Note: turns out some of these are not myths so much as exagerrations.
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson (57 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Or lies to children.
posted by smallerdemon at 11:33 AM on September 29, 2006


A good number of these were tested on Mythbusters. I leave determining what the tests showed as an exercise for the Googler.
posted by rusty at 11:39 AM on September 29, 2006


Maybe asavage will stop in to discuss this since he and his team at Mythbusters looked into it and confirmed it to be true.
posted by terrapin at 11:41 AM on September 29, 2006


14. Men think about sex every seven seconds

Closer to ever three seconds...
posted by porpoise at 11:47 AM on September 29, 2006


The 5 second rule, a science myth? Christ, I never knew it was considered scientific in the least, but apparently it was science-y enough to include on this list.

Fucking hell. Don't even get me started on their top science myth, which they do admit is factual and not a myth at all. But hey, top science myth all the same.

Pablum for stupid masses, this.
posted by splice at 11:49 AM on September 29, 2006


Is a "myth," by definition, untrue? I'm actually not certain about this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2006


I always thought that a penny was too draggy and unstable to kill someone when dropped from a building, and I'm sure I could probably get a dart or a brick to work, but now I wonder what the optimum stealth killing tool is for a long drop from a tall building. Any help?
posted by Kwantsar at 11:57 AM on September 29, 2006


If she lands buttered side up, its 7 seconds. Otherwise, 5 second rule applies.
posted by hal9k at 11:57 AM on September 29, 2006


I wonder what the optimum stealth killing tool is for a long drop from a tall building.

A safe made by ACME Safes Inc., dropped by a coyote, of course.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:58 AM on September 29, 2006


Splice..(or is it Yoda, that ",this" at the end of the last sentence threw me)..

Some random thoughts after reading your contribution.

You addressed your comment to Jesus, at least that seems to be what you said. I didn't even know he was a MetaFilter reader... and, if he is, is he a sock puppet for Dios? It would only make sense.

And, your sentence, "Fucking hell." Could you elaborate on that a bit, I keep trying to picture it, but can't quite get it.

And...anyone else that may have found this FPP the least bit amusing or interesting, please consider yourself "stupid" and enjoy the pablum.

sheesh...lighten up, it's Friday.

I think I'm gonna take a nap now..
posted by HuronBob at 11:59 AM on September 29, 2006


I like my pablum with a little butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:02 PM on September 29, 2006


And even so, animals often die during natural disasters, so if they do have some sort of sixth sense, it's not worth much.

Using logical fallacy to discredit myth is not so great.
posted by Dr. Twist at 12:06 PM on September 29, 2006


So why exactly is the #1 science myth actually true? Maybe they mean something different by "myth" than I do.
posted by koeselitz at 12:08 PM on September 29, 2006


A safe made by ACME Safes Inc

Seconded only in popularity by Acme Anvils. I've been told it's the prefered weapon of discriminating Canis latrans everywhere.

The sad thing is, that between Mythbusters, Snopes, and Brianiac, I already new every one of these myths.

I am a big nerd.
posted by quin at 12:09 PM on September 29, 2006


"Yawning is contagious: Empirically, this is tough to deny; perhaps you'll yawn while reading this. The real question is whether there's actually something physiological at work here, and the answer is likely yes: even chimpanzees mimic each other's yawns."

Are any of these actually myths?
posted by Plutor at 12:12 PM on September 29, 2006


So.. that sex thing... if my quick calculations are right, to average once every 7 seconds, that could equal 3.5 hours of continious thinking in a day. Lord knows what your bain does while you are asleep.
The term average is a slippery one.
posted by edgeways at 12:22 PM on September 29, 2006


Is a "myth," by definition, untrue? I'm actually not certain about this.

No, but a myth by definition is something more than just a misconception or falsehood. I think a lot of these are just that.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:23 PM on September 29, 2006


yeah, but what happens if you butters a cats back and drop him? Perhaps this is the secret to unlimited energy if we can only tap it. catorater
posted by edgeways at 12:23 PM on September 29, 2006


You get less wet by running in the rain
Actual mathematical equations devoted to this popular question have suggested it is true, though not for the simple reasons you might think.

posted by StickyCarpet at 12:26 PM on September 29, 2006


here's a particularly odd statment..

