Science & Technology

10 of the Most-Googled Scientific Misconceptions

What do you do when you have a question that you need to have answered? Well, you're a curious, intelligent, and devastatingly attractive individual, so you open Curiosity and use our fantastic search function. But a small minority of people actually look up their questions on Google first. Over at Information Is Beautiful, they made a visualization of some of the most-Googled myths and urban legends. It's a surprising mix of things we thought everybody knew and things that we would have had to look up ourselves, so we thought we'd pull the most-searched science questions and address them all at once.

Correcting the Myth-takes

We chose 10 searches that were especially common and focused exclusively on science-related stories. If you've got a moment, you should check out the complete list — but for now, here are our favorite misconceptions about science, thoroughly debunked.

Don't Put Oil on Your Pasta

We told you this once before, but it's still true. If you add oil to your pasta, you'll just prevent the sauce from sticking to the noodles. Plus, you'll be left with a plate of oily noodles, and no one likes that.

Salt Won't Make Your Water Boil Faster

Another one from Curiosity's pasta files. Yes, you should add salt to your pot of boiling water for flavor, but it won't make it boil faster. It will have the exact opposite effect (but you'd have to add way too much to actually notice the difference).

Toilets in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres Don't Swirl the Opposite Way

This refers to the Coriolis effect, a very real thing that involves the way the rotation of the earth makes hurricanes and tornadoes swirl counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. But not toilets; they're too small for this to have any effect.

Don't Trust the 5-Second Rule

Maybe you don't need to be told that germs won't actually wait five seconds before they start to infect your snacks. We told you once, anyway. Just a refresher: Whether it's carpet, tile, or wood, you probably shouldn't eat food that's been on the floor.

Glass Isn't a Liquid

It's actually an amorphous solid: a substance more rigid a liquid, but less than a pure solid. As evidence for this myth, people usually point to the fact that old windows are thicker at the bottom than the top, but that's less about the glass itself and more about how old-timey windows were made.

It's Okay to Swim After Eating

Swimming strenuously on a very full stomach could conceivably lead to cramps, but the risk isn't especially great. In fact, one report on drownings in the United States found that less than 1 percent occurred shortly after a meal.

Dogs Do Sweat

You may have heard that dogs pant because they can't sweat, but they really do sweat — just only through the parts of their bodies not covered by fur, like their paw pads. Even so, most of their temperature regulation comes through panting.

Scientific Proof Isn't Really a Thing

Mathematical proof is a thing — scientific proof, not so much. Science is all about discovering new things and disproving beliefs that came before. When you prove something in math, it's true for sure. But in science, something is only proven until someone else disproves it.

You Don't Have a Gene for That

Some researchers have a pretty strong opinion: Genes aren't really "for" anything. They're more like a set of instructions that might have different effects in different circumstances. One gene might be associated with certain traits in one species, but completely different traits in a different context.

Your Brain Isn't Hard-Wired to Do Anything

Along the same lines, one particular human brain might show a tendency toward certain habits, but they are all far too flexible to be too predictable. There's not much to the idea that they're hard-wired from birth for any particular set of traits.

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There's a lot more to find out you don't know at all. Pick up John Mitchinson's "The Book of General Ignorance" and see what all is wrong about the world. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

10 Urban Legends You Might Still Believe

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 2, 2018

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