(Updated on March 26, 2021) We humans love trivia. In fact, here are a few fun facts for you: Three out of five people are likely to share a piece of trivia they found on their social media feed. One in three will find some way to bring it up in a future conversation. Only 13 out of 27 will take the time to check whether the unbelievable fact they just read was actually too good to be true.
Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out already, those are all just a bunch of phony statistics I made up on the fly.
Still, it’s not so farfetched to think that if there’s one thing people like more than getting smarter, it’s looking smarter. More often than not, the easiest way to accomplish this is to drop a random, out-of-this-world, hyper-specific science fact designed to leave everyone else in awe.
Unfortunately, this also means that a lot of so-called “facts” get passed around without even the slightest bit of fact-checking involved. And as they get repeated ad nauseam, the line between fact and fiction blurs faster than you can say “fake news!”
Here are five of the many, many bits of “science trivia” that don’t quite hold up when actual science — or sometimes, even just common sense — enters the picture.
Myth #1: You only use ten percent of your brain.
Fact: There are many ways to disprove this longstanding myth. In fact, neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein laid out seven. Bottom line: We use 100% of our brains… and perhaps the easiest way to prove this is from a practical standpoint.
Think about it. Exactly what are we referring to when we say “ten percent”? Are we talking about a physical region of the brain? If so, then what’s the point of leaving 90 percent unused? Evolution-wise, it would make absolutely no sense for our brains to be this big. In fact, the brain consumes about a fifth of our body’s energy, despite making up only two percent of the human body’s weight. Or are we assuming that our neurons stop receiving signals from other neurons when we hit that “ten percent” quota?
Furthermore, there is no existing study or research that supports this silly idea. Besides, if that truly were the case, then any brain damage or head trauma that doesn’t hit that magical “ten percent” area shouldn’t hinder one’s mental performance.
Myth #2: It takes seven years to digest bubblegum.
Fact: Nope. In fact, you’ll just poop it straight out. Seriously.
It’s true that today’s gum uses synthetic polymers. However, things that are smaller than 2 cm in diameter usually pass right out of the digestive system safely. That myth was just cooked up by your parents to stop your younger self from swallowing gum, and with good reason. While that chewed-up wad of gum won’t take up semi-permanent residence in your gut, it can certainly be a choking hazard, both for kids and adults.
Myth #3: Goldfish have a three-second memory span.
Fact: Research shows that contrary to popular belief, the memory of a goldfish lasts beyond a few seconds. In fact, an experiment showed that they’re capable of remembering things for as long as five months!
If you own some of these shimmering swimmers yourself, you’ve probably noticed how they tend to come to the glass of their tank when you walk into the room. What they’re exhibiting is actually associative learning. Your pets have come to associate human presence with mealtime, and so they’ll come closer in anticipation of some yummy goldfish grub. The fact that commercially available goldfish chow doesn’t even look like anything they’d eat in the wild is proof of this.
In other words, it’s time to stop believing a myth that a fifteen-year-old boy managed to disprove with a simple experiment.
Myth #4: The color red makes bulls angry.
Fact: Red alert: This is absolutely false. It’s not the red cape (or muleta) that a matador wears which makes his horned nemesis charge in a bullfight. Rather, it’s the way the cape moves that enrages the bull. It’s been shown that bulls will charge at a moving cape regardless of its color; red just happens to be the preferred color for muletas because it helps hide blood (either the matador’s or the bull’s) a lot easier.
Still not convinced? How about this: Just like other types of cattle, bulls are color-blind to red (and green).
Myth #5: Bats are blind.
Fact: You’ve probably heard the phrase “blind as a bat,” usually to insult someone else’s supposedly poor eyesight. The truth, however, is that out of the roughly 1,300 known species of bats, not a single one of them is completely blind.
In reality, different species of bats have different levels of visual acuity. Some of the really small bats (microbats) tend to have poorly developed eyesight. On the other hand, larger bats (megabats) have far better eyesight; in fact, some of them can see three times better than we can. As for echolocation (the ability to determine an object’s position through sound waves and echoes), many bat species use it in tandem with actual vision to hunt for food, especially in dark caves.
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.