List of common misconceptions

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Each entry on this list of common misconceptions is worded as a correction; the misconceptions themselves are implied rather than stated. These entries are concise summaries of the main subject articles, which can be consulted for more detail.

A common misconception is a viewpoint or factoid that is often accepted as true but which is actually false. They generally arise from conventional wisdom (such as old wives' tales), stereotypes, superstitions, fallacies, a misunderstanding of science, or the popularization of pseudoscience. Some common misconceptions are also considered to be urban legends, and they are often involved in moral panics.

Arts and culture[edit]


  • Federal legal tender laws in the United States do not state that a private business, a person, or an organization must accept cash for payment, though it must be regarded as valid payment for debts when tendered to a creditor.[1]
A photo of Adolf Dassler, the namesake for Adidas (c. 1915)

Food and cooking[edit]

Food history[edit]

Fortune cookies are associated with Chinese cuisine, but were actually invented in Japan,[29] and are almost never eaten in China, where they are seen as American.[30]

Microwave ovens[edit]

  • Microwave ovens are not tuned to any specific resonant frequency for water molecules in the food.[50][51][52] They cook food via dielectric heating of polar molecules, including water.[53]
  • Microwave ovens do not cook food from the inside out. 2.45 GHz microwaves can only penetrate approximately 1 centimeter (38 inch) into most foods. The inside portions of thicker foods are mainly heated by heat conducted from the outer portions.[54]
  • Microwave ovens do not cause cancer, as microwave radiation is non-ionizing and therefore does not have the cancer risks associated with ionizing radiation such as X-rays. No studies have found that microwave radiation causes cancer, even with exposure levels far greater than normal radiation leakage.[55]
  • Microwaving food does not reduce its nutritive value and may preserve it better than other cooking processes due to shorter cooking times.[56]

Film and television[edit]


English language[edit]

  • Irregardless is a word.[82][83] Nonstandard, slang, or colloquial terms used by English speakers are sometimes alleged not to be real words, despite appearing in numerous dictionaries. All words in English became accepted by being commonly used for a certain period of time; thus, there are many vernacular words currently not accepted as part of the standard language, or regarded as inappropriate in formal speech or writing, but the idea that they are not words is a misconception.[84] Other examples of words that are sometimes alleged not to be words include burglarize, licit,[85] and funnest[86] which appear in numerous dictionaries as English words.[87]
"Xmas", along with a modern Santa Claus, used on a Christmas postcard (1910)
  • Xmas did not originate as a secular plan to "take the Christ out of Christmas".[110] X represents the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Χριστός (Christós), "Christ" in Greek,[111] as found in the chi-rho symbol ΧΡ since the 4th century. In English, "X" was first used as a scribal abbreviation for "Christ" in 1100; "X'temmas" is attested in 1551, and "Xmas" in 1721.[112]

Law, crime, and military[edit]

  • It is not necessary to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person report. When there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, it is important to start an investigation promptly.[113][114] Criminology experts say the first 72 hours in a missing person investigation are the most critical.[115]
  • Twinkies were not claimed to be the cause of San Francisco mayor George Moscone's and supervisor Harvey Milk's murders. In the trial of Dan White, the defense successfully argued White's diminished capacity as a result of severe depression. While eating Twinkies was cited as evidence of this depression, it was never claimed to be the cause of the murders.[116]
  • The US Armed Forces have generally forbidden military enlistment as a form of deferred adjudication (that is, an option for convicts to avoid jail time) since the 1980s. US Navy protocols discourage the practice, while the other four branches have specific regulations against it.[117]
  • The United States does not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work, and police officers may lie when engaged in such work.[118] Claiming entrapment as a defense instead focuses on whether the defendant was induced by undue pressure (such as threats) or deception from law enforcement to commit crimes they would not have otherwise committed.[119]
Violent crime rates in the United States declined significantly between 1994 and 2003.
  • No cases have been proven of strangers killing or permanently injuring children by intentionally hiding poisons, drugs, or sharp objects such as razor blades in candy during Halloween trick-or-treating.[140] However, in rare cases, adult family members have spread this story to cover up filicide or accidental deaths. Folklorists, scholars, and law enforcement experts say that the story that strangers put poison into candy and give that candy to trick-or-treating children has been "thoroughly debunked".[141][140]



Classical music[edit]

Popular music[edit]



  • The historical Buddha is not known to have been fat. The chubby monk known as the "fat Buddha" or "laughing Buddha" in the West is a 10th-century Chinese Buddhist folk hero by the name of Budai.[173]


  • Jesus was most likely not born on December 25, when his birth is traditionally celebrated as Christmas. It is more likely that his birth was in either the season of spring or perhaps summer. Although the Common Era ostensibly counts the years since the birth of Jesus,[174] it is unlikely that he was born in either AD 1 or 1 BC, as such a numbering system would imply. Modern historians estimate a date closer to between 6 BC and 4 BC.[175]
  • The Bible does not say that exactly three magi came to visit the baby Jesus, nor that they were kings, or rode on camels, or that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, nor what color their skin was. Three magi are inferred because three gifts are described, but the Bible says only that there was more than one magus.[176][177][178][179][180][181]
No Biblical or historical evidence supports Mary Magdalene having been a prostitute.[182][183]
  • The idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she met Jesus is not found in the Bible or in any of the other earliest Christian writings. It has been a disputed doctrine in several theological traditions whether Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (who anoints Jesus' feet in John 11:1–12), and the unnamed "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus' feet in Luke 7:36–50 were the same woman.[182][183]
  • Paul the Apostle did not change his name from Saul. He was born a Jew, with Roman citizenship inherited from his father, and thus carried both a Hebrew and a Greco-Roman name from birth, as mentioned by Luke in Acts 13:9: "...Saul, who also is called Paul...".[184]
  • The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception is unrelated to the Christian doctrine that Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin. The Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was free of original sin from the moment of her own conception. A less common mistake is to think that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary herself was conceived without sexual intercourse.[185][186]
  • Roman Catholic dogma does not say that the pope is either sinless or always infallible.[187] Catholic dogma since 1870 does state that a dogmatic teaching contained in divine revelation that is promulgated by the pope (deliberately, and under certain very specific circumstances; generally called ex cathedra) is free from error, although official invocation of papal infallibility is rare. Most theologians state that canonizations meet the requisites.[188] Otherwise, even when speaking in his official capacity, dogma does not hold that he is always free from error.
  • St. Peter's Basilica is not the mother church of Roman Catholicism, nor is it the official seat of the Pope. These equivalent distinctions belong to the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, which is located in Rome outside of Vatican City but over which the Vatican has extraterritorial jurisdiction. This also means that St. Peter's is not a cathedral in the literal sense of that word. St. Peter's is, however, used as the principal church for many papal functions.[189]
  • Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) no longer practice polygamy.[190] However, a widower may be "sealed" to another wife, and is considered a polygamist in the hereafter.[191] Currently, the LDS Church excommunicates any members who practice "living" polygamy within the organization.[192] Some Mormon fundamentalist sects do practice polygamy.[193]
  • Saint Augustine did not say "God created hell for inquisitive people".[194] He actually said: "I do not give the answer that someone is said to have given (evading by a joke the force of the objection), 'He was preparing hell for those who pry into such deep subjects.' ... I do not answer in this way. I would rather respond, 'I do not know,' concerning what I do not know than say something for which a man inquiring about such profound matters is laughed at, while the one giving a false answer is praised."[195] So Augustine is saying that he would not say this and that he does not know the answer to the question.
  • The First Council of Nicaea did not establish the books of the Bible. The Old Testament had likely already been established by Hebrew scribes before Christ. The development of the New Testament canon was mostly completed in the third century before the Nicaea Council was convened in 325;[196] it was finalized, along with the deuterocanon, at the Council of Rome in 382.[197]


