List of common misconceptions

This is a list of common misconceptions. Each entry is formatted as a correction; the misconceptions themselves are implied rather than stated. These entries are meant to be concise, but more detail can be found in the main subject articles.

Arts and culture

Food and cooking

  • There is a common misconception that searing seals in moisture; it does not. Searing meat actually causes it to lose moisture in comparison to an equivalent piece of meat cooked without searing. Generally, the value in searing meat is that it produces a brown crust with a rich flavor via the Maillard reaction.[3][4]
  • There is no evidence supporting monosodium glutamate (MSG) as triggering migraine exacerbation or other symptoms of so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome. Although there have been reports of an MSG-sensitive subset of the population, this has not been demonstrated in placebo-controlled trials.[5][6]
  • Twinkies have a shelf life of approximately 45 days[7] (25 in their original formulation)—far shorter than the common (and somewhat jocular) myth that Twinkies are edible for decades or longer.[8] They generally remain on a store shelf for only 7 to 10 days.[9]
  • Fortune cookies, despite being associated with Chinese cuisine in the United States, were invented in Japan and introduced to the US by the Japanese.[1] The cookies are extremely rare in China, where they are seen as symbols of American cuisine.[2]
  • Poisoned candy and fruit stories have been "thoroughly debunked". No cases of strangers killing or permanently injuring children this way has ever been proven, and there have been no reports of a stranger harming a child with poisoned candy or apples. Anxieties about poisoned candy may have originated from a 1974 murder involving a father giving his own son cyanide-laced candy on Halloween.[10]
  • With the exception of some perishables, most food is edible long after its expiration date.[11][12]

Microwave ovens

  • Microwave ovens do not heat food by operating at a special resonance of water molecules in the food. The functional principle of a microwave oven is dielectric heating rather than resonance frequencies of water, and microwave ovens can therefore operate at many frequencies. Water molecules are exposed to intense electromagnetic fields in strong non-resonant microwaves to create heat. The 22 GHz resonant frequency of isolated water molecules has a wavelength too short to penetrate common foodstuffs to useful depths. The typical oven frequency of 2.45 GHz was chosen partly due to its ability to penetrate a food object of reasonable size, and partly to avoid interference with communication frequencies in use when microwave ovens became commercially available.[13]
  • Microwave ovens do not cook food from the inside out. 2.45 GHz microwaves can only penetrate approximately 1 centimeter (0.39 in) into most foods. The inside portions of thicker foods are mainly heated by heat conducted from the outer portions.[14][15]

Law, crime, and military

  • It is rarely necessary to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person report. In instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies in the United States often stress the importance of beginning an investigation promptly.[16] The UK government website says in large type, "You don't have to wait 24 hours before contacting the police."[17]
  • Twinkies were not claimed as a cause of Dan White's murder. In the murder trial of Dan White, the defense attorneys successfully argued diminished capacity as a result of severe depression. While eating Twinkies was given as evidence of depression, it was never claimed to be the cause of the murders. Despite this, people often claim that White's attorneys argued that Twinkies made him commit the murders.[18]
  • The US Armed Forces have generally forbidden military enlistment as a form of deferred adjudication (that is, an option for convicts to avoid jail time) since the 1980s. US Navy protocols discourage the practice, while the other four branches have specific regulations against it.[19][20]
  • Legal tender laws in the United States do not state that a private business, a person, or an organization must accept cash for payment.[21][22][23]
  • Sending a document you wish to copyright to yourself in the mail does not give you additional copyright protection in the United States[24] or the United Kingdom.[25]
  • The United States does not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work, and police officers may lie when engaged in such work.[26] Claiming entrapment as a defense instead focuses on whether the defendant was induced by undue pressure (such as threats) or deception from law enforcement to commit crimes they would not have otherwise committed.[27]
  • Violent crime in the United States decreased between 1993 and 2017. The violent crime rate fell 49% in that period,[28] "although most Americans think the number of gun crimes has risen".[29]
  • The First Amendment to the United States Constitution generally prevents government restrictions on the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, or petition,[30] not restrictions imposed by private individuals or businesses[31] unless they are acting on behalf of the government.[32] Other laws may restrict the ability of private businesses and individuals from restricting the speech of others.[33]
  • Animal rights proponents do not want to grant non-human animals the exact same legal rights as humans, such as the right to vote.[34][35] They state that non-human animals should have rights of equal consideration to their interests. (E.g. Non-human hominids do not have any interest in voting, so they should not have the right to vote. They do have an interest in living, so they should have the right to life.)[36][37]






  • The forbidden fruit mentioned in the Book of Genesis is never identified as an apple,[52] a misconception widely depicted in Western art. The original Hebrew texts mention only tree and fruit. Early Latin translations use the word mali, which can be taken to mean both "evil" and "apple". In early Germanic languages the word "apple" and its cognates usually meant simply "fruit". German and French artists commonly depict the fruit as an apple from the 12th century onwards, and John Milton's Areopagitica from 1644 explicitly mentions the fruit as an apple.[53] Jewish scholars have suggested that the fruit could have been a grape, a fig, wheat, an apricot, or an etrog.[54]
  • While they are forbidden by the Book of Leviticus, having tattoos does not mean someone cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery as is commonly believed, just as violating any other prohibition does not prevent a Jew from ultimately being buried in a Jewish cemetery.[55]


  • The Bible does not say that exactly three magi came to visit the baby Jesus, nor that they were kings, or rode on camels, or that their names were Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar. The three magi are implied because three gifts are described, and artistic depictions of the nativity have almost always depicted three magi since the 3rd century.[56] The Bible only specifies an upper limit of 2 years for the interval between the birth and the visit (Matthew 2:16), and artistic depictions and the closeness of the traditional dates of December 25 and January 6 encourage the popular assumption that the visit took place in the same season as the birth, but later traditions varied, with the visit taken as occurring up to two years later. The association with kings comes from efforts to tie the visit to prophecies in the Book of Isaiah.[57]
  • The idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she met Jesus is not found in the Bible or in any of the other earliest Christian writings. The misconception likely arose due to a conflation between Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (who anoints Jesus's feet in John 11:1–12), and the unnamed "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus's feet in Luke 7:36–50.[58]
  • Paul the Apostle did not change his name from Saul. He was born a Jew, with Roman citizenship inherited from his father, and thus carried both a Hebrew and a Latin name from birth. Luke indicates the coexistence of the names in Acts 13:9: "...Saul, who also is called Paul...".[59][60]
  • The term "Immaculate Conception" was not coined to refer to the virgin birth of Jesus, nor does it reference a supposed belief in the virgin birth of Mary, his mother. Instead, it denotes a Roman Catholic belief that Mary was not in a state of original sin from the moment of her own conception.[61]
  • Roman Catholic dogma does not say that the pope is either sinless or always infallible.[62] Catholic dogma since 1870 does state that a dogmatic teaching contained in divine revelation that is promulgated by the pope (deliberately, and under certain very specific circumstances; generally called ex cathedra) is free from error, although official invocation of papal infallibility is rare. While most theologians state that canonizations meet the requisites,[63] aside from that, most recent popes have finished their reign without a single invocation of infallibility. Otherwise, even when speaking in his official capacity, dogma does not hold that he is free from error.



  • A fatwā is a non-binding legal opinion issued by an Islamic scholar under Islamic law; it is therefore commonplace for fatāwā from different authors to disagree. The popular misconception[71][72] that the word means a death sentence probably stems from the fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 regarding the author Salman Rushdie, who he stated had earned a death sentence for blasphemy. This event led to fatāwā gaining widespread media attention in the West.[73]
  • The word "jihad" does not always mean "holy war"; literally, the word in Arabic means "struggle". While there is such a thing as "jihad bil saif", or jihad "by the sword",[74] many modern Islamic scholars usually say that it implies an effort or struggle of a spiritual kind.[75][76] Scholar Louay Safi asserts that "misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the nature of war and peace in Islam are widespread in both the Muslim societies and the West", as much following 9/11 as before.[77]
  • The Quran does not promise martyrs 72 virgins in heaven. It does mention companions, houri, to all people—martyr or not—in heaven, but no number is specified. The source for the 72 virgins is a hadith in Sunan al-Tirmidhi by Imam Tirmidhi.[78][79] Hadiths are sayings and acts of the prophet Mohammed as reported by others, and as such they are not part of the Quran itself. Muslims are not meant to necessarily believe all hadiths, and that applies particularly to those hadiths that are weakly sourced, such as this one.[80] Furthermore, the correct translation of this particular hadith is a matter of debate.[78] In the same collection of Sunni hadiths, however, the following is judged strong (hasan sahih): "There are six things with Allah for the martyr. He is forgiven with the first flow of blood (he suffers), he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment in the grave, secured from the greatest terror, the crown of dignity is placed upon his head—and its gems are better than the world and what is in it—he is married to seventy two wives among Al-Huril-'Ayn of Paradise, and he may intercede for seventy of his close relatives."[81]


  • Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball, nor did it originate in Cooperstown, New York. It is believed to have evolved from other bat-and-ball games such as cricket and rounders and first took its modern form in New York City.[82][83]
  • The black belt in martial arts does not necessarily indicate expert level or mastery. It was introduced for judo in the 1880s to indicate competency at all of the basic techniques of the sport. Promotion beyond 1st dan (the first black belt rank) varies among different martial arts. In judo and some other Asian martial arts, holders of higher ranks are awarded alternating red and white panels, and the highest ranks with solid red belts.[84] Other styles' belts have a number of gold bars to indicate the holder's dan (rank).
  • The use of triangular corner flags in English football is not a privilege reserved for those teams that have won an FA Cup in the past, despite a wide belief to the contrary[85] that inspired a scene in the film Twin Town. The Football Association's rules are silent on the subject, and often the decision over what shape flag to use has been up to the individual club's groundskeepers.[86]
  • India did not withdraw from the 1950 FIFA World Cup because their squad played barefoot, which was against FIFA regulations.[87] In reality, India withdrew because the country's managing body, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), was insufficiently prepared for the team's participation and gave various reasons for withdrawing, including a lack of funding and prioritizing the Olympics.[88] However, the myth frequently resurfaces in both India and abroad as fact (especially come World Cup time).[89][90] The AIFF itself may have been the source of this myth.[88]

Words, phrases and languages

  • Nonstandard, slang or colloquial terms used by English speakers are sometimes alleged not to be real words, despite appearing in numerous dictionaries. All words in English became accepted by being commonly used for a certain period of time; thus, there are many vernacular words currently not accepted as part of the standard language, or regarded as infelicitous in formal speech or writing, but the idea that they are somehow not words is a misconception.[91][92] Examples of words that are sometimes alleged not to be words include "irregardless",[93][94] "conversate", "funnest",[95] "mentee", "impactful", and "thusly",[96] all of which appear in numerous dictionaries as English words.[97]
  • The word "fuck" did not originate in Christianized Anglo-Saxon England (7th century CE) as an acronym for "Fornication Under Consent of King"; nor did it originate as an acronym for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", either as a sign posted above adulterers in the stocks, or as a criminal charge against members of the British Armed Forces; nor did it originate during the 15th-century Battle of Agincourt as a corruption of "pluck yew" (an idiom falsely attributed to the English for drawing a longbow).[98] Modern English was not spoken until the 16th century, and words such as "fornication" and "consent" did not exist in any form in English until the influence of Anglo-Norman in the late 12th century. The earliest certain recorded use of "fuck" in English comes from c. 1475, in the poem "Flen flyys", where it is spelled fuccant (conjugated as if a Latin verb meaning "they fuck"). It is of Proto-Germanic origin, and is related to either Dutch fokken and German ficken or Norwegian fukka.[99]
  • The word "crap" did not originate as a back-formation of British plumber Thomas Crapper's surname, nor does his name originate from the word "crap", although the surname may have helped popularize the word.[100] The surname "Crapper" is a variant of "Cropper", which originally referred to someone who harvested crops.[101][102] The word "crap" ultimately comes from Medieval Latin crappa, meaning "chaff".[103]
  • The expression "rule of thumb" did not originate from a law allowing a man to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb, and there is no evidence that such a law ever existed.[104] The true origin of this phrase remains uncertain, but the false etymology has been broadly reported in media including The Washington Post (1989), CNN (1993), and Time magazine (1983).[105]
  • The word "gringo" as a term for someone foreign to Latin America did not originate during the Mexican–American War (1846–48), the Venezuelan War of Independence (1811–23), the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), or from the American Old West (c. 1865–99) as a corruption of the English lyrics "green grow" in either "Green Grow the Lilacs" (Irish folk song) or "Green Grow the Rushes, O" (English folk song), as sung by US soldiers or cowboys;[106] nor did it originate during any of these times as a corruption of "Green, go home!", falsely said to have been shouted at green-clad American troops.[107] The word originally simply meant 'foreigner', and is probably a corruption of the Spanish word griego for 'Greek' (along the lines of the idiom "It's Greek to me").[108]
  • The anti-Italian slur wop did not originate from an acronym for "without papers" or "without passport", as is widely believed;[109][110][110][111] it is actually derived from the term guappo (roughly meaning thug), and was in use by 1908,[112][113] predating modern immigration laws.[114]
  • The ethnic slur for illegal Mexican immigrants to the US wetback has nothing to do with sweaty farm labor, or any other activity post-migration, but rather refers solely to the consequences of the method of immigration, crossing the Rio Grande river, which results in a wet back.[115]
  • "420" did not originate from the Los Angeles police or penal code for marijuana use.[116] In California, Police Code 420 means "juvenile disturbance",[117] and California Penal Code section 420 prohibits the obstruction of access to public land.[116][118] The use of "420" started in 1971 at San Rafael High School, where it indicated the time, 4:20 pm, when a group of students would go to smoke.[116]
  • "Xmas" did not originate as a secular plan to "take the Christ out of Christmas".[119] X stands for the Greek letter chi, the starting letter of Χριστός (Christos), or "Christ" in Greek.[120] The use of the word "Xmas" in English can be traced to the year 1021, when monks in Great Britain used the X in place of "Christ" for abbreviation, while transcribing classical manuscripts into Old English.[119] The Oxford English Dictionary's "first recorded use of 'Xmas' for 'Christmas' dates to 1551."[121]
  • The pronunciation of coronal fricatives in Spanish did not come around as imitation of a lisping king. Only one Spanish king, Peter of Castile, is documented as having a lisp, and the current pronunciation originated two centuries after his death.[122]
  • The Chevrolet Nova sold very well in Latin American markets; General Motors did not need to rename the car. While "no va" does mean "doesn't go" in Spanish, "nova" is understood as "new" and drivers in Mexico and Venezuela where it was first sold bought it eagerly. There was no need to change the model name,[123] despite claims to the contrary.[124][125]
  • Sign languages are not the same worldwide. Aside from the pidgin International Sign, each country generally has its own native sign language, and some have more than one (although there are also substantial similarities among all sign languages).[126][127][128]
  • Eskimo tribes, such as the Inuit and Aleut, do not have a disproportionate number of words representing snow in their languages. The myth comes from a misconstruction of Franz Boas's original statement noting that Eskimos had a variety of words for various snow-related concepts; Boas noted that the same was true of English.[129][130]
  • The word "the" was never pronounced or spelled "ye" in Old or Middle English.[131] The confusion, seen in the common stock phrase "ye olde," derives from the use of the character thorn (þ) in abbreviations of the word "the", which in Middle English blackletter () looked similar to a y with a superscript e.[132]



  • Ancient Greek sculptures were originally painted bright colors; they only appear white today because the original pigments have deteriorated. Some well-preserved statues still bear traces of their original coloration.[133][134][135]
  • The ancient Greeks did not use the word "idiot" to disparage people who did not participate in civic life or who did not vote. An ἰδιώτης was simply a private citizen as opposed to a government official. Later, the word came to mean any sort of non-expert or layman, then someone uneducated or ignorant, and much later to mean stupid or mentally deficient.[136]
  • Vomiting was not a regular part of Roman dining customs.[137] In ancient Rome, the architectural feature called a vomitorium was the entranceway through which crowds entered and exited a stadium, not a special room used for purging food during meals.[138]
  • The death of Greek philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria at the hands of a mob of Christian monks in 415 was a result of her involvement in a bitter political feud between her close friend and student Orestes, the Roman prefect of Alexandria, and the bishop Cyril, not her religious views.[139][140] Her death also had nothing to do with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria,[141] which had likely already ceased to exist centuries before Hypatia was born.[141]

