Rabu, 22 Juni 2011

10 Debunked Scientific Beliefs Of The Past

Science fills us all with great wonder and it has done so for generations, but there have been an incredible number of “scientific discoveries” which were later found to be completely false. This list looks at ten of the more fascinating cases of scientific falsehoods from history.
Rain Follows the Plow
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“Rain Follows the Plow” is the name given to a climatology concept which is now completely debunked. The theory said that human settlement caused a permanent increase in rainfall – thus enabling man to move to areas previously considered arid. It is this 19th century theory that brought about the settlement of the Great Plains (previously known as the Great American Desert), and parts of South Australia. The theory was eventually refuted by climatologists, and in the settled areas of South Australia, drought brought an end to the attempted settlements.

World Ice Theory
Hanns Hoerbiger
This strange theory has a relatively normal name, but rest assured, the concept is far from it. Hans Hörbiger (pictured above), an Austrian engineer and inventor received a vision in 1894 which told him that ice was the substance of all basic substances and had created the ice moons, ice planets, and a “global ether”. He said “I knew that Newton had been wrong and that the sun’s gravitational pull ceases to exist at three times the distance of Neptune[.]” Unbelievably this theory got a great deal of support. One of the strongest supporters of the concept was Houston Stewart Chamberlain (British born posthumous son-in-law of composer Richard Wagner) who went on to become one of the leading theorists behind the development of the Nazi Party in Germany.

Bruegel Alchemist
Alchemy has its roots (in the Western world) in Ancient Egypt where it combined with metallurgy in a form of early science. The Egyptian alchemists discovered the formulas for making mortar, glass, and cosmetics. From Egypt it eventually spread to the rest of the Ancient world and led to modern alchemy in which men would try to turn metals into gold, to conjure up genies, and perform all manner of bizarre not-so-science-like activities. While it has contributed in some ways to modern science, the discipline of true science caused the death of alchemy which could not stand up to the rigorous testing of its pseudoscience.
California Island
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From the 16th century, European experts in geography were convinced that California was an island separate from the North American mainland. Maps of the time show a large island on the left of the land mass and California continued to appear this way even into the 18th century. There was at the time also a rumor that California was an earthly paradise like the Garden of Eden or Atlantis. A romance novel from 1510 describes it thus:
Know, that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons. — Las Sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo
The matter was finally put to rest indisputably on the 1774-1776 expeditions of Juan Bautista de Anza. Interestingly, it is likely that within 25 million years, Baja California and part of Southern California really will separate from North America due to tectonic plate movement.
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Geocentricity is the concept which states that the earth is the center of the Universe and that all other objects move around it. The view was universally embraced in Ancient Greece and very similar ideas were held in Ancient China. The idea was supported by the fact that the sun, stars, and planets appear to revolve around Earth, and the physical perception that the Earth is stable and not moving. This was combined with the belief that the earth was a sphere; belief in a flat earth was well gone by the 3rd century BC. The geocentric model was eventually displaced with the work of of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler in the 16th Century.

The Four Humors
The Four Humors
In classical antiquity right up to modern times, it was believed that the body contained four humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. It was believed that the right balance of these four humors made a person healthy but an excess or decrease in any one of these would cause illness. Because of this belief, treatments of sickness would include bloodletting, purges, and emetics. Occasionally a mixture of herbs would be used to restore the balance. The humors were also applied to foods – for example wine was choleric (yellow bile). This classification still exists today to some extent, as we refer to some foods as “hot” and others as “dry”. The concept of humors was not replaced until 1858 when Rudolf Virchow published theories of cellular pathology.
Vitalism states that the functions of living things are controlled by a “vital force” and not biophysical means. Vitalism has a long history in medical philosophies – and it has ties to the four humors. It is sometimes referred to as a “life spark” and even as the soul. In the Eastern traditions it is essentially the same thing as “qi” or “chi”, which is heavily tied in to oriental medicinal methods. The concept is (as can be expected) completely rejected by most mainstream scientists. In 1967, Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, stated “And so to those of you who may be vitalists I would make this prophecy: what everyone believed yesterday, and you believe today, only cranks will believe tomorrow.”
Maternal Impression
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Maternal Impression is an old belief that a mother’s thoughts while pregnant can impart special characteristics on the child in her womb. For many years this idea was used to explain congenital disorders and birth defects. Maternal Impression was used to explain the disorder suffered by the Elephant Man: it was suggested that his mother was frightened by an elephant while she was pregnant with him – thereby imprinting the memory of an elephant on her child. Depression was also explained in this manner. If a mother had moments of strong sadness during pregnancy, it was believed that her child would ultimately suffer from depression in later life. Genetic theory caused the almost complete eradication of this belief in the 20th century.
The theory of phlogiston dates to 1667 when Johann Joachim Becher (a German physicist) suggested that there was a fifth element (phlogiston) to go with the four classical elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) which was contained within objects that could burn. It was believed that when an object burned, it released its phlogiston (an element without taste, mass, odor or color) and left behind a powdery substance called calx (what we now know to be oxide). Objects that burned in air were considered to be rich in phlogiston and the fact that a fire burned out when oxygen was removed was seen as proof that oxygen could only absorb a limited amount of the substance. This theory also led to the idea that the human need to breathe had a sole function which was to remove phlogiston from the body. The entire concept was superseded by Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier’s discovery that combustion could only occur with the help of a gas such as oxygen.
Spontaneous Generation
Before microscopes and theories of cells and germs, man had other ideas about the creation of living things. He bizarrely believed that life arose from inanimate matter (for example, maggots come spontaneously from rotting meat). Proponents of this view (virtually everyone) used the Bible as a source of evidence, due to the fact that God made man from dust. However, the view did exist before Christianity and Aristotle said, in no uncertain terms, that some animals grow spontaneously and not from other animals of their kind. Earlier believers had to come up with some pretty strange ideas to make their theory work: Anaximander (a Greek philosopher who taught Pythagoras) believed that at some point in man’s history, humans had been born from the soil spontaneously in adult form, otherwise they could never have survived. Before we laugh too hard at the ancients, we should note that many Scientists right up to the 19th century believed this, and some even wrote recipe books for making animals. One such recipe (to make a scorpion) calls for basil, placed between two bricks and left in sunlight. The theory was not finally put to rest until 1859, when Louis Pasteur proved it wrong once and for all.

