Rabu, 16 Maret 2011

Top 10 Fascinating Facts That Are Wrong

This is a list of facts and anecdotes that have a science-related slant. They are items of trivia that people all seem to know and share whenever the opportunity arises. But, at the List Universe we like to get our facts straight – and the items on this list are all dead wrong! Enjoy our thorough debunking of some of the silliest facts attributed to science.
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False Fact: A scientific study on peanuts in bars found traces of over 100 unique specimens of urine.
After rigorous searching for more information, it turns out that no scientific study (or non-scientific study for that matter) has ever been conducted in to peanuts at bars. However, there was a study in ice-cubes in UK bars in 2003 which discovered that 44% of ice cubes tested contained coliform bacteria – bacteria that comes from human poop. Even more shockingly, 5% were infected with the potentially deadly E. Coli bacteria. I guess that proves that they aren’t making their ice cubes from bottled water. So, next time you are in London, pass on the ice and enjoy some peanuts instead.

Elevator Freefall
Elevator Shaft View
False Fact: Elevators have killed or can kill when their cable snapped
There is a small element of truth to this “fact” – but we will get to that soon. Firstly, elevators usually have a minimum of four operating cables, as well as an inbuilt braking system and a backup braking system in the shaft which forces a wedge into the shaft to prevent too rapid a drop. If the cables were all to snap (and believe me, elevator cables are strong), the cars braking system would detect the free fall and automatically apply. If that also fails, the shaft’s braking system takes over. Now, the small element of truth I mentioned earlier is that there has been one recorded account of a complete elevator free fall; it was caused by an airplane which crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. The crash caused the cables in the elevator to be weakened – ultimately leading to them breaking. The person riding the lift (Betty Lou Oliver) survived the 75 floor free fall because of air pressure beneath the car.

Folding Paper
False Fact: You can’t fold a piece of paper in half more than 7 times
This is one we all hear regularly – and we believe it because it is true when we tried it. But, in 2002 a US high school student Britney Gallivan proved it wrong by folding a piece of thin gold leaf more than 7 times with the use of tweezers. To further prove that it could be done, she bought a giant roll of toilet paper on the internet and her and her family took it to the local mall where they attempted to fold it more than 7 times. Seven hours of folding later, they had it folded into 12 folds.
Jumping Elephants
False Fact: Elephants are the only mammal that can’t jump
First of all, just so you know, it is true that adult elephants can’t jump – if by jumping we mean the state of having no feet on the ground at the same time after propelling oneself from a stationary position. But contrary to the popular myth that it is is the only mammal that can’t, it is joined by a few others. Firstly, the sloth is unable to jump which suits its lazy lifestyle rather well. Also, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses also cannot jump, though unlike elephants, when they run it is possible for them to have all four feet off the ground.
Old Dogs
False Fact: One dog year is equal to seven human years
This bogus fact is usually worked out so that a dog life is equal to a human life in total years, but the numbers just don’t add up. The average human life expectancy is 78, while the average dog life expectancy (in false dog years) would equal around 90 years. Furthermore, different dog breeds have dramatically different life expectancies, ranging from a short 6 years to 13 or more years (in general, the smaller the dog, the longer its life expectancy). Furthermore, dogs have a very short “childhood” and a very long middle-age, making the comparison completely invalid.