Astronauts can spot the Great Wall from low-Earth orbit, along with plenty of other things like the Giza pyramids and even airport runways. But they can't see the Wall from the Moon.

also of note, the planet earth is particularly hard to spot from (ex) Pluto, while the Pacfic ocean continues to elude those viewers from Saturn.
posted by edgeways at 12:27 PM on September 29, 2006


yeah, but what happens if you butters a cats back and drop him?

He gives you a baleful look and sulks off into the corner to lick the stuff off his back.
posted by quin at 12:27 PM on September 29, 2006


Myth @ Dictionary.com
1. a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, esp. one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.
2. stories or matter of this kind: realm of myth.
3. any invented story, idea, or concept: His account of the event is pure myth.
4. an imaginary or fictitious thing or person.
5. an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:31 PM on September 29, 2006


HuronBob, I lighten up at 4:20. You might want to catch me after that.

Seriously, I like the post, but I think the actual page itself... Kinda stupid. I know I never would have considered the 5 second rule any kind of science, let alone a science myth. Would you?

And actually, I like the post just because of the stupidity of some of these.

I am allowed to laugh at the linked page, right? I thought that was the whole purpose of MeFi. I'll have to readjust my priorities I suppose... If I can't snark, what contribution of value could I ever hope to make?
posted by splice at 12:32 PM on September 29, 2006


yeah, but what happens if you butters a cats back and drop him?

Something like this.
posted by Mayor West at 12:34 PM on September 29, 2006


I think, perhaps, they're just scientifically addressing these "myths" or common sayings. Some turn out to be true, some false.

I thought the one about hair and fingernails was cool. Retracting skin, huh.
posted by bobobox at 12:38 PM on September 29, 2006


Yeah, half of these are true. Kind of stupid.
posted by delmoi at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2006


what the optimum stealth killing tool is for a long drop from a tall building. Any help?

A lawn dart.

Made of antineutronium.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:25 PM on September 29, 2006


6. A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian

Yes it could. If it landed in an open mouth while they were breathing in. I knew a guy who knew a guy who choked to death on a horse fly while riding his bike. I don't know why he swallowed the fly. But he died.
posted by tkchrist at 1:33 PM on September 29, 2006


I'm really upset that this science myth page isn't answering the really important questions that need answers!

Can a tinfoil hat protect me from alien mind control?
Will magnets help me live longer?

I think the gov't is just keeping pages like this from telling us what's really going on!
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 1:44 PM on September 29, 2006


Splice.. it's now after 4:20, at least where I am... I'm wishing a less snarkful mood for ya...

:)
posted by HuronBob at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2006


You get less wet by running in the rain
Actual mathematical equations devoted to this popular question have suggested it is true, though not for the simple reasons you might think.


I'm pretty sure this is false, Mythbusters did an episode on this one.
posted by Vindaloo at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2006


“I wonder what the optimum stealth killing tool is for a long drop from a tall building. Any help?” -posted by Kwantsar

Big Icicle. Aerodynamic. Easily explained.

So top 20 science ideas we can restate and fixate on semantics?
“Truth is, oral bacteria are so species-specific that one can't be considered cleaner than the other, just different.”

Ah, so we’d much rather have a dog bite us than a human bite us? So the reason we can eat fish raw is because of the cellular differences, but if you put that sort of thing into laymen’s terms like fish being “healthier” or something, you’re just a stupid ass.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:16 PM on September 29, 2006


You get less wet by running in the rain

I'm certainly no mathematician, but that one doesnt even make sense logically. Presuming a homogeneous distribution of raindrops (which probably isnt accurate), if one were in motion, one would certainly be exposing a greater surface area of the body to the rain, ie the front of the body, for example, in addition to the head and shoulders.
posted by elendil71 at 2:26 PM on September 29, 2006


Yeah, but if you're going from point A to point B faster than you would if you're walking, doesn't that mean fewer raindrops will come in contact with you?
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2006


Click the opium test false positive from poppy bagel link....and it says actually it is true (for > 1 bagel) ... WTF? SO ITS NOT FALSE.
posted by uni verse at 2:32 PM on September 29, 2006


The reason they bring up the moon is that was the redoubt of the Great Wall story.

