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A list of common misconceptions
January 5, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

A list of common misconceptions
posted by KokuRyu (122 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
At least link to the xkcd comic.
posted by fixedgear at 11:44 AM on January 5, 2011 [27 favorites]


From the Discussion page of Wikipedia:
Warning: incoming xkcd readers

This article mentioned in the latest xkcd webcomic (http://xkcd.com/843/), which may mean an edit or two...
This is a great read though. Here's my favourite so far:
People do not use only ten percent of their brains. While it is true that a small minority of neurons in the brain are actively firing at any one time, the inactive neurons are important too.[59][60] This myth has been commonplace in American culture at least as far back as the start of the 20th century, and was attributed to William James, who apparently used the expression metaphorically.[61] Some findings of brain science (such as the high ratio of glial cells to neurons) have been mistakenly read as providing support for the myth.
posted by memebake at 11:47 AM on January 5, 2011


Common misconception: MeFi FPPs should contain more than a simple link.
posted by willF at 11:47 AM on January 5, 2011 [18 favorites]


>At least link to the xkcd comic.
>It's polite to include a via.


Sorry folks, hadn't seen that xkcd comic before. Please look at my FPP posting history, and you will see that I routinely attribute found links.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:54 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what's a list of uncommon conceptions?

That's right; the Bible.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on January 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


I can't decide if I was more bothered when I first read this via a MetaChat link and realized I had a lot of these misconceptions, or if I am more bothered now to re-read it and realize I'm still clinging to quite a few.

This is yet another depressing reminder that facts often reinforce false beliefs.
posted by bearwife at 11:56 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, for one, will be celebrating this on the first Tuesday in February and forcing all my acquaintances to do the same.
posted by sarastro at 11:58 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, memebake, I'd thought too many neurons firing at once was a tonic-clonic seizure. Maybe the "ten percent" idea was inspired not so much from neuronal firing as it was about a not-really-quantifiable idea of unused human potential?
posted by eegphalanges at 11:58 AM on January 5, 2011


I am more bothered now to re-read it and realize I'm still clinging to quite a few.

It's because you only use 10 percent of your brain.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:58 AM on January 5, 2011 [24 favorites]


I like how it's all been wikipedia style edited to be wishy washy.
posted by smackfu at 12:00 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's no reason to believe that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. Why does everyone always draw him as an egg?
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Single link Wikipedia page? Really, or did I imagine this happened?
posted by 6:1 at 12:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


My favorite, and one I learned rather recently thanks to Metafilter, is this surprising result:
Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.
Seriously - this is something that we've done as a culture. On one hand I'm proud that we can create something whole-cloth and perpetuate it entirely by word-of mouth. On the other hand it's sad that sugar is so demonized.

Also, I doubt this article will last long.
posted by muddgirl at 12:06 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"People thinking MC is short for misconception"
posted by yeloson at 12:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Humpty Dumpty was originally a riddle, and the answer was an egg.

We don't pose it as a riddle anymore, because it would go like this:

What, were it to sit on a wall,
and then fall off,
could not be put together again
Even by an army?

An egg!

How did you guess?

Because it's Humpty Dumpty!
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Family posted by Greg Nog at 12:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [118 favorites]


I really don't feel like I'm that much better informed than the rest of the world -- but the fact that some of these things are really common misconceptions makes me a little bit more dead inside.

(And don't get me started on the HIV and AIDS misconceptions...which I'm more informed of but feel sick upon seeing in print.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Waddayamean vikings didn't have horns on their helmets?! Next you'll be telling me that pirates didn't have peg legs and parrots on their shoulders!
posted by Kabanos at 12:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


To clarify ...
posted by philip-random at 12:10 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


hmmm...
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:11 PM on January 5, 2011


It's a common misconception that Wikipedia links make for a good FPP.
posted by punkfloyd at 12:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's because you only use 10 percent of your brain.