Middle Ages and Renaissance

  • It is true that modern life expectancies are much higher, by any measure, than they were in the Middle Ages and earlier;[142] however, "life expectancy" is commonly, and incorrectly, confused for the average age an adult could expect to live. This confusion may create the expectation that an adult would be unlikely to exceed a given average life expectancy, even though, with all statistical probability, an adult who has already avoided many causes of adolescent mortality should be expected to significantly outlive the average life expectancy calculated from birth.[143] Age specific forecasts, particularly life expectancy after childhood, can be dramatically different from life expectancy at birth, especially in preindustrial times.[143]
  • There is no evidence that Vikings wore horns on their helmets.[144] In fact, the image of Vikings wearing horned helmets stems from the scenography of an 1876 production of the Der Ring des Nibelungen opera cycle by Richard Wagner.[145]
  • Vikings did not drink out of the skulls of vanquished enemies. This was based on a mistranslation of the skaldic poetic use of ór bjúgviðum hausa (branches of skulls) to refer to drinking horns.[146]
  • Vikings did not name Iceland "Iceland" as a ploy to discourage others from settling it. Naddodd and Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson both saw snow and ice on the island when they traveled there, giving the island its name.[147]
  • King Canute did not command the tide to reverse in a fit of delusional arrogance.[148] His intent that day, if indeed the incident did occur, was most likely to prove a point to members of his privy council that no man is all-powerful, and we all must bend to forces beyond our control, such as the tides.
  • There is no evidence that iron maidens were used for torture, or even yet invented, in the Middle Ages. Instead they were pieced together in the 18th century from several artifacts found in museums in order to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.[149]
  • The plate armor of European soldiers did not stop soldiers from moving around or necessitate a crane to get them into a saddle. They would as a matter of course fight on foot and could mount and dismount without help. In fact, soldiers equipped with plate armor were more mobile than those with mail armor (chain armor), as mail was heavier and required stiff padding beneath due to its pliable nature.[150] It is true that armor used in tournaments in the late Middle Ages was significantly heavier than that used in warfare,[151] which may have contributed to this misconception.
  • Whether chastity belts, devices designed to prevent women from having sexual intercourse, were invented in medieval times is disputed by modern historians. Most existing chastity belts are now thought to be deliberate fakes or anti-masturbatory devices from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The latter were made due to the widespread belief that masturbation could lead to insanity, and were mostly bought by parents for their teenage children.[152]
  • Christopher Columbus was not the first European to visit the Americas:[161][162] Leif Erikson, and possibly other Vikings before him, explored Vinland, which was either the island of Newfoundland, part of modern Canada, or a term for Newfoundland and parts of the North American mainland. Ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows prove that at least one Norse settlement was built in Newfoundland, confirming a narrative in the Saga of Erik the Red. Columbus also never reached any land that now forms part of the mainland United States of America; most of the landings Columbus made on his four voyages, including the initial October 12, 1492 landing (the anniversary of which forms the basis of Columbus Day), were on Caribbean islands that are now independent countries.
  • Marco Polo did not import pasta from China,[163] a misconception that originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting the use of pasta in the United States.[164] Marco Polo describes a food similar to "lasagna" in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar. Durum wheat, and thus pasta as it is known today, was introduced by Arabs from Libya, during their conquest of Sicily in the late 9th century, according to the newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association,[165] thus predating Marco Polo's travels to China by about four centuries.

Early modern

  • Contrary to the popular image of the Pilgrim Fathers, the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in North America usually did not wear all black, and their capotains (hats) were shorter and rounder than the widely depicted tall hat with a buckle on it. Instead, their fashion was based on that of the late Elizabethan era: doublets, jerkins and ruffs. Both men and women wore the same style of shoes, stockings, capes, coats and hats in a range of colors including reds, yellows, purples, and greens.[166] According to Plimoth Plantation historian James W. Baker, the traditional image was formed in the 19th century when buckles were a kind of emblem of quaintness.[167][168] (The Puritans, who also settled in Massachusetts near the same time, did frequently wear all black.)[169]
  • The accused at the Salem witch trials in North America were not burned at the stake; about 15 died in prison, 19 were hanged and one was pressed to death.[170][171]
  • Marie Antoinette did not say "let them eat cake" when she heard that the French peasantry were starving due to a shortage of bread. The phrase was first published in Rousseau's Confessions when Marie was only nine years old and most scholars believe that Rousseau coined it himself, or that it was said by Maria-Theresa, the wife of Louis XIV. Even Rousseau (or Maria-Theresa) did not use the exact words but actually Qu'ils mangent de la brioche, "Let them eat brioche" (a rich type of bread). Marie Antoinette was an unpopular ruler; therefore, people attribute the phrase "let them eat cake" to her, in keeping with her reputation as being hard-hearted and disconnected from her subjects.[172]
  • George Washington did not have wooden teeth. His dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, animal teeth (including horse and donkey teeth),[173] and probably human teeth purchased from slaves.[174]
  • The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence did not occur on July 4, 1776. After the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence on July 2, the final language of the document was approved on July 4, and it was printed and distributed on July 4–5.[175] However, the actual signing occurred on August 2, 1776.[176]
  • Benjamin Franklin did not propose that the wild turkey be used as the symbol for the United States instead of the bald eagle. While he did serve on a commission that tried to design a seal after the Declaration of Independence, his proposal was an image of Moses. His objections to the eagle as a national symbol and preference for the turkey were stated in a 1784 letter to his daughter in response to the Society of the Cincinnati's use of the former; he never expressed that sentiment publicly.[177][178]
  • There was never a bill to make German the official language of the United States that was defeated by one vote in the House of Representatives, nor has one been proposed at the state level. In 1794, a petition from a group of German immigrants was put aside on a procedural vote of 42 to 41, that would have had the government publish some laws in German. This was the basis of the Muhlenberg legend, named after the Speaker of the House at the time, Frederick Muhlenberg, a speaker of German descent who abstained from this vote.[179][180][181]


