< Go to Homepage

Common Myths We’ve All Been Wrong About

Science By
(Martin Howard/Flickr)
(Martin Howard/Flickr)


Data journalist and designer David McCandless has put together a helpful chart of debunked myths and misconceptions, like a goldfish’s short memory.

Sort of an infographic version of Snopes.com, the chart is color-coordinated by subject, with each entry sized according to how pervasive the myth is. Some of these are pretty familiar, but a lot of them aren’t, and a few really knocked us for a loop. Here are some of the most surprising things we’ve been wrong about for years:

1. Sharks don’t get cancer – Who knows where this idea came from, but sharks do get cancer, especially skin cancer.

Great white shark (Elias Levy/Flickr)
(Elias Levy/Flickr)


2. Bananas grow on trees – What we call a “banana tree” is actually a huge herb that only looks like a tree. We can understand the mix-up, though.

Organic bananas on tree.(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)


3. Einstein failed math – The idea that Albert Einstein wasn’t naturally good at math has consoled plenty of discouraged kids (and a few adults) over the years. It’s not true, though. Einstein was pretty good at math, and only got that reputation by failing one school’s entrance exam.

Albert Einstein
(Lambert/Keystone/Getty Images)


4. Iron maidens were medieval torture devices  – The iron maiden was actually invented in the 18th century and shown off in circuses, who claimed that it was used to torture people centuries prior.

Iron maiden
(Ernst Keil’s Nachfolger/Wikimedia Commons)


5. Vomitoriums – This may disappoint you, but ancient Romans did not have special rooms to throw up in during lavish feasts and orgies. The term “vomitorium” actually refers to the entrance to a stadium. This should resonate with Philadelphia Eagles fans, especially.

Roman Anphitheater of Merida. Badajoz "Bleachers and"" vomitorium"" (entrance) of the amphitheater, Roman construction of the S. II AD where they took place combats among gladiators and wild animals" (JMN/Cover/Getty Images)
(JMN/Cover/Getty Images)


6. Water conducts electricity – We could have sworn this one was true, but water is an insulator, not a conductor. It’s the substances it dissolves (namely salt) that conduct electricity.

Toaster in water (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)


7. George Washington had wooden teeth – George’s false teeth were made from a mix of gold, ivory, lead, and horse teeth. In this case, the truth is actually weirder than we all thought.

(The Athenaeum/Wikimedia Commons)


8. Humans have five senses – We’re not giving ourselves enough credit. Factoring in balance, pain, movement, hunger, thirst, and so on, we have closer to 20 distinct senses.

Five senses (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)


9. Smoking dried banana peel can get you high – This one’s been around since the 1960s, and it’s just as wrong now as it was then.

Banana peel (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)


10. Vikings wore horned helmets – Much like the iron maiden, these came much later. Specifically, the 19th century, when they were made for a Wagner opera.

Viking Helmet (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)


Click here for the full chart.

RealClearLife Staff