Or less. As the article says, it is true that a small minority of neurons in the brain are actively firing at any one time.
posted by bearwife at 12:12 PM on January 5, 2011


Oddly, I didn't see "Context-free, single-Wikipedia-link posts make for good Metafilter" on that list. Maybe I should add that.
posted by mhoye at 12:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a common misconception that shitting in a thread is better than flagging and moving on.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:13 PM on January 5, 2011 [61 favorites]


I find that list hard to believe.
posted by mazola at 12:14 PM on January 5, 2011


Sarah Palin never said "I can see Russia from my house."

I... um... Yeah, I knew that.

Shit.
posted by brundlefly at 12:17 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here is where I admit that I was going to be all snarky and complain about an FPP that was a single link to a wikipedia article, but hells bells this is actually really interesting.

The Immaculate Conception is not synonymous with the virgin birth of Jesus,

I was using these interchangeably up until just a few years ago. Having read this would have made me sound much less stupid in that conversation.

Air is mostly nitrogen, not oxygen

Knowing this one, however, got me some points in a trivia throwdown.
posted by quin at 12:17 PM on January 5, 2011


I would have found this pretty weak even if it had included the XKCD comic (and I love XKCD).
posted by Gator at 12:18 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


you know, it's a good wiki-page, full of interesting stuff, some of which proves me wrong about a few things.
Is it actually a rule around here to NOT single-link to wikipedia? If so, then I guess this is a doomed FPP. If not, then what Astro Zombie just said.
posted by philip-random at 12:19 PM on January 5, 2011


I want to live like common misconceptions
I want to do whatever common misconceptions do
I want to sleep with common misconceptions, like you
posted by Eideteker at 12:19 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


[a common misconception is that the flagging feature does nothing. Try it. From this point forward please make an effort to either like the post/thread or move on, thanks,]
posted by jessamyn at 12:19 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


[sense] "blood carbon dioxide levels"
Huh? And a lot of that 9-20 senses bit are just variation of touch (pressure nerves == full bladder for example)
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:21 PM on January 5, 2011


Having read this would have made me sound much less stupid in that conversation.

Honestly, it's so pervasive that even my "The Bible as Literature" professor -- who was generally very well-equipped to teach the course -- wasn't sure.
posted by griphus at 12:22 PM on January 5, 2011


M I S C O N C E P T I O N

wait, did I do that right?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:22 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sight and hearing are just variations on touch as well.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:23 PM on January 5, 2011


I want to live like common misconceptions
I want to do whatever common misconceptions do
I want to sleep with common misconceptions, like you


*Mrs. Conception attempts to make her wedding ring obvious*
posted by the mad poster! at 12:23 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


so that's where QI get their "general ignorance" from!
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 12:25 PM on January 5, 2011


Henceforth to be known as "The Immaculate Misconception"
posted by iotic at 12:26 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Cat Pie Hurts: you're missing this.
posted by fight or flight at 12:27 PM on January 5, 2011


Napoleon Bonaparte (pictured) was not especially short... This corresponds to 5 feet 6.5 inches

I love this misconception. Because it's a perfect midpoint between an unverifiable historical "Truth" that is now taken as gospel (literally) and a modern disprovable urban legend.

Ask most people the first thing they think of when you say Napoleon, and the vast majority will say "short" despite it being demonstrably untrue. It's been told as fact for so long that even in the face of clear conflicting evidence, people still wonder.

Were I the kind of person to try to convince people of the errors of blindly trusting old Facts like the bible, I'd probably use this as an example. Fortunately, I'm not that kind of guy.
posted by quin at 12:31 PM on January 5, 2011


There is no evidence that Vikings wore horns on their helmets.


WHOA!!!


everybody, stop what you're doing!
posted by mooselini at 12:33 PM on January 5, 2011


"Short" is relative. In Thailand, Napoleon would have been about average. In Minnesota, he'd be Hop-Frog.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:34 PM on January 5, 2011


Henceforth to be known as "The Immaculate Misconception"

Beaten to that, I'm afraid.
posted by mykescipark at 12:35 PM on January 5, 2011


You know one I hate? Every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years. Again. And again. And again. Ever seen a tattoo older than seven years? Then you're dumb.
posted by ND¢ at 12:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


The claim[114] that a duck's quack does not echo is false, although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.