Afghan women wearing burqas
Turkish women wearing niqābs
Turkish women wearing hijabs
  • Most Muslim women do not wear a burqa (also transliterated as burka or burkha), which covers the body, head, and face, with a mesh grille to see through. Many Muslim women cover their hair and face (excluding the eyes) with a niqāb, or just their hair with a hijab[198] and many Muslim women wear neither face nor head coverings of any kind.[199]
  • A fatwa is a non-binding legal opinion issued by an Islamic scholar under Islamic law; it is therefore commonplace for fatwā from different authors to disagree. The misconception that it is a death sentence stems from a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 where he said that the author Salman Rushdie had earned a death sentence for blasphemy.[200][201]
  • The word "jihad" does not always mean "holy war"; its literal meaning in Arabic is "struggle". While there is such a thing as "jihad bil saif", or jihad "by the sword",[202] it can be any spiritual or moral effort or struggle,[203][204] such as seeking knowledge, putting others before oneself, and inviting others to Islam.[205]
  • The Quran does not promise martyrs 72 virgins in heaven. It does mention that virgin female companions,[206] houri, are given to all people, martyr or not, in heaven, but no number is specified. The source for the 72 virgins is a hadith in Sunan al-Tirmidhi by Imam Tirmidhi.[207][208] Hadiths are sayings and acts of Muhammad as reported by others, not part of the Quran itself.[209][207]


Often shown as an apple in art, the fruit in the Garden of Eden is not named in Genesis.[210]


Marcos Torregrosa wearing the BJJ black belt with a red bar indicating first degree
  • The black belt in martial arts does not necessarily indicate expert level or mastery. It was introduced for judo in the 1880s to indicate competency at all of the basic techniques of the sport. Promotion beyond 1st dan (the first black belt rank) varies among different martial arts.[217]
  • The use of triangular corner flags in English football is not a privilege reserved for those teams that have won an FA Cup in the past[218] as depicted in a scene in the film Twin Town. The Football Association's rules are silent on the subject, and often the decision over what shape flag to use has been up to the individual club's groundskeepers.[219]
  • India did not withdraw from the 1950 FIFA World Cup because their squad played barefoot, which was against FIFA regulations.[220] In reality, India withdrew because the country's managing body, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), was insufficiently prepared for the team's participation and gave various reasons for withdrawing, including a lack of funding and prioritizing the Olympics.[221]

Video games[edit]



Classical sculptures were originally painted colors.[247] Pictured is a reconstruction of how the Augustus of Prima Porta may have originally been colored.
  • The Minoan civilization was not destroyed by the eruption of Thera. Early archaeologists speculated that the eruption may have been remembered in Plato's parable of Atlantis. However, the eruption occurred centuries before the end of the Minoan era.[248]
  • Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were originally painted with colors; they appear white today only because the original pigments have deteriorated. Some well-preserved statues still bear traces of their original coloration.[247][249]
  • The ancient Greeks did not use the word "idiot" (Ancient Greek: ἰδιώτης, romanizedidiṓtēs) to disparage people who did not take part in civic life or who did not vote. An ἰδιώτης was simply a private citizen as opposed to a government official. Later, the word came to mean any sort of non-expert or layman, then someone uneducated or ignorant, and much later to mean stupid or mentally deficient.[250]
The ancient Romans did not use the Roman salute, as depicted in the painting The Oath of the Horatii (1784).
A Vomitorium in a Roman amphitheater in Toulouse

Middle Ages[edit]

  • The Middle Ages were not "a time of ignorance, barbarism and superstition"; the Church did not place religious authority over personal experience and rational activity; and the term "Dark Ages" is rejected by modern historians.[258]
  • While modern life expectancies are much higher than those in the Middle Ages and earlier,[259] adults in the Middle Ages did not die in their 30s or 40s on average. That was the life expectancy at birth, which was skewed by high infant and adolescent mortality. The life expectancy among adults was much higher;[260] a 21-year-old man in medieval England, for example, could expect to live to the age of 64.[261][260] However, in various places and eras, life expectancy was noticeably lower, as in medieval London, where 90% of people in general died before the age of 45[262] and one study estimated that 36 percent of men and 56 percent of women in medieval urban areas passed before the age of 35.[263] Monks in this time period often died in their 20s or 30s.[263]
  • There is no evidence that Viking warriors wore horns on their helmets; this would have been impractical in battle.[264]
  • Vikings did not drink out of the skulls of vanquished enemies. This was based on a mistranslation of the skaldic poetic use of ór bjúgviðum hausa (branches of skulls) to refer to drinking horns.[265]
  • Vikings did not name Iceland "Iceland" as a ploy to discourage others from settling it. Naddodd and Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson both saw snow and ice on the island when they traveled there, giving the island its name.[266] Greenland, on the other hand, was named in the hope that it would help attract settlers.[267]
  • In the tale of King Canute and the tide, the king did not command the tide to reverse in a fit of delusional arrogance.[268] According to the story, his intent was to prove a point to members of his privy council that no man is all-powerful, and that all people must bend to forces beyond their control, such as the tides.
  • Marco Polo did not import pasta from China,[269] a misconception that originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries to promote the use of pasta in the United States.[270] Marco Polo describes a food similar to "lasagna" in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar.
  • There is no evidence that iron maidens were used for torture, or even yet invented, in the Middle Ages. Instead they were pieced together in the 18th century from several artifacts found in museums, arsenals and the like to create spectacular objects intended for commercial exhibition.[271]
  • Spiral staircases in castles were not designed in a clockwise direction to hinder right-handed attackers.[272][273] While clockwise spiral staircases are more common in castles than anti-clockwise, they were even more common in medieval structures without a military role, such as religious buildings.[274][272]
  • The plate armor of European soldiers did not stop soldiers from moving around or necessitate a crane to get them into a saddle. They would routinely fight on foot and could mount and dismount without help.[275] However, armor used in tournaments in the late Middle Ages was significantly heavier than that used in warfare,[276] which may have contributed to this misconception.
  • Whether chastity belts, devices designed to prevent women from having sexual intercourse, were invented in medieval times is disputed by modern historians. Most existing chastity belts are now thought to be deliberate fakes or anti-masturbatory devices from the 19th and early 20th centuries.[277]
Medieval depiction of a spherical Earth

Early modern[edit]

  • The Mexica people of the Aztec Empire did not mistake Hernán Cortés and his landing party for gods during Cortés' conquest of the empire. This notion came from Francisco López de Gómara, who never went to Mexico and concocted the myth while working for the retired Cortés in Spain years after the conquest.[284]
  • Shah Jahan, the Indian Mughal Emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal, did not cut off the hands of the rumored 40,000 workers or lead designers so as to not allow the construction of another monument more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. This is an urban myth that goes back to the 1960s.[285][286][287]
  • The early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in North America usually did not wear all black, and their capotains (hats) were shorter and rounder than the widely depicted tall hat with a buckle on it. Instead, their fashion was based on that of the late Elizabethan era.[288] The traditional image was formed in the 19th century when buckles were a kind of emblem of quaintness.[289] (The Puritans, who also settled in Massachusetts near the same time, did frequently wear all black.)[290]
  • The familiar story that Isaac Newton was inspired to research the nature of gravity when an apple fell on his head is almost certainly apocryphal. All Newton himself ever said was that the idea came to him as he sat "in a contemplative mood" and "was occasioned by the fall of an apple".[291]
  • People accused of witchcraft were not burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials. Of the accused, nineteen people convicted of witchcraft were executed by hanging, at least five died in prison, and one man was pressed to death by stones while trying to extract a confession from him.[292]
Portrait of Marie Antoinette
The phrase "let them eat cake" is commonly misattributed to Marie Antoinette.
  • Marie Antoinette did not say "let them eat cake" when she heard that the French peasantry were starving due to a shortage of bread. The phrase was first published in Rousseau's Confessions, written when Marie Antoinette was only nine years old and not attributed to her, just to "a great princess". It was first attributed to her in 1843.[293]
  • George Washington did not have wooden teeth. His dentures were made of lead, gold, hippopotamus ivory, the teeth of various animals, including horse and donkey teeth,[294][295] and human teeth, possibly bought from slaves or poor people.[296][297] The possible origin of this myth is that ivory teeth quickly became stained and may have had the appearance of wood to observers.[295]
George Washington's dentures on display at Mount Vernon.


