There used to be an old wives’ tale back in my student days at the University of Leuven’s philosophy department: that we were “allowed” to read the Playboy—as if one would need permission for that. We didn’t read it for the vestimentary-challenged ladies; it was of course for the articles. More precisely, it was especially for an article by Leslie Fiedler, published in the December 1969 issue, that helped start the postmodernism.
Now I’m not a fan of postmodernism, not in literature and certainly not in philosophical matters, so I wasn’t actively following the magazine. It was only through Wil Wheaton’s interview of Patton Oswalt [link to Playboy.com] that I browsed their website and found the following list. As with most entertainment or even “news” sites, such lists are ideal clickbait with an attention-grabbing headline. Playboy plays the game rather well, feeding itself mostly on Reddit conversations about sexuality and related matters. But this one [link to Playboy.com] was not only (mostly) unrelated to sex, but also skeptical: 11 common “facts” that are incorrect, and only two related to sex (guess which ones…). The list is hastily compiled (as most of these lists!), they are really “common misconceptions” sometimes mixed with the correct explanation, as you can see in the list below.
They still seem to be in their postmodernism period, as the article opens with “Truth is a relative term,” which makes me think that there are actually 12 facts that are incorrect, but the rest is quite nice. Number 2 was covered by Brian in Skeptoid episode 174. But take for instance number 3, which says that shaving makes hair grow faster. Until I read it in Playboy, I thought it was true but it seems it isn’t, and the Mayo Clinic agrees. It is just an impression that you have when it regrows. Furthermore, the Mayo Clinic insists you go see your doctor if there is a sudden increase in facial or body hair as there might be something wrong.
Number 4, about blood being blue inside your body and turning red after exposure to oxygen is wrong. It is red because of the iron in the blood, and it only seems to be blue (for instance on your hands or legs) because the veins appear blue behind your skin. Blood’s main function is to deliver oxygenated air to the body’s cells, so it’s always in the presence of oxygen from the air. I assume that is also where the term “blue blood” comes from, as nobility didn’t work, had pale skin so it was more pronounced than those working outside. Furthermore, they had more time to look at their hands.
Number 5 I also knew, because I read it in Cooking for Geeks and because Brian covered it, too in Skeptoid #78. The tongue does not have specific spots for specific tastes, the different flavors (of which there are actually five, not four) can be tasted across the tongue in more or less the same intensity. That is sadly one of the most pervasive myths, finding its way in popularizing science books, and which can be quickly proven wrong by a blinded test.
Another one, number 10, is about bats being blind. They aren’t, but as the original Playboy list pointed out, they have an extra trick to navigate in the dark, echolocation. Highlights Kids has a really nice site explaining the point. We humans bump our feet in the dark (stepping on Legos hurts the most!), but bats really have figured it out.
Which brings me to another point. Every one of these “facts” I could easily check with Google by just tapping out the phrase. All the results on the first page were explanations of why and how the claims are, in fact, wrong. Had I not seen the one about shaving in this Playboy list, I would never have checked it out. So thank you, Playboy, for challenging my commonly held beliefs (on different fronts), because learning something real about the world is much better than having wrong beliefs (as also pointed out in this post on the Skeptoid Blog). And yes, I can now reasonably defend wearing this T-shirt that says “I read it for the articles,” not because of postmodern philosophy but because of skepticism!
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It’s probably better spent than a subscription to Playboy.