"Huh, you can see other manmade stuff from space? Oh, I meant the moon. The great wall is the only thing you can see from the moon."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:34 PM on September 29, 2006


Big Icicle. Aerodynamic. Easily explained.

But with an antineutronium lawn dart, you'll still kill your target even with a close miss as the tidal forces tear him/her/it/them apart.

And even if you're not quite in range for that, there will be a rather large bang when it hits the ground that will most assuredly take out the target and surrounding continent.

Bitch to carry up the stairs, though.

It's protected from the air by a special container, that's why.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:36 PM on September 29, 2006


Seasons are caused by the Earth's proximity to the sun

This is a myth?? Everything I ever knew is wrong!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:15 PM on September 29, 2006


With regard to dropped pennies, once I touched on that on my blog, and three readers wrote in with relevant info. The first:

======

I've been a parachute systems engineer for [a while] now, beginning with a degree in physics; I've dropped and observed the dropping of many items from aircraft, and know from ground tracking, on-board and telemetered data what sorts of velocities are possible. "Gravity bombs" aren't very efficient until the weight goes way up (the US was using 1000- and 2000-lb inert bombs in Iraq, I believe), and even with large weights there is a profound limit on attainable velocities, regardless of the density of the vehicle.

It has to do with the behavior of the drag coefficient with increasing speed: as the device gets into the transonic regime (above about 0.6 Mach), it experiences "drag divergence" -- the drag coefficient increases rapidly, plateauing around the speed of sound and slightly above. Even an carefully-streamlined, extremely high-fineness-ratio (i.e., long and skinny) object will typically have a drag coefficient of well over 0.5 long before it reaches the speed of sound, and for most objects the drag coefficient approaches unity (this is why fighters usually go on afterburner to "break the sound barrier"). The tendency of surface irregularities to cause axial rotation merely increases drag.

I once was involved in a parachute test program where one corner of the test envelope was 525 knots at 1800 pounds (that's just over 0.8 Mach); we thought we could do it with a lead-ballasted, streamlined, 20:1 dart, equipped with a single-axis autopilot to prevent spin. We failed, despite extreme efforts, and ended up doing the test with a drop from an F-4. Expensive lesson... and the bottom line is that gravity-powered KE weapons not dropped from orbit simply can't get past that transonic "wall".

One other comment: I've also observed the fall of disk-shaped objects (like the covers for mortars -- one method of deploying parachutes is to fire the bagged parachute like a mortar slug), and in a certain ballistic-ratio range they "fly" -- the disk spins like a spinning quarter on a table but around a horizontal axis, which itself precesses in a circle. The result is a spinning disk, flying a spiral path to the ground. By my rough calculations, pennies are in this range... so penny drops would be especially bad.

===

And the second:

===

When I was in college I had the opportunity to test this; it was to debunk the person-killed-by-penny-thrown-off-Empire-State-Building urban legend to my own personal satisfaction. The college campus provided the rare confluence of: A) a building with accessible, openable windows 400 feet above ground level; B) a straight, unobstructed drop from said window all the way to the pavement below; C) uncrowded conditions below, so that the experiment could be conducted without endangering bystanders (although I posted a confederate to warn people off, just in case).

Results of our little experiment:

As expected, the pennies did not transform into miniature lethal instruments. Each penny hit terminal velocity almost immediately (I'd say within well under a hundred feet), and proceeded in that condition to the ground. The terminal-velocity mode appeared remarkably stable; I tried dropping pennies every way I could think of (edge-on; face-on; some spin imparted at launch; etc.), but they always seemed to end up in the same mode.

