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Strange Facts that Aren't Strange and Aren't Facts

by Mike Rothschild

March 17, 2015

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Donate Spend enough time on the internet, and someone is going to either email you or post a list of “facts” that are hilarious and unbelievable. Inevitably, some of these facts are going to be completely wrong, and others are going to be out of context or vague enough that you can’t tell.

I was forwarded one such list, one that’s been going around the internet for at least a decade, and has no clear source or origin. It’s the one that starts “if you yelled for 8 years…” and you can find it on an infinite number of sites and “facts”-spewing Twitter accounts called "strange facts" or "odd but true" or "life's strange" or something like that. So I decided to do something that it doesn’t appear anyone had done: comprehensively fact check it and see how many of these facts are factual.

It’s surprising how many are " and not surprising how many aren’t.

If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee. " This is an incredibly specific period of time to scream " and an extremely vague amount of coffee. How big is the cup? Is it 12 ounces? 16? 20? Wouldn’t you need to scream even longer for a bigger cup of coffee to be heated? Also, transferring sound into useful energy is only in the research stage, and would probably require even more energy to create any amount of energy. So this is a “fact” that’s both too vague and too theoretical to actually be proven.

If you farted consistently for 6 years and 9 months, enough gas is produced to create the energy of an atomic bomb. " Again, putting aside the vagueness of the “fact” (how intense are the farts and how big is the bomb?), this is actually something that can be tested. And it’s not true. Someone on the snopes message board did the math and found that to equal the energy released by the atomic bomb that detonated over Hiroshima, you’d have to eat five million calories a day for 17,000 days in order to produce gas that would need to come out of you at 280 miles per hour. Let’s stop talking about this.

The human heart creates enough pressure when it pumps out to the body to squirt blood 30 feet. " This is awkwardly worded, but appears to be true, up to a point. Blood pressure isn’t created by the heart so much as by blood pressing against veins. In order for blood to spray that far, an artery would have to be cut, and the victim would have to be upright and running, maximizing blood pressure. However, this distance does appear to be possible.

A pig's orgasm lasts 30 minutes. " This is a wildly popular claim with no attribution, and nobody can seem to agree on whether it’s true or not. It is true that a male pig (a boar) can have a long ejaculation process, taking around 8-10 minutes, with 15 minutes being unusually long, so maybe there’s been a boar out there who’s gone a lot longer, but I can’t find any record of it.

A cockroach will live nine days without its head before it starves to death. " According to Scientific American, a headless cockroach can live for weeks because of their circulatory systems closing off the wound, and their ability to survive for long periods of time on little food. The head can survive even longer. Also, scientists recently found the fossils of an ancestor of the cockroach that was 7 feet long. Think about that when you’re falling asleep tonight.

Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour " Technically, everything you do, even sitting and staring into space, burns calories. While the number of calories would depend on how fast you were doing the headbanging, this is true by virtue of default. Also, don’t bang your head against a wall for an hour.

The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male's head off. " This is not quite true. According to a 1984 study, female mantises do sometimes eat their partners, but for an evolutionary reason " to gain nutrients for use in gestating eggs. The act of females ripping their mates’ heads off might stem from being observed by humans during mating, as mantises are very visual and easily disturbed. It might also be accidental. We just don’t know. It is NOT true that a male must have its head removed to mate, as some male mantises have been observed mating with multiple females under the right circumstances.

]The flea can jump 350 times its body length. It's like a human jumping the length of a football field. - This doesn't appear to be quite true. Fleas CAN jump an extraordinary distance, about 100-200 times their body length. But that's not 350 times - it's not even really close.

The catfish has over 27,000 taste buds. " Actually, that’s an underestimate. If you factor in the catfish’s whiskers, which it uses to find edible material on the bottom of bodies of water, it has well over 100,000 taste buds, maybe even as many as 250,000. About 20-25 thousand are in the mouth. Humans, by contrast, have about 10,000 taste buds. Chickens only have about two dozen.

Some lions mate over 50 times a day. " Only female lions. But yes, a lioness in heat will mate anywhere from 20 to 50 times a day for 3-4 days.

Butterflies taste with their feet. " They do indeed. They can also see ultraviolet light.

Right-handed people live, on average, nine years longer than left-handed people. " This is right and wrong. As Brian pointed out in his episode about left-handed myths, lefties do indeed die earlier, for a variety of reasons, not all of which are well understood. But the oft-quoted statistic about lefties living nine fewer years than righties is, at best, not falsifiable, and at worst, totally wrong. It’s based on one study that had a fairly small sample size, but went back in time quite a bit. Death certificates don’t list hand dominance, and in older times, left-handed people were often forced to work with their right hands, leading to accidents and fatal injuries. So in a population where this doesn’t happen anymore, this number is almost certainly much lower " but it is still higher than the right-handed death rate.

Elephants are the only animals that cannot jump. " They can’t, but they aren’t. Many other large mammals, including hippos, sloths and rhinos, also can’t jump. They can, however, get all four feet off the ground at the same time when they run. But that’s not jumping. Of course, if you widen the definition of “animal,” you find countless types of creatures that can’t jump " because they don’t have legs.

A cat's urine glows under a black light. " It does indeed, because of large amounts of phosphorous.

An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain. " Ostriches have an outsized reputation for being stupid. Nothing could survive for millions of years by being dumb enough to actually stick its head in the sand when it was confronted by a hunter. But they do have extremely small brains and very large eyes. They can run extremely fast " but often in circles.

Starfish have no brains. " Starfish don’t have a centralized brain, since they don’t really have a head. But they have an extremely complex central nervous system, including a nerve ring around their mouth and nerves extending out to each arm. These nerves function much as a brain does, regulating movement and balance. However, starfish have no ability to take action, only to react to outside stimuli.

Polar bears are left-handed. " This is a myth, and has no compelling evidence to support it. Polar bears observed in the wild have been seen to use both of their paws equally. There’s no consensus on where the myth started or how, but it’s not true.

Humans and dolphins are the only species that have sex for pleasure. " Animal sexuality is extremely complicated, so it’s not really useful to try writing it off into a one sentence myth. It’s true that most animals don’t have sex for pleasure, if we describe “sex for pleasure” as being sexual relations not carried out for the sole purpose of reproduction. Humans don’t throw off the signs of fertility that other animals do, so when animals mate, they’re doing so knowing that the female is ready for insemination. Sex for purposes other than reproduction has no evolutionary purpose, and indeed, would only waste time and energy. Humans and dolphins (along with certain types of monkeys) are much more social than other animals, and have an awareness of the concept of “pleasure” that other animals don’t. Also, we don’t know that animals do or don’t experience “pleasure” as we know it, and it’s entirely possible that when other animals mate, they enjoy it as much as humans (and presumably dolphins) do. They just don’t have sex for reasons other than procreation.

So how factual are our “facts?”

Nine are true, or at least true enough.
Six are false, or at least false enough to call false.
Three could go either way, or are presented in a way that’s too vague to confirm.

As far as internet forwards go, about a 50% hit rate isn’t too shabby. Obviously, none of these facts are particularly important, but accuracy is always important, and so is not taking things you get sent via email at face value. If something doesn’t seem like it’s correct, it takes no more time to find out than it does to send it on to your friends.

by Mike Rothschild

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