  • Napoleon Bonaparte was not short. He was actually slightly taller than the average Frenchman of his time.[182][183] After his death in 1821, the French emperor's height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet, which in English measurements is 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m).[184][185] He was actually nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal) as a term of endearment.[186] Napoleon was often accompanied by his imperial guard, who were selected for their height[187]—this could have contributed to a perception that he was comparatively short.
  • Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, but the celebration of the Mexican Army's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Mexico's Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1810 is celebrated on September 16.[188][189]
  • The Alaska Purchase was generally popular in the United States, both among the public and the press. The later portrayal of the purchase as a folly was a minority position at the time.[190][191][192][193][194]
  • Cowboy hats were not initially popular in the Western American frontier, with derby or bowler hats being the typical headgear of choice.[195] Heavy marketing of the Stetson "Boss of the Plains" model in the years following the American Civil War was the primary driving force behind the cowboy hat's popularity, with its characteristic dented top not becoming standard until near the end of the 19th century.[196]
  • Despite being referenced commonly in culture[197][198] and society at large,[199][200][201] the idea that Victorian Era doctors invented the vibrator to cure female 'hysteria' via triggering orgasm is a product of a single work[202] rejected by most historians.[197][201][203]
  • The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was not caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern. A newspaper reporter invented the story to make colorful copy.[204]
  • The claim that Frederic Remington, on assignment to Cuba in 1897, telegraphed William Randolph Hearst that "There will be no war. I wish to return" and that Hearst responded, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war" is unsubstantiated. This anecdote was originally included in a book by James Creelman, though there is no evidence that the telegraph exchange ever happened, and substantial evidence that it did not.[205][206]
  • Immigrants' last names were not Americanized (voluntarily, mistakenly, or otherwise) upon arrival at Ellis Island. Officials there kept no records other than checking ship manifests created at the point of origin, and there was simply no paperwork that would have created such an effect, let alone any law. At the time in New York, anyone could change the spelling of their name simply by using that new spelling.[207] These names are often referred to as an "Ellis Island Special".
  • The common image of Santa Claus (Father Christmas) as a jolly old man in red robes was not created by The Coca-Cola Company as an advertising gimmick. Despite being historically represented with different characteristics in different colours of robes, Santa Claus had already taken his modern form in popular culture and seen extensive use in other companies' advertisements and other mass media at the time Coca-Cola began using his image in the 1930s.[208]
  • Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not "make the trains run on time". Much of the repair work had been performed before Mussolini and the Fascists came to power in 1922. Accounts from the era also suggest that the Italian railways' legendary adherence to timetables was more propaganda than reality.[209]
  • There was no widespread outbreak of panic across the United States in response to Orson Welles's 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. Only a very small share of the radio audience was even listening to it, and isolated reports of scattered incidents and increased call volume to emergency services were played up the next day by newspapers, eager to discredit radio as a competitor for advertising. Both Welles and CBS, which had initially reacted apologetically, later came to realize that the myth benefited them and actively embraced it in later years.[210][211]
  • There is no evidence of Polish cavalry mounting a brave but futile charge against German tanks using lances and sabres during the German invasion of Poland in 1939. This story may have originated from German propaganda efforts following the charge at Krojanty, in which a Polish cavalry brigade surprised German infantry in the open, and successfully charged and dispersed them, until driven off by armoured cars. While Polish cavalry still carried the sabre for such opportunities, they were trained to fight as highly mobile, dismounted cavalry (dragoons) and issued with light anti-tank weapons.[212][213]
  • During the occupation of Denmark by the Nazis during World War II, King Christian X of Denmark did not thwart Nazi attempts to identify Jews by wearing a yellow star himself. Jews in Denmark were never forced to wear the Star of David. The Danish resistance did help most Jews flee the country before the end of the war.[214]
  • Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics classes (never "flunked a math exam") in school. Upon seeing a column making this claim, Einstein said "I never failed in mathematics... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."[215][216] Einstein did, however, fail his first entrance exam into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School (ETH) in 1895, when he was two years younger than his fellow students, but scored exceedingly well in the mathematics and science sections, then passed on his second attempt.[217]
  • Actor Ronald Reagan was never seriously considered for the role of Rick Blaine in the 1942 film classic Casablanca, eventually played by Humphrey Bogart. This belief came from an early studio press release announcing the film's production that used his name to generate interest in the film. But by the time it had come out, Warner Bros. knew that Reagan was unavailable for any roles in the foreseeable future since he was no longer able to defer his entry into military service.[218] Studio records show that producer Hal B. Wallis had always wanted Bogart for the part.[219][220]
  • U.S. Senator George Smathers never gave a speech to a rural audience describing his opponent, Claude Pepper, as an "extrovert" whose sister was a "thespian", in the apparent hope they would confuse them with similar-sounding words like "pervert" and "lesbian". Time, which is sometimes cited as the source, described the story of the purported speech as a "yarn" at the time,[221] and no Florida newspaper reported such a speech during the campaign. The leading reporter who covered Smathers said he always gave the same boilerplate speech. Smathers had offered US$10,000 to anyone who could prove he had made the speech; it was never claimed.[222]
  • John F. Kennedy's words "Ich bin ein Berliner" are standard German for "I am a Berliner."[223][224] An urban legend has it that due to his use of the indefinite article ein, Berliner is translated as jelly donut, and that the population of Berlin was amused by the supposed mistake. The word Berliner is not commonly used in Berlin to refer to the Berliner Pfannkuchen; it is usually called ein Pfannkuchen.[225]
  • African American intellectual and activist W.E.B. Du Bois did not renounce his U.S. citizenship while living in Ghana shortly before his death,[226] as is often claimed.[227][228][229] In early 1963, due to his membership in the Communist Party and support for the Soviet Union, the U.S. State Department did not renew his passport while he was already in Ghana overseeing the creation of the Encyclopedia Africana. After leaving the embassy, he stated his intention to renounce his citizenship in protest. But while he took Ghanaian citizenship, he never went through the process of renouncing his American citizenship,[230] and may not even have intended to.[226]
  • When bartender Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her Queens apartment in 1964, 37 neighbors did not stand idly by and watch, not calling the police until after she was dead, as The New York Times initially reported[231] to widespread public outrage that persisted for years. Later reporting established that the police report the Times had initially relied on was inaccurate, that Genovese had been attacked twice in different locations, and while the many witnesses heard the attack they only heard brief portions and did not realize what was occurring, with only six or seven actually reporting seeing anything. Some called police; one said "I didn't want to get involved", an attitude later attributed to all the residents who saw or heard part of the attack.[232]
  • The Rolling Stones were not performing "Sympathy for the Devil" at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert when Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by a member of the local Hells Angels chapter that was serving as security. While the incident that culminated in Hunter's death began while the band was performing the song, prompting a brief interruption before the Stones finished it, it concluded several songs later as the band was performing "Under My Thumb".[233][234] The misconception arose from mistaken reporting in Rolling Stone.[235]
  • While it was praised by one architectural magazine before it was built as "the best high apartment of the year", the Pruitt–Igoe housing project in St. Louis, Missouri, considered to epitomize the failures of urban renewal in American cities after it was demolished in the early 1970s, never won any awards for its design.[236] The architectural firm that designed the buildings did win an award for an earlier St. Louis project, which may have been confused with Pruitt–Igoe.[237]
  • Although popularly known as the "red telephone", the Moscow–Washington hotline was never a telephone line, nor were red phones used. The first implementation of the hotline used teletype equipment, which was replaced by facsimile (fax) machines in 1988. Since 2008, the hotline has been a secure computer link over which the two countries exchange emails.[238] Moreover, the hotline links the Kremlin to the Pentagon, not the White House.[239]
  • There were no verified instances of US Vietnam War veterans being spat upon by anti-war protesters upon return to the United States.[240]

Science and technology


  • The Great Wall of China is not, as is claimed, the only human-made object visible from space or from the Moon. None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any specific human-made object from the Moon, and even Earth-orbiting astronauts can see it only with magnification. City lights, however, are easily visible on the night side of Earth from orbit.[241]
  • Black holes have the same gravitational effects as any other equal mass in their place. They will draw objects nearby towards them, just as any other planetary body does, except at very close distances to the black hole.[242] If, for example, the Sun were replaced by a black hole of equal mass, the orbits of the planets would be essentially unaffected. A black hole can act like a "cosmic vacuum cleaner" and pull a substantial inflow of matter, but only if the star from which it formed was already having a similar effect on surrounding matter.[243]
  • Seasons are not caused by the Earth being closer to the Sun in the summer than in the winter, but by the Earth's 23.4-degree axial tilt. Each Hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun in its respective summer (July in the Northern Hemisphere and January in the Southern Hemisphere), resulting in longer days and more direct sunlight, with the opposite being true in the winter.[244][245]
  • When a meteor or spacecraft enters the atmosphere, the heat of entry is not (primarily) caused by friction, but by adiabatic compression of air in front of the object.[246][247][248]
  • Egg balancing is possible on every day of the year, not just the vernal equinox,[249] and there is no relationship between astronomical phenomena and the ability to balance an egg.[250]
  • There is no truth to the claim that the Fisher Space Pen was devised as the result of millions of dollars of unnecessary spending on NASA's part when the Soviets used pencils. The space pen was independently developed by Paul C. Fisher, founder of the Fisher Pen Company, with $1 million of his own funds.[251] NASA tested and approved the pen for space use, then purchased 400 pens at $6 per pen.[252] The Soviet Union subsequently also purchased the space pen for its Soyuz space flights.



  • Older elephants that are near death do not leave their herd and instinctively direct themselves toward a specific location known as an elephants' graveyard to die.[253]
  • Bulls are not enraged by the color red, used in capes by professional matadors. Cattle are dichromats, so red does not stand out as a bright color. It is not the color of the cape, but the perceived threat by the matador that incites it to charge.[254]
  • Dogs do not sweat by salivating.[255] Dogs actually do have sweat glands and not only on their tongues; they sweat mainly through their footpads. However, dogs do primarily regulate their body temperature through panting.[256] See also Dog anatomy.
  • Lemmings do not engage in mass suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. This misconception was popularized by the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the migration scenes (also staged by using multiple shots of different groups of lemmings) on a large, snow-covered turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff.[257] The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late 19th century.[258]
  • Bats are not blind. While about 70 percent of bat species, mainly in the microbat family, use echolocation to navigate, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight. In addition, almost all bats in the megabat or fruit bat family cannot echolocate and have excellent night vision.[259]
  • Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand to hide from enemies.[260] This misconception was probably promulgated by Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE), who wrote that ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed."[261]
  • A duck's quack actually does echo,[262] although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.[263]
  • Frogs die immediately when cast into boiling water, rather than leaping out; furthermore, frogs will attempt to escape cold water that is slowly heated past their critical thermal maximum.[264]
  • The notion that goldfish have a memory span of just a few seconds is false.[265][266] It is much longer, counted in months.
  • Sharks can suffer from cancer. The misconception that sharks do not get cancer was spread by the 1992 Avery Publishing book Sharks Don't Get Cancer by I. William Lane and used to sell extracts of shark cartilage as cancer prevention treatments. Reports of carcinomas in sharks exist, and current data do not support any conclusions about the incidence of tumors in sharks.[267]
  • Great white sharks do not mistake human divers for pinnipeds. Their attack behaviors on humans and pinnipeds are very different: when attacking a seal, a great white shark surfaces quickly and violently attacks it. Attacks on humans, on the other hand, are more relaxed and slow: the shark charges at a normal pace, bites, and swims off. Great white sharks have efficient eyesight and color vision; the bite is not predatory, but rather for identification of an unfamiliar object.[268]
  • There is no such thing as an "alpha" in a wolf pack. An early study that coined the term "alpha wolf" had only observed unrelated adult wolves living in captivity. In the wild, wolf packs operate more like human families: there is no defined sense of rank, parents are in charge until the young grow up and start their own families, younger wolves do not overthrow an "alpha" to become the new leader, and social dominance fights are situational.[269][270]
  • Snake jaws cannot unhinge. The posterior end of the lower jaw bones contain a quadrate bone, allowing jaw extension. The anterior tips of the lower jaw bones are joined by a flexible ligament allowing them to bow outwards, increasing the mouth gape.
  • Tomato juice is ineffective at eliminating the smell of a skunk; it only appears to work due to olfactory fatigue.[271] The Humane Society of the United States recommends using a mixture of dilute hydrogen peroxide (3%), baking soda, and dishwashing liquid for dogs that get sprayed.[272]
  • Porcupines do not shoot their quills. They can detach but do not project.[273][274]


