Three Sneaky Science Myths

You might be surprised to learn how many things taught as scientific truth are actually science myths. Here are three.

Science myths can be surprisingly sneaky, penetrating popular culture in subtle and surprising ways. Remember Popeye the Sailor singing “I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach”? That’s one example of a science myth.

Um, Excuse Me?

Back when the iron content of spinach was calculated, about a century ago, it was reported to be about ten times higher than it actually is, a mistake repeated ad nauseum by subsequent researchers who cited the original study.

When Popeye’s creator needed a gimmick to pump up his muscles, he chose iron-rich spinach (no one had heard of steroids back in 1929). It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that scientists corrected the error; and in the 1990’s, others discovered that spinach’s iron absorption rate was just 2-5% of the cited figure. Oops.

But many of us still think spinach is awfully high in iron, all because of an error that led to a cartoon than still influences people today. So, what other fun myths can we be party poopers about today? Let’s look at a few.

Myth #1: No Two Snowflakes Are Alike

The short answer to this one is, has anyone checked every single snowflake yet?

Of course not. This is an assumption, based on a claim made by scientist William Bently. Back in 1931, he published a book of 6,000 snowflake photos, no two of which were alike. But many were retouched, and they were far from a representative sample.

Other researchers have claimed to have found identical snowflakes, while still others have countered with the argument that, at the molecular level, the flakes really are different, so any similarity in shape doesn’t count.

By that argument, identical twins are completely different, and so are all mass-produced items. As Bugs Bunny once said, “Let’s not go splittin’ hares.”

Myth #2: The Tongue Map

We’ve all seen the tongue map showing how various parts of the tongue detect sweet, sour, bitter, or salty flavors. But this map is just plain wrong, based on a research error dating back to the late 1800’s. All tastes can be detected by all regions of the tongue, as you can tell if you’ll just test this on yourself.

Myth #3: Columbus Proved the Earth Was Round

Nope. By the late 15th century, scholars had known that the earth was spherical since the days of Eratosthenes of Alexandria, who had measured the Earth’s diameter with surprising accuracy more than 1,500 years before.

Columbus simply thought that the Earth was smaller than it was, due to a mistranslation of Eratosthenes — and believed he had sailed to East Asia until his dying day.

Don’t let science myths like this one steer YOU wrong!