Napoleon on the Bellerophon by Charles Lock Eastlake. Napoleon was taller than his nickname, le Petit Caporal, suggests.
Albert Einstein, photographed at 14, did not fail mathematics at school.
  • Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics classes in school. Einstein remarked, "I never failed in mathematics.... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."[308] Einstein did, however, fail his first entrance exam into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School (ETH) in 1895, when he was two years younger than his fellow students, but scored exceedingly well in the mathematics and science sections, and then passed on his second attempt.[309]
  • Alfred Nobel did not omit mathematics in the Nobel Prize due to a rivalry with mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler, as there is little evidence the two ever met, nor was it because Nobel's spouse had an affair with a mathematician, as Nobel was never married. The more likely explanation is that Nobel believed mathematics was too theoretical to benefit humankind, as well as his personal lack of interest in the field.[310] (See also: Nobel Prize controversies)
  • Grigori Rasputin was not assassinated by being fed cyanide-laced cakes and wine, shot multiple times, and then thrown into the Little Nevka river when he survived the former two. A contemporary autopsy reported that he was just killed with gunshots. A sensationalized account from the memoirs of co-conspirator Prince Felix Yusupov is the only source of this story.[311][312][313]
  • The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not "make the trains run on time". Much of the repair work had been performed before he and the Fascist Party came to power in 1922. Moreover, the Italian railways' supposed adherence to timetables was more propaganda than reality.[314]
  • There is no evidence of Polish cavalry mounting a brave but futile charge against German tanks using lances and sabers during the German invasion of Poland in 1939. This story may have originated from German propaganda efforts following the charge at Krojanty.[315]
  • The Nazis did not use the term "Nazi" to refer to themselves. The full name of the Nazi Party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party), and members referred to themselves as Nationalsozialisten (National Socialists) or Parteigenossen (party comrades). The term "Nazi" was in use prior to the rise of the Nazis as a colloquial and derogatory word for a backwards farmer or peasant. Opponents of the National Socialists abbreviated their name as "Nazi" for derogatory effect and the term was popularized by German exiles outside of Germany.[316]
  • During the occupation of Denmark by the Nazis during World War II, King Christian X of Denmark did not thwart Nazi attempts to identify Jews by wearing a yellow star himself. Jews in Denmark were never forced to wear the Star of David. The Danish resistance did help most Jews flee the country before the end of the war.[317]

United States[edit]

The flag that Betsy Ross purportedly designed
Areas covered by the Emancipation Proclamation are in red, slave-holding areas not covered are in blue. The Thirteenth Amendment was the article that abolished legal slavery in the United States nationwide, not the Emancipation Proclamation.

Science, technology, and mathematics[edit]

Astronomy and spaceflight[edit]

The dark side of the Moon, photographed by Apollo 16 in 1972, clearly illuminated by the Sun. It is much more crater-ridden than the near side of the Moon.
  • The "dark side of the Moon" receives about the same amount of light from the Sun as the near side of the Moon. Describing the far side of the Moon as "dark" does not mean that it never receives light, but rather that it had never been seen until humans sent spacecraft around the Moon, since the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth due to tidal locking.[389]
  • Black holes have the same gravitational effects as any other equal mass in their place. They will draw objects nearby towards them, just as any other celestial body does, except at very close distances to the black hole, comparable to its Schwarzschild radius.[390] If, for example, the Sun were replaced by a black hole of equal mass, the orbits of the planets would be essentially unaffected. A black hole can pull in a substantial inflow of surrounding matter, but only if the star from which it formed was already doing so.[391]
The Earth's equator does not line up with the plane of the Earth's orbit, meaning that for half of the year the Northern Hemisphere is tilted more towards the Sun and for the other half of the year the Northern Hemisphere is tilted more away from the Sun. This is the dominant cause of seasonal temperature variation, not the distance of the Earth from the Sun in its orbit.
A satellite image of a section of the Great Wall of China, running diagonally from lower left to upper right (not to be confused with the much more prominent river running from upper left to lower right). The region pictured is 12 by 12 kilometers (7.5 mi × 7.5 mi).
  • The Great Wall of China is not the only human-made object visible from space or from the Moon. None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any specific human-made object from the Moon, and even Earth-orbiting astronauts can see it only with magnification. City lights, however, are easily visible on the night side of Earth from orbit.[407]
  • The Big Bang model does not fully explain the origin of the universe. It does not describe how energy, time, and space were caused, but rather it describes the emergence of the present universe from an ultra-dense and high-temperature initial state.[408]