Terminal mode for a penny is to spin very rapidly about a horizontal axis (i.e. flipping heads-tails), which slows it way down. (Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me until afterwards that I should have timed it, but I remember thinking that the penny seemed to take a really long time to fall the 400 feet to ground level. Certainly much longer than the five seconds or so that a purely ballistic trajectory would have taken.) As it tumbles, it drifts; the path it describes on the way down is a lazy corkscrew, which at the time of my little experiment I estimated to be about 10 feet across over the course of the 400-foot drop. The pennies had time to make three turns or so around the corkscrew before reaching the ground.

Needless to say, neither the pennies nor the flagstones were at all damaged by the impact. Accuracy being as bad as it was, there wasn't any practical way for us to test against specific objects other than the flagstones.

===

The third:

===

Gen. Julian S. Hatcher supervised experiments to determine whether a bullet returning by gravity from rifle fired vertically represented a danger.

Hatcher's Notebook, Chapter XX, "Bullets from the Sky," summarizes the relevant research and reports upon his studies, saying:

"One of the shots that hit the platform was a Service .30-'06, 150 grain flat based bullet, which came down base first (as that bullet usually does) and bounced into the water after striking the edge of the lower platform. It left a mark about 1/16 inch deep in the soft pine board."

"It was concluded from these tests that the return velocity was about 300 feet per second. With the 150 grain bullet, this corresponds to an energy of 30 foot pounds. Previously the Army had decided that on the average, an energy of 60 foot pounds is required to produce a disabling wound. Thus Service bullets returning from extreme heights cannot be considered lethal by this standard."

"Most .30 caliber bullets seem to attain about this same final velocity and it doesn't make any difference how far they fall. Even if a bullet were fired downward from a very high plane, it would still reach the ground at about the same velocity. That is because the air resistance increases very rapidly indeed with increases in speed."

"For larger calibers, the terminal velocity of fall is higher, as the weight is greater in relation to the diameter. An ordinary .50 caliber machine gun bullet having a weight of 718 grains would have a terminal velocity of fall of nearly 500 feet per second and a final energy of something less than 400 foot pounds. A 12-inch shell weighing 1000 pounds and fired straight up would return with a speed of between 1300 and 1400 feet per second and over 28,000,000 ft. lbs. of striking energy."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:15 PM on September 29, 2006 [2 favorites]


Kickstart70 writes "A safe made by ACME Safes Inc., dropped by a coyote, of course."

A common misconception. In reality, the best option would be a grand piano.
posted by brundlefly at 4:00 PM on September 29, 2006


You get less wet by running in the rain

Adam and Jamie put that one out to pasture on a recent Mythbusters episode. You DO get slightly more wet running through rain.

Personally I'll take Mythbusters any day over a list on a pop science site that just...sits there and glares at you in orange.
posted by slatternus at 4:01 PM on September 29, 2006


Having seen my dog eat:

A. Cat turds straight out of the litter box
B. The fallout from an exploding diarrhea diaper
C. Her out puke

I didn't need this site to tell me that the myth about dogs mouths being cleaner than humans was bullshit
posted by The Gooch at 4:35 PM on September 29, 2006


"Out" of course meaning "own"
posted by The Gooch at 4:42 PM on September 29, 2006


Years ago, my brothers and me scientifically tested the "water drain" myth on all the drains in our house. It was clearly shown to be bunkum
Despite this success, mum, however, was less than impressed by her children's scientific spirit and critical thinking when surveying the rather wet aftermath of our experiment...
posted by Skeptic at 4:50 PM on September 29, 2006


Kickstart70: A safe made by ACME Safes Inc., dropped by a coyote, of course.
brundlefly: A common misconception. In reality, the best option would be a grand piano.

Perhaps, but you're missing the main obstacle: these things never work when dropped by a coyote! Have a roadrunner drop them for maximum effect...
posted by equalpants at 5:07 PM on September 29, 2006


We had to argue about the running in the rain one once on an undergrad physics test for bonus points. Let's see if I can reproduce it:

Assume that it rains at constant speed and perpendicular to the ground, then there would at any given moment be raindrops at certain places and a constant number of raindrops between A and B that would come in contact with the front of your body when you travel from A to B. This wouldn't change if you run faster.
The drops falling on top of you would be less if you traveled from A to B faster.

