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10 Science Myths That Persist Despite Being Dead Wrong
Popular superstitions, urban legends, and myths die hard. Once a few thousand (or a few million, really) people start to believe something, it never quite seems to go away. Of course, many of these commonly-known myths are flat-out false. Take, for example, the threat of rain on your wedding day—to reference a famous song. Just because the clouds open up doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to divorce! The two have nothing in common!
Yet people still tread carefully around all kinds of myths and legends. With historical, cultural, and lifestyle stuff, that’s at least partially understandable. Mythmaking is a thing that every culture does, right? But other things are very easily disproved by scientific fact. In those cases, it’s especially frustrating to see baseless myths persist.
And that’s what we’re covering today. In this list, we’ll take a look at ten scientific “facts” that are completely phony. Sadly, these ten items simply won’t die out, regardless of how many times they are corrected on the record. Ah, well. At least we’re doing our part here, right?
10 Yoga Isn’t Always Good
Yoga is commonly perceived as a milder exercise compared to mainstream fitness routines. It’s often recommended as a safer, lighter alternative to regular workouts. However, there is no evidence supporting the idea that yoga is easier on the body. In fact, one study discovered that yoga can lead to injuries at the same rate as sports-related injuries. Astonishingly, around 21% of the injuries in the study were actually worsened by practicing yoga. That rendered the supposedly low-impact practice just as intense as other popular exercise methods. Clearly, it challenges the notion that yoga is a low-impact activity with minimal risk.
Yet the belief that yoga is a gentle and harmless exercise option has persisted. People suffering from joint issues and other wear-and-tear problems turn to the mindful exercise regimen to escape further pain. Like everything, it’s best to do it with a professional around. A yogi ought to be able to tell you what exercises can help you and what will only make things worse.
But the fact that some athletes find their injuries actually get worse after yoga certainly goes against the grain of what is supposedly “common knowledge.” It just goes to show that every exercise action has consequences for the human body. Even the moves that are supposed to be low-impact!
9 Knuckles Can Be Cracked
Once upon a time in California, a young man named Donald Unger faced his mother’s disapproval for his knuckle-cracking habit. She insisted it would cause arthritis. But over the years, the boy never seemed to be affected by cracking his knuckles. And as an adult, Unger came up with a different plan. With unwavering determination and scientific curiosity, he conducted a personal experiment: he cracked the knuckles on his left hand twice daily and left his right hand untouched. His mission? To uncover the truth.
For a remarkable 60 years, Unger persisted. Then, in 2009, he was honored with the Ig Nobel Prize. His groundbreaking research shattered the myth that knuckle cracking leads to arthritis. His left hand was fine—and so was his right. Subsequent studies have further supported his findings too! Now, experts still caution against the practice. They note that while it may not directly cause arthritis, knuckle cracking can potentially result in diminished grip strength and swelling.
But Donald Unger’s personal journey is proof positive that the belief that knuckle cracking leads to arthritis is a myth. His six-decade experiment not only earned him recognition but also totally proved the fallacy wrong. Take that, Mom!
8 Sports Drinks Aren’t Healthy
Staying hydrated during workouts is far from a recent trend. And water hasn’t been the only player in that hydration game for quite a while now. But there have been some crazy myths around hydration too. Back in the ’70s, athletes were advised to avoid fluids before games to prevent sluggishness. Thankfully, nowadays, it’s all about the fluids. But to hear sports drink companies tell it, plain water isn’t enough. Numerous sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and many more have flooded the market. They claim to hydrate athletes and enhance performance better than regular old water.
But let’s be real: it’s mostly a strategy to sell more sports drinks. To hear sports drink salesmen tell it, the body’s natural thirst mechanism isn’t reliable enough to indicate when and what to drink for proper hydration. However, studies have consistently shown that drinking water when your body craves it maximizes performance and is the best way to stay hydrated.
Plus, there’s the sugar. Sports drinks are absolutely loaded with sugar and offer minimal proven health benefits in that realm. So while their marketing tactics might be good, their effectiveness is dubious at best. You don’t have to drink only water—just make the sugary “performance-enhancing” drinks an irregular treat.