The color of a red cape does not enrage a bull.
  • Bulls are not enraged by the color red, used in capes by professional bullfighters. Cattle are dichromats, so red does not stand out as a bright color. It is not the color of the cape, but the perceived threat by the bullfighter that incites it to charge.[410]
  • Lemmings do not engage in mass suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. The scenes of lemming suicides in the 1958 Disney documentary film White Wilderness, which popularized this idea, were completely fabricated. The lemmings in the film were actually purchased from Inuit children for 25 cents apiece, transported to the filming location in Canmore, Alberta, and repeatedly shoved off a nearby cliff by the filmmakers to create the illusion of a mass suicide.[411][412] The misconception itself is much older, dating back to at least the late 19th century, though its exact origins are uncertain.[413]
  • Dogs do not sweat by salivating.[414] Dogs actually do have sweat glands and not only on their tongues; they sweat mainly through their footpads. However, dogs do primarily regulate their body temperature through panting.[415] (See also: Dog Anatomy§Temperature regulation)
  • Dogs do not consistently age seven times as quickly as humans. Aging in dogs varies widely depending on the breed; certain breeds, such as giant dog breeds and English bulldogs, have much shorter lifespans than average. Most dogs age consistently across all breeds in the first year of life, reaching adolescence[clarification needed] by one year old; smaller and medium-sized breeds begin to age more slowly in adulthood.[416]
  • The phases of the Moon have no effect on the vocalizations of wolves, and wolves do not howl at the Moon.[417] Wolves howl to assemble the pack usually before and after hunts, to pass on an alarm particularly at a den site, to locate each other during a storm, while crossing unfamiliar territory, and to communicate across great distances.[418]
  • There is no such thing as an "alpha" in a wolf pack. An early study that coined the term "alpha wolf" had only observed unrelated adult wolves living in captivity. In the wild, wolf packs operate like families: parents are in charge until the young grow up and start their own families, and younger wolves do not overthrow an "alpha" to become the new leader.[419][420]
  • Bats are not blind. While about 70% of bat species, mainly in the microbat family, use echolocation to navigate, all bat species have eyes and are capable of sight. In addition, almost all bats in the megabat or fruit bat family cannot echolocate and have excellent night vision.[421]
  • Contrary to the allegorical story about the boiling frog, frogs die immediately when cast into boiling water, rather than leaping out; furthermore, frogs will attempt to escape cold water that is slowly heated past their critical thermal maximum.[422]
  • The memory span of goldfish is much longer than just a few seconds. It is up to a few months long.[423][424]
  • Sharks can get cancer. The misconception that sharks do not get cancer was spread by the 1992 book Sharks Don't Get Cancer, which was used to sell extracts of shark cartilage as cancer prevention treatments. Reports of carcinomas in sharks exist, and current data do not support any conclusions about the incidence of tumors in sharks.[425]
  • Great white sharks do not mistake human divers for seals or other pinnipeds. When attacking pinnipeds, the shark surfaces quickly and attacks violently. In contrast, attacks on humans are slower and less violent: the shark charges at a normal pace, bites, and swims off. Great white sharks have efficient eyesight and color vision; the bite is not predatory, but rather for identification of an unfamiliar object.[426]
  • Snake jaws cannot unhinge. The posterior end of the lower jaw bones contains a quadrate bone, allowing jaw extension. The anterior tips of the lower jaw bones are joined by a flexible ligament allowing them to bow outwards, increasing the mouth gape.[427][428]
  • Tomato juice and tomato sauce are ineffective at neutralizing the odor of a skunk; it only appears to work due to olfactory fatigue.[429] For dogs that get sprayed, the Humane Society of the United States recommends using a mixture of dilute hydrogen peroxide (3%), baking soda, and dishwashing liquid.[430]
  • Porcupines do not shoot their quills. They can detach, and porcupines will deliberately back into attackers to impale them, but their quills do not project.[431][432][433]
  • Mice do not have a special appetite for cheese, and will eat it only for lack of better options; they actually favor sweet, sugary foods. The myth may have come from the fact that before the advent of refrigeration, cheese was usually stored outside and was therefore an easy food for mice to reach.[434]
  • There is no credible evidence that the candiru, a South American parasitic catfish, can swim up a human urethra if one urinates in the water in which it lives. The sole documented case of such an incident, written in 1997, has been heavily criticized upon peer review, and this phenomenon is now largely considered a myth.[435]
  • Pacus, South American fish related to piranhas, do not attack or feed on human testicles. This myth originated from a misinterpreted joke in a 2013 report of a pacu being found in Øresund, the strait between Sweden and Denmark, which claimed that the fish ate "nuts".[436][437]
  • Piranhas do not eat only meat but are omnivorous, and they only swim in schools to defend themselves from predators and not to attack. They very rarely attack humans, only when under stress and feeling threatened, and even then, bites typically only occur on hands and feet.[438]
  • The hippopotamus does not produce pink milk, nor does it sweat blood. The skin secretions of the hippopotamus are red due to the presence of hipposudoric acid, a red pigment which acts as a natural sunscreen, and is neither sweat or blood. It does not affect the color of their milk, which is white or beige.[439]
  • The Pacific tree frog and the Baja California chorus frog are some of the only frog species that make a "ribbit" sound. The misconception that all frogs, or at least all those found in North America, make this sound comes from its extensive use in Hollywood films.[440][441][442]
  • A human touching or handling eggs or baby birds will not cause the adult birds to abandon them.[443] The same is generally true for other animals having their young touched by humans as well, with the possible exception of rabbits (as rabbits will sometimes abandon their nest after an event they perceive as traumatizing).[444]
  • Eating rice, yeast, or Alka-Seltzer does not cause birds to explode and is rarely fatal. Birds can pass gas and regurgitate to expel gas, and some birds even include wild rice as part of their diet.[445][446][447][448] The misconception has often led to weddings using millet, confetti, or other materials to shower the newlyweds as they leave the ceremony, instead of the throwing of rice that is traditional in some places.[447][449][450]
  • The bold, powerful cry commonly associated with the bald eagle in popular culture is actually that of a red-tailed hawk. Bald eagle vocalizations are much softer and chirpier, and bear far more resemblance to the calls of gulls.[451][452]
  • Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand to hide from enemies or to sleep.[453] This misconception's origins are uncertain but it was probably popularized by Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE), who wrote that ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed".[454]
  • A duck's quack actually does echo,[455] although the echo may be difficult to hear for humans under some circumstances.[456] Despite this, a British panel show compiling interesting facts has been given the name Duck Quacks Don't Echo.
  • 60 common starlings were released in 1890 into New York's Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin, but there is no evidence that he was trying to introduce every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare into North America. This claim has been traced to an essay in 1948 by naturalist Edwin Way Teale, whose notes appear to indicate that it was speculation.[457][458]
  • The skin of a chameleon is not adapted solely for camouflage purposes, nor can a chameleon change its skin colour to match any background.[459]
  • Rabbits are not specially partial to carrots. Their diet in the wild primarily consists of dark green vegetables such as grasses and clovers, and excessive carrot consumption is unhealthy for them due to containing high levels of sugar. This misconception originated from Bugs Bunny cartoons, whose carrot-chomping habit was meant as a reference to a minor character in It Happened One Night.[460][461][462]


  • Not all earthworms become two worms when cut in half. Only a limited number of earthworm species[463] are capable of anterior regeneration.[464]
  • Houseflies have an average lifespan of 20 to 30 days, not 24 hours.[465] The misconception may arise from confusion with mayflies, which, in one species, have an adult lifespan of as little as 5 minutes.[466]
  • The daddy longlegs spider (Pholcidae) is not the most venomous spider in the world. Their fangs are capable of piercing human skin, but the tiny amount of venom they carry causes only a mild burning sensation for a few seconds.[467] Other species such as harvestmen, crane flies, and male mosquitoes are also called daddy longlegs in some regional dialects, and share the misconception of being highly venomous but unable to pierce the skin of humans.[468][469]
  • People do not swallow large numbers of spiders during sleep. A sleeping person makes noises that warn spiders of danger.[470][471] Most people also wake up from sleep when they have a spider on their face.[472]
A female Chinese mantis simultaneously copulating with and cannibalizing her mate; this does not occur every time mantises mate.
Bombus pratorum over an Echinacea inflorescence; a widespread misconception holds that bumblebees should be incapable of flight.


  • Carnivorous plants do survive without food. Catching insects, however, supports their growth.[496]
  • Poinsettias are not highly toxic to humans or cats. While it is true that they are mildly irritating to the skin or stomach,[497] and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten, they rarely cause serious medical problems.[498]
Sunflowers with the Sun clearly visible behind them

Evolution and paleontology[edit]

Pelagornis. Non-avian dinosaurs died out in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, but some theropod dinosaurs survive to the present day.
Despite cultural depictions, plesiosaurs were not dinosaurs, nor did either plesiosaurs or non-avian dinosaurs coexist with humans.
Dimetrodon, the iconic sail-backed synapsid, was not a dinosaur, nor did it live at the same time as the dinosaurs.
Aegyptopithecus, a prehistoric monkey predating the split between apes and other Old World monkeys during the course of human evolution. Aegyptopithecus also postdates the division of the Old and New World monkeys, making it more closely related to humans than to all New World monkeys.[552]

Chemistry and materials science[edit]

Computing and the Internet[edit]


Total population living in extreme poverty, by world region 1987 to 2015[584]
  • The total number of people living in extreme absolute poverty globally, by the widely used metric of $1.00/day (in 1990 U.S. dollars) has decreased over the last several decades, but most people surveyed in several countries incorrectly think it has increased or stayed the same.[585] However, this depends on the poverty line calculation used. For instance, if the metric used is instead one that prioritizes meeting a standard life expectancy that no longer significantly rises with additional consumption enabled by income, the number of individuals in poverty has risen by nearly 1 billion.[586][587]
  • Human population growth is decreasing and the world population is expected to peak and then begin falling during the 21st century. Improvements in agricultural productivity and technology are expected to be able to meet anticipated increased demand for resources, making a global human overpopulation scenario unlikely.[588][589][590]
  • For any given production set, there is not a set amount of labor input (a "lump of labor") to produce that output. This fallacy is commonly seen in Luddite and later, related movements as an argument either that automation causes permanent, structural unemployment, or that labor-limiting regulation can decrease unemployment. In fact, changes in capital allocation, efficiency, and economies of learning can change the amount of labor input for a given set of production.[591]
  • Income is not a direct factor in determining credit score in the United States. Rather, credit score is affected by the amount of unused available credit, which is in turn affected by income.[592] Income is also considered when evaluating creditworthiness more generally.
  • The US public vastly overestimates the amount spent on foreign aid.[593]
  • In the US, an increase in gross income will never reduce a taxpayer's post-tax earnings (net income) by putting them in a higher tax bracket. Tax brackets specify marginal tax rates: only income earned in the higher tax bracket is taxed at the higher rate.[594] An increase in gross income can reduce net income in a welfare cliff, however, when benefits are withdrawn when passing a certain income threshold.[595] Prevalence of the misconception varies by political party affiliation.[596]
  • Constructing new housing decreases the cost of rent or of buying a home in both the immediate neighborhood and in the city as a whole. In real estate economics, "supply skepticism" leads many Americans to misunderstand the effect of increasing the supply of housing on housing costs. The misconception is unique to the housing market.[597][598]

