Living in Portugal, I have noticed that there a few interesting cultural myths, that everyone takes as wrote.
Now I know what you're thinking (especially if you live in Portugal): This guy is just a Portuguese-Basher. Well... no. I just prefer science to old wives tales.
So, here I list a few myths that I have encountered, and a very cursory explanation of why they are just MYTHS...
1 - My favorite one is this: If you buy a potted Basil plant, and you want to smell it, you can't use your nose to smell the plant directly. This will kill, or at least harm the plant. Apparently, you need to press your hand down on the plant, and then smell your hand.
Reducing this to basics: If you smell the plant with your nose, about 2cm's above the plant, without actually coming into contact with it, the plant will die. If you press your hand onto the plant, then smell your hand, it will not die.
Makes perfect sense..... :|
Especially if you're the guy selling the plants and makin' mad money.
"Yes sir... don't smell the plant... squish it... preferably with a brick... or hammer... Oh, and if youre plant dies (because someone smelt it dierectly) I have more for sale..."
(UPDATE: You got to read this post by Rita on Piano & Raciocinio.) Mythbusting aside, it's a great post...
2 - Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis:
Well, a study of 300 people who had bad habits of cracking their knuckles did not find any evidence that doing so leads to arthritis.
Cracking your knuckles might damage your joints in other ways, or make them weaker, but arthritis is genetic....
3 - Eating too much piri-piri, or spicy food will give you ulcers:
Eating spicy food does not have anything to do with causing ulcers. The work conducted by Australians Robert Warren and Barry Marshall ended up in the awarding of the Nobel Prize, who concluded that stomach ulcers are actually developed by a strand of bacteria known as helicobacter pylori.
So, my friends, eat lots and lots of chilli, ginger and every other spice you can. It IS good for you... Look at people living in India. They have really low levels of heart disease, ulcers and other digestive disfunctions.
4 - You MUST wait 1 / 2 / 4 hours after eating before going swimming, otherwise you will get cramps / die / drown.
(This is the one I have the hardest time trying to explain to people, but no-one will listen to me... Oh well... it just means I get an extra hour or two by myself in the pool after lunch :D )
During digestion of food, more blood is sent to help in the process, with less left around to tend to our muscles. But this represents a very very small percentage of the total blood available in your body.
The few cramps some people might get are associated to other factors, like over exertion, or inadequate fitness levels. Also, if you go from a really hot environment into extremely cold water, you might get a cramp, among other things, but it has nothing to do with whether you ate or not.
If this was anywhere near true, then you wouldn't be able to do a lot of other things after lunch, like climb stairs, have sex, ride a bicycle, go for a jog, etc etc without passing out or getting cramps, or dying, or whatever is supposed to happen to you.
5 - Don't swallow gum / Eat peppers - They stay in your stomach for 3 / 5 / 7 years:
I have tested this, by eating kilos of peppers, and swallowing every piece of gum I chewed on.
Ok, if you still need convincing: Gum is made up of two major components, sugar and a type of plastic. Your body breaks down the sugars and the plastic gum ends up in your stool. There's really no way gum can "get stuck" inside your belly.
6 - If you go outside / get wet / get cold / walk around barefoot you will catch a cold / the 'flu'.
This is the one that I think most people here believe in.
It is also the easiest to prove wrong, if you would just take the time to find out how common colds work in the first place.
Colds are the result of a simple virus that we get from breathing in from the air. People stay inside more during winter, with all the doors and windows shut. This makes for a drop in fresh air circulation, creating more opportunities for you to breathe in those pesky cold viruses.
Conclusion: NOT going out to catch some fresh air, and staying inside will increase your chances of catching a cold.
7 - If you shave your face / legs / arms / armpits, the hair will grow back stronger / thicker / longer / darker.
This is another one most people believe.
Shaving your hair has nothing to do with the growth of new hair. If it did, wouldn't your balding father/grandfather be spending extra time shaving his head? The reasons for thinking this way relates to the length of the hair follicle.
The shorter it is, the more it seems to be thicker/stronger/darker. In addition, hair is only alive in the scalp, or under the skin, so cutting it off does nothing to affect its growth.
(please note: I am talking about SHAVING, not waxing or laser hair removal which damage the hair follicle itself...)
8 - Reading in low light / candle light will damage your eyes / make you go blind:
This one is actually common to most countries I have lived in.
In essence, what people are affirming is that everyone had really poor eyesight / or were blind before the lightbulb was invented.
Another one I think is glaringly obvious, but if you really need to be convinced, Enlighten Yourself.
The links I have included were just the first link of MANY given in a really fast Google search. If I was to dig deeper (i.e.: click on a couple of more search results), there is lots more subject matter out there to bust these myths.
I really appreciate good discussions on all subjects, but I would prefer not to see comments along the lines of "Well... you're wrong, because I once heard of a friend of a cousin who read in the newspaper a story about a news bulletin which referred to a second hand recount of an experience someone else had, so it must be true, and.. and... well... you're just wrong..." If you have scientific evidence to prove any of this wrong, I will happily update this post, and include any corrections credited to you.