  • Earthworms do not become two worms when cut in half. Only a limited number of earthworm species[275] are capable of anterior regeneration. When such earthworms are bisected, only the front half of the worm (where the mouth is located) can feed and survive, while the other half dies.[276] Some species of planarian flatworms, however, actually do become two new planarians when bisected or split down the middle.[277]
  • Houseflies have an average lifespan of 20 to 30 days, not 24 hours.[278] The misconception may arise from confusion with mayflies, which, in some species, have an adult lifespan of as little as 5 minutes.[279] A housefly egg will hatch into a maggot within 24 hours of being laid.[280]
  • The daddy longlegs spider (Pholcidae) is not the most venomous spider in the world; though they can indeed pierce human skin, the tiny amount of venom they carry causes only a mild burning sensation for a few seconds.[281] In addition, there is confusion regarding the use of the name daddy longlegs, because harvestmen (order Opiliones, which are arachnids, but not spiders), crane flies (which are insects), and male mosquitoes (also insects) are also sometimes called daddy longlegs in regional dialects, and may occasionally share the misconception of being venomous.[282][283]
  • The flight mechanism and aerodynamics of the bumblebee (as well as other insects) are actually quite well understood, despite the urban legend that calculations show that they should not be able to fly. In the 1930s, the French entomologist Antoine Magnan indeed postulated that bumblebees theoretically should not be able to fly in his book Le Vol des Insectes (The Flight of Insects).[284] Magnan later realized his error and retracted the suggestion. However, the hypothesis became generalized to the false notion that "scientists think that bumblebees should not be able to fly".
  • The widespread urban legend that one swallows a high number of spiders during sleep in one's life has no basis in reality. A sleeping person causes all kinds of noise and vibrations by breathing, the beating heart, snoring etc. all of which warn spiders of danger.[285][286]
  • Earwigs are not known to purposefully climb into external ear canals, though there have been anecdotal reports of earwigs being found in the ear.[287] Entomologists suggest that the origin of the name is actually a reference to the appearance of the hindwings, which are unique and distinctive among insects, and resemble a human ear when unfolded.[288][289]
  • European honey bees are often described as essential to human food production, leading to claims that without their pollination, humanity would starve or die out.[290][291] The quote "If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live" has been misattributed to Albert Einstein.[292][293] In fact, many important crops need no insect pollination at all. The ten most important crops,[294] comprising 60% of all human food energy,[295] all fall into this category.
  • Female praying mantises rarely eat the males during coitus, especially in their natural environment. In a study in a laboratory at the University of Central Arkansas, it was observed that 1 out of 45 times the female ate the male before mating and the male ate the female with that same frequency.[296]


  • Poinsettias are not highly toxic to humans or cats. While it is true that they are mildly irritating to the skin or stomach,[297] and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten,[298] an American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed no fatalities and few cases requiring medical treatment.[299] According to the ASPCA, poinsettias may cause light to mid-range gastrointestinal discomfort in felines, with diarrhea and vomiting as the most severe consequences of ingestion.[300]
  • Flowering sunflowers point in a fixed direction (often east) all day long.[301][302][303] However, in an earlier developmental stage, before the appearance of flower heads, the immature buds do track the sun (a phenomenon called heliotropism) and the fixed alignment of the mature flowers toward a certain direction is often the result.[304]

Evolution and paleontology

  • The word theory in "the theory of evolution" does not imply scientific doubt regarding its validity; the concepts of theory and hypothesis have specific meanings in a scientific context. While theory in colloquial usage may denote a hunch or conjecture, a scientific theory is a set of principles that explains observable phenomena in natural terms.[305][306] "Scientific fact and theory are not categorically separable",[307] and evolution is a theory in the same sense as germ theory or the theory of gravitation.[308]
  • Evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life[309] or the origin and development of the universe. The theory of evolution deals primarily with changes in successive generations over time after life has already originated.[310] The scientific model concerned with the origin of the first organisms from organic or inorganic molecules is known as abiogenesis, and the prevailing theory for explaining the early development of our universe is the Big Bang model.
  • Humans did not evolve from either of the living species of chimpanzees (common chimpanzees and bonobos).[311] Humans and chimpanzees did, however, evolve from a common ancestor.[312][313] The most recent common ancestor of humans and the other living chimpanzees lived between 5 and 8 million years ago.[314]
  • Evolution is not a progression from inferior to superior organisms, and it also does not necessarily result in an increase in complexity. A population can evolve to become simpler, having a smaller genome, but biological devolution is a misnomer.[315][316]
  • Evolution does not "plan" to improve an organism's fitness to survive.[317][318] The misconception is encouraged as it is common shorthand for biologists to speak of a purpose as a concise form of expression (sometimes called the "metaphor of purpose");[319] it is less cumbersome to say "Dinosaurs may have evolved feathers for courtship" than "Feathers may have been selected for when they arose as they gave dinosaurs a selective advantage during courtship over their non-feathered peers".[320]
  • Humans and dinosaurs (other than birds) did not coexist.[321] The last of the non-avian dinosaurs died 66 million years ago in the course of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, whereas the earliest members of genus Homo (humans) evolved between 2.3 and 2.4 million years ago. This places a 63-million-year expanse of time between the last non-bird dinosaurs and the earliest humans. Humans did coexist with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats—mammals often erroneously depicted alongside humans and dinosaurs.[322]
  • Not all dinosaurs became extinct during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. Birds evolved from small feathered theropods in the Jurassic, and while most dinosaur lineages were cut short at the end of the Cretaceous, some birds survived. Consequently, dinosaurs are part of the modern fauna.[323]
  • Petroleum does not originate from dinosaurs but rather bacteria and algae.[324]
  • Mammals did not evolve from any modern group of reptiles; rather, mammals and reptiles evolved from a common ancestor. Soon after the first reptile-like animals appeared, they split into two branches, the sauropsids and the synapsids.[325] The line leading to mammals (the synapsids) diverged from the line leading to modern reptilian lines (the sauropsids) about 320 million years ago, in the mid-Carboniferous period. Only later (in the late Carboniferous or Early Permian) did the modern reptilian groups (lepidosaurs, turtles and crocodiles) diverge. The mammals themselves are the only survivors of the synapsid line.[326]


  • No human genome (or any mammalian genome for that matter) has ever been completely sequenced. As of 2017, by some estimates, between 4% to 9% of the human genome had not been sequenced.[327]

Computing and the Internet

Environmental science

Human body and health

  • In South Korea, it is commonly, and incorrectly, believed that sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running results in "fan death". According to the Korean government: "In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from suffocation, hypothermia, or fire from overheating."[337] The Korea Consumer Protection Board issued a consumer safety alert recommending that electric fans be set on timers, the direction changed, and any doors to the room be left open. According to Yeon Dong-su, dean of Kwandong University's medical school, "If it is completely sealed, then in the current of an electric fan, the temperature can drop low enough to cause a person to die of hypothermia."[338] However, leaving a fan running in an unoccupied room will not cool it down; rather, due to energy losses from the motor and viscous dissipation, a fan will actually slightly heat a room.
  • Waking sleepwalkers does not harm them. While it is true that a person may be confused or disoriented for a short time after awakening, this does not cause them further harm. In contrast, sleepwalkers may injure themselves if they trip over objects or lose their balance while sleepwalking.[339][340]
  • Eating less than an hour before swimming does not increase the risk of experiencing muscle cramps or drowning. One study shows a correlation between alcohol consumption and drowning, but there is no evidence cited regarding the consumption of food or stomach cramps.[341]
  • Drowning is often inconspicuous to onlookers.[342] In most cases, raising the arms and vocalising are impossible due to the instinctive drowning response.[342] Waving and yelling (known as "aquatic distress") is a sign of trouble, but not a dependable one: most victims demonstrating the instinctive drowning response do not show prior evidence of distress.[343]
  • Human blood in veins is not actually blue. Hemoglobin gives blood its red color. Deoxygenated blood (in veins) has a deep red color, and oxygenated blood (in arteries) has a light cherry-red color. The misconception probably arises for two reasons: 1) Veins below the skin appear blue or green. This is due to a variety of reasons only weakly dependent on the color of the blood, including subsurface scattering of light through the skin, and human color perception. 2) Many diagrams use colors to show the difference between veins (usually shown in blue) and arteries (usually shown in red).[344]
  • Exposure to a vacuum, or experiencing all but the most extreme uncontrolled decompression, does not cause the body to explode, or internal fluids to boil. (However, fluids in the mouth or lungs will boil at altitudes above the Armstrong limit.) Instead, it would lead to a loss of consciousness once the body has depleted the supply of oxygen in the blood, followed by death from hypoxia within minutes.[345]
  • Stretching before or after exercise does not reduce muscle soreness.[346]
  • Exercise-induced muscle soreness is not caused by lactic acid buildup.[347] Muscular lactic acid levels during and after exercise do not correlate with soreness;[348] exercise-induced muscle soreness is thought to be due to microtrauma from an unaccustomed or strenuous exercise, against which the body adapts with repeated bouts of the same exercise.[349]
  • Swallowing gasoline does not generally require special emergency treatment, as long as it goes into the stomach and not the lungs, and inducing vomiting can make it worse.[350][351]


