Sunday, January 26, 2020

28 Incorrect 'Facts' You May Have Learned In School—part 1 of 2

I recently came across a list of 28 things you may have learned in school that have since been proven wrong. I'm going to share 14 of them with you in this blog and the remaining 14 in next week's blog. Like many myths, these stories often have a kernel of truth to them, it just isn't what you learned in school.

MYTH: Chameleons change colors to camouflage themselves
Chameleons are thought of as spiky lizards that change the color of their skins to fit in with their surroundings. While their color-changing abilities are real, it's their way of maintaining a certain body temperature and communicating with other chameleons rather than a means of hiding from predators.

MYTH: Christopher Columbus discovered America
The belief that Christopher Columbus discovered America is still widespread. The U.S. even has a federal holiday honoring him. A 2005 survey from the University of Michigan showed that 85% of Americans believed Columbus discovered the continent while 2% of those surveyed answered that Columbus couldn't have discovered the land now known as America because millions of Native Americans already lived here. The first European to land on the North American continent is widely accepted by historians to be the Viking explorer Leif Erikson who sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland in what is now Canada around 1000 A.D. However, Columbus is historically significant because his 1492 voyage to the Americas paved the way for European imperialism in the Western Hemisphere.

MYTH: You can only taste certain things on certain parts of your tongue
According to the tongue map myth, different parts of your tongue are for different sorts of tastes—the back of your tongue detects bitter tastes, the front takes in sweet tastes, etc. This is wrong. Taste receptors are all over your tongue, and they all detect all kinds of tastes. It's true that some taste buds are more receptive to certain kinds of tastes than others, but the difference is slight, and the locations of those taste buds aren't in accordance with the tongue map.

MYTH: Sir Isaac Newton "discovered" gravity when an apple fell on his head
Newton's apple legend isn't true. But like many urban legends, it's an embellished version of something that actually happened. An apple didn't fall on Newton's head, but Newton did start theorizing about gravity when he saw an apple falling from a tree. Of course, today our account of physics is far more precise than Newton's notion of gravity.

MYTH: Albert Einstein failed math in school and was a terrible student
It's an attractive idea for young kids. Even if you're not a good student, you can still bloom as a genius later in life. Examples of late-blooming talents are everywhere, but Einstein isn't one of them. Not only was he an excellent student in math, he was excellent in everything. The myth that he flunked a math class may be from the time he failed the entrance exam to the Zurich Polytechnic. At that time, he was still a couple of years away from high school graduation and he only spoke a little bit of French—the language used on the exam. He did pass the mathematics section, but failed the language, botany, and zoology sections.

MYTH: Diamonds are made from ultra-pressurized coal
Both coal and diamonds are formed from carbon under the surface of the Earth, which is the origin of this myth. However, the carbon that forms diamonds is much more pure, and the process requires a lot more heat and pressure.

MYTH: According to laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly
According to the myth, its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee flies anyway because bees don't care what humans think. This is, of course, wrong. Bumblebees can fly. The idea may have developed because bumblebees are pretty big and their wings are pretty small. There's a difference between a real-life biological being and a mathematical model of that being. Honeybees fly by flapping their wings really fast.

MYTH: Convicted witches in the United States were burned at the stake
While convicted witches in France were burned, witches in England were hanged instead. The English tradition made its way to the American colonies during the Salem Witch Trials and other places of anti-witch hysteria. All the convicted witches who went to their death were hanged, with one exception. That sole exception is Giles Corey, who was pressed under large stones.

MYTH: Pluto is no longer considered a planet
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) originally classified Pluto as the ninth planet that orbits the sun. In 2005, Eris, another really big space rock 27% larger than Pluto that also orbits the sun, was discovered. The IAU re-evaluated what a planet actually is and ended up with criteria that neither Pluto nor Eris met. So neither could be one of the major planets that go around the sun. Instead, the two are considered dwarf planets. Pluto is a planet, it's just a dwarf planet.

MYTH: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space
This depends on your definition of space. It's worth noting that while man-made structures like the Great Wall are visible from satellites orbiting Earth, they're not visible at all from the moon. Secondly, the structures you can see largely depend on the weather and how high the orbit is. Given the proper conditions, astronauts in the International Space Station can see major cities, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and some big bridges from their orbits.

MYTH: Raindrops are tear-shaped
According to the United States Geographical Survey website, raindrops are shaped more like hamburger buns or beans. When they get really large, they split in two. Only then do they turn into a teardrop shape but quickly become burger buns again.

MYTH: You can't start a sentence with a conjunction
You've probably been taught in school that you can't start sentences with but or and. But, as anyone who writes fiction will tell you, you most certainly can. Some grammar rules in the English language are unbreakable yet are broken anyway. The important thing to remember is that different publishers have different house styles. Each publication will set its own rules about grammar, like deciding whether to permit starting sentences with conjunctions, or allowing sentences to end with a preposition.

MYTH: Deoxygenated blood is blue
A common myth is that oxygenated blood is red and deoxygenated blood is blue, but this belief is inaccurate. While glancing at your skin, you may be lead to think that the veins below the surface are carrying blood that is a different color than red. This is actually the result of how you perceive light and the way body tissues are absorbed. Blood that leaves the heart is full of oxygen and bright red, while blood that travels to the heart is dark red. So, even though your veins might appear blue, green, or purple, the blood that flows in them is red (unless you are an extra-terrestrial being, then all bets are off).

MYTH: Humans only use 10% of their brains
The origin of this myth is unclear, but the idea that humans are storing approximately 90 percent untapped abilities in the brain is not true. Scientists have repeatedly been outspoken about this false claim, which has also been perpetuated by movies like Lucy and Limitless. All the neurons in your brain may not be firing at the same time, but that doesn't mean that parts of your brain are totally inactive. According to a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Let's put it this way: The brain represents 3% of the body's weight and uses 20% of the body's energy."

Stop by next week for part 2 of my 2-part blog about Incorrect Facts You May Have Learned In School.


Ashantay said...

Love these items!Looking forward to next weekend's post.

Samantha Gentry said...

Ashantay: Glad you're enjoying them.

Thanks for your comment.