19 Popular Facts That Aren’t Actually True

Fun fact: not everything your parents tell you is true. In the age of information, we’ve discovered that many tidbits widely regarded as common knowledge are actually misconceptions. These popular “facts” are assumed to be true because of how pervasive they are throughout society and how they’re passed down from generation to generation. The following are just some myths we’ve been told our whole lives.

Water does not swirl in a different direction depending on what hemisphere you’re in.

Water going down a drain may seem like simple phenomenon, but it’s long been debated over. Ask most people and they will tell you that water swirls clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. However, this has been proven a myth.

According to Dr. Paul Doherty at the Exploratorium San Francisco (and many other scientists), this fact is a myth for household sinks, tubs and toilets, spurred by a BBC video created in 1962. “People can check it for themselves. Drain all the sinks and tubs in their house and see which way they swirl. Usually some sinks would drain clockwise and some counterclockwise, which means either it is a myth, or they live on the equator.” Sorry to debunk these popular facts for you.

Swimming after you eat will not give you cramps.

Did your parents ever warn you about waiting at least 30 minutes after eating before getting back in the pool? I know mine did. One of the most popular facts is that the blood going to your digestive tract after eating steals the blood needed to keep your arms and legs pumping during swimming. This results in severe cramps and possibilities of drowning.

Mark Messick, MD, a doctor at Duke Primary Care says that this common belief is unfounded. According to Messick, the body does supply extra blood to aid in digestion, but not enough blood to keep your arm and leg muscles from properly functioning. Your biggest danger related to eating and swimming is probably a minor cramp.

Your fingers don’t prune because they’re absorbing water.

Watching your fingers turn into raisins is a favorite past time of many children. But what exactly is the reason for pruning?

For many years, people assumed that wrinkling is the result of water passing into the outer layer of the skin and making it swell up. But as it turns out, the pruning effect does not occur when there is nerve damage in one’s fingers, pointing out the change is probably an involuntary reaction by the body’s autonomic nervous system. In 2011, Mark Changizi, a neuroscientist suggested that the wrinkling is an evolutionary function that helps us gran a hold of things when we’re in a wet condition. Testing for this hypothesis are still being conducted, but you can try grabbing things in the shower before and after pruning and see for yourself.

George Washington didn’t actually have wooden teeth.

Many cartoons over the years have portrayed our first President as the proud owner of wooden dentures, making it one of our most popular facts still in existence. Though the origins of this myth remains unclear, it turns out, next to the Cherry Tree legend, George Washington’s wooden dentures are the the most widespread and enduring myth about his personal life.

The Mount Vernon (home of George Washington) research center has vowed that Washington certainly suffered dental problems and wore multiple sets of dentures, but none of those sets were composed of wood. Instead a variety of of materials—including ivory, gold, and lead—were used to create our President’s pearly whites. Furthermore, wood was not commonly employed by dentists in his era.

Oranges are not actually named after the color orange. It’s the other way around.

Which came first, the fruit or the color?

Although not quite as profound as the chicken and egg debate, many people have debated the origins of “orange”. While both scenarios are plausible, it is common belief that the popular fruit was named after the color. But after following the etymological trail, we know with certainty that the  fruit came first, by at least 300 years. The word first appeared in Anglo manuscript describing the fruit as a “pume orange” while the first use of the words to describe the color is noted in the 16th Century. If it weren’t for orange (the fruit) we would probably know the color as geolurēad (yellow-red).

Birds won’t abandon their babies just because a human touched them.

Somewhere in the world, a child gleaming with curiosity reaches out to stroke the feathers of a baby bird as it rests in its nest. At the same time, her parents call out: “Don’t touch the bird!” According to popular belief, birds will reject their eggs and babies if humans have so much as laid a finger on them. This belief, however, has been proven false.

Birds, like all other animal parents, have an innate drive to nurture their young. No matter how flighty birds appear, they do not readily abandon their young, especially not in response to human touch, says Frank B. Gill, former president of the American Ornithologists’ Union. “If a bird’s nest is disturbed by a potential predator during the nesting or egg-laying stage,” he says, “there’s a possibility that [it] will desert and re-nest. However, once the young are hatched and feeding, [their parents are] by and large pretty tenacious.”

No, your blood is not blue when it doesn’t contain any oxygen.

If blood bleeds red, why do our veins appear blue? This question is often answered by the popular “fact” that blood is actually blue and only appears red when it comes to contact with oxygen. While this a good explanation for the observation, it is actually false.

The truth is: your veins are not actually blue. They are a dark reddish-brown (the real color of deoxygenated blood), but appear blue because the fat under our skin only allows blue light to travel all the way down to our veins. Since it is the only color of light that makes it to our veins, it is the only color that is reflected, and thus our veins appear blue!

Goldfish do not have a three-second memory. They have been shown to remember things for months.

If you’ve ever owned a pet fish, you’ve probably spent a good 10 minutes watching it swim around in circles before getting bored by their stupidity. Their brain power is at best shallow, we tell ourselves, why else would they live such monotonous lives? In addition to our observations, we’ve been repeatedly told by others that the creatures have a mere three-second memory. Well it turns out, that’s not true at all.

Scientists have found that the fish can actually recall information for up to five months. In a study conducted by scientists at St. Andrews University in Scotland, fish were trained to respond to certain sounds in captivity and when they heard them in the wild several months later, they still reacted. Researcher Dr Mike Webster said,” Many fishes – such as minnows, sticklebacks, and guppies – are capable of the same intellectual feats as, for example, rats or mice.They can even learn their way around mazes.”

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