Gullibility Test: Science and Nature
CLAIM: Cockroaches can survive for up to a month with their heads cut off.
ANSWER: TRUE. Cockroaches do not have blood pressure as mammals do. Therefore, cutting off their head would not cause them to die from bleeding. Nor do cockroaches need their heads to breathe. They only require their heads to eat. After about a month without their head (though probably much sooner), they would die of starvation.
CLAIM: Sharks do not get cancer.
ANSWER: FALSE. Sharks definitely do get cancer. However, they get it far less often than humans do. The idea that sharks are immune to cancer was popularized by the title of William Lane's 1992 book Sharks Don't Get Cancer. However, inside his book Lane admitted that sharks do get cancer. Although it is theorized that shark cartilage might inhibit the growth of tumor blood vessels, studies have shown that ingesting shark cartilage does not confer any anti-cancer benefits.
CLAIM: Long-tailed, South American monkeys have an unusual way of crossing rivers. Clinging to each other, they form their bodies into a living bridge that stretches between the trees on either side of a river. Other members of the pack then climb across this 'monkey chain' to reach the other side.
ANSWER: FALSE. Monkey chains have long been rumored to exist, but no contemporary naturalist has ever seen one. The idea of monkey chains is a myth that was started by the early European explorers of South America.
CLAIM: Duck quacks do not echo.
ANSWER: FALSE.Urban legend has long had it that duck quacks don't echo. But researchers have disproven this by actually placing ducks in echo chambers and recording the echo of their quacks. Specifically, in 2003 researcher Trevor Cox placed a duck called Daisy in a reverberation chamber and measured the echo of her quacks. Cox explained that a quack is a 'fading sound' and therefore the echo is sometimes a little hard to hear, but it's definitely there.
CLAIM: Turtles never die of old age.
ANSWER: TRUE. Turtles exhibit what is known as 'negligible senescence.' In other words, unlike humans, they do not continue to age once their bodies reach maturity. In theory, they might be able to live forever, though in practice this would never happen. Injury, predation, or disease eventually kill them. But turtles have been known to live beyond 150 years without exhibiting any signs of old age. Fish and amphibians also share this enviable characteristic.
CLAIM: Lemmings commit suicide by hurling themselves, en masse, off cliffs.
ANSWER: FALSE. Lemmings do not periodically commit suicide by hurlings themselves off cliffs. The idea that they do is just a myth. Belief in this myth was strengthened by a 1958 Disney documentary, White Wilderness, in which the filmmakers herded some hapless lemmings off a cliff in order to show this supposedly natural behavior.
CLAIM: There is a small village in Ecuador, called Vilcabamba, whose inhabitants have an average lifespan of over 100 years.
ANSWER: FALSE. It was believed for many years that the residents of the Ecuadorian village of Vilcabamba lived to an unusually old age. This belief stemmed from a 1971 census that listed a high number of the village's 819 residents as being over the age of 100. But when anthropologists investigated this claim, they discovered that it was a hoax. Apparently, the Vilcabambans were lying about their age in order to attract more tourists to their village.
CLAIM: Lightning occasionally imprints photographic images of surrounding scenery onto the skin of those it has struck.
ANSWER: FALSE. 19th century scientists dubbed this phenomenon Keranography, and anecdotal accounts of it have long persisted. An actual example of it, however, has never been documented. Lightning can leave strange markings on those it strikes, but scientists do not believe that lightning possesses any photographic properties.
CLAIM: Physicists recently announced that they were able to slow down light waves until the waves were almost frozen in place.
ANSWER: TRUE. Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced in January, 2001 that they had used super-cooled vapor to slow down the velocity of light waves to zero, thereby freezing the energy of the light in an atomic 'spin wave.' It may seem odd to think of light being frozen in place. After all, light moves faster than anything else in the universe, traveling at 186,282 miles per second. But that's only in a vacuum. Light does slow down when it hits a substance such as air, water, or glass. It was essentially a matter of finding the right material to slow down the light without destroying the delicate light photons altogether. The researchers said that they hoped to use their light-freezing technique to create super-fast 'quantum' computers. Read more about it here.
CLAIM: Gravity has a stronger pull at the Earth's poles than it does at the equator. As a result, a person who weights 150lbs at the equator, would weigh almost a pound heavier if they stood at the North Pole.
ANSWER: TRUE. The earth is not perfectly round. It flattens out somewhat at the poles. Therefore, a person standing at the poles is actually 13 miles closer to the center of the earth than they are when standing at the equator. The pull of gravity increases as you move closer to the center of a gravitational mass, making objects heavier (just as when you move away from the center of a gravitational masssuch as when you fly into outer spacegravity weakens). In addition, the centrifugal spin effect at the equator slightly counteracts the pull of gravity. All of this translates into a difference of almost a pound between what a person would weigh at the equator versus at the poles. See this article for more info.