BY: TED BARNABY
Try beginning a statement—any statement—with “scientists have proven,” followed by a string of miscellaneous bullshit. Likely, you’ll receive little more than a congenial head-nod and an “Oh, isn’t that interesting!” without any further consideration from your recipient as to who these scientists might be, or where it is they’ve gathered their information.
If this doesn’t work, give the phrase, “I learned in school” a go. This argumentation stalemate holds a similar conversational bartering power.
Understandably, science and school are two very reputable sources. Besides, who are you—an average person—to refute the all seeing eye of science and education?
Still, there are plenty of current and historical cases of schools perpetuating misinformation, and science making mistaken or over-exaggerated assertions.
As Bill Bryson puts it in his highly researched science book, A Brief History of Nearly Everything, “There are three stages in scientific discovery. First, people deny that it is true, then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.”
Now before you think I’m slipping into a paranoid state of cynical over-exaggeration, let me be clear: we learn from school and science a wealth of important and accurate information, allowing us to properly understand and interact with the world around us.
However education— in the larger, mass human-progression sense of the word—has always come from asking questions, not accepting answers.
Think back for a moment. Remember the first time you heard that you could see the Great Wall of China from space? Or that goldfish only have a three-second memory? Or maybe that bulls hate the colour red?
Now, do you remember the moment when you learned that all three of these “facts” were actually complete bullshit? Perhaps it was at the same point in time that you realized that putting a sprinkle of salt in water doesn’t actually make it boil faster. In reality, you would need 58 grams of salt per half Celsius degree for each litre of water—a truly disgusting amount of salt by anyone’s standards.
Just in case you’ve begun to feel overly comfortable with your own knowledge, let’s take a moment to appreciate a few commonplace fallacies we’ve almost all learned in school at one point or another:
1. There’s no gravity in space.
This is simply not true. Gravity in space is present. It’s just significantly weaker. Without gravity, the moon would not stay in orbit. And when objects appear to be weightless, they’re actually in a continuous state of free fall.
2. Diamonds are formed from compressed coal.
Actually, diamonds are likely formed from the carbon, which is trapped inside the Earth from the planet’s formation. If you backdate a diamond, most are older than the plants, which developed to form coal.
3. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb…right?
No way. Edison only bought the patent—which was formerly Heinrich Goebel’s incandescent bulb— from the inventor’s window. Prior to this, 22 others including Nikola Tesla had already experimented with incandescent light.
4. Van Gogh sliced his ear off in the throes of mental illness.
Fuck no he didn’t! Artist Paul Gauguin actually cut it off with a sword during a fight. The two swore a pact of silence, so the truth never came out until after his death.
5. ..but chameleons do change colour in order to camouflage their surroundings?
Sadly, no. Chameleons change colour for mating purposes, or in order to communicate a threat. They also change colour for temperature regulation. The darker they become, the more heat they absorb.
6. Of course it was Christopher Columbus who proved the world to be round, instead of flat.
Actually, no. Ancient Greek mathematicians about 2,000 years prior discovered this fact. Columbus didn’t discover America either. A Viking named Leif Erikson did in 1000AD.
7. Is the tongue really comprised of four separate parts: sweet, salt, bitter and sour?
The entire surface of the tongue detects taste equally. We even have the taste receptor umami—the taste of glutamate. The taste of sour is actually an alert to rotten food, detected by a living protein on our tongue.
8. Abraham Lincoln was strongly opposed to slavery, wasn’t he?
.. if you neglect the fact that in 1862 he wrote “if I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it.” When he said that all slaves should be free, it only applied to the confederate states.
9. Did Newton really discover gravity because of an apple that fell on his head?
Unfortunately, no. He only saw it fall from a tree; no comedic apple-to-head scenario took place.