Offer To Buy
Shopping Freundinnen2 568 01
False Fact: If someone wrongly advertises goods for the wrong price, they have to sell it to you at that price
This is a very popular misconception and I have even seen people arguing about it in a shop. But the reality is a little more bland. A shop price is an “invitation to bargain” not an “invitation to buy”. This is true in the United States, United Kingdom, Commonwealth nations, and probably the rest of the Western world. If a shop makes a mistake, they can simply continue to sell the goods at the normal price. Attempts to defraud by advertising lower prices are caught in other consumer laws. However, it should be noted that if an electronic transaction is completed you may be eligible to keep the goods if a mistake is made.
Space Dust
False Fact: NASA invented the DustBuster
First of all, how do you vacuum in a vacuum? You don’t, so why would NASA need a vacuum cleaner for its space missions? It didn’t, but what it did need was a small battery powered drill, so they teemed up with Black and Decker to come up with the perfect device. Once the device had been realized, Black and Decker were left with great technology from which they eventually developed the DustBuster and other useful home devices.
Polar Bears
792Px-Polar Bear 2004-11-15
False Fact: Polar Bears are left handed
Where this myth came from is now lost in the dark recesses of history. The widespread of this misnomer is quite extraordinary with more google results announcing it as gospel than not. But in reality, scientists who have spent their working lives studying polar bears have found that they are actually ambidextrous (they use both hands equally well). It is possible that the myth was started when people observed the bears working well with their left hands, but they neglected to notice that they also worked well with their right.
McDonald’s Wars
800Px-Mcdonald's In Moscow, 2008
False Fact: No two countries with McDonald’s franchises have ever gone to war.
This theory was proposed by Thomas Friedman and became massively popular all around the world. It was used to show that countries loving democracy (those most likely to have a McDonald’s franchise) have lived peacefully together due to the merits of that political system (this is also called the Democratic Peace Theory and the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Resolution). Friedman proposed it in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree. So, is it true? No. Georgia and Russia were recently at war with each other and both have McDonald’s. Furthermore, Israel and Lebanon also defy the theory for their conflict in 2006, and right after the book was published, NATO bombed Serbia – again disproving the idea.
The Great Wall
Great Wall
False Fact: The Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure visible from space.
Well this is wrong on many levels. Firstly, while you are still close enough to earth to actually see the great wall, you can also see road networks, and other large objects created by man. There is, in fact, no distance from earth in which you can only see the great wall. By the time you get a few thousand miles away, you can see nothing manmade. Astronaut Alan Bean said:
“The only thing you can see from the moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white (clouds), some blue (ocean), patches of yellow (deserts), and every once in a while some green vegetation. No man-made object is visible on this scale. In fact, when first leaving earth’s orbit and only a few thousand miles away, no man-made object is visible at that point either.”

Source here

Kamis, 10 Maret 2011

Top 10 Common Misconceptions

Following the popularity of our historical misconceptions, we offer you another list – top 10 common misconceptions. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

10. Napoleon was unusually short Napoleon
Much of the reason for the rumours that Napoleon was a short man (and thus had to compensate by invading countries and becoming ruler of Europe) comes from the confusion between old French feet and Imperial (British) feet. Measured shortly after his death in 1821, Napoleon was recorded at 5ft 2in in French feet, which corresponds to 5ft 6.5in in Imperial feet, or 1.69m. This makes him slightly taller than the average Frenchman of the 19th century. Napoleon’s nickname of ‘le petit caporal’ has also perpetuated the rumour, with non-francophones interpreting ‘petit’ to refer to his height, when it was actually a term of affection referring to his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers.

9. Danish Pastries come from Denmark
Arguably the world’s most misleadingly named food, Danish pastries actually originated in Austria, inspired by Turkish baklava. Their name comes from Danish chef L.C. Klitteng who popularized them in Western Europe and the United States in the early 20th century, including baking it for the wedding of US President Woodrow Wilson in 1915. In Denmark and much of Scandinavia, Danish pastries are called ‘Viennese Bread.’
During the Islamic cartoon controversy of 2006, Danish pastries were renamed ‘Roses of the Prophet Muhammad’ in Iran, due to its association with the offending country.

8. Meteorites are hot when they hit Earth Meteorite
We’ve all seen the cartoons where a meteor falls to Earth (at which point it becomes a meteorite) with a red-hot tinge and smoke blowing off it in all directions. In truth, small meteorites are cold when they hit Earth – in fact many are found with frost on them. A meteorite has been in the near–absolute zero temperature of space for billions of years, so the interior of it is very cold. A meteor’s great speed is enough to melt its outside layer, but any molten material will be quickly blown off, and the interior of the meteor does not have time to heat up because rocks are poor conductors of heat. Also, atmospheric drag can slow small meteors to terminal velocity by the time they hit the ground, giving them time to cool down.
7. Water spins in different directions
Another bane of cartoons. Toilet water does NOT spin in a given direction due to being in a particular hemisphere of the Earth. That phenomenon only occurs in weather patterns of hundreds of miles in size like hurricanes, due to the rotation of the Earth. So there.
6. Bats are blind
A common misconception perpetuated by its use in metaphors and similes (see also 5), bats actually have fairly normal eyesight, although they are very photosensitive and often dazzled by excessive light. However, bats do often use echolocation in situations where their eyesight fails them, such as times of darkness.