Earth and environmental sciences[edit]

Global surface temperature reconstruction over the last 2000 years using proxy data from tree rings, corals, and ice cores in blue.[599] Directly observed data is in red.[600]
Ozone depletion is not a cause of global warming.
Cooling towers from the now-decommissioned Cottam power stations in England. The gases expelled by the towers are harmless water vapors from the cooling process.
  • Cooling towers in power stations and other facilities do not emit smoke or harmful fumes; they emit water vapor and do not contribute to climate change.[614][615]
  • Nuclear power is one of the safest sources of energy, resulting in orders of magnitude fewer deaths than conventional power sources per unit of energy produced. Extremely few people are killed or injured due to nuclear power on a yearly basis.[616][617][618][619] (See also: Radiophobia)
  • Earthquake strength (or magnitude) is not commonly measured using the Richter scale. Although the Richter scale was used historically to measure earthquake magnitude (although, notably, not earthquake damage), it was found in the 1970s that it does not reliably represent the magnitude of large earthquakes. It has therefore been largely replaced by the moment magnitude scale,[620] although very small earthquakes are still sometimes measured using the Richter scale.[621] Nevertheless, earthquake magnitude is still widely misattributed to the Richter scale.[622][623][624]
    Death rates from air pollution and accidents related to energy production, measured in deaths in the past per terawatt hours (TWh)
  • Lightning can, and often does, strike the same place twice. Lightning in a thunderstorm is more likely to strike objects and spots that are more prominent or conductive. For instance, lightning strikes the Empire State Building in New York City on average 23 times per year.[625]
  • Heat lightning does not exist as a distinct phenomenon. What is mistaken for "heat lightning" is usually ordinary lightning from storms too distant to hear the associated thunder.[626]
  • The Yellowstone Caldera is not overdue for a supervolcano eruption.[627] There is also no evidence that it will erupt in the near future. In fact, data indicate there will not be an eruption in the coming centuries.[628] The most likely eruption would be hydrothermal rather than volcanic. A caldera-forming volcanic eruption (and subsequent impacts on global weather patterns and agricultural production) is the least likely scenario and has an extremely low likelihood.[629][630]
  • The Earth's interior is not molten rock. This misconception may originate from a misunderstanding based on the fact that the Earth's mantle convects, and the incorrect assumption that only liquids and gases can convect. In fact, a solid with a large Rayleigh number can also convect, given enough time, which is what occurs in the solid mantle due to the very large thermal gradient across it.[631][632] There are small pockets of molten rock in the upper mantle, but these make up a tiny fraction of the mantle's volume.[633] The Earth's outer core is liquid, but it is liquid metal, not rock.[634]
  • The Amazon rainforest does not provide 20% of Earth's oxygen. This is a misinterpretation of a 2010 study which found that approximately 34% of photosynthesis by terrestrial plants occurs in tropical rainforests (so the Amazon rainforest would account for approximately half of this). Due to respiration by the resident organisms, all ecosystems (including the Amazon rainforest) have a net output of oxygen of approximately zero. The oxygen currently present in the atmosphere was accumulated over billions of years.[635]


Map of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa

Human body and health[edit]

A widely held misconception in South Korea is that leaving electric fans on while asleep can be fatal.
  • Sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running does not result in "fan death", as is widely believed in South Korea.[641]
  • Waking up a sleepwalker does not harm them. Sleepwalkers may be confused or disoriented for a short time after awakening, but the health risks associated with sleepwalking are from injury or insomnia, not from being awakened.[642]
  • Seizures cannot cause a person to swallow their own tongue,[643] and it is dangerous to attempt to place a foreign object into a convulsing person's mouth. Instead it is recommended to gently lay a convulsing person on their side to minimize the risk of asphyxiation.[644]
  • Drowning is often inconspicuous to onlookers.[645] In most cases, the instinctive drowning response prevents the victim from waving or yelling (known as "aquatic distress"),[645] which are therefore not dependable signs of trouble; indeed, most drowning victims undergoing the response do not show prior evidence of distress.[646]
  • Human blood in veins is not actually blue. Blood is red due to the presence of hemoglobin; deoxygenated blood (in veins) has a deep red color, and oxygenated blood (in arteries) has a light cherry-red color. Veins below the skin can appear blue or green due to subsurface scattering of light through the skin, and aspects of human color perception. Many medical diagrams also use blue to show veins, and red to show arteries, which contributes to this misconception.[647]
  • Exposure to a vacuum, or experiencing all but the most extreme uncontrolled decompression, does not cause the body to explode or internal fluids to boil (although the fluids in the mouth and lungs will indeed boil at altitudes above the Armstrong limit); rather, it will lead to a loss of consciousness once the body has depleted the supply of oxygen in the blood, followed by death from hypoxia within minutes.[648]
  • Exercise-induced delayed onset muscle soreness is not caused by lactic acid build-up. Muscular lactic acid levels return to normal levels within an hour after exercise; delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be due to microtrauma from unaccustomed or strenuous exercise.[649]
  • Stretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.[650]
  • Urine is not sterile, not even in the bladder.[651]
  • Sudden immersion into freezing water does not typically cause death by hypothermia, but rather from the cold shock response, which can cause cardiac arrest, heart attack, or hyperventilation leading to drowning.[652]
  • Cremated remains are not ashes in the usual sense. After the incineration is completed, the dry bone fragments are swept out of the retort and pulverized by a machine called a cremulator (essentially a high-capacity, high-speed blender) to process them into "ashes" or "cremated remains".[653]
  • The lung's alveoli are not tiny balloons that expand and contract under positive pressure following the Young–Laplace equation, as is taught in some physiology and medical textbooks. The tissue structure is more like a sponge with polygonal spaces that unfold and fold under negative pressure from the chest wall.[654]
  • Half of body heat is not lost through the head, and covering the head is no more effective at preventing heat loss than covering any other portion of the body. Heat is lost from the body in proportion to the amount of exposed skin.[655][656] The head accounts for around 7–9% of the body's surface, and studies have shown that having one's head submerged in cold water only causes a person to lose 10% more heat overall.[657] This myth likely comes from a flawed United States military experiment in 1950, involving a prototype Arctic survival suit where the head was one of the few body parts left exposed.[658] The misconception was further perpetuated by a 1970 military field manual that claimed "40–45%" of heat is lost through the head, based on the 1950 study.[656][658]
  • Adrenochrome is not harvested from living people and has no use as a recreational drug. Hunter S. Thompson conceived a fictional drug of the same name in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, apparently as a metaphor and unaware that a real substance by that name existed; it is Thompson's fictional adrenochrome, and not the real chemical compound, that is the source of numerous conspiracy theories revolving around human trafficking to harvest the fictional drug.[659][660]
  • Men and women have the same number of ribs: 24, or 12 pairs. The erroneous idea that women have one more rib than men may stem from the biblical creation story of Adam and Eve.[661]
  • The use of cotton swabs (aka cotton buds or Q-Tips) in the ear canal has no associated medical benefits and poses definite medical risks.[662]
  • The idea that a precise number of stages of grief exist is not supported in peer-reviewed research or objective clinical observation, let alone the five stages of grief model.[663] The model was originally based on uncredited work and originally applied to the terminally ill instead of the grieving or bereaved.[664]

