January 7, 2014
Is Anything True? (Part Two)
Previously in Part One I talked about how half of all that humans now think we know will be proved to be false in ten years’ time. This is known to academics as ‘the half-life of facts.’ A lot of this, of course, is accounted for by complex scientific theory. Here, though, I am more concerned with myth-busting, and making sure that people don’t make fools of themselves at parties, like I have, by passing around ‘interesting’ facts which are in fact completely untrue.
I previously talked about historical myths, such as the belief that Vikings wore helmets with horns or that the US almost spoke German but for a few votes. Now, I am going to look at a few science and nature myths.
People like to talk about how sharks don’t get cancer. This fact is usually popular with men who already think sharks are totally awesome as big, scary killing machines, and the ‘fact’ that they are not victims of a horrible disease that humans are terrified of makes them even more macho. Sadly, though, especially for the sharks, they do get cancer. The incidence is lower than it is among humans, but sharks can fall victim to cancer nonetheless.
Moving momentarily away from animals, but sticking with the theme of death, in case anyone was feeling too cheerful, the belief that our hair and nails continue to grow after we die is misguided. Our hair and nails appear longer, but only because our skin begins to contract and recede, making hair and nails appear longer. They haven’t in fact grown, though.
One anti-death myth correction that will be pleasing, particularly to anyone planning to visit New York anytime soon, is that people cannot be killed by a coin falling from the Empire State Building. Coins are too light to gather much speed in the face of resistance, and their velocity would be further reduced because they would tumble unevenly. Unless there is a vicious fight over the coin at the bottom, it is highly unlikely that anyone would die as a result of a coin falling from the Empire State Building.
Okay, back to animals. The idea that pet fish have short memories is, it seems, only around in order to help us feel better about putting them in tiny bowls and tanks with only a plastic castle for company. Researchers from the Institute of Technology in Israel trained fish to associate certain sound signals with receiving food, and come to be fed upon hearing it. They responded in the same way five months later.
Here are two quick facts relating to slightly wilder animals: chameleons don’t usually change color in order to blend into their environment. The primary reasons for changing color are to regulate temperature and attract other chameleons. Bats are not blind: They can’t see in color, but they see better at night than we do, and use echolocation simultaneously, not exclusively.
I would assume that nobody has tried the chat up line “Were you, I wonder, aware that bats are blind?” at a party, but I hope these articles have been useful in correcting some mistaken elements of common knowledge, as well as a few ‘did you know?’ facts.
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