5. Chameleons change colour to match their surroundings Chameleon
An interesting and fun idea, sure, but simply not true. While chameleons can be perceived to change their colour to match their background, a chameleon’s colour change is actually the expression of the physical and physiological condition of the lizard. Chameleon’s are already naturally camouflaged to match their surroundings, and change their colours depending on their mood, and sometimes a sign of communication. A chameleon that is frightened, for example, will turn black.
4. A duck’s quack doesn’t echo
Sounds ludicrous right? Well this rumour somehow worked up a cult following on the Internet who protested its factuality with an almost religious fervour. It got to the point that a respected scientist actually decided to take valuable time out of his day, when he could be curing cancer or something else unimportant, to test this theory. Trevor Cox, of the University of Salford, England, confirmed what all us logical people knew all along – a duck’s quack DOES echo.
He placed a duck in a reverberation chamber and tested its quack. Sure enough he concluded that a duck’s quack does echo, though the sound that comes back is very soft due to the fading nature of the actual quack. Hooray for science.
3. Hitler was an atheist
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“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”
– Adolf Hitler, Berlin, 1933
Christianity – a religion of peace and tolerance that preaches moral values and love for one’s enemies. Well clearly, from a historical perspective, this has certainly not always been the case, although it’s not so much the religion’s fault as the people who attempt to follow it. With over a billion worldwide adherents, is it really probable that everyone who considers themselves a Christian is a pious, holy and moral human being?
One of the most damning criticisms of Hitler and of atheism in general is that Hitler, as an atheist had no morals and thus could kill freely without care or feeling. Well Hitler was certainly not an atheist; he was born a Roman Catholic, although how religious he actually was is debatable. It is clear though that Hitler was an evil man, and that his religion was irrelevant to his malevolent personality.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote fondly of his experiences in Church festivals, and as leader of the Nazi party made many references to the glory of Christianity in his speeches. Including making references to Jesus’ death at the hand of the Jews in an attempt to rile up anti-Semitic sentiment in his mostly religious audiences. He adopted many aspects of Catholic hierarchy, liturgy and symbolism, though he was very critical of Catholicism in private. In fact, Hitler favoured Protestantism, due to it being open to interpretation. He also ridiculed occultism and neo-Paganism that was relatively popular in Germany at the time.
Strangely enough, Hitler greatly admired the Muslim faith and tradition saying, “the Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
2. Humans evolved from monkeys
One of the most common misconceptions about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is that Darwin claimed we evolved from chimpanzees. Darwin never actually said this, nor will any respectable biologist. This myth was actually spread by religious zealots during the 19th century in order to try and discredit Darwin and promote anti-evolutionism among the religious. Humans and chimpanzees are actually cousins (we share about 94% of our DNA with them) and both evolved from a common ancestor, thought to be Sahelanthropus tchadensis, around 7 million years ago.
1. “Just Desserts”
‘Just desserts’? Does that even make sense in context? The correct phrase is actually ‘just deserts’, and don’t worry if you didn’t know that because you’re not alone, and the chances are that someone much more intelligent than you didn’t know it either. The reason for this misunderstanding comes from the rarely used noun form of the verb ‘to deserve’; something which is deserved is a ‘desert’ (pronounced dessert). It’s hard to tell when the usurpation of the original word was made, but it probably had something to do with witty restaurateurs naming their businesses ‘Just Desserts’ as a pun, and the phrase catching on as the original is forgotten.

Source here

Selasa, 08 Maret 2011

Top 10 Myths About Dinosaurs

This list explores some of the popular misconceptions about dinosaurs; about how much we actually know about them, and about how well the evidence supports some of our most cherished beliefs concerning dinosaurs.
1. Myth One
The Myth: Humans lived alongside dinosaurs
Dinosaurs and people coexist only in books, movies and cartoons. The last dinosaurs – other than birds – died out dramatically about 65 million years ago, while the fossils of our earliest human ancestors are only about 6 million years old.

2. Myth Two
The Myth: Mammals only evolved after dinosaurs died out
Tiny mammals lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs for more than 150 million years, occupying ecological niches as small, nocturnal animals weighing as little as 2 grams. The ancestors of mammals, animals called synapsids, actually appeared before dinosaurs.
Mammals remained relatively small until 65 million years ago, when the demise of the dinosaurs left a mass of niches for larger mammals to fill. Most of the types of mammals we know today evolved after this time.
3. Myth Three
The Myth: Dinosaurs died out because mammals ate their eggs
Dinosaurs coexisted with mammals for 150 million years. Although dinosaur nests were undoubtedly vulnerable, the most dangerous predators were probably smaller dinosaurs. Most mammals of the time were probably too small to eat the eggs of large dinosaurs.
4. Myth Four
The Myth: An asteroid impact alone killed the dinosaurs
A layer of iridium-rich rock marks the impact 65 million years ago of a 10-kilometre asteroid in shallow water covering what is now Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. That impact formed the 180 kilometre-wide Chicxulub crater. There is no convincing evidence that any non-avian dinosaurs survived the aftermath of the impact. Yet we are still not totally sure how the dinosaurs died.
The impact itself could only have killed the dinosaurs in the immediate vicinity of the crater. But it also produced devastating after-effects including giant tsunamis, rain that may have been as acidic as battery acid, and clouds of dust that darkened and cooled the globe for months or even decades.
Another theory suggests that before the impact, dinosaurs were already dwindling as falling sea levels and volcanic eruptions took their toll. A combination of those effects probably wiped out the dinosaurs.