Disease and preventive healthcare[edit]

  • The common cold and the common flu are caused by viruses, not exposure to cold temperatures. However, low temperatures may somewhat weaken the immune system, and someone already infected with a cold or influenza virus but showing no symptoms can become symptomatic after they are exposed to low temperatures.[665][666] Viruses are more likely to spread during the winter for a variety of reasons such as dry air, less air circulation in homes, people spending more time indoors, and lower vitamin D levels in humans.[667][668][669]
  • Antibiotics will not cure a cold; they treat bacterial diseases and are ineffectual against viruses.[670][671] However, they are sometimes prescribed to prevent or treat secondary infections.[672]
  • There is little to no evidence that any illnesses are curable through essential oils or aromatherapy. Fish oil has not been shown to cure dementia, though there is evidence to support the effectiveness of lemon oil as a way to reduce agitation in patients with dementia.[673]
  • In those with the common cold, the color of the sputum or nasal secretion may vary from clear to yellow to green and does not indicate the class of agent causing the infection.[674] The color of the sputum is determined by immune cells fighting an infection in the nasal area.[675]
  • Vitamin C does not prevent or treat the common cold, although it may have a protective effect during intense cold-weather exercise. If taken daily, it may slightly reduce the duration and severity of colds, but it has no effect if taken after the cold starts.[676]
The bumps on a toad are not warts and cannot cause warts on humans.
  • Humans cannot catch warts from toads or other animals; the bumps on a toad are not warts.[677] Warts on human skin are caused by human papillomavirus, which is unique to humans.
  • Neither cracking one's knuckles nor exercising while in good health causes osteoarthritis.[678]
  • In people with eczema, bathing does not dry the skin as long as a moisturizer is applied soon after. If moisturizer is not applied after bathing, then the evaporation of water from the skin can result in dryness.[679]
  • There have never been any programs in the US that provide access to dialysis machines in exchange for pull tabs on beverage cans.[680] This rumor has existed since at least the 1970s, and usually cites the National Kidney Foundation as the organization offering the program. The Foundation itself has denied the rumor, noting that dialysis machines are primarily funded by Medicare.[681]
  • High dietary protein intake is not associated with kidney disease in healthy people.[682] While significantly increased protein intake in the short-term is associated with changes in renal function, there is no evidence to suggest this effect persists in the long-term and results in kidney damage or disease.[683]
  • Rhinoceros horn in powdered form is not used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine as Cornu Rhinoceri Asiatici (犀角, xījiǎo, "rhinoceros horn"). It is prescribed for fevers and convulsions,[684] a treatment not supported by evidence-based medicine.
  • Leprosy is not auto-degenerative as commonly supposed, meaning that it will not (on its own) cause body parts to be damaged or fall off.[685] Leprosy causes rashes to form and may degrade cartilage and, if untreated, inflame tissue. In addition, leprosy is only mildly contagious, partly because 95% of those infected with the mycobacteria that causes leprosy do not develop the disease.[686][685] Tzaraath, a Biblical disease that disfigures the skin is often identified as leprosy, and may be the source of many myths about the disease.[687]
  • Rust does not cause tetanus infection. The Clostridium tetani bacterium is generally found in dirty environments. Since the same conditions that harbor tetanus bacteria also promote rusting of metal, many people associate rust with tetanus. C. tetani requires anoxic conditions to reproduce and these are found in the permeable layers of rust that form on oxygen-absorbing, unprotected ironwork.[688]
  • Quarantine has never been a standard procedure for those with severe combined immunodeficiency, despite the condition's popular nickname ("bubble boy syndrome") and its portrayal in films. A bone marrow transplant in the earliest months of life is the standard course of treatment. The exceptional case of David Vetter, who lived much of his life encased in a sterile environment because he would not receive a transplant until age 12, was an inspirations for the "bubble boy" trope.[689]
  • Gunnison, Colorado, did not avoid the 1918 flu pandemic by using protective sequestration. The implementation of protective sequestration did prevent the virus from spreading outside a single household after a single carrier came into the town while it was in effect, but it was not sustainable and had to be lifted in February 1919. A month later, the flu killed five residents and infected dozens of others.[690]
  • Statements in medication package inserts listing the frequency of side effects describe how often the effect occurs after taking a drug, but are not making any assertion that there is a causal connection between taking the drug and the occurrence of the side effect. In other words, what is being reported on is correlation, not necessarily causation.[691]
  • A dog's mouth is not significantly cleaner than a human's mouth. A dog's mouth contains almost as much bacteria as a human mouth.[692][693]
  • There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that crystal healing has any effect beyond acting as a placebo.[694][695][696]
  • There is a scientific consensus[697][698][699] that currently available food derived from genetically modified crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food.[700]

Nutrition, food, and drink[edit]

  • Diet has little influence on the body's detoxification, and there is no evidence that detoxification diets rid the body of toxins.[701][702] Toxins are removed from the body by the liver and kidneys.[701]
  • Drinking milk or consuming other dairy products does not increase mucus production.[703] As a result, they do not need to be avoided by those with the flu or cold congestion. However, milk and saliva in one's mouth mix to create a thick liquid that can briefly coat the mouth and throat. The sensation that lingers may be mistaken for increased phlegm.[704]
  • Drinking eight glasses (2–3 liters) of water a day is not needed to maintain health.[705] The amount of water needed varies by person, weight, diet, activity level, clothing, and the ambient heat and humidity. Water does not actually need to be drunk in pure form, and can be derived from liquids such as juices, tea, milk, soups, etc., and from foods including fruits and vegetables.[705][706]
  • Drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages does not cause dehydration for regular drinkers, although it can for occasional drinkers.[707][706]
  • Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.[708] Double-blind trials have shown no difference in behavior between children given sugar-full or sugar-free diets, even in studies specifically looking at children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or those considered sensitive to sugar.[709] A 2019 meta-analysis found no positive effect of sugar consumption on mood but did find an association with lower alertness and increased fatigue within an hour of consumption, known as a sugar crash.[710]
  • Eating nuts, popcorn, or seeds does not increase the risk of diverticulitis.[711] These foods may actually have a protective effect.[712]
  • Eating less than an hour before swimming does not increase the risk of experiencing muscle cramps or drowning. One study shows a correlation between alcohol consumption and drowning, but not between eating and stomach cramps.[713]
  • Vegan and vegetarian diets can provide enough protein for adequate nutrition.[714] In fact, typical protein intakes of ovo-lacto vegetarians meet or exceed requirements.[715] The American Dietetic Association maintains that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful.[716] However, a vegan diet does require supplementation of vitamin B12,[714] and vitamin B12 deficiency occurs in up to 80% of vegans that do not supplement their diet.[717] Consuming no animal products increases the risk of deficiencies of vitamins B12 and D, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids,[718] and sometimes iodine.[719] Vegans are also at risk of low bone mineral density without supplementation for the aforementioned nutrients.[720]
  • Swallowed chewing gum does not take seven years to digest. In fact, chewing gum is mostly indigestible, and passes through the digestive system at the same rate as other matter.[721]
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) does not trigger migraine headaches or other symptoms of so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome, nor is there evidence that some individuals are especially sensitive to MSG. There is also little evidence it impacts body weight.[722]
  • Spicy food or coffee do not have a significant effect on the development of peptic ulcers.[723]
  • The beta carotene in carrots does not enhance night vision beyond normal levels for people receiving an adequate amount, only in those with a deficiency of vitamin A.[724] The belief that it does may have originated from World War II British disinformation meant to explain the Royal Air Force's improved success in night battles, which was actually due to radar and the use of red lights on instrument panels.[725]
  • Spinach is not a particularly good source of dietary iron. While it does contain more iron than many vegetables such as asparagus, Swiss chard, kale, or arugula, it contains only about one-third to one-fifth of the iron in lima beans, chickpeas, apricots, or wheat germ. Additionally, the non-heme iron found in spinach and other vegetables is not as readily absorbed as the heme iron found in meats and fish.[726][727][728]
  • Most cases of obesity are not related to slower resting metabolism. Resting metabolic rate does not vary much between people. Overweight people tend to underestimate the amount of food they eat, and underweight people tend to overestimate. In fact, overweight people tend to have faster metabolic rates due to the increased energy required by the larger body.[729]
  • Eating normal amounts of soy does not cause hormonal imbalance.[730]
Alcoholic beverages[edit]
  • Alcoholic beverages do not make the entire body warmer.[731] Alcoholic drinks create the sensation of warmth because they cause blood vessels to dilate and stimulate nerve endings near the surface of the skin with an influx of warm blood. This can actually result in making the core body temperature lower, as it allows for easier heat exchange with a cold external environment.[732]
  • Alcohol does not necessarily kill brain cells.[733] Alcohol can, however, lead indirectly to the death of brain cells in two ways. First, in chronic, heavy alcohol users whose brains have adapted to the effects of alcohol, abrupt ceasing following heavy use can cause excitotoxicity leading to cellular death in multiple areas of the brain.[734] Second, in alcoholics who get most of their daily calories from alcohol, a deficiency of thiamine can produce Korsakoff's syndrome, which is associated with serious brain damage.[735]
  • The order in which different types of alcoholic beverages are consumed ("Grape or grain but never the twain" and "Beer before liquor never sicker; liquor before beer in the clear") does not affect intoxication or create adverse side effects.[736]
  • Authentic absinthe has no hallucinogenic properties, and is no more dangerous than any other alcoholic beverage of equivalent proof.[737] This misconception stems from late-19th- and early-20th-century distillers who produced cheap knockoff versions of absinthe, which used copper salts to recreate the distinct green color of true absinthe, and some also reportedly adulterated cheap absinthe with poisonous antimony trichloride, reputed to enhance the louching effect.[738]

