13 Twitter Science "Facts", Debunked

Calling something a fact doesn’t make it true. posted on

1.
 

This fact seems to have originated from claims made by plastic surgeon Anthony Youn MD, writing at CNN and widely reported elsewhere. The catch is that it only applies to people undergoing a breast lift or reduction, who smoke in the month before and after surgery. So most smokers can relax (about the nipple thing, at least).

2.

It’ll go paler, but not completely white. Fish produce pigment in response to light (like we do when we get a tan). But they also get some pigment from the food they eat, so even in left in the dark forever they wouldn’t go white.

3.

Nope, the actual figure seems to be somewhere around 1 in 200.

4.
 

So go to bed, or your brain might get too big for your skull and make your head explode. Or not – turns out this factoid comes from a study done on fruit flies. And it’s the synapse size/number that increases during a fly’s waking hours, not its actual brain.

5.
Flickr: epsos / Creative Commons / Twitter: @UberFacts

It depends what numbers you use. Estimates of the amount of gold in the world range from 155,244 to 2.5 million tonnes. A ring uses about 5.5g of gold. And there are 7 billion people in the world. Which gives somewhere between 4 and 64 gold rings each. Gold for everyone!

7.
Flickr: baggis / Creative Commons / Twitter: @UberFacts

These stats originate from a PLOS Biology paper. But something appears to have got lost in translation. What the authors of the paper actually say is: “Our results suggest that some 86% of the species on Earth, and 91% in the ocean, still await description.” That’s not the same as being undiscovered. And it includes plants as well as animals.

8.
 

We’ve covered it before, but this myth never seems to die. It might have originated from the fact that 10% of the brain is made up of neurons, and the remaining 90% is glial cells. We don’t really know what glial cells do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use them.

9.
Mary Parrish, National Museum of Natural History / Twitter: @GoogleFacts

Maybe? A huge fossil of a fungus “tree trunk” was identified in 2007 and thought to have lived on Earth when tree-like plants were just small shrubs, no more than a couple of feet high. But “covered” is taking it a bit far. And they were only stalks, no caps.

10.

This works out at one “thought” every 1.2 seconds. But really it’s pretty hard to define when one thought ends and another starts. Either way, this is very dubious. Neuroskeptic has a good analysis of this “fact”.

11.

30 million divided by 7 million actually works out at just over four sheep per person. You’d think at least one of the 1096 people who retweeted it would have checked the maths first.

But the population of New Zealand is 4.3 million, not 7 million. (Here are the actual numbers.) Using the real stats, the answer does work out at 7 sheep per person.

12.

A study published in the journal Science in 2007 showed that women and men both speak the same number of words per day – around 16,000. There appears to be a myth that women speak 20,000 words a day compared to men’s 7000, but there’s no scientific study to back that up.

13.

Not anymore. Bacteria that reproduce once every 10,000 years have been found in rocks below the ocean floor. And if we’re talking non-clonal organisms (so not bacteria), Methuselah has been superseded by another tree from the White Mountains, California, in 2013.

Also bonus wrong points for tweeting that something will happen “in 2012” in 2013.

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