Some of the most familiar wives tales and urban legends, plus some that sound dubious but which turn out to be true. You know them, now let’s bust them
It takes seven years to digest gum
While it may prove a bit more difficult to break down than organic foodstuffs, chewing gum gets no special treatment from the digestive system. Doctors figure this old wives’ tale was invented to prevent kids from swallowing the rubbery substance.
The Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure visible from space
There are several variations on this folkloric statement, and they’re all quantifiably false. Astronauts can spot the Great Wall from low-Earth orbit, along with plenty of other things like the Giza pyramids and even airport runways. But they can’t see the Wall from the Moon.
A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian
A penny isn’t the most aerodynamic of weapons. A combination of its shape and wind friction means that, tossed even from the 1,250-foot Empire State Building, it would travel fast enough merely to sting an unlucky pedestrian.
There is no gravity in space
Blame the term “zero-gravity” for this common misconception. Gravity is everywhere, even in space. Astronauts look weightless because they are in continuous freefall towards the Earth, staying aloft because of their horizontal motion. The effect of gravity diminishes with distance, but it never truly goes away. Oh, and while we’re at it, it’s also untrue that space is a vacuum. There are all kinds of atoms out there, albeit sometimes far apart (and this thin gas adds to the collective gravity budget, too!)
Men think about sex every seven seconds
Males are driven to reproduce, evolutionarily speaking, but there is no scientific way of measuring to what extent that desire consumes their everyday lives. Thankfully, for world productivity as a whole, seven seconds seems a gross overstatement, as best researchers can tell.
Humans use only 10 percent of their brains
This media darling has been around for at least a century. Fortunately, it’s just not true. MRI imaging clearly demonstrates–with fancy colors no less–that humans put most of their cerebral cortex to good use, even while dozing.
Water drains backwards in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Earth’s rotation
Not only is the Earth’s rotation too weak to affect the direction of water flowing in a drain, tests you can easily perform in a few washrooms will show that water whirlpools both ways depending on the sink’s structure, not the hemisphere.
Animals can predict natural disasters
There is no evidence that animals possess a mysterious sixth-sense allowing them to predict natural disasters. Their keen senses of smell, hearing, and sharp instincts alone are enough to send them scattering for the hillsides during a hurricane or tsunami. And even so, animals often die during natural disasters, so if they do have some sort of sixth sense, it’s not worth much.
A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s
Despite a habit of licking things no human would dare, Fido’s mouth is often touted as scientifically more sterile. Truth is, oral bacteria are so species-specific that one can’t be considered cleaner than the other, just different.
Lightning never strikes the same place twice
In fact lightning favors certain spots, particularly high locations. The Empire State Building is struck about 25 times every year. Ben Franklin grasped the concept long ago and mounted a metal rod atop the roof of his home, then ran a wire to the ground, thereby inventing the lightning rod.
Yawning is “contagious”
Empirically, this is tough to deny; perhaps you’ll yawn while reading this. The real question is whether there’s actually something physiological at work here, and the answer is likely yes: even chimpanzees mimic each other’s yawns
Eating a poppy seed bagel mimics opium use
Purveyors of this urban legend call on a popular Seinfeld episode for support. It turns out there’s truth behind the comedy: tests suggest ingesting just two poppy seed bagels may produce a positive result for opiates on a drug screen.