Skin and hair

  • Water-induced wrinkles are not caused by the skin absorbing water and swelling.[361] They are caused by the autonomic nervous system, which triggers localized vasoconstriction in response to wet skin, yielding a wrinkled appearance.[362][363] A 2014 study showed no improvement in handling wet objects with wrinkled fingertips.[364]
  • Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker (more dense) or darker. This belief is due to hair that has never been cut having a tapered end, whereas after cutting the edge is blunt and therefore thicker than the tapered ends; the cut hair appears to be thicker and feels coarser due to the sharper, unworn edges. The shorter hairs being less flexible than longer hairs also contributes to this effect.[365]
  • Hair and fingernails do not continue to grow after a person dies. Rather, the skin dries and shrinks away from the bases of hairs and nails, giving the appearance of growth.[366]
  • Hair care products cannot actually "repair" split ends and damaged hair. They can prevent damage from occurring in the first place, and they can also smooth down the cuticle in a glue-like fashion so that it appears repaired, and generally make hair appear in better condition.[367]
  • Pulling or cutting a grey hair will not cause two grey hairs to grow in its place. It will only cause the one hair to grow back because only one hair can grow from each follicle.[368]
  • The redhead gene is not becoming extinct due to the gene for red hair being recessive, nor will the gene for blond hair disappear. Although redheads and blonds may become more rare, they will not die out unless everyone who carries those genes (strictly speaking, alleles) dies or fails to reproduce.[369]
  • Acne is mostly caused by genetics, rather than lack of hygiene, eating fatty food, or other personal habits.[370]

Nutrition, food, and drink

  • Diet has little influence on the body's detoxification, and detoxification diets "have no scientific basis",[371] and are a "waste of time and money".[372] Despite this, there is a common misconception that specific diets aid this process or could remove substances that the body is unable to remove by itself.[373][374][375][376] Toxins are removed from the body by the liver and kidneys.[371]
  • Eight glasses, or two to three liters, of water a day are not needed to maintain health.[377] The amount of water needed varies by person (weight), diet, activity level, clothing, and environment (heat and humidity). Water does not actually need to be drunk in pure form, but can be derived from liquids such as juices, tea, milk, soups, etc., and from foods including fruits and vegetables.[377]
  • Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.[378][379] Double-blind trials have shown no difference in behavior between children given sugar-full or sugar-free diets, even in studies specifically looking at children with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or those considered sensitive to sugar.[380]
  • Alcoholic beverages do not make the entire body warmer.[381] The reason that alcoholic drinks create the sensation of warmth is that they cause blood vessels to dilate and stimulate nerve endings near the surface of the skin with an influx of warm blood. This can actually result in making the core body temperature lower, as it allows for easier heat exchange with a cold external environment.[382]
  • Alcohol does not necessarily kill brain cells.[383] Alcohol can, however, lead indirectly to the death of brain cells in two ways: (1) In chronic, heavy alcohol users whose brains have adapted to the effects of alcohol, abrupt cessation following heavy use can cause excitotoxicity leading to cellular death in multiple areas of the brain.[384] (2) In alcoholics who get most of their daily calories from alcohol, a deficiency of thiamine can produce Korsakoff's syndrome, which is associated with serious brain damage.[385]
  • A vegetarian or vegan diet can provide enough protein for adequate nutrition.[386][387] In fact, typical protein intakes of ovo-lacto vegetarians and vegans meet and exceed requirements.[388] However, a vegan diet does require supplementation of vitamin B12 for optimal health.[386]
  • Swallowed chewing gum does not take seven years to digest. In fact, chewing gum is mostly indigestible, and passes through the digestive system at the same rate as other matter.[389][390]
  • Evidence does not support a significant role for spicy food or coffee in the development of peptic ulcers.[391]
  • While the beta carotene in carrots can help improve night vision in those suffering from a deficiency of vitamin A, it does not enhance it beyond normal levels in those receiving an adequate amount.[392] The belief that it does may have originated from World War II British disinformation meant to explain the Royal Air Force's improved success in night battles, which was actually due to radar and the use of red lights on instrument panels.[393]
  • There is no evidence that obesity is related to slower resting metabolism. Resting metabolic rate does not vary much between people. Weight gain and loss are directly attributable to diet and activity. Overweight people tend to underestimate the amount of food they eat, and underweight people tend to overestimate. Additionally, overweight people in fact tend to have faster metabolic rates due to the increased energy required by the larger body.[394]
  • Eating normal amounts of soy does not cause hormonal imbalance.[395][396][397][398][399]
  • The order in which different types of alcoholic beverages are consumed ("Grape or grain but never the twain" and "Beer before wine and you'll feel fine; wine before beer and you'll feel queer") does not affect intoxication or create adverse side effects.[400]

Human sexuality

  • Hand size does not predict human penis size,[404] but finger length ratio may.[405]
  • Pregnancies from sex between first cousins do not carry a serious risk of birth defects:[406] The risk is 5–6% (similar to that of a 40-year-old woman giving birth),[406][407] compared with a baseline risk of 3–4%.[407] The effects of inbreeding depression, while still relatively small compared to other factors (and thus difficult to control for in a scientific experiment), become more noticeable if isolated and maintained for several generations.[408][409]
  • There is no physiological basis for the belief that having sex in the days leading up to a sporting event or contest is detrimental to performance.[410] In fact it has been suggested that sex prior to sports activity can elevate male testosterone level, which could potentially enhance performance.[411]



  • Drinking milk or consuming other dairy products does not increase mucus production.[423][424] As a result, they do not need to be avoided by those with the flu or cold congestion.
  • Humans cannot catch warts from toads or other animals; the bumps on a toad are not warts.[425][426] Warts on human skin are caused by human papillomavirus, which is unique to humans.
  • Neither cracking one's knuckles nor exercising while in good health causes osteoarthritis.[427][428]
  • Eating nuts, popcorn, or seeds does not increase the risk of diverticulitis.[429] These foods may actually have a protective effect.[430]
  • Stress plays a relatively minor role in hypertension.[431] Specific relaxation therapies are not supported by the evidence.[432] Acute stress has been shown to temporarily increase blood-pressure levels.[431] Evidence from observational studies has shown a possible association between chronic stress and a sustained rise in high blood-pressure.[431] From the medical perspective, stress plays a small part in hypertension, whereas a recurring theme in studies of the attitudes of lay people was that stress was by far the most important cause.[431]
  • In those with the common cold, the color of the sputum or nasal secretion may vary from clear to yellow to green and does not indicate the class of agent causing the infection.[433][434]
  • Vitamin C does not prevent the common cold, although it may have a protective effect during intense cold-weather exercise, and may slightly reduce the duration and severity of colds once infected.[435][436]
  • In people with eczema, bathing does not dry the skin and may in fact be beneficial.[437][438]
  • There are not, nor have there ever been, any programs that will provide access to dialysis machines in exchange for pull tabs on beverage cans.[439] This rumor has existed since at least the 1970s, and usually cites the National Kidney Foundation as the organization offering the program. The Foundation itself has denied that this is the case, noting that 80 percent of the cost of dialysis in the United States is usually covered by Medicare.[440] However, some charities, such as the Kansas City Ronald McDonald House Charities, will accept pull tab donations, which are then turned over to a local recycler for their scrap metal value.[441]
  • Rhinoceros horn in powdered form is not used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine as Cornu Rhinoceri Asiatici (犀角, xījiǎo, "rhinoceros horn"). It is prescribed for fevers and convulsions,[442] a treatment not supported by evidence-based medicine.
  • Leprosy (Hansen's disease) is not auto-degenerative as commonly supposed, meaning that it will not (on its own) cause body parts to be damaged or fall off.[443] Leprosy causes rashes to form, and may degrade cartilage. Inflammation can occur if untreated. Damage to peripheral nerve tissue is common, and can lead to blindness and loss of touch or pain sensation, which may increase the risk and severity of injury. In addition to this, leprosy is only mildly contagious, with it assumed that 95% of those infected are able to fight the infection naturally.[444] In fact, Hansen's disease is one of the least contagious diseases in the world.[443] Tzaraath, the Biblical disease often identified as "leprosy" and the source of many myths about the disease, may or may not have been the disease known in modern times by that name.[445][446] The misconception also stems from the discontinuity between science and government policy. Although the medical community has agreed for decades that Hansen's disease is only mildly contagious, it still remains on the list of "communicable diseases of public health significance" for health-related grounds of inadmissibility on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website, even though HIV was removed in 2010.[447]
  • Rust does not cause tetanus infection. The Clostridium tetani bacterium is generally found in dirty environments. Since the same conditions that harbor tetanus bacteria also promote rusting of metal, many people associate rust with tetanus. C. tetani requires anoxic conditions to reproduce and these are found in the permeable layers of rust that form on oxygen-absorbing, unprotected ironwork.[448]
  • The common cold is caused by germs, not cold temperature, although cold temperature might weaken the immune system somewhat.[449][450][451][452][453][454]
  • Quarantine has never been a standard procedure for those with severe combined immunodeficiency, despite the condition's popular nickname ("bubble boy syndrome") and its portrayal in film. A bone marrow transplant in the earliest months of life is the standard course of treatment. The exceptional case of David Vetter, who indeed lived much of his life encased in a sterile environment because he would not receive a transplant until age 13 (the transplant, because of failure to detect a rare disease, instead killed Vetter), was one of the primary inspirations for the "bubble boy" trope.[455]