Enough said...Under some circumstances.
posted by Felex at 12:42 PM on January 5, 2011


Here's the thing about those science examples, though. I know how lift works. I know it's not because the air on the top has to move the same speed as the air on the bottom of an airfoil.

I will still tell people the "wrong" answer, though. To explain the "right" answer, even in general terms, requires math, which quickly bores people. Look at the "better explanation" link on that misconceptions page - it describes lift with Newton's laws, integrations, Navier-Stokes, Bernoulli ("Isn't that a kind of dessert?")... The "wrong" explanation is easier and I'm lazy.

These misconceptions of scientific phenomena start early - I remember being taught how planes fly in elementary school and come on, what seven-year-old is going to understand Bernoulli? Same thing goes for the model of the atom - very easy to tell a kid that electrons fly around in circles, much harder to explain electron clouds.

A better "wrong" explanation of lift is to invoke Conservation of Momentum. Wing changes the velocity of the airstream downward, which pushes the wing upward. You can demonstrate this in your kitchen sink: take a spoon, turn the tap on, and then - holding the handle of the spoon gently - slowly bring the convex side of the spoon into the flow of water. The spoon will get sucked into the flow.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.

Perhaps not, but based on my own observations the "short burst of energy" it provides is followed by a "crash" that often manifests as shrieking cranky meltdowns.
posted by Hoopo at 12:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Misconceptions are where I'm a viking! (or used to be, until I discovered that they didn't wear pointy helmets and then I lost interest in Scandinavia entirely)
posted by otolith at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Just great, I'm the same height as Napoleon.
posted by Memo at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2011


"The myth that sharks do not get cancer was spread by the 1992 book Sharks Don't Get Cancer"
posted by Flunkie at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no evidence that Vikings wore horns on their helmets.

WHOA!!!


This one actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Vikings were often close in fighters, having a big handle attached to your helmet is a good way to get your head grabbed and your throat cut.
posted by quin at 12:51 PM on January 5, 2011


These reminded me of something:

Most people don't realize that large pieces of coral, which have been
painted brown and attached to the skull by common wood screws, can make
a child look like a deer. - Jack Handey

Contrary to what most people say, the most dangerous animal in the world
is not the lion or the tiger or even the elephant. It's a shark riding
on an elephant's back, just trampling and eating everything they see. - Jack Handey
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


Now I just want to buy the book called Sharks Don't Get Cancer.
posted by Askiba at 12:55 PM on January 5, 2011


It's been told as fact for so long that even in the face of clear conflicting evidence, people still wonder.

This is known in modern times as a "talking point".
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2011


Cat Pie Hurts: "... wait, did I do that right"

No, you accidentally posted it to Metafilter, not Reddit.
posted by Reverend John at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2011


I remember the shark cartilage hoo-ha, pretty distinctly. I was 12 years old, and still, somewhere in the back of my mind, believed that I might someday become--actually become--a ninja turtle, or maybe Spider-Man. And yet I knew that eating shark cartilage couldn't cure cancer.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:00 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:01 PM on January 5, 2011


The myth that sharks do not get cancer was spread by the 1992 book Sharks Don't Get Cancer.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:02 PM on January 5, 2011


Viking helmet info. Includes speculation on how this misconception came about.
posted by Mister Cheese at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The myth that vikings had horns on their helmets was spread by the 1992 book Vikings Had Horns On Their Helmets
posted by memebake at 1:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [23 favorites]


These are all misconceptions that are widespread in the English speaking world. Are there any that only Frenchmen or Germans believe. For instance, the German version of that page says that it's a common misconception that fighter pilots must have perfect teeth, because fillings and bridges would be pulled out by intense G forces and choke their wearer.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 1:13 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: shrieking cranky meltdowns
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:14 PM on January 5, 2011


Perhaps not, but based on my own observations the "short burst of energy" it provides is followed by a "crash" that often manifests as shrieking cranky meltdowns.

