Many of the “facts” that we learned in school aren’t so factual after all! There is a surprising number of things we’ve learned over the years that are really myths, misinformation, old wives’ tales, or just plain false.
Here are 25 things you learned in school that aren’t true:
1. “Christopher Columbus discovered America.”
Christopher Columbus couldn’t have “discovered” America because indigenous people already lived there. He also wasn’t the first European to visit the New World in 1492– historians agree the first European to land in America is Viking explorer Leif Erikson, who sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland in Canada around 1,000 A.D.
2. “Christopher Columbus discovered that the Earth wasn’t flat.”
While we’re on the subject of Christopher Columbus lies you learned in school, how about this one: Columbus didn’t discover that the Earth is round either.
It’s likely Columbus knew the Earth is round prior to sailing the ocean blue. According to The Washington Post, educated people during and before Columbus’s time considered a spherical Earth to be fact. When he departed for the New World, Columbus was less concerned with falling off the edge of the Earth, and more worried about the size of the ocean he wanted to cross!
3. “Chameleons change color to blend into their surroundings.”
Among things you learned in school that aren’t true is this little factoid: chameleons change colors to camouflage themselves and hide from predators. Turns out, chameleons use their color-changing abilities to regulate body temperature and communicate.
Because chameleons can’t generate their own body heat, a cold chameleon might turn a darker color to absorb warmth. A hot chameleon, however, may become a pale shade to reflect the sun’s heat. Additionally, male chameleons signal dominance by turning darker, and females communicate a willingness to mate by changing color.
Chameleons can change color because their outermost layer of skin is transparent. Beneath the outer layer are several more layers of skin that contain chromatophores, which are specialized cells filled with sacs of different types of pigment.
4. “Certain parts of your tongue taste certain things.”
Do different parts of your tongue taste different things? You may have learned about a tongue map or taste map in science class, but certain taste buds aren’t limited to a specific part of your tongue. There are taste receptors are all over your tongue. While some taste buds are more receptive to specific tastes than others, that difference is very slight.
5. “Seasons are determined by Earth’s proximity to the sun.”
Did you know that seasons have nothing to do with Earth’s proximity to the sun? It’s actually Earth’s tilt that causes the seasons, according to NASA.
In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter when Earth is closest to the sun, and summer when it is farthest away. Earth’s axis is always tilted in the same direction as it orbits the sun, so throughout the year, different parts of the planet get the sun’s direct rays.
6. “We only use 10% of our brains.”
There are certain moments we may only be using 10% of our gray matter, but there is no evidence that parts of our brain are unused. Humans use virtually every part of our brains, according to Scientific American, and most of the brain is active all the time.
7. “Henry Ford invented the automobile.”
We’re told Henry Ford built the first gasoline-powered vehicle in 1896, but early accounts give credit to German Karl Benz. Benz created the first practical gasoline-powered automobile almost a decade earlier in 1885.
8. “It takes seven years to digest gum.”
This is one of the most enduring old wives’ tales you learned in school, and it simply isn’t true. If you swallow chewing gum, it won’t take seven years to digest. Your body will digest it along with the rest of your food as it would normally, according to Duke Health.
9. “Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity after an apple fell on his head.”
Like so many of the things we were taught at school that are wrong, this one is an embellished version of something that did happen. Sir Isaac Newton didn’t discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.
He did, however, begin theorizing about gravity while talking with a friend about why an apple always falls to the ground instead of sideways or upward. Newton writes an account in his memoir.
10. “Albert Einstein flunked math and was a terrible student.”
The myth that Albert Einstein failed at math may have been spun from the time he failed the entrance exam for the Zurich Polytechnic. Einstein was an excellent math student. However, when he took the test he had more than a year of high school left, and he didn’t speak French, the language the exam was given in. He passed the math section, but failed the language, botany, and zoology sections.
11. “Diamonds are made of pressurized coal.”
Both coal and diamonds form from carbon beneath the Earth’s surface. However, the carbon that forms diamonds is much more pure, and the process requires a lot more heat and pressure.
12. “Blood is blue.”
Were you taught that deoxygenated blood is blue? Blood is actually red, whether it’s made contact with oxygen or not. The blue hue of your veins is actually a result of the way your eyes absorb and see color, according to Live Science.
13. “Camels store water in their humps.”
A camel’s hump doesn’t store any water. Camels use their humps to store fat so they can travel for days through the desert without any food. Camel hump fat is actually highly nutritious and contains tons of vitamins, minerals, and three times the amount of fatty acids found in superfoods like coconut oil.
14. “Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity when he got struck by lightning.”
You probably learned that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite in a rainstorm, but there’s actually a lot of debate among historians about what actually happened, largely because the electric shock would’ve killed him.
According to the Franklin Institute, Franklin wasn’t struck by lightning and didn’t discover electricity, but he was one of the first to observe electricity closely.
15. “Eating carrots will improve your vision.”
Carrots do contain a nutrient that promotes eye health, but eating tons of them won’t give you super vision. The root vegetable is packed with the nutrient beta carotene, which the body converts to retinal, a type of vision-boosting vitamin A.
However, that benefit does not apply if you are low in vitamin A due to malabsorption, a poor diet, or alcoholism. Most people get enough beta carotene and vitamin A in their diets.
16. “All gas is the same.”
This one is kind of true, kind of false. All gas is the same up to a point – each company adds its own proprietary detergents in varying quantities, so what you pump into your car does vary from brand to brand.
For example, ethanol-free gas with more additives is more expensive, but it’s better at preventing engine wear. Gas with more ethanol (such as E85, which means 85% ethanol) tends to result in lower fuel economy because of its lower energy density. There is as much as a 3% difference between ethanol-free gas and E85, according to the Department of Energy.
17. “Bulls hate the color red.”
Like all other cattle, bulls are colorblind and cannot see the color red. Bullfighters use a red cape, or muleta, during a bullfight. Bulls are enraged by the cape’s movement, not its color.
18. “Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.”
Although Thomas Edison did patent the first commercially successful light bulb in 1879, it wasn’t the first light bulb. Italian inventor Alessandro Volta developed the voltaic pile, which was the first practical method of generating electricity, in 1800. British scientist Warren de la Rue developed a version of a lightbulb in 1840 that was too expensive to distribute commercially.
19. “There is no gravity in space.”
The weightlessness you associate with gravity is actually microgravity. “Micro” means “very small,” which means there is a very small amount of gravity. In microgravity, astronauts can float and heavy objects can move around.
There is a small amount of gravity everywhere in the solar system. It’s what holds the moon in orbit around Earth and causes Earth to orbit the sun. On Earth, gravity pulls us toward the ground, but in space, shuttles are in a constant state of free fall. Astronauts appear weightless because they are falling at the same speed of the shuttle.
20. “Napoleon was really short.”
Napoleon is often described as being short in stature – around 5 feet 2 inches tall– but many historians now believe he was actually closer to 5 feet 7 inches, which would have made him of average height.
21. “Humans have five senses.”
Touch, sight, taste, smell, and hearing are our basic senses. Humans also have senses of space, balance, temperature, pain, hunger, and thirst among many more. There are as many as 20 different senses in addition to our basic senses.
22. “Raindrops are teardrop-shaped.”
That stereotypical teardrop image gets it all wrong! Raindrops are actually shaped more like hamburger buns or kidney beans. When they get really big, they split in two and briefly become teardrops, but turn back into hamburger buns again.
23. “You can see the Great Wall of China from space.”
Often touted as the only man-made object visible from space, the Great Wall of China isn’t really visible to the naked eye from space. You can, however, see it in radar images.
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