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Four scientific myths that your teachers passed off as true.

Growing up during the age of Bill Nye the Science Guy and BrainPop, you have probably learned quite a bit about science and the way things tend to work. However, even Bill, Tim and Moby were no match when it came to some of the “facts” that teachers have taught students over the years.

You’ve probably heard that the Great Wall of China is so big that it can be seen from space with the naked eye, right? Wrong. You can see desert roads and long bridges easier than you can see the Great Wall, which is only semi-visible through pictures. Humans also have way more than just five senses; there are actually up to twenty, including sense of space, vibration, direction and time.

So, now you’re probably really curious about what else you were taught that is actually a total lie. Well don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Get ready for four science myths you learned in school to be busted wide open—or, as I like to call it in homage to my favorite bubble buster, Bria Ruins Science.

Our Ape Ancestors

Myth: Everyone has seen this picture of evolution, or variations of it; it starts off with an ape, crouching as it walks, and as it goes up the line, it gets a straighter back and more man-like features. While being shown that picture, kids have always been told that humans evolved from apes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s a little bit like saying humans evolved from fish.

Truth: In reality, humans and chimpanzees evolved from a common species, making us 99 percent related; this phenomenon is known as common descent. The common ancestor split off into two separate lineages about six million years ago, though the original humans were far different than the humans we know today. Currently, most scientists recognize that there were between fifteen and twenty different species of early humans. If you go further back in time, you would find that all animals, vertebrates and invertebrates alike come from the same ancestor, not just primates.

No Gravity in Space 

Myth: There is no gravity in space, that is why everything floats around when you leave the planet’s atmosphere.

Truth: If it was true that there was no gravity in space, literally everything would collapse in on itself, collide with one another or plummet to wherever the bottom of the universe is. There is gravity everywhere in space, it just gets weaker the farther you get away from Earth.

Every object in space feels the gravitational pull of a stronger object, including astronauts that float around in “zero-gravity.” That “zero-gravity,” weightless feeling is because of microgravity, which is the same gravity that prevents the planets from crashing into one another and keeps them orbiting around the sun. In fact, the International Space Station depends on gravity to stay 350 kilometers above our planet.

The combination of multiple gravitational pulls is also what keeps the asteroid belt and cloud moving. When an asteroid starts hurdling toward a planet, that’s because the gravity from one object got too weak and the planet’s stronger gravitational pull won the eternal game of tug-of-war.

Blue Bloods

Myth: When you look down at your wrist, if your veins are visible, they always appear to be blue or green. The combination of that phemonon with drawings and graphics that depict some veins as blue and others as red has led many students to believe the misconception that the deoxygenated blood in veins is a blue color.

Truth: The idea that deoxygenated blood is blue stems from the fact that human eyes see it that way, but eyesight can be deceiving; in reality, the appearance of “blue” blood comes from the refraction of light through layers of skin. In normal light, blood is red because all colors except for red are absorbed by the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin. If you were to hold a filter that blocks reflected color in between blood and your eyes, the color you see would change.

In this case, those filters are human skin and the levels of oxygenated iron and carbon dioxide. Highly oxygenated blood shows up red; high levels of carbon dioxide show up blue; and when carbon-dioxide-rich blood is covered with fat or skin, it looks green. As for the drawings with two differently colored veins, that’s just a way of separating the arteries from the veins. Color change is a lot easier than making one polka dotted and the other striped. The bottom line is that actual blood is always some shade of red, and if your blood isn’t, you should be very concerned.

The Birth of a Diamond

Myth: Many people were taught that diamonds are formed when a lump of coal is put under intense amounts of pressure. While this is a really nice rags-to-riches kind of story, it’s just that: a story. 

Truth: For one, coal and diamonds aren’t even found in the same place. Coal is found on the Earth’s surface and most diamonds are found in the mantle. Secondly, most diamonds that have been found are way older than the first plans (the material from which coal forms.) When it comes to the formation of diamonds, there are actually four different methods and none of them have much to do with pressurized coal, only two methods involve coal at all and that is only as a carbon source.

For now, let’s just talk about the most common method of formation and that is formation in the Earth’s mantle. This is where the whole high temperatures and major pressure bit comes from. These conditions occur in specific parts of the mantle at about ninety miles below the surface of the planet. There, temperatures reach at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The diamonds only reach the surface when volcanoes decide that they don’t want anyone forgetting about them any time soon. Today we have labs to imitate the diamond growth process successfully.

Of all of the school subjects, science is perhaps the easiest to lie about because scientists don’t really know everything there is to know and they probably never will. New species and phenomena are being discovered every day and only about 5 percent of the ocean has been explored. In short, there is a lot of room for things to be made up just for the sake of having something to say about xyz. Don’t let yourself fall prey to those lies; do your readings and research.

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Bria Jones

Georgia Southern University
Writing & Linguistics

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