That's the wonderful and terrible thing about our human brain: we are excellent and making patterns, but sort of terrible at verifying them. We observe this behavior and come up with a great theory to explain our observation (sugar causes a short burst of energy caused by a "crash"), but with a little digging our theory turns out to be entirely incorrect! Following the same path of observation -> theory, natural philosophers in the Middle Ages concluded that maggots were spontaneously generated in rotting meat. When we finally got around to testing that theory, it turned out not to be true.

In the same way, when we actually test our theory that sugar causes behavioral changes, we find out that it's a combination of (1) sugary foods being more common at special occasions where it is more acceptable for children to act out, and (2) parental expectations/reinforcement.

I can't find any scientific support for the idea that sugar causes an abnormal burst of energy in someone with otherwise-normal glucose levels.
posted by muddgirl at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Common misconception: most people will be more interested in you if you constantly correct them.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ones I am sad about: This Wikipedia page should be called "So you want to be a buzzkill..."
posted by Rock Steady at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"There is also abundant empirical evidence to support bumblebee flight."
posted by Vibrissa at 1:18 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


...a short burst of energy followed by a "crash"
posted by muddgirl at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2011


Toilet waste is never intentionally dumped overboard from an aircraft

Someone has apparently never heard of a relief tube. For example.
posted by exogenous at 1:31 PM on January 5, 2011


Wikipedia: the land of wind and ghosts where a writer's voice goes to wither.
posted by droob at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2011


I have never heard that quack-echoing one. Huh.

These are all misconceptions that are widespread in the English speaking world.

In South Korea, it is commonly believed that sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running can be fatal in the summer.

It is a common misconception that you can make an offhand comment on MetaFilter and not be taken to task by someone who can literally refute you but not add much else to the discussion.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


None of these should really be a surprise. Except for the one about vikings not having horns on their helmets. That is clearly a lie by a Wikipedia vandal.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or possibly Visigoth
posted by jtron at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


You know one I hate? Every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years.

I love that, to debunk the myth, this link immediately invokes the "neurons are never, ever replaced" one.
posted by darksasami at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


In South Korea, it is commonly believed that sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running can be fatal in the summer.

My wife, who is from Japan, never sleeps with socks on, even though Japanese homes are not heated in the winter and can get quite cold at night.

I thought this was a common Japanese practice (not sleeping with socks on) until my told me it was something her grandmother always told her: "sleeping with your socks on means you will be unable to run away from devils and demons at night because you will not have good traction on tatami surfaces."

No one else in Japan believes this.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:50 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


Old'n'busted -
[sense] "blood carbon dioxide levels"
Huh? And a lot of that 9-20 senses bit are just variation of touch (pressure nerves == full bladder for example)


Our bodies don't monitor the levels of oxygen in our blood. Instead, they measure the level of carbon dioxide in our blood. It has the same effect as, obviously, the amount of CO2 inside us is directly proportional to the amount of oxygen we've used up recently. As the level of CO2 increases, so does the feeling that we need to breathe faster and deeper. It's slightly weird to measure the waste product rather than the needed chemical, but evolution takes weird twists like that... all that matters is that a system works, not that it makes sense to our tiny monkey brains :).

So while you wouldn't say "Gosh, I have 5% CO2 in my blood!", it is something that you can conciously feel.

Tangentally, this works perfectly in normal air, but leads to problems in weird air mixes. In air with normal CO2 levels but no oxygen, all our bodies see is that there's little or no CO2 in our bloodstream; you don't feel short of breath or otherwise ill, you just keep going until mild euphoria, a bit of wooziness as your brain starts shutting down less essential systems, and then sudden loss of consciousness. This obviously wasn't a problem during most of our evolutionary history but explains why people can die of Carbon Monoxide poisoning without thinking to crack open a window, and why divers on closed circuit rebreathers (in which a small quantity of air goes around in a loop, having its CO2 removed and a small squirt of O2 added back) occasionally die without warning, not realising that they've forgotten to turn their oxygen feed on.