However, because most people have more vertical than horizontal surface area it wouldn't make a lot of difference, and practically there would also be puddles on the ground that splash up much more if you're running rather than walking, so it's not worth running.

(Q.E.D.!)
posted by easternblot at 5:26 PM on September 29, 2006


RE Running in the rain -
You need to add to your equations.
Even if the drops hitting you per second is increased, running gets you there faster, so you have to add (time saved by running * average walking droplet rate) to the total wetness of walking in the rain. As far as I can tell, it's best to not run nor walk, but just kind of hurry.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2006


easternblot,

No physicist here either, and this is purely gedanken, but;

Assume that it rains at constant speed and perpendicular to the ground, then there would at any given moment be raindrops at certain places and a constant number of raindrops between A and B that would come in contact with the front of your body when you travel from A to B. This wouldn't change if you run faster.

Why not? Or perhaps more clearly, why not over time, any time? Assuming a perpendicular rainfall and a static subject, there would be portions of the body relatively untouched by the rain; notably the legs, the sides of the torso, etc. If the subject were to run forward, that would put those portions of the body in contact with raindrops that did not impact earlier. It seems to me to be more a function of available surface area moving through a presumably homogeneous medium.

..and on preview, add what BlackLeotardFront said
posted by elendil71 at 6:26 PM on September 29, 2006


18. Seasons are caused by the Earth's proximity to the sun

Oh the memories. When I was in fifth grade I had an argument with a teacher who believed this. Obviously she wasn't a science teacher. I remember her words exactly, "It stands to reason, if it's warmer in the summer, we must be closer to the sun." There were a lot of teachers in my elementary school with this caliber of thinking. One thought that front wheel drive meant the front wheels rotated backwards (while the car moved forward). One insisted that humans weren't in the animal kingdom.

And my mother never understood why I skipped school so much.
posted by effwerd at 8:33 PM on September 29, 2006


...and who chose the pictures? The explanation that mentions the Empire State Building shows the Chrysler Building and the chicken soup one looks suspiciously like miso.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2006


Regarding the 5 second rule. Of course there is no reason to suggest some cutoff of 5 seconds. But I have seen research that shows that in institutional environments the floors frequently have less bacteria on them than tabletops. Think about it—the floors are disinfected on a regular basis and only get small bits of food on them while the tables have food on them all the time.

So I think there is some justification to not being overly worried about food on the floor in a clean environment. It is a social taboo though.
posted by grouse at 2:21 AM on September 30, 2006


SCDB just satisfied my curiosity regarding Gaza funerals.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 3:28 AM on September 30, 2006


Wow, effwerd, I have to say I couldn't figure out how seasons might be affected by the earth's distance from the sun until your comment.
posted by jacalata at 5:09 AM on September 30, 2006


My son's 1st grade teacher cheerfully explained that in a solar eclipse, the sun comes between the earth and the moon. I suspect it was the look of horror on my face that made her turn the class over to me, and we all had fun with flashlights, oranges and volleyballs. I had a couple of eclipse glasses, and they got passed around during an annular solar eclipse. It was great fun.

The linked page is pretty unscientific. My favorite myth: Glass is really a liquid.
posted by theora55 at 9:48 AM on September 30, 2006


One I hate, I guess it's a dietary myth rather than a science myth, is that you should drink eight glasses of water a day. Even with repeated published explanations as to why it's not true, that one lives on and on.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:45 PM on September 30, 2006


SCDB just satisfied my curiosity regarding Gaza funerals.

Yahbut, that only seems to hold for bullets that are fired very close to absolutely vertical. On the relevant Mythbusters, they talked to a physician / coroner who'd dealt with someone who'd been killed by a bullet fired into the air a couple miles away. Likewise, someone was killed by a falling bullet at a Klan initiation rally in 2003.

The thinking was that if a bullet was fired at a noticeable angle from vertical, it would probably fly in a ballistic trajectory and land with enough speed to do some real hurtin'.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:49 PM on September 30, 2006


"You DO get slightly more wet running through rain."
Of course, if you don’t run/hurry you spend more actual time in the rain. And you’ll probably be colder - since a nice jog juices up your metabolism.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:58 PM on October 2, 2006


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