7 Sleepwalkers Can Be Awoken
Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a strange phenomenon where people unconsciously leave their beds and engage in activities while still asleep. This intriguing behavior has sparked various myths, of course. The most prevalent one suggests that waking a sleepwalker could lead to fatal consequences. Scientists are supposedly concerned that a full-body shock or a heart attack could happen if you wake a sleepwalker. But that’s not actually the case! Although there are other issues at play…
Sleep specialists now debunk this notion about wake-induced heart attacks. According to experts, millions of sleepwalking incidents occur annually without any reported fatalities caused by sudden awakening. Nonetheless, rousing sleepwalkers is not entirely risk-free. Individuals in this state are prone to confusion and potential violence upon waking in a strange place.
So experts recommend waking up a sleepwalker only if they are about to undertake hazardous actions such as cooking or venturing onto the street. Otherwise, the recommended approach is to gently guide them back to bed. That seems sensible enough. Fear not, though: You do not need to worry about causing a sudden death if you wake a slumbering walker!
6 Space Pens Didn’t Cost Millions
NASA has its fair share of myths and legends in its time. Perhaps the most popular one revolves around the supposed million-dollar space pen. It’s a story often used to criticize the agency’s spending habits. During the Space Race of the 1960s, American astronauts required a pen that could function in a weightless environment. Supposedly, NASA spent millions and millions of dollars to develop this specialized pen. Meanwhile, the Soviets opted for the simple (and cheap!) solution of using pencils.
The truth, however, is quite different. Space pens do exist, but they were actually created by a private company called the Fisher Pen Company. They invested approximately $1 million of their own money into the research and development of these pens. NASA didn’t provide any funding, but they did purchase hundreds of these pens in 1967 for around $2.40 each.
Notably, two years later, the Soviets followed suit and acquired these pens too. The reason behind this choice was the safety factor. Specialized space pens eliminated the risk of pencil tips breaking off, floating away, and causing damage to vital electronic equipment.
So yes, $1 million was spent on the research and development of the pens themselves. But NASA didn’t pay out that money, nor did they spend that much per pen. And to pay a few dollars a piece for highly-specialized pens that write in zero-gravity environments? Sounds like a pretty good deal to us.
5 Nobel’s Legacy Didn’t Detonate
The world knows Alfred Nobel as the Swedish chemist famous for inventing dynamite. And also the guy who started the Nobel Prize, of course. But those two facts about his life actually connect in a very misunderstood way. Legend has it that in 1888, after his brother Ludvig’s demise, a French newspaper erroneously reported Alfred Nobel’s death. Their obituary headline referenced the dynamite invention and read, “The merchant of death is dead.”
Unhappy with this label, Nobel decided to alter his reputation once and for all. So he employed his wealth to establish an institution that would annually award prizes to individuals who had contributed the most to humanity. That’s the org that now offers up the Nobel Prize. And it would seem a negative legacy—dynamite—was turned into a positive legacy—scientific research—nearly overnight. Right? Well, not really.
Interestingly, the exact moment and inspiration for Nobel’s idea remain undisclosed until the reading of his own will years later. Even his family remained unaware of it and tried to invalidate the will when they realized they were not the recipients of his fortune. Plus, despite historians’ efforts, no copy of that French newspaper has been found with that specific headline.
Now, the Nobel Foundation does confirm that Alfred indeed came across his own false obituary. But they say it was likely only one of several factors that prompted the creation of the Nobel Prizes. Letters from his life suggest the idea had been brewing in Nobel’s mind for years after originating decades earlier when he received an award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
And let’s also dispel one more Nobel myth, shall we? Legend has it that Nobel forbade handing out a Nobel Prize for mathematics due to his resentment toward mathematicians involved in an affair with his wife. However, this story holds no truth at all because Alfred Nobel never married. So that would make it impossible for such an event to have occurred. As for whether he hated mathematicians, perhaps the jury is still out on that one. But it wasn’t because of some illicit affair!
4 You Don’t Need to Stretch
When it comes to stretching before a workout, there’s a common belief that it brings various benefits. Many trainers and fitness enthusiasts think it helps prepare the body. They swear it enhances performance and boosts fitness gains. Besides, you don’t want to pull a muscle, right? So as the story has always gone, you’re supposed to limber up before physical activity. Touch your toes, do some trunk twists, and get the blood flowing and the muscles loose. But what if that’s all wrong? Recent research suggests otherwise—and now we know better.