The converse is also true, incidentally: An atmosphere with plentiful oxygen but high levels of CO2 is survivable to breathe, but you'll be violently hyperventilating and generally feeling terrible.
posted by metaBugs at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2011 [19 favorites]


On reflection, the example of carbon monoxide poisoning is a terrible one, as the picture is rather more complicated than that. As well as displacing the oxygen-containing air, CO actually binds to red blood cells and destroys their ability to carry oxygen even if it's present.

A better example would be why oxygen sensors have to be installed in rooms where tanks of nitrogen, helium, etc. are used: a nitrogen leak would displace the oxygen-laden air in the room but, because the CO2 levels in workers' blood doesn't increase, they wouldn't know anything about it before losing conciousness. There are dark stories (possibly urban legends) of chains of people going into a lab to help one or more people passed out on the floor, making it halfway then collapsing themselves before realising what the problem is.
posted by metaBugs at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The ten percent of your brain thing is actually a population average. The average person only uses ten percent of their brain, but that's because ninety percent of the population uses none of their brain at all.
posted by nickmark at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know one I hate? Every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years.

I love that, to debunk the myth, this link immediately invokes the "neurons are never, ever replaced" one.


I noticed this as well, but to be fair the 'Ask a naturalist' link clarifies that it is talking about the cerebral cortex. The wikipedia link says new neurons have developed in the subventricular zone and the subgranular zone, which are not (I'm pretty sure) a part of the cerebral cortex. It does mention that some experts think neuron creation may be possible in the neocortex (part of the cerebral cortex), but clarifies that as "heavily disputed".

So, not technically incorrect, I think.

egads, brains are complicated
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:16 PM on January 5, 2011


I remember the shark cartilage hoo-ha

Another misconception. A shark's hoo-ha is not made out of cartilage.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


That's the wonderful and terrible thing about our human brain: we are excellent and making patterns, but sort of terrible at verifying them.

"The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'," I'd say. Shortly after that, I'd grouse about some commercial showing Vikings with horns on their helmets. This is why I'm a jerk, but I'm comfortable with that.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:22 PM on January 5, 2011


You know one I hate? Every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years.

I've always hated that one too, but here's something to think about: there's good reason to believe that the vast majority (if not the full compliment) of matter in your body is continually replaced. Cells recycle proteins, lipids, and minerals regularly. You're constantly losing these things to the environment, and they must be replenished through food. Hell, even bones get chewed up and rebuilt on a regular basis. It's possible that you don't have a single atom left in your body from when you were a child.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2011


KokuRyu : "sleeping with your socks on means you will be unable to run away from devils and demons at night because you will not have good traction on tatami surfaces."

This is awesome. Your wife is going to leave the the sock-wears in the dust when all this mass-bird/fish-death-seven-seals-opening apocalypse shit plays out.

As another barefoot sleeper, I applaud her choice.
posted by quin at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, the rate of neurogenesis is basically infinitesimal compared to the number of neurons in the brain. It definitely happens in the dendate gyrus, but it has very little impact on the brain as a whole.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, her grandmother belonged to a "new religion" that sprung up after the war, and believed in all sorts of weird things.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:29 PM on January 5, 2011


Mel Brooks explained the Viking thing ages ago, ppls.
posted by Eideteker at 2:53 PM on January 5, 2011


Lemme try that again.

Damn you, illusion-of-truth effect!

This explains a lot about the (stupid, stupid) world we live in, actually.

Also, we're less apt to second-guess it / if you rhyme when you express it.
posted by perspicio at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, her grandmother belonged to a "new religion" that sprung up after the war, and believed in all sorts of weird things.

I would like to hear more!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:31 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought this was a common Japanese practice (not sleeping with socks on) until my told me it was something her grandmother always told her: "sleeping with your socks on means you will be unable to run away from devils and demons at night because you will not have good traction on tatami surfaces."

No one else in Japan believes this.


I'm stealing this for my explanation for why I can't sleep with socks on. Really, it's just that they get overheated with the addition of a blanket, but unable to run away from devils and demons just sounds better. Gonna have to redo the floors first...
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:41 PM on January 5, 2011


"Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children."

Perhaps not, but based on my own observations the "short burst of energy" it provides is followed by a "crash" that often manifests as shrieking cranky meltdowns.