5. Myth Five Dino01
The Myth: Dinosaurs died out because they were unsuccessful in evolutionary terms
Dinosaurs survived for more than 150 million years, so they cannot be considered unsuccessful. Hominids have lived for only 6 million years, and Homo sapiens date back no more than 200,000 years. Dinosaurs out-competed other animals of their era, but they lost the battle to survive the effects of the asteroid impact.

6. Myth Six
The Myth: All dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago
Birds evolved about 150 million years ago. Most experts believe they evolved from small predatory dinosaurs, which would classify them as dinosaurs according to modern methods of grouping animals. These avian dinosaurs probably suffered some losses after the asteroid impact, but they soon rebounded.
7. Myth Seven
The Myth: Dinosaurs were slow and sluggish animals
Early paleontologists thought dinosaurs must have been slow and sluggish to have lost the “evolutionary race” to birds and mammals. Modern studies find no sign that they were laggards, lazily dragging their tails behind them.
Most dinosaurs were probably as mobile as large, modern mammals. Like lions, meat-eating dinosaurs were active predators that probably lay down and rested after eating their fill.
One study in 2000 of an exceptionally well-preserved hadrosaur fossil, found in a South Dakota riverbed, suggested that dinosaurs had powerful hearts more like those of birds or mammals than modern reptiles. Researchers argue that the fossilized, four-chambered heart points to an active, bird-like metabolism.

8. Myth Eight Dimetrodon
The Myth: All large land reptiles from prehistoric times were dinosaurs
Terrestrial reptiles reached 5 metres in length before the first dinosaurs evolved 230 million years ago. Some – such as sail-backed Dimetrodon, which flourished in North America during the Permian period (290 to 240 million years ago) – were related to dinosaurs, but were not true dinosaurs.
9. Myth Nine
The Myth: Marine reptiles – for example, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs – were dinosaurs
Several types of marine reptiles evolved during the dinosaur age, but all true dinosaurs were terrestrial animals. Marine crocodiles, like other crocodiles, were closely related to the dinosaurs and so were large, extinct marine reptiles called plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs.
10. Myth Ten Pterosaur Big Old
The Myth: Flying reptiles were dinosaurs
Flying reptiles called pterosaurs first appeared just after the dinosaurs, and then died out at the same time as the dinosaurs. The largest grew to the size of a small airplane. However, while they were close relatives, they were not true dinosaurs.

Source here

10 More Common Misconceptions

I can not tell a lie: I love misconceptions lists – I love writing them almost as much as I love reading them. Therefore, I have put together a third list on the topic! Regular readers will know that we have already presented two such lists. They can be found here and here. Enjoy the list – and if you have any misconceptions of your own to debunk, feel free to do so in the comments!
Brain.Power Big
Common Misconception: Humans use only 10% of their brain
This is utterly false. No one really knows how this myth started – but what we do know is how it has been perpetuated for so long. When people first began making this false claim, psychics “decided” that this explained why some people had paranormal abilities and others didn’t: paranormal powers were unleashed in people who had developed the use of more than 10% of the brain. They believed that some region of the brain, if tapped, could provide psychic abilities. This certainly helped their bottom line as thousands of books have since come out aiming to “teach” people how to develop this power. So, the truth of the matter? Humans use 100% of their brain – that is why it is there! Here is a case in point: a hemispherectomy – this is the surgical procedure that removes an entire half of the brain. When this surgery is performed, the patient becomes paralyzed in half of their body.

Common Misconception: Shaving makes hair grow back thicker or coarser
The reason that so many people believe this is that uncut hair ends up developing a taper – or split ends – both of which feel softer than freshly cut hair. It is for this reason that a man’s beard feels soft, but stubble feels rough. Of course, if this myth were true, every man going bald would simply get a hair cut in order to make his hair grow back thicker – true also for women with thinning hair. It is surprising that so obvious a myth (when you really think about it) is believed by so many!