Several studies done in the last few years have actually found that stretching before exercise hinders athletic performance. Contrary to popular belief, stretching doesn’t make muscles less prone to injury. At the very least, it’s net-neutral. And in some cases, it might actually make things worse. Scientists have compared rates of soreness between individuals who stretch before a workout and those who don’t, and they discovered little difference.
Certain findings indicate stretching cold and tight muscles might even increase the risk of injury during exercise. Exercise physiologists are still trying to make sense of those findings, but they think warm-ups could paradoxically stretch muscles to dangerous points too fast and too soon. What a debunked myth!
3 Eggs Aren’t, Uh, Spring Chickens
Every year, around March 20, we celebrate the start of spring. The March equinox is a much-heralded time for people who get into that stuff. And some crazy myths have come out of it too. Some people believe that on this day, Earth’s alignment allows you to balance an egg on its end. Yes, really.
But while it is true that you can balance an egg during the equinox, you can actually do it on any other day too. The equinox doesn’t have any special effect on eggs. The myth persists because most people only attempt it on this specific day, and when they succeed, they continue to spread the misconception.
This “egg-quinox” story started in the 1940s. It really gained traction in the 1980s, though, when an astronomer from the University of Minnesota decided to test the idea. He tried balancing eggs every day from February 27 to April 3. Amazingly, he succeeded each time. However, he noticed that it became easier toward the end of the experiment. For him, that proved familiarity—and not the equinox—was the key to balancing eggs. Practice makes perfect, after all!
So while it’s fun to try and balance an egg on the equinox, it’s not a phenomenon exclusive to that day. With practice, you can do it anytime throughout the year. The equinox simply serves as a popular occasion for this quirky tradition. And nothing more!
2 Bumblebee Flight Isn’t a Mystery
In the 1930s, a French bug scientist named Antoine Magnan boldly claimed that bees shouldn’t be able to fly. He said their big bodies and small wings didn’t make sense aerodynamically. The myth has changed over time, focusing mainly on bumblebees alone. And over the years, it morphed into suggesting that scientists and engineers believe these little insects defy the laws of physics when they take off. But it’s just not true. They very much follow physics—in their own way.
To be fair, back then, a century ago, most people didn’t really understand how insects (or anything else) flew. Magnan and his assistant did some quick calculations that seemed to prove bees couldn’t generate enough lift to fly. However, their assumptions were based on bees having smooth, rigid wings. And they don’t!
Bees have specialized, grooved wings along with other tricks up their evolutionary sleeves. The sum total allows them to take off and fly without breaking the space-time continuum. In layman’s terms, bumblebees stay in the air because of how their wings move, their shape, and their speed. They might not be the most aerodynamically efficient flyers, but they clearly get the job done. So let’s dispel that myth once and for all now, shall we?
1 Twinkies Aren’t Eternal
Once upon a time, there was a soft and squishy treat called the Twinkie. It used to have a label saying it would last about 25 days. But people started spreading a wild story claiming Twinkies could survive for 25 years or more. And that they could even survive a nuclear disaster. They claimed Twinkies were made of chemicals and not real food, so they wouldn’t spoil. Sounds convincing, right?
Well, there’s some truth to that. Twinkies really do last longer than most baked goods because they don’t use dairy products. Instead, they use chemical substitutes for milk and butter. But they’re not just chemicals. They also have flour, oil, sugar, and a small amount of real egg. So they will perish over time. And certainly in a nuclear holocaust.
People also think the treats are A-Okay after many years as long as they stay sealed up fully in plastic wrappers. They were safe in there, right? But in 2020, scientists tested some eight-year-old Twinkies that seemed safe. Sadly, they found a mold called Cladosporium inside. And they concluded, for the last time (hopefully), that just because it looks good doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat.
So it’s true that Twinkies do have a longer shelf life than most baked treats. But they’re not indestructible! They’re made with a mix of ingredients, including some chemicals. And since they’re not purely artificial, they will perish. Twinkies might stick around for a while, but they won’t be here forever. It’s best to enjoy them within their intended expiration date.