That's funny. This is the myth that has always infuriated me the most - but not because I knew about the studies disproving it, or had any actual evidence it wasn't true. Just because I never heard of it growing up, and so it struck me as totally baseless, bizarre and made-up right away.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:15 PM on January 5, 2011


Is fan death really a myth? Someone recently pointed out this that says it's possible: http://www.epa.gov/hiri/about/pdf/EHEguide_final.pdf
posted by Knigel at 4:37 PM on January 5, 2011


Wikipedia! That's where I'm a viking with no horns on my helmet :( !
posted by mendel at 4:42 PM on January 5, 2011


Wikipedia! That's where I'm a bean
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:36 PM on January 5, 2011


Dinosaurs and man did not coexist. I feel like I just ate the red pill.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:16 PM on January 5, 2011


Apparently 1 in 5 American adults think the sun revolves around the Earth. Does that qualify as a misconception?
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2011


This is the best SLWP I've seen yet, though I take issue with this:

"Shaving does not cause hair to grow back thicker or coarser or darker. This belief is due to the fact that hair that has never been cut has a tapered end, whereas, after cutting, there is no taper. Thus, it appears thicker, and feels coarser due to the sharper, unworn edges. The fact that shorter hairs are "harder" (less flexible) than longer hairs also contributes to this effect.[66] Hair can also appear darker after it grows back because hair that has never been cut is often lighter due to sun exposure."

So what you're saying is that shaving will make it grow back coarser and darker?
posted by 256 at 6:25 PM on January 5, 2011 [14 favorites]


MCMikeNamara writes "I really don't feel like I'm that much better informed than the rest of the world -- but the fact that some of these things are really common misconceptions makes me a little bit more dead inside. "

Like 41% of Americans thinking humans roamed the earth at the same time as Dinosaurs. I'm not sure if that is worse than the heavy boots myth but it sure is wider spread.

metaBugs writes "There are dark stories (possibly urban legends) of chains of people going into a lab to help one or more people passed out on the floor, making it halfway then collapsing themselves before realising what the problem is."

This happens all to frequently. We had to spend hours on it in apprenticeship training and a handful of people die every year from this (though usually H2S is the problem gas which kills in a different way). OSHA has examples.
posted by Mitheral at 6:30 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still say it's all about me.
posted by philip-random at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2011


Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.

D'uh. Everybody knows that HFCS is what gives your kids ADHD. It also gives you AIDS, and was Hitler's favourite food. I only let my kids drink Coke from Mexico, because it's a health food, blessed by Mother Theresa.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:09 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've heard the lightning one a lot but only as a metaphor; I didn't know it was an actual myth. Neat!
posted by NoraReed at 7:59 PM on January 5, 2011


This list kinda does mostly okay until the human body part, where it just gets dumbly nitpicky.

Although it is commonly believed that most body heat is lost through a person's head, heat loss through the head is not more significant than other parts of the body when naked.[90][91] This myth may be a faulty generalization of situations in which it is true, like when wearing clothes and no protective head-wear. For example, it has been shown that hats effectively prevent hypothermia in infants.[92]

Most people are wearing some sort of clothing far more often than they are wearing protective head gear. Especially if the temperature is cool enough that losing heat is a concern.


A person who is drowning does not wave and call for help, as in fictional depictions of drowning. Except in rare circumstances, a person who is drowning is physiologically unable to vocalize or wave for help, due to submersion of the mouth, water in the airway, and instincts that cause the drowning victim to press or crawl at the water with their hands.[93]

Aren't fictional depictions usually of people waving and calling for help in fear of drowning? The actual drowning is when it goes quiet.


Ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. This tale originates from the fact that the male ostrich will dig a large hole (up to 6 to 8 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep) in the sand for the eggs. Predators cannot see the eggs across the countryside which gives the nest a bit of protection. The female and male take turns sitting on the eggs and, because of the indention in the ground, usually just blend into the horizon. All birds turn their eggs (with their beak) several times a day during the incubation period. From a distance it may appear as though the bird has its head in the sand.[138]

So, while digging the hole and turning the eggs, the ostriches have their heads in the sand? (The misperception is that they do this in reaction to a threat.)
posted by desuetude at 8:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great page, but I'm sad to see there's no mention of Ring Around the Rosie.
posted by archagon at 9:29 PM on January 5, 2011


I think the idea with Wikipedia is that you add something if you notice it's missing. Just saying.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:59 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the idea with Wikipedia is that you add something if you notice it's missing. Just saying.

Actually that's just the prelude to it being edited right back out, the real purpose of wikipedia.
posted by maxwelton at 10:53 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Since it could save a life: What drowning really looks like [via]. The wikipedia entry is accurate, if short.
posted by Humanzee at 4:12 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what you're saying is that shaving will make it grow back coarser and darker?
Not really. The misconception being debunked is that the growing part of the hair is affected by having been cut. Blunt ends are not the same thing as a coarser shaft, which is what people generally mean by "grow back coarser". Similarly, the part of the hair growing out is the same color it would otherwise have been - it just lacks the pale tip that camoflages it. Every time in my life when I've cut off a significant amount of (head) hair, my hair looks darker, because the lighter ends are gone and you can see the layers that had been underneath. It still would not be accurate to say that I colored my hair by getting a haircut, though.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:16 AM on January 6, 2011


Apparently 1 in 5 American adults think the sun revolves around the Earth. Does that qualify as a misconception?

It's not any more wrong than saying the Earth goes around the Sun, since there's no such thing as an absolute frame of reference.
posted by ekroh at 7:06 AM on January 6, 2011



Apparently 1 in 5 American adults think the sun revolves around the Earth. Does that qualify as a misconception?

It's not any more wrong than saying the Earth goes around the Sun, since there's no such thing as an absolute frame of reference.


Good point.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:13 AM on January 6, 2011


From that whole list there was only one misconception I believed to be true:

It's a common myth that an earthworm becomes two worms when cut in half. This is not correct. When an earthworm is bisected, only the front half of the worm (where the mouth is located) can survive, while the other half dies

There were a bunch that I once believed true but have learned otherwise. On the other hand there were a lot of misconceptions listed I never heard before and the corrections were very educational since I didn't know anything about them before.

Oh, and Napoleon. 5' 6"? Yeah, I'm looking down on your bald spot, shorty!
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:18 AM on January 6, 2011


I think the idea with Wikipedia is that you add something if you notice it's missing. Just saying.

Only if you have proper citations nowadays. Which is good and bad.
posted by smackfu at 7:20 AM on January 6, 2011


It's not any more wrong than saying the Earth goes around the Sun, since there's no such thing as an absolute frame of reference.

The moon revolves around the earth which revolves around the sun which is on its own predictable voyage through the Milky Way galaxy which is doing its own thing through the ever expanding, still exploding (the Big Boom continues) so-called known universe.

And yet, I can pretty much guarantee you that the next Nicholas Cage movie will be awful.
posted by philip-random at 11:01 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not any more wrong than saying the Earth goes around the Sun, since there's no such thing as an absolute frame of reference.

I hate to drop more science in this thread, but I feel I must. Some reference frames are, in a sense, "better" than other reference frames.

If we look at planetary motion on the solar system scale from the position of the Earth, that would be a non-inertial frame of reference. Of course the sun is also accelerating about the center of the Milky Way, so on the scale of the entire galaxy we can't use Sol OR the earth as a frame of reference to state that the entire universe is rotating around us.

That's kind of how we figured out that the Earth is rotating around something else in the first place - if the two reference frames were perfectly equivalent, then a smart astronomer sitting on the earth wouldn't be able to tell if the Earth was rotating around Sol or vice versa. Of course, some think that Copernicus was a big God-hating phony. Decide for yourself! ;)
posted by muddgirl at 11:37 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


OTOH, you changed "goes around" to "rotates around".
posted by smackfu at 11:42 AM on January 6, 2011