  • George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter, though he reputedly discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and hundreds more for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes.[456][457]
  • Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet.[458] During the Aegean Civilization period, the Minoans' Royal Palace at Knossos in Crete had a "toilet (which) consisted of a wooden seat, earthenware 'pan,' and the rooftop reservoir as a source of water."[459] The forerunner of the modern toilet was invented by the Elizabethan courtier Sir John Harington, who was banished from court when his book on the subject poked fun at important people.[460] Crapper, however, did much to increase its popularity and introduced several innovations, including the "valveless waste-water preventer", which allowed the toilet to flush effectively without leaving the flush water running for a long time.[461] The word crap is also not derived from his name (see the Words, phrases and languages section above).[462]
  • Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.[463] He did, however, develop the first practical light bulb in 1880 (employing a carbonized bamboo filament), shortly prior to Joseph Swan, who invented an even more efficient bulb in 1881 (which used a cellulose filament).
  • Henry Ford did not invent either the automobile or the assembly line. He did improve the assembly line process substantially, sometimes through his own engineering but more often through sponsoring the work of his employees.[464][465] Karl Benz (co-founder of Mercedes-Benz) is credited with the invention of the first modern automobile,[466] and the assembly line has existed throughout history.
  • Al Gore never said that he "invented" the Internet. What Gore actually said was, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet", in reference to his political work towards developing the Internet for widespread public use.[467][468] Gore was the original drafter of the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which provided significant funding for supercomputing centers,[469] and this in turn led to upgrades of a major part of the already-existing early 1990s Internet backbone, the NSFNet,[470] and development of NCSA Mosaic, the browser that popularized the World Wide Web.[469] (See also Al Gore and information technology.)
  • James Watt did not invent the steam engine,[471] nor were his ideas on steam engine power inspired by a kettle lid pressured open by steam.[472] Watt improved upon the already commercially successful Newcomen atmospheric engine in the 1760s and 1770s, making certain improvements critical to its future usage, particularly the external condenser, increasing its efficiency, and later the mechanism for transforming reciprocating motion into rotary motion; his new steam engine later gained huge fame as a result.[473]

Materials science

  • Glass does not flow at room temperature as a high-viscosity liquid.[474] Although glass shares some molecular properties found in liquids, glass at room temperature is an amorphous solid that only begins to flow above the glass transition temperature,[475] though the exact nature of the glass transition is not considered settled among scientists.[476] Panes of stained glass windows are often thicker at the bottom than at the top, and this has been cited as an example of the slow flow of glass over centuries. However, this unevenness is due to the window manufacturing processes used at the time.[475][476] No such distortion is observed in other glass objects, such as sculptures or optical instruments, that are of similar or even greater age.[475][476][477]
  • Most diamonds are not formed from highly compressed coal. More than 99 percent of diamonds ever mined have formed in the conditions of extreme heat and pressure about 140 kilometres (87 mi) below the earth's surface. Coal is formed from prehistoric plants buried much closer to the surface, and is unlikely to migrate below 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) through common geological processes. Most diamonds that have been dated are older than the first land plants, and are therefore older than coal. It is possible that diamonds can form from coal in subduction zones and in meteoroid impacts, but diamonds formed in this way are rare and the carbon source is more likely carbonate rocks and organic carbon in sediments, rather than coal.[478][479]


  • Although the Greek philosopher Pythagoras is most famous today for his alleged mathematical discoveries,[481] classical historians dispute whether he himself ever actually made any significant contributions to the field.[481][482] Pythagoras cannot have been the first to discover the Pythagorean theorem because it was known and used by the Babylonians over a millennium before he was born[480][481][482] and the discovery of the theorem was not attributed to him until centuries after his death.[480][481] The real, historical Pythagoras was probably a mystic sage who taught the doctrine of metempsychosis (reincarnation).[483]
  • There is no evidence that the ancient Greeks deliberately designed the Parthenon to match the golden ratio.[484][485] The Parthenon was completed in 438 BCE, more than a century before the first recorded mention of the ratio by Euclid. Similarly, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man makes no mention of the golden ratio in its text, although it describes many other proportions.[486][487]
  • In mathematics, the repeating decimal commonly written as 0.999... represents exactly the same quantity as the number one. Despite having the appearance of representing a smaller number, 0.999... is a symbol for the number 1 in exactly the same way that .333... is an equivalent notation for the number represented by the fraction 1/3.[488][489][490]


  • It is not true that lift force is generated by the air taking the same time to travel above and below an aircraft's wing.[491] This misconception, sometimes called the equal transit-time fallacy, is widespread among textbooks and non-technical reference books, and even appears in pilot training materials. In fact the air moving over the top of an aerofoil generating lift is always moving much faster than the equal transit theory would imply,[491] as described in the incorrect and correct explanations of lift force.
  • Blowing over a curved piece of paper does not demonstrate Bernoulli's principle. Although a common classroom experiment is often explained this way,[492] it is false to make a connection between the flow on the two sides of the paper using Bernoulli's equation since the air above and below are different flow fields and Bernoulli's principle only applies within a flow field.[493] The paper rises because the air follows the curve of the paper and a curved streamline will develop pressure differences perpendicular to the airflow.[494] Bernoulli's principle predicts that the decrease in pressure is associated with an increase in speed, that is, that as the air passes over the paper it speeds up and moves faster than it was moving when it left the demonstrator's mouth. But this is not apparent from the demonstration.[495]
  • The Coriolis effect does not cause water to consistently drain from basins in a clockwise/counter-clockwise direction depending on the hemisphere. The common myth often refers to the draining action of flush toilets and bathtubs. Rotation is determined by whatever minor rotation is initially present at the time the water starts to drain. The Coriolis force can impact the direction of the flow of water but only in rare circumstances. The water has to be so still that the effective rotation rate of the Earth is faster than that of the water relative to its container and the externally applied torques (such as might be caused by flow over an uneven bottom surface) have to be very small.
  • Gyroscopic forces or geometric trail are not required for a rider to balance a bicycle or for it to demonstrate self-stability.[496][497] Although gyroscopic forces and trail can be contributing factors, it has been demonstrated that those factors are neither required nor sufficient by themselves.[496]
  • The idea that lightning never strikes the same place twice is one of the oldest and best known superstitions about lightning. There is no reason that lightning would not be able to strike the same place twice. A thunderstorm in a given area is more likely to strike objects and places that are more prominent or conductive. Lightning strikes the Empire State Building in New York City about 100 times per year.[498][499]
  • A penny dropped from the Empire State Building will not kill a person or crack the sidewalk (but it could cause injury).[500]
  • Using a programmable thermostat's setback feature to limit heating or cooling in a temporarily unoccupied building does not waste as much energy as leaving the temperature constant. Using setback saves energy (five to fifteen percent) because heat transfer across the surface of the building is roughly proportional to the temperature difference between its inside and the outside.[501][502]


  • The total number of people living in extreme absolute poverty globally, using the widely used metric of $1.00/day (in 1990 U.S. dollars) has decreased over the last several decades, but most people surveyed in several countries incorrectly think it's increased or stayed the same. Additionally, the portion of people living in extreme poverty has declined as well, no matter which income threshold is used.[503][504][505]
  • Income inequality in the US is significantly higher than people think.[506][507]
  • Price is not the most important factor for consumers when deciding to buy a product.[508]
  • Monopolists do not try to sell items for the highest possible price, nor do they try to maximize profit per unit, but rather they try to maximize total profit.[509]
  • For any given set of production, there is not a set amount of labor input (a "lump of labor") to produce that output. This fallacy is commonly seen in Luddite and later, related movements either as an argument that automation causes permanent, structural unemployment, or that labor limiting regulation can decrease unemployment. Rather, the amount of work to be done for any given input is not fixed. Changes in capital allocation, efficiency, and economies of learning can change the amount of labor input for a given set of production.[510][511]
  • Income is not a factor in determining credit score in the United States.[512]