Penis Enlarging
Common Misconception: You can extend your penis or widen its girth with special devices or medications
This is patently untrue and the source of millions of spam emails sent around the world every day. Vacuum pumps, pills, stretching techniques: none of them make one iota of difference to the size of your manhood (and consequently the engine size of your car). The only way to enlarge your penis is to have enhancement surgery. This is, obviously, extremely expensive, extremely painful, and extremely gruesome – or so I am told!
MSG is Bad Bad Bad
Common Misconception: Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is evil and must be avoided at all costs
First off, MSG is a naturally occuring substance found in things like tomatoes, mushrooms, and seaweed. It was first isolated and presented in pure powder form in 1907 and 1909 respectively. MSG is a flavor enhancer that excites the fifth taste sense umami (the others being salt, sweet, sour, bitter). MSG is to umami, as sugar is to sweet. Another term for umami (and a relatively good description of it) is “savory”. When you add MSG to a bland soup or stock, it can greatly increase the flavor and add a roundness that can not be obtained elsewhere. Most fine chefs will use natural MSG when possible – through the inclusion of tomatoes or mushrooms, but many will also use the powder directly. It is a myth that MSG makes you ill – thanks to media scares around the world, people have an great horror of MSG, but those self-same people have no problems scoffing chips and other fast-food and pre-packaged foods, almost all of which contain it. The English “ready-made” gravy granules “Bisto” contains a large amount of MSG, as do many seasonings and sauces that are available at the supermarkets of the world. MSG is E number E621 and is labelled as “flavour enhancer 621” in Australia and New Zealand. Australian study on “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” – showing no link to MSG: “[R]igorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.” Enjoy MSG!
Population Explosion
Aging Figure 7
Common Misconception: Half, or more than half of all humans ever born, are alive today
This is a myth – probably perpetuated by eugenicists and other people who believe the planet should be saved by population control of the human species. This is not a new myth either: in 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth would surpass the world food supply by the mid 1800s. The Population Reference Bureau estimate that the earth has held over 106 billion humans throughout history. With a current world population of over 6 billion, that means that roughly 6% of people ever born are alive today. A significantly lower number than that given by population explosion alarmists. What is perhaps more frightening, is the fact that many nations today are not producing enough children to replace the population with no growth at all, in other words, many countries are suffering negative birth rates (see chart above).

Plant Magic
Common Misconception: Plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen
I suspect this will come as a surprise to most people, but while plants do produce oxygen, they do not do it by converting carbon dioxide. The process by which this all happens is called photosynthesis and is a relatively complex process, but to put it simply, plants convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrate precursors and water (fuel for the plant). This is a light independent process – it doesn’t need light to perform this task. So how do plants make oxygen for us to breathe? It uses a light dependent process – this requires light. It takes the light and converts it to potential energy – the byproduct of this process is oxygen.
Common Misconception: The North Pole is north and the South Pole is South
Actually, in terms of physics, the North Pole (while geographically in the north) is actually a south magnetic pole, and the South Pole (geographically in the south) is a north magnetic pole. When your compass is pointing north, it is actually pointing to the south pole of Earth’s magnetic field. 780,000 years ago, this would not have been the case, as the magnetic poles of the earth were reversed (this is called a geomagnetic reversal). Oh – and just to complicate things further, the poles drift around randomly – they are not in a fixed spot. This is most likely due to movements in the molten nickel-iron alloy in the Earth’s core.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall
Mirror, Mirror
Common Misconception: A mirror image reverses left and right
When we look in a mirror, our left and right sides appear to be reversed – left is right and right is left. In fact, what has really happened is that the mirror has inverted us front and back. The reason that we think it is a left-to-right reversal is that we are used a person’s left and right being reversed when they face turn to face us. So what is the mirror doing? Imagine a person with their back to us doing a hand stand to face us, rather than turning around – their right and left remain the same but their top and bottom swap. Looking in to a mirror has the same effect: nothing reverses in the mirror – not bottom and top, not left and right.
Melting Glass
Old Window-575X450
Common Misconception: Glass is actually a very slow flowing liquid
First of all, this is not true. Secondly, the reason many people believe it is due to the nature of old panes of glass in which the bottom appears to be thicker than the top – suggesting that the glass is “melting” and pooling at the bottom. The reason for this distortion in the glass is the method of manufacturing in the past. You will notice that you don’t see this “melting” behavior in modern glass windows. Glass is actually an amorophous ceramic.
Free as a bird
Common Misconception: Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves
In fact, it freed little or no slaves. Why? Because the emancipation proclamation (1862) declared the freedom of all slaves in the confederate states – that is, the states over which Lincoln and the Union government had no control. Furthermore, it did not free slaves from any of the states that were already under union control. This would be (in a sense) like Australia trying to declare a law binding on New Zealanders – when they are two separate nations. The emancipation proclamation was, effectively, worthless. It was not until the Thirteenth Amendment (December 6, 1865), that slavery was officially abolished in full.

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