Sexuality and reproduction[edit]

  • It is not possible to get pregnant from semen released in a commercial swimming pool without penetration. The sperm cells would be quickly killed by the chlorinated water and would not survive long enough to reach the vagina.[739]
  • An examination of the hymen is not an accurate or reliable indicator that a woman or girl has had penetrative sex, because the tearing of the hymen may have been the result of some other event, and some women are born without one.[740][741][742] Traditional virginity tests, such as the "two-finger" test, are widely considered to be unscientific.[743][744][745]
  • Hand size[746] and foot size[747] do not correlate with human penis size, but finger length ratio may.[748]
  • While pregnancies from sex between first cousins do carry a slightly elevated risk of birth defects, this risk is often exaggerated.[749] The risk is 5–6% (similar to that of a woman in her early 40s giving birth),[749][750] compared with a baseline risk of 3–4%.[750] The effects of inbreeding depression, while still relatively small compared to other factors (and thus difficult to control for in a scientific experiment), become more noticeable if isolated and maintained for several generations.[751]
  • Having sex before a sporting event or contest is not physiologically detrimental to performance.[752] In fact it has been suggested that sex prior to sports activity can elevate male testosterone levels, which could potentially enhance performance for male athletes.[753]
  • There is no definitive proof of the existence of the vaginal G-spot, and the general consensus is that no such spot exists on the female body.[754]
  • Closeted or latent homosexuality is not correlated with internalized homophobia. A 1996 study claiming a connection in men[755] has not been verified by subsequent studies, including a 2013 study that found no correlation.[756]
  • The menstrual cycles of people who live together do not tend to synchronize. A 1971 study made this claim, but subsequent research has not supported it.[757][758]

Skin and hair[edit]

  • Water-induced wrinkles are not caused by the skin absorbing water and swelling.[759] They are caused by the autonomic nervous system, which triggers localized vasoconstriction in response to wet skin, yielding a wrinkled appearance.[760]
  • A person's hair and fingernails do not continue to grow after death. Rather, the skin dries and shrinks away from the bases of hairs and nails, giving the appearance of growth.[761]
  • Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker or darker. This belief is thought to be due to the fact that hair that has never been cut has a tapered end, so after cutting, the base of the hair is blunt and appears thicker and feels coarser. That short hairs are less flexible than longer hairs contributes to this effect.[762]
  • MC1R, the gene mostly responsible for red hair, is not becoming extinct, nor will the gene for blond hair do so, although both are recessive alleles. Redheads and blonds may become rarer but will not die out unless everyone who carries those alleles dies without passing their hair color genes on to their children.[763]
  • Acne is mostly caused by genetics, and is not caused by a lack of hygiene or eating fatty foods, though certain medication or a carbohydrate-rich diet may worsen it.[764]
  • Dandruff is not caused by poor hygiene, though infrequent hair-washing can make it more obvious. The exact causes of dandruff are uncertain, but they are believed to be mostly genetic and environmental factors.[765]


  • James Watt did not invent the steam engine,[766] nor were his ideas on steam engine power inspired by a kettle lid pressured open by steam.[767] Watt improved upon the already commercially successful Newcomen atmospheric engine (invented in 1712) in the 1760s and 1770s, making certain improvements critical to its future usage, particularly the external condenser, increasing its efficiency, and later the mechanism for transforming reciprocating motion into rotary motion; his new steam engine later gained huge fame as a result.[768]
  • Although the guillotine was named after the French physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, he neither invented nor was executed with this device. He died peacefully in his own bed in 1814.[769]
  • Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet.[770] A forerunner of the modern toilet was invented by the Elizabethan courtier Sir John Harington in the 16th century,[771] and in 1775 the Scottish mechanic Alexander Cumming developed and patented a design for a toilet with an S-trap and flushing mechanism.[772] Crapper, however, did much to increase the popularity of the flush toilet and introduced several innovations in the late 19th century, holding nine patents, including one for the floating ballcock.[773] The word crap is also not derived from his name (see the Words, phrases and languages section above).[774]
  • Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.[775] He did, however, develop the first practical light bulb in 1880 (employing a carbonized bamboo filament), shortly prior to Joseph Swan, who invented an even more efficient bulb in 1881 (which used a cellulose filament).
  • Henry Ford did not invent either the automobile or the assembly line. He did improve the assembly line process substantially, sometimes through his own engineering but more often through sponsoring the work of his employees, and he was the main person behind the introduction of the Model T, regarded as the first affordable automobile.[776] Karl Benz (co-founder of Mercedes-Benz) is credited with the invention of the first modern automobile,[777] and the assembly line has existed throughout history.
  • Al Gore never said that he had "invented" the Internet. What Gore actually said was, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet", in reference to his political work towards developing the Internet for widespread public use.[778] Gore was the original drafter of the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which provided significant funding for supercomputing centers,[779] and this in turn led to upgrades of a major part of the already-existing early 1990s Internet backbone, the NSFNet,[780] and development of NCSA Mosaic, the browser that popularized the World Wide Web.[779] (See also: Al Gore and information technology)


Marble bust of a man with a long, pointed beard, wearing a taenia, a kind of ancient Greek head covering in this case resembling a turban. The face is somewhat gaunt and has prominent, but thin, eyebrows, which seem halfway fixed into a scowl. The ends of his mustache are long a trail halfway down the length of his beard to about where the bottom of his chin would be if we could see it. None of the hair on his head is visible, since it is completely covered by the taenia.
Bust of Pythagoras in the Capitoline Museums, Rome.[781] Classical historians dispute whether he ever made any mathematical discoveries.[782][783]