  • Dyslexia is not a cognitive disorder characterized by the reversal of letters or words and mirror writing. It is a disorder of people who have at least average intelligence and who have difficulty in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, "sounding out" words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud, or understanding what they read. Although some dyslexics also have problems with letter reversal, it is not a symptom. Letter reversal can be a characteristic in some cases of dyslexia, but dyslexia is not diagnosed based on seeing or writing letters or words backward or in reverse.[513][514]
  • There is no scientific evidence for the existence of "photographic" memory in adults (the ability to remember images with so high a precision as to mimic a camera),[515] but some young children have eidetic memory.[516] Many people have claimed to have a photographic memory, but those people have been shown to have good memories as a result of mnemonic devices rather than a natural capacity for detailed memory encoding.[517] There are rare cases of individuals with exceptional memory, but none of them has a memory that mimics that of a camera.
  • Schizophrenia is not split or multiple personality disorder—a split or multiple personality is dissociative identity disorder.[518] The term was coined from the Greek roots schizein and phrēn, "to split" and "mind", in reference to a "splitting of mental functions" seen in schizophrenia, not a splitting of the personality.[519]
  • All humans learn in fundamentally similar ways.[520] In particular, there is no evidence that people have different learning styles,[520] nor that catering teaching styles to purported learning styles improves information retention.[521]
  • The friendship paradox is the phenomenon first observed by the sociologist Scott L. Feld in 1991 that most people have fewer friends than their friends have, on average.[522] It can be explained as a form of sampling bias in which people with greater numbers of friends have an increased likelihood of being observed among one's own friends. In contradiction to this, most people believe that they have more friends than their friends have.[523]
  • On average you do not have qualities or abilities that are superior to other people. Illusory superiority is a condition of cognitive bias whereby a person overestimates their own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons.[524][525][526][527][528]
  • A common belief regarding self-harm is that it is an attention-seeking behaviour; in many cases, this is inaccurate. Many self-harmers are very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behaviour, leading them to go to great lengths to conceal their behaviour from others.[529] They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing.[530][531]


  • Toilet waste is never intentionally jettisoned from an aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks and emptied into toilet waste vehicles.[532] Blue ice is caused by accidental leakage from the waste tank. Passenger trains, on the other hand, have indeed historically flushed onto the tracks; modern trains usually have retention tanks on board and therefore do not dispose of waste in such a manner.
  • Automotive batteries stored on a concrete floor do not discharge any faster than they would on other surfaces,[533] in spite of worry among Americans that concrete harms batteries.[534] Early batteries might have been susceptible to moisture from floors due to leaky, porous cases, but for many years lead–acid car batteries have had impermeable polypropylene cases.[535] While most modern automotive batteries are sealed, and do not leak battery acid when properly stored and maintained,[536][537] the sulfuric acid in conventional "flooded" lead-acid batteries can leak out and stain, etch, or corrode concrete floors.[538][539]

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      • "Part of the process of becoming a mathematics writer is, it appears, learning that you cannot refer to the golden ratio without following the first mention by a phrase that goes something like 'which the ancient Greeks and others believed to have divine and mystical properties.' Almost as compulsive is the urge to add a second factoid along the lines of 'Leonardo Da Vinci believed that the human form displays the golden ratio.' There is not a shred of evidence to back up either claim, and every reason to assume they are both false. Yet both claims, along with various others in a similar vein, live on." Keith Devlin (May 2007). "The Myth That Will Not Go Away". Archived from the original on July 1, 2013. Retrieved April 10, 2013.
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        • "If the lift in figure A were caused by "Bernoulli principle," then the paper in figure B should droop further when air is blown beneath it. However, as shown, it raises when the upward pressure gradient in downward-curving flow adds to atmospheric pressure at the paper lower surface." Gale M. Craig PHYSICAL PRINCIPLES OF WINGED FLIGHT
        • "In fact, the pressure in the air blown out of the lungs is equal to that of the surrounding air..." Babinsky
        • "...air does not have a reduced lateral pressure (or static pressure...) simply because it is caused to move, the static pressure of free air does not decrease as the speed of the air increases, it misunderstanding Bernoulli's principle to suggest that this is what it tells us, and the behavior of the curved paper is explained by other reasoning than Bernoulli's principle." Peter Eastwell Bernoulli? Perhaps, but What About Viscosity? The Science Education Review, 6(1) 2007 PDF
        • "Make a strip of writing paper about 5 cm X 25 cm. Hold it in front of your lips so that it hangs out and down making a convex upward surface. When you blow across the top of the paper, it rises. Many books attribute this to the lowering of the air pressure on top solely to the Bernoulli effect. Now use your fingers to form the paper into a curve that it is slightly concave upward along its whole length and again blow along the top of this strip. The paper now bends often-cited experiment which is usually taken as demonstrating the common explanation of lift does not do so..." "Jef Raskin Coanda Effect: Understanding Why Wings Work".
        • "Blowing over a piece of paper does not demonstrate Bernoulli's equation. While it is true that a curved paper lifts when flow is applied on one side, this is not because air is moving at different speeds on the two sides... It is false to make a connection between the flow on the two sides of the paper using Bernoulli's equation." Holger Babinsky How Do Wings Work" Physics Education 38(6)
        • "An explanation based on Bernoulli's principle is not applicable to this situation, because this principle has nothing to say about the interaction of air masses having different speeds... Also, while Bernoulli's principle allows us to compare fluid speeds and pressures along a single streamline and... along two different streamlines that originate under identical fluid conditions, using Bernoulli's principle to compare the air above and below the curved paper in Figure 1 is nonsensical; in this case, there aren't any streamlines at all below the paper!" Peter Eastwell Bernoulli? Perhaps, but What About Viscosity? The Science Education Review 6(1) 2007
        • "The well-known demonstration of the phenomenon of lift by means of lifting a page cantilevered in one's hand by blowing horizontally along it is probably more a demonstration of the forces inherent in the Coanda effect than a demonstration of Bernoulli's law; for, here, an air jet issues from the mouth and attaches to a curved (and, in this case pliable) surface. The upper edge is a complicated vortex-laden mixing layer and the distant flow is quiescent, so that Bernoulli's law is hardly applicable." David Auerbach Why Aircreft Fly European Journal of Physics Vol 21 p 289
        • "Millions of children in science classes are being asked to blow over curved pieces of paper and observe that the paper "lifts"... They are then asked to believe that Bernoulli's theorem is responsible... Unfortunately, the "dynamic lift" not properly explained by Bernoulli's theorem." Norman F. Smith "Bernoulli and Newton in Fluid Mechanics" The Physics Teacher Nov 1972
        • "...if a streamline is curved, there must be a pressure gradient across the streamline, with the pressure increasing in the direction away from the centre of curvature." Babinsky
        • Smith, Norman F (March 17, 2010). ""The curved paper turns the stream of air downward, and this action produces the lift reaction that lifts the paper." Norman F. Smith Bernoulli, Newton, and Dynamic Lift Part II School Science and Mathematics". School Science and Mathematics. 73 (4): 333. doi:10.1111/j.1949-8594.1973.tb09040.x.
        • "The curved surface of the tongue creates unequal air pressure and a lifting action. ... Lift is caused by air moving over a curved surface." AERONAUTICS An Educator's Guide with Activities in Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education by NASA p. 26
      • '"Demonstrations" of Bernoulli's principle are often given as demonstrations of the physics of lift. They are truly demonstrations of lift, but certainly not of Bernoulli's principle.' David F Anderson & Scott Eberhardt Understanding Flight p. 229
        • "As an example, take the misleading experiment most often used to "demonstrate" Bernoulli's principle. Hold a piece of paper so that it curves over your finger, then blow across the top. The paper will rise. However most people do not realize that the paper would NOT rise if it was flat, even though you are blowing air across the top of it at a furious rate. Bernoulli's principle does not apply directly in this case. This is because the air on the two sides of the paper did not start out from the same source. The air on the bottom is ambient air from the room, but the air on the top came from your mouth where you actually increased its speed without decreasing its pressure by forcing it out of your mouth. As a result the air on both sides of the flat paper actually has the same pressure, even though the air on the top is moving faster. The reason that a curved piece of paper does rise is that the air from your mouth speeds up even more as it follows the curve of the paper, which in turn lowers the pressure according to Bernoulli." From The Aeronautics File By Max Feil
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