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Thread: Myth busts

  1. #1
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Myth busts

    Here is a thread for people to post busts of urban legends which are not supported (or conclusively disproved) by science. Busts of religious beliefs will be vigorously split into another thread.

    Posted items may or may not have appeared on the television program with a similar name.


    Daddy-longlegs

    There is an urban legend that the venom of the "daddy-longlegs" spider (AKA Cellar or House Spider - Pholcus phalangioides) is the most poisonous known. However the fangs of the daddy-longlegs are too small to penetrate human skin.

    This was exposed on Mythbusters, although I did not see the show, but it seemed they concentrated on the length of the fangs myth. Their finding was that the 0.25 mm fang was long enough to pierce human skin 0.1 mm (I assume they mean the epidermis as the dermis which is also part of the skin carries blood vessels so from a poison delivery perspective piercing the epidermis is all that is required). It's worth noting that the epidermis thickness varies considerably over the body and can be over 1 mm thick in some areas and only 0.05 mm in others.

    The other part of the myth is that the venom is particularly effective. There doesn't seem to be much evidence for this either. Studies on the effectiveness of the venom on insects (the usual prey for the spider) indicates that it is relatively weak. I don't know of any studies on mammals but its reported that the bites induced on Mythbusters only caused a mild irritation.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

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    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Good thread, RW.

    Yeah, people could find heaps on Mythbusters.

    Some others:

    • The Bernoulli effect is the main cause of lift in aeroplanes.
    • The Coriolis Effect causes water to spiral down plugholes in the opposite direction here than in the Northern Hemisphere.
    • Old windowpanes are thicker at the bottom because glass is really a super-viscous liquid that flows extremely slowly under gravity.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

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    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    My all time favourite:

    Lemming mass suicide

    Lemmings do not commit mass suicide by throwing themselves off cliffs. This myth was created as a result of misunderstanding of occasional accidental deaths during migrations and perpetuated by a dodgy Disney documentary.

    Another, that I find quite irritating (especially when used by green alarmists), is the "boiling frog" claim that if you put a frog in water and very gradually boil the water, the frog will not notice, make no attempt to escape, and eventually allow itself to be cooked.

    There are some (inadequately documented) 19th-century experiments that claim to have demonstrated the boiling frog theory but more recent experiments, albeit at faster rates of heating, show that the frog jumps out, and pretty much any frog expert asked about the theory insists it is rubbish. In this case the Wikipedia entry is currently more comprehensive than the Snopes one.

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    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    See A poem written on learning that Shakespeare and Cervantes both died on the same day by Ray Bradbury.

    This is also a myth although perhaps not a widely held one. Although both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on 23 April, 1616, they did not actually die on the same day, or indeed even in the same week. The reason is that Spain adopted the Gregorian reformed calendar in 1582 and thus they were on the modern reckoning. However the UK did not accept the reforms until 1752. The effect of the calendar differences means that Shakespeare survived Cervantes by 10 days.

    -----

    The other myth about Shakespeare is that he was also born on the 23rd April (the same as the date of his death). This may be true but it is not known for sure. What is known is that he was baptised on the 26th April.

    The Book of Common Prayer stipulates that babies should be baptised on the first Sunday or feast day after the birth unless there is a good reason not to do so. In that case, and had Shakespeare been born on the 23rd, then by rights he should have been baptised on the 25th. But perhaps his parents had a good excuse.

    So the Shakespeare birthday myth is not busted but it is far from proven true as well. We can say that it is likely that he was born very close to the same date as that of his death. But no one really knows for sure.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind
    This is also a myth although perhaps not a widely held one. Although both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on 23 April, 1616, they did not actually die on the same day, or indeed even in the same week. The reason is that Spain adopted the Gregorian reformed calendar in 1582 and thus they were on the modern reckoning. However the UK did not accept the reforms until 1752. The effect of the calendar differences means that Shakespeare survived Cervantes by 10 days.
    I have used this as the basis for a trivia question: Shakespeare and Cervantes both died on 23 April 1616. Approximately how many hours separated their deaths?

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    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pappubahry
    I have used this as the basis for a trivia question: Shakespeare and Cervantes both died on 23 April 1616. Approximately how many hours separated their deaths?
    What do you accept as an answer? Anything in the range 216--264?
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

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    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Yet J.F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley really did die on the same day, 22 November 1963.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind
    What do you accept as an answer? Anything in the range 216--264?
    "Within, say, ten percent. No, I'll give you twenty percent."

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    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Here is a interesting snopes entry. I have never heard this story before...

    Chess player's head explodes

    http://www.snopes.com/humor/iftrue/chess.asp

    Sadly the claim is false.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  10. #10
    CC Grandmaster antichrist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind
    Here is a interesting snopes entry. I have never heard this story before...

    Chess player's head explodes

    http://www.snopes.com/humor/iftrue/chess.asp

    Sadly the claim is false.
    I wonder what opening he used and if it had anything to do with it?

    It could be renamed the head-splitter
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    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by antichrist
    I wonder what opening he used and if it had anything to do with it?
    Probably the French.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  12. #12
    CC International Master ElevatorEscapee's Avatar
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    Hi Rincewind, I'm surprised you'd never heard of the "exploding chess player's head" myth
    before... that was quite popular in the late 1990s when the Internet was just spreading its
    wings. (I remember a certain local chess club member bringing a printout of the story into the
    Club and swearing until he was blue in the face it was true!)

    [Another prankster, inspired by a newspaper story that chessplayers may need to provide urine
    samples for drug testing, brought in a jar of apple juice and warmed it up to body temperature in
    the microwave. He stickytaped the newspaper clipping to it, and left it anonymously beside the
    board of a club member who happened to be a medical doctor - but I digress.]

    My other two favourite disproved urban myths are:

    i) A duck's quack is the only sound that doesn't echo... apparently, the sound does echo, it's
    just that ducks don't quack very often in echo friendly locations when people are around to hear
    them... if a duck quacks on a mountain, and no one is around to hear it echo, then did it
    really echo
    ?

    ii) Bobby McFerrin, the singer/songwriter of the very emotionally positive and uplifting song
    "Don't worry be happy", (remember that song? it was a big hit in 1988!), wound up commiting
    suicide.
    The truth is that he's actually still alive, kicking and singing!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Mcferrin
    http://leeannkhoh.suite101.com/celeb...deaths-a130266
    Last edited by ElevatorEscapee; 20-12-2011 at 08:06 PM.
    "On my chess set, all the pawns are Hamburglers" ~ Homer Simpson.

  13. #13
    Monster of the deep Kevin Bonham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ElevatorEscapee
    ii) Bobby McFerrin, the singer/songwriter of the very emotionally positive and uplifting song

    "Don't worry be happy", (remember that song? it was a big hit in 1988!), wound up commiting

    suicide.
    I encountered that one in a variant in which he had shot himself in a suicide attempt and lived. Fairly sure this (also false) was reported as news in the local rag sometime in the early 90s.

  14. #14
    CC Grandmaster Redmond Barry's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Bonham
    I encountered that one in a variant in which he had shot himself in a suicide attempt and lived. Fairly sure this (also false) was reported as news in the local rag sometime in the early 90s.
    yeah that did the rounds in w.a. as well.
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    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Myth: Phineas Gage had a radical personality change, becoming a psycopath after he survived a tamping iron going right through his skull. In reality, the reports are very inreliable, and he managed to work at the very demanding and high-skilled job of stagecoach driver. He survived almost 12 years after a lot of his left frontal lobe was destroyed. See Phineas Gage—Unravelling the myth, The Psychologist 21:828–831, September 2008, from the British Psychological Society.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

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