Nobody has the time to look into everything, so people often have to take some things which we know are common knowledge for granted. Unfortunately, not every bit of information you pick up along the way is factual. Read on to have 10 of your beliefs disproved.
Myth #1 – Chimps have more hair than humans
If you put a picture of a chimp next to one of a human, you would be forgiven for thinking that the chimp is much hairier. However, that’s not the case. Humans have between two and five million hair follicles spread around their bodies, which is about the same number as other primates. Our hair is just much less coarse and less visible. While primates are furred, humans have two types of hair: terminal and vellus hair. Terminal hair makes up the hair on our heads and in our armpits and pubic area, and vellus hair is found everywhere else. Vellus hair is much finer, shorter, and lighter than terminal hair, and is not connected to any glands below the skin. No one knows for sure why we have evolved this way, but it’s likely that, when our ancestors moved out of the shady forests and onto the hot savannah, they grew this type of hair as a way to protect their brains while keeping their bodies cool — through sweating — as they hunted and foraged in the sun.
Myth #2 – The Earth revolves around the Sun
Strictly speaking, the Earth is revolving around the solar system’s center of mass, also known as its barycenter. This is the balancing point around which the combined mass of every object in the solar system is evenly distributed. Due to the planets’ constant motion, this point is always shifting. Because the Sun has over 99% of the solar system’s total mass, the barycenter of the solar system is located near its surface, and sometimes within the Sun itself. But when the barycenter is outside the Sun, our planet is just orbiting an empty spot in space.
Myth #3 – A wet phone should be put in rice
Believing that rice will dry a wet phone is perfectly reasonable — after all, rice is known to absorb moisture. However, despite what you may have heard, experiments have shown that not only will rice not help, it probably will work more slowly than fresh air. In fact, rice may even do more harm than good; grains can get stuck in headphone jacks or charging ports, and the starch in the rice may even speed up the corrosion process. Instead, just leave the phone out to dry in an area with some airflow, or, if you don’t want to wait a week or two, you can try using things like silica gel packets or vacuum bags.
Myth #4 – Widening highways helps traffic
When you’re stuck in traffic, it’s easy to imagine how much faster you might be able to go if only someone had had the foresight to add more lanes to the highway you’re on. But research shows that widening a highway often just leads to worse traffic problems, thanks to a phenomenon known as “induced demand,” which describes how an increase in supply results in a decline in price and, therefore, an increase in consumption. In the case of roadways, adding capacity decreases travel time, which lowers the “price” of driving and results in more miles being traveled because people who currently aren’t using a car decide to drive. So the new lanes fill up very quickly and traffic chokes up, again.
A great example of this effect is the Katy Freeway in Houston. In 2011, this highway was widened to a massive 23 lanes, making it the widest in the world, but travel times have actually increased during the morning and evening commutes by 30 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
Myth #5 – Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain
At 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) from its base to its peak (plus or minus 6.5 feet/2 meters), Mount Everest is generally considered to be the world’s highest mountain. But that depends on your definition of “highest.”
If you define highest as “closest to the moon,” the honor must go to Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. The thing is, the Earth is not a round sphere, it bulges in the middle, much like one of those ergonomic ball chairs when someone is sitting on it. From base to peak, Chimborazo is 20,548 feet (6,263 meters). But it also sits on a bump on a bigger part of the Earth’s bulge than Everest, meaning that it’s actually 35,826 feet (10,920 meters) from the center of the Earth.
And if you define “highest” as the tallest mountain from base to peak, then the award for “highest mountain” must go to Hawaii’s Mauna Kea: it measures over 32,808 feet (10,000 meters) from its base in the Pacific Ocean to its peak, which is almost a mile taller than Everest.
Myth #6 – There is zero gravity in space
We’re all familiar with footage of astronauts floating around the space station, so it’s easy to believe that there is no gravity up there. But gravity exists everywhere in the universe — without it, everything would simply fly apart and cease to exist. The reason astronauts on the space station look weightless is because both the space station and the astronauts are in a continuous state of free fall toward the earth. Because objects of any mass fall at the same speed, the space station, and the astronauts fall together, creating the illusion of zero gravity. Luckily, though they keep falling, they never actually fall to the Earth because the space station is traveling at around 17,150 miles (27,600 km) per hour, keeping it and the astronauts in orbit.
Myth #7 – Water conducts electricity
While it may be true that dropping a toaster in your bath will not end well for you, the fact is that pure, distilled water is a bad conductor of electricity because its molecules do not have free electrons to transfer electrical current. Pure water consists of an oxygen molecule that is chemically bonded to two hydrogen molecules. Oxygen has six electrons in its outer reactive shell and room for two more, and hydrogen atoms have one electron each, meaning that a perfect chemical bond forms.
Water is, however, a superlative solvent; the free ions from impurities like salts and minerals dissolved in the water enable it to conduct electricity. Interestingly, when water contains a large amount of these ions, it conducts electricity so well that the electricity will ignore less efficient conductors — like human bodies — and stick to the better pathway; the multitude of ions in the water.
Myth #8 – There are seven colors in the rainbow
ROY G BIV is a lie that goes back to Sir Isaac Newton and his superstitious beliefs. Unlike his contemporaries, Newton believed that clear, white sunlight was made up of all the colors of the spectrum. He proved this in the 1660s in a series of experiments that refracted sunlight through a prism, breaking it into smaller wavelengths. Initially, Newton saw only five colors. But he believed in the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras’ vision of a harmonious universe in which the number 7 was a magical number that connected all kinds of natural phenomena, from the heavenly bodies (seven of which were known at the time) to the musical scale. Therefore, when Newton published his original color wheel in 1704, he added orange and indigo to the colors he had already identified.
That said, what we call color is perceived by our minds. The light spectrum contains a continuous distribution — and therefore an infinite number — of colors, and the colors we see depend on how much each of the cone-shaped photoreceptors in our eyes, which see red, green, and blue, is stimulated. So the colors of the rainbow may be different for everyone.
Myth #9 – The QWERTY keyboard was designed to keep keys from jamming
Unlike what you might have heard, the QWERTY keyboard probably did not end up with its current layout because the inventor was trying to make sure the mechanical keys on his typewriter wouldn’t jam, by placing the most frequently used letters as far apart as possible. Instead, according to Kyoto University historians Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka, it owes its current layout to 19th-century American Morse Code. This is because, when the layout of the keyboard was being designed, the primary users of typewriters were telegraph operators who needed to transcribe messages written in Morse code as quickly as possible, so the letters they used the most were put where they could get at them most easily.
Myth #10 – Bagpipes are Scottish
No, they’re not. Although the bagpipes may now be synonymous with the Scottish Highlands, they probably originated much farther East. Ancient references to bagpipes have been found in both Turkey and Egypt. A possible sculpture of bagpipes, dated to 1000 BC, was found on a Hittite slab at Euyuk in Anatolia. A more substantial link pointing to early Egyptian bagpipes made of dog skin and bone has been documented by the fifth century BCE Greek playwright Aristophanes in his work “The Acharnians,” in which he writes, “You pipers who are here from Thebes, with bone pipes blow the posterior of a dog.”
However, the first notable enthusiast was the Roman Emperor Nero, who even had a coin minted showing himself playing the bagpipes. He used to play them to inspire his troops before battle. Several theories exist as to how the bagpipe reached Scotland from its original birthplace, but one of the most popular (and plausible) ones is that the Romans brought it with them when they conquered Britain.