Source here

Senin, 20 Juni 2011

Top 10 Old Wives’ Tales Debunked

Almost all of us have, at some time, been chided by a parent or grandparent who has been mislead by an old wives’ tale. Their intentions are always good, but unfortunately they are misguided. There are thousands of old wives’ tales – ranging from the seemingly logical to the outright bizarre.
This is a list of ten of the most common old wives’ tales which are, in fact, bunkum! Feel free to use the comments to tell us about some of the more unusual tales you have come across in your life.
Feed a Fever Starve a Cold
In fact, both colds and fevers cause dehydration – so liquids are essential when suffering from either. In addition, missing out on food when you are sick is never a good idea as food provides the body with the sustenance it needs to get healthy. So, you should feed a fever and feed a cold. This, of course, does not mean to overeat – it means to eat healthy balanced meals.

Eating Before Swimming
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There is an old wives’ tale that says that if you eat within an hour of swimming you will get cramp. The Red Cross says that eating directly prior to swimming does not increase risk of cramp at all. They do, however, recommend at least waiting for digestion to begin if you have eaten a particularly fatty meal. They also recommend that you not eat gum or food while you are swimming.

Chocolate Causes Acne
There is actually not an iota of evidence to support this tale – no food type (not just chocolate) can cause acne or bad skin. Needless to say, eating too much chocolate or sugary food is unhealthy for the body, but it will not cause skin problems. Acne is actually caused by changes in the lower layers of the skin surrounding hair follicles.
Carrots Improve your Vision
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It is possible that this tale came about due to allied propaganda during the second world war when rumors were spread that the British airmen had excellent night vision due to eating carrots. The myth was spread to stop the Germans from discovering that the British were using Radar. While carrots contain vitamin A which is good for healthy eyes, eating lots of them will do nothing to improve your vision.
Catching a Cold
There are a huge number of myths about how to catch a cold, but in fact there is only one way to catch a cold virus – by direct contact with the virus itself. You can stand outside on a cold night with wet hair and your chances of getting a cold do not increase at all. The reason that colds seem to spread more in Winter is not from the cold itself, but the fact that people tend to live more often indoors and this increases your chances of coming in to contact with a sufferer. It is also worth mentioning that if you get a cold in your nose, you can not stop it from spreading to your chest if the virus is programmed to attack you there. Most cold medicines are completely pointless and do nothing to help except alleviate the pain through the inclusion of painkillers.

TV and Eyesight
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My parents constantly told me off for sitting too close to the television when I was a kid – I was told that my eyesight would deteriorate from doing so. The same was also said of reading in dim light. In fact, neither of these things do any damage to the eyes. It should be noted, however, that spending too much time in front of the TV is not good for children (regardless of how close they sit) as research has shown that children who spend 10 hours or more in front of the television each week are more likely to become overweight, aggressive, and slower in school.
Masturbation Causes Blindness
The tale states that masturbation will cause blindness (in France it is said it will cause deafness). This is not true (at least not completely) and the idea has probably been spread in order to prevent children from masturbating for religious reasons. Curiously, sperm contains quite a lot of zinc, and a serious zinc deficiency can cause a decline in vision. However, it is nearly impossible to cause a zinc deficiency through masturbating.
Knuckles and Arthritis
While it is true that constant knuckle cracking can reduce the strength of your grip and cause swelling, it does not lead to arthritis. There are many causes of arthritis (such as trauma or infection of a joint, or old age), but knuckle cracking is not one of them.
Spicy Food and Ulcers
Spicy Chicken Masala Curry
If a person suffers from an ulcer, spicy food can often aggravate it; however, ulcers are not caused by spicy food at all – if they were, ulcers would be pandemic in many eastern nations. An ulcer is usually caused by overuse of medications like aspirin and anti-inflammatories.
Toads and Warts
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It is almost certain that this strange old wives’ tale has come about because of the appearance of wart-like growths on many toads. In fact, these growths are not human compatible at all. Warts are caused by viruses and they are almost always exclusive to a particular genus of creature. Human’s cannot catch warts from other animals, and animals can not catch human warts. The most common human wart virus is called the human papillomavirus.

Source here