I was going to comment on the Earth/sun debate by noting that the center of mass between the Earth and sun is inside the sun itself therefore making it the center body by all reasonable definitions notwithstanding silly appeals to frames of reference but then I remembered that I'm trying to become a less pedantic person and but then people just kept commenting so I had to say something.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:28 PM on January 6, 2011


Also, Metafilter: I'm trying to become a less pedantic person
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:29 PM on January 6, 2011


After watching Inception a friend and I got into an argument about the 10% thing. I'm not proud of that, I just recall it because it was so stupid of a thing. But there we were, him protesting that if you used near one hundred percent then the brain would start seizing because blah blah blah and I'm sitting there saying I'm pretty sure that's not what they mean by using 100%. More like the brain certainly can work better without conflicting with itself.
But yeah, stupid argument about stupid made up fact.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:26 PM on January 6, 2011


P.o.B.: ... I'm sitting there saying I'm pretty sure that's not what they mean by using 100%

The 10% brain thing annoys me because it is often used in New Age contexts to argue that if you use this meditation technique/snake oil/chant/crystal/drug or whatever, you will unlock more parts of the other 90% of your brain potential and hence power up and levitate or read minds or throw fireballs or whatever.

There's a difference between 'in normal operations, only about 10% of the neurons are firing' and 'normal people only use 10% of their capacity'

The other problem with saying 'we only use 10% of our brains capacity' is that it suggests that we understand how the brain works as a whole (how else could you measure how much capacity we're using?). But in reality we only know little scraps about how isolated little bits of the brain work. We have no measure of the 'capacity' of the thing as a whole (but its reasonable to assume that most organisms use their brains fairly optimally).
posted by memebake at 6:55 AM on January 7, 2011


Yeah beyond the ability to measure the usage, the definition of "usage" is fairly vague. It's not a secret that some drugs (for some people) will allow you to focus better, or more, but I think you could also say most peoples brains are probably working optimally as required.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:04 AM on January 7, 2011


For those interested in the brain and psychology misconceptions, the book "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology" is a great place to start.
(amazon link)

It has three to four pages on each myth, with evidence on how many people believe it, what are reasons for believing it, then the evidence against. Really good book.

The 10% of the brain thing is also related to how little we use our brain for things we think of as thinking. Most of it is used for basic processes of perception and action.

But the real misconception underlying a lot of these is that people try to leverage their mention of "the brain does it" to legitimize their pet theory about behavior, and have been doing so for a long time.

To say that this brain area is bigger, and corresponds to this behavior, does not mean that you are better at this behavior. (Bigger is not always better)

To say that this brain area is more active, and corresponds to this behavior, does not mean that you are better at this behavior (some expertise can result in lower brain activity, older adults who perform worse on some cognitive tasks show much more activation).
posted by cogpsychprof at 11:21 AM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The other 90% of your brain is used for storing penguins.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:34 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Humans currently walk the Earth with dinosaurs. The belief that humans have never walked the Earth with dinosaurs is wrong, and judging by the study cited on the Wikipedia page, a common misconception.

Is cladistics really that hard to understand?
posted by Ptrin at 9:55 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some reference frames are, in a sense, "better" than other reference frames.

Only in the sense that the math is easier, not that it's saying anything more fundamental about the nature of the universe.

That's kind of how we figured out that the Earth is rotating around something else in the first place - if the two reference frames were perfectly equivalent, then a smart astronomer sitting on the earth wouldn't be able to tell if the Earth was rotating around Sol or vice versa.

But they are perfectly equivalent. And realizing that there are no special frames of reference is kind of how we figured out the theory of relativity, which is much cooler than the heliocentric theory.
posted by ekroh at 3:05 PM on January 13, 2011


Only in the sense that the math is easier, not that it's saying anything more fundamental about the nature of the universe.

Well I suppose this is true, if "inertia" isn't fundamental to our conception of the universe, which it sort of is.

Basically, in non-inertial reference frames, things will move about and we won't be able to say why they are moving (without saying "because our frame is moving"). The page I linked to describes it really well. On the scale of a tiny human sitting on the earth, it probably doesn't matter, but on the scale of our solar system it really does.
posted by muddgirl at 4:26 PM on January 13, 2011


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