It can be hard to separate scientific facts from fiction. There are a lot of myths and old wives' tales that have been repeated so many times, most of us take for granted that they're true! This article will explore eight of those myths, explain why they're untrue, and then give you the facts. Armed with this information, you'll be better able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
Myth #1: You can "catch your death of cold" if you go outside without a coat.
Most of us can probably remember being reprimanded by our parents for going outside with wet hair, bare feet, or no coat in the wintertime. Why? Well, the reasoning goes that exposure to cold weather can leave us vulnerable to catching a chill, and it seems to make sense: Winter is notorious for being cold and flu season, after all.
But what does science say about it?
The fact is that although extremely cold weather can lead to dangerous conditions like frostbite and hypothermia, the common cold isn't caused by exposure to low temperatures. It's caused by a virus, no amount of warm clothing or woolly socks can protect you from viruses. Instead, if you want to avoid spending your winter sniffling and sneezing, you should take care to wash your hands with antibacterial soap, keep your belongings disinfected, and avoid sharing food or drinks with others.
Myth #2: Too much sugar will have you bouncing off the walls.
This is another common childhood myth: Let a kid stuff his face with sugary treats, and in no time at all he'll be running amok all over the place. Generations of parents have advised their children against eating too much candy at the risk of developing a "sugar high," but is there such a thing?
The truth is that years of experiments have failed to validate the claim that sugar causes hyperactivity in kids. Instead, some researchers have suggested that the link between sugar and off-the-wall behavior has a simpler explanation: Sugary foods and drinks are likelier to be consumed on occasions that are exciting for kids, like birthday parties or Halloween, which might account for how amped up some children seem to get after loading up on cookies, cake, or soda.
That said, there are plenty of good reasons not to overindulge your sweet tooth. Sugar consumption is linked to tooth decay, childhood obesity, and even diabetes, so it's good to practice moderation when you're contemplating that second dessert.
Myth #3: If you go swimming right after dinner, you'll sink like a stone.
This is another myth most of us have probably heard as children. According to many well-meaning parents, babysitters, and lifeguards, it's important to wait at least an hour after eating before going in the pool, otherwise your risk of drowning increases. Supposedly, all the blood in your body will travel straight to your stomach while you're digesting your meal, leaving your arms and legs starved for blood and in danger of cramping.
But in fact, although your body does redirect extra blood to your digestive tract after eating, it's not nearly enough to stop your arms and legs from paddling efficiently. So even if you stuffed yourself at the summer block party, know that it's still safe to go in the water.
Myth #4: Too much hot sauce (or too much stress) can punch you right in the stomach.
There are a few different popular explanations for ulcers, painful sores in the lining of the stomach or esophagus. Some say eating too much spicy or acidic food is to blame, while others claim that stress is the real culprit. But the truth is quite different.
Ulcers are really caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, and most doctors recommend a combination of antibiotics to treat it. However, there's one kernel of truth in this myth: It's a good idea to avoid spicy food while your ulcer is healing, simply to spare yourself some needless discomfort.
Myth #5: Albert Einstein flunked out of school.
This one is sometimes told to students who are floundering academically, possibly to give them hope that their struggles were shared by one of the greatest thinkers of all time. But the truth is that it's more fiction than fact.
Although Albert Einstein did cause his parents some concern when he didn't begin speaking until the age of two, and although he failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Polytechnical School, he was otherwise an exceptional student. He was not only a math whiz, but he graduated high school near the top of his class.
Myth #6: "It's just a theory."
This line is a favorite of science deniers everywhere. It's used to dismiss everything from the theory of evolution to the safety of vaccines. The problem is that it doesn't mean what most people think it means.
Many people mistakenly believe that the words theory and hypothesis can be used interchangeably, but in fact they have two very different meanings. A hypothesis is a suggested explanation for an unexplained phenomenon, whereas a theory is a unifying explanation that has been tested and verified. In other words, a theory is what a hypothesis wants to be when it grows up.
So the next time you hear somebody write off a scientific reality as "just a theory," you should realize that they don't understand what they're saying. A theory doesn't become a theory overnight, but only after rigorous observation and testing proves it to be valid.
Myth #7: There's no gravity in outer space.
We've all seen video footage of astronauts walking the moon, seemingly weightless as they glide into the air. The popular explanation given for this is that there's no gravity in outer space, but this simply isn't true. The reality is much more complicated and fascinating.
While the moon is smaller than the earth and therefore has a weaker gravitational pull, it does still have gravity. Likewise, there's gravity found all throughout space. Astronauts walking on the moon aren't feeling as strong a gravitational pull as we are back on earth, which accounts for the way they seem to float across its surface.
Meanwhile, astronauts in space shuttles located at "orbit height" (about 250 miles above earth) are still affected by earth's gravitational pull. They seem to float not because there's zero gravity, but because they are constantly falling towards the earth and missing it.
Myth #8: Your hair and nails keep growing even after you kick the bucket.
This is by far the creepiest myth on our list, and one you've probably heard before. Supposedly, your hair and fingernails continue to grow even after you die. It's a gruesome thought, but it's also completely untrue.
When your body dies, your body's ability to produce new hair or fingernail growth dies with it. Instead, the dehydration and retraction of the surrounding skin can make hair and nails appear longer, which is also why many funeral homes take pains to ensure the dead are kept well moisturized, especially for open-casket viewings.
If this myth were true, you should be able to dig up a dead body and see long, twisting fingernails and masses of hair. But we don't recommend you try it.
These are just a few of the many abundant science myths out there. We encourage you to do your own research and debunk some of your own. The better informed you are, the less likely you'll be to fall for nonsense disguised as fact.