An illustration of the (incorrect) equal-transit-time explanation of aerofoil lift
  • The lift force is not generated by the air taking the same time to travel above and below an aircraft's wing.[795] This misconception, sometimes called the equal transit-time fallacy, is widespread among textbooks and non-technical reference books, and even appears in pilot training materials. In fact, the air moving over the top of an aerofoil generating lift is always moving much faster than the equal transit theory would imply,[795] as described in the incorrect and correct explanations of lift force.
  • Blowing over a curved piece of paper does not demonstrate Bernoulli's principle. Although a common classroom experiment is often explained this way,[796] Bernoulli's principle only applies within a flow field, and the air above and below the paper is in different flow fields.[797] The paper rises because the air follows the curve of the paper and a curved streamline will develop pressure differences perpendicular to the airflow.[798][799]
  • The Coriolis effect does not cause water to consistently drain from basins in a clockwise/counter-clockwise direction depending on the hemisphere. The common myth often refers to the draining action of flush toilets and bathtubs. In fact, rotation is determined by whatever minor rotation is initially present at the time the water starts to drain, as the magnitude of the coriolis acceleration is negligibly small compared to the inertial acceleration of flow within a typical basin.[800]
  • Neither gyroscopic forces nor geometric trail are required for a rider to balance a bicycle or for it to demonstrate self-stability.[801][802] Although gyroscopic forces and trail can be contributing factors, it has been demonstrated that those factors are neither required nor sufficient by themselves.[801]
  • A penny dropped from the Empire State Building would not kill a person or crack the sidewalk. A penny is too light and has too much air resistance to acquire enough speed to do much damage since it reaches terminal velocity after falling about 50 feet. Heavier or more aerodynamic objects could cause significant damage if dropped from that height.[803][804]
  • Using a programmable thermostat's setback feature to limit heating or cooling in a temporarily unoccupied building does not waste as much energy as leaving the temperature constant. Using setback saves energy (5–15%) because heat transfer across the surface of the building is roughly proportional to the temperature difference between its inside and the outside.[805][806]
  • It is not possible for a person to completely submerge in quicksand, as commonly depicted in fiction,[807] although sand entrapment in the nearshore of a body of water can be a drowning hazard as the tide rises.[808]
  • Quantum nonlocality caused by quantum entanglement does not allow faster-than-light communication or imply instant action at a distance, despite its common characterization as "spooky action at a distance". Rather, it means that certain experiments cannot be explained by local realism.[809][810]
  • The slipperiness of ice is not due to pressure melting. While it is true that increased pressure, such as that exerted by someone standing on a sheet of ice, will lower the melting point of ice, experiments show that the effect is too weak to account for the lowered friction. Materials scientists still debate whether premelting or the heat of friction is the dominant cause of ice's slipperiness.[811][812]

Psychology and neuroscience[edit]

  • True photographic memory (the ability to remember endless images, particularly pages or numbers, with such a high degree of precision that the image mimics a photo) has never been demonstrated to exist in any individual,[813] although a small number of young children have eidetic memory, where they can recall an object with high precision for a few minutes after it is no longer present.[814] Many people have claimed to have a photographic memory, but those people have been shown to have high precision memories as a result of mnemonic devices rather than a natural capacity for detailed memory encoding.[815] There are rare cases of individuals with exceptional memory, but none of them have a memory that mimics that of a camera.
  • The phase of the Moon does not influence fertility, cause a fluctuation in crime, or affect the stock market. There is no correlation between the lunar cycle and human biology or behavior. However, the increased amount of illumination during the full moon may account for increased epileptic episodes, motorcycle accidents, or sleep disorders.[816]

Mental disorders[edit]

  • Vaccines do not cause autism. There have been no successful attempts to reproduce fraudulent research by British ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield, where the misconception likely originates. Wakefield's research was ultimately shown to have been manipulated.[817]
  • Dyslexia is not defined or diagnosed as mirror writing or reading letters or words backwards.[818][819] Mirror writing and reading letters or words backwards are behaviors seen in many children (dyslexic or not) as they learn to read and write.[818][819] Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder of people who have at least average intelligence and who have difficulty in reading and writing that is not otherwise explained by low intelligence.[820]
  • Self-harm is not generally an attention-seeking behavior. People who engage in self-harm are typically very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behavior, leading them to go to great lengths to conceal it from others.[821] They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing.[822][823]
  • There is no evidence that a chemical imbalance or neurotransmitter deficiency is the sole factor in depression and other mental disorders, but rather a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.[824][825]
  • Schizophrenia is characterized by continuous or relapsing episodes of psychosis. Major symptoms include hallucinations (typically hearing voices), delusions, paranoia, and disorganized thinking. Other symptoms include social withdrawal, decreased emotional expression, and apathy.[826] The term was coined from the Greek roots schizein and phrēn, "to split" and "mind", in reference to a "splitting of mental functions" seen in schizophrenia, not a splitting of the personality.[827] It does not involve split or multiple personalities—a split or multiple personality is dissociative identity disorder.[828]


  • Broad generalizations are often made in popular psychology about certain brain functions being lateralized, or more predominant in one hemisphere than the other. These claims are often inaccurate or overstated.[829]
  • The human brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, does not reach "full maturity" at any particular age (e.g. 18, 21, or 25 years of age). Changes in structure and myelination of gray matter are recorded to continue with relative consistency all throughout adult life. Some mental abilities peak and begin to decline around high school graduation while others do not peak until much later (i.e. 40s or later).[830]
Golgi-stained neurons in human hippocampal tissue. It is commonly believed that humans will not grow new brain cells, but research has shown that some neurons can reform in humans.
  • Humans do not generate all of the brain cells they will ever have by the age of two years. Although this belief was held by medical experts until 1998, it is now understood that new neurons can be created after infancy in some parts of the brain into late adulthood.[831]
  • People do not use only 10% of their brains.[832][833] While it is true that a small minority of neurons in the brain are actively firing at any one time, a healthy human will normally use most of their brain over the course of a day, and the inactive neurons are important as well. The idea that activating 100% of the brain would allow someone to achieve their maximum potential and/or gain various psychic abilities is common in folklore and fiction,[833][834][835] but doing so in real life would likely result in a fatal seizure.[836][837] This misconception was attributed to late 19th century leading thinker William James, who apparently used the expression only metaphorically.[834]
  • Although Phineas Gage's brain injuries, caused by a several-foot-long tamping rod driven completely through his skull, caused him to become temporarily disabled, many fanciful descriptions of his aberrant behavior in later life are without factual basis or contradicted by known facts.[838]


An incorrect map of the tongue showing zones that taste bitter (1), sour (2), salty (3) and sweet (4). Actually, all zones can sense all tastes, and there is also the taste of umami (not shown on picture).



  • The Bermuda Triangle does not have any more shipwrecks or mysterious disappearances than most other waterways.[858]
  • Toilet waste is never intentionally jettisoned from an aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks and emptied into toilet waste vehicles.[859] Blue ice is caused by accidental leakage from the waste tank. Passenger train toilets, on the other hand, have indeed historically flushed onto the tracks; modern trains in most developed countries usually have retention tanks on board and therefore do not dispose of waste in such a manner.
  • Automotive batteries stored on a concrete floor do not discharge any faster than they would on other surfaces,[860] in spite of worry among Americans that concrete harms batteries.[861] Early batteries with porous, leaky cases may have been susceptible to moisture from floors, but for many years lead–acid car batteries have had impermeable polypropylene cases.[862] While most modern automotive batteries are sealed, and do not leak battery acid when properly stored and maintained,[863] the sulfuric acid in them can leak out and stain, etch, or corrode concrete floors if their cases crack or tip over or their vent-holes are breached by floods.[864]

See also[edit]


  • Sargent RL (1927). "The Use of Slaves by the Athenians in Warfare". Classical Philology. 22 (3): 201–212. doi:10.1086/360887. JSTOR 263517. S2CID 162291797.
  • Casson L (1966). "Galley Slaves". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 97: 35–44. doi:10.2307/2936000. JSTOR 2936000.
  • Casson L (1971). Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03536-9.
  • Unger RW (1980). The Ship in Medieval Economy 600–1600. London: Croom Helm. ISBN 0-85664-949-X.


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