Did you know that we only use 10% of our brains? Just think of the things we could do if only we could activate that other 90%!! Also, our bodies are 98% water! The moon has a light side and a dark side, too, and cats only see in black and white.
All wrong, and a hundred other misconceptions too, and if you want to find out just how many common beliefs are absolutely whack, there’s any number of web resources to help you:
I can’t fault people for believing things that aren’t true, not when they’ve heard them all their lives from a thousand different sources, and anyway they don’t sound implausible. We all fall for some of it. Even me (egads, it’s true!), and as anyone will tell you, I fancy myself a clever man. I just found out today, for example, that Poinsettias aren’t really deadly poisonous to anything, not people, and not dogs and cats – they’re only mildly toxic, so they might give you an upset stomach if you chow down on a whole bunch, but that’s all. Oh well. They sure looked mortally poisonous, and since a little mushroom of the wrong sort can drop you in your tracks, why not a flowering plant? Better safe than sorry, no? Find me a cynic who never believes anything ’til he’s heard it straight from the lips of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I’ll show you a stiff with a mouthful of Deadly Nightshade.
Still, the world is just chock-a-block full of crap, which is why you’re always best advised to check out anything you hear, if it’s really important, and otherwise shouldn’t be surprised when endless dozens of unimportant little tidbits turn out to be fascinating, but sadly, total horse shit. Such is life. You can’t research everything, and not everything that’s wrong sounds crazy.
Some crazy-sounding things aren’t wrong, either. How’s a poor soul to tell the difference? Take these two propositions:
1. If you drop something like a quarter or an industrial washer from an extreme height (when I was a kid it was always “from the top of the Empire State Building”) it will end up hitting with enough force to kill a guy at street level.
2. If you fire a bullet from a rifle on a flat trajectory, and simultaneously drop a bullet from between your fingers, both bullets will hit the ground at the same time.
The first one is wrong. Owing to air resistance, the dropped object will reach a terminal velocity of about 80 or 90 KPH, not enough to kill anybody. The second one, however, is true, because bullets don’t develop aerodynamic lift, and their forward motion is therefore irrelevant to how fast they drop. You might have figured the opposite. I was doubtful about it too, but yup, it’s been proved, and I satisfied myself on that score via this new-fangled internet thing, which, it turns out, can help you look into all sorts of questions. The guys on Mythbusters did the experiment, and that’s just what happened:
So sometimes you just have to look it up. I guess what bugs me is that people don’t seem to have any sort of bull-crap filter at all. Nobody can know everything, but c’mon, a lot of what you hear ought to strike you as transparently impossible and completely counter-intuitive – like the idea that an organ such as the brain, the pinnacle of animal evolution and devourer of bodily energy, could actually be 90% dormant lump. Or that a human body is 98% water – that’s a jellyfish. You know you have bones and teeth, and hair, too; forget that muscles and tendons and such have got to be more than just water, your skeleton alone just has to account for more than two pounds out of hundred, right? Yet they just hoover it up, and spew it back out to all and sundry.
Why doesn’t anybody ever want to check anything?
I get even more irritated when people insist on continuing to believe transparent nonsense, or anything false for that matter, after somebody less indolent checks for them, and provides what ought to be incontrovertible proof to the contrary. As much as I can sympathize with the will to believe, that much steadfast will never fails to grind my gears.
What really rots my socks, though, what really snaps me off right at the femurs, are the lying liars who spread nonsense they know to be lies, just to serve their own lying, stinking purposes. I may be a little angry at you for believing them, but them I want damned for all time. I want them standing on their heads in a room a foot deep in pig droppings, while Beelzebub forces sharp things into their rectums.
Which brings us to bumblebees.
They can’t fly, you see. Not according to pinhead scientists. It would appear that everyone knows this fun fact to be true, as a quick image search on Google will show you:
Sure, Mary Kay – “Posh” is it, or “Fosh”? Sure. You can’t argue with “recognized aero technical tests”! However, that’s not a bumble bee. It’s a honey bee. Bumble bees look like this:
They’re big and round and fuzzy, like caterpillars. That’s why they look like they might find flying to be a bit of a stretch.
You can’t tell from where you are, but I just took a moment to seethe quietly, and then go to the medicine cabinet for another one of my happy pills.
O.K. Look. One of the most ridiculous of all urban myths is that according to all scientific criteria, it can be proved that Bumblebees can’t fly. This is held up to mean that science really doesn’t know anything, especially by those who want to scoff at evidence-based scientific conclusions. Mike Huckabee has used the Bumblebee example on the campaign trail, for example, and anyone who wants to deny the validity of a scientific finding tends to trot it out.
AAGH. No scientist makes the claim that by the rules of physics and aerodynamics, bumblebees can’t, or shouldn’t be able to, fly (any more than any scientist ever said we only use 10% of our brains). It took me a long time to dig out where this idea even comes from. One story has a German aerodynamicist at some sort of symposium in the 1930s noting that if bees were fixed wing aeroplanes, they’d have insufficient wing area to fly – in other words, good thing they flap so furiously, because they could never glide. If so, he would have been arguing little more than if he’d said that if the rotors of helicopters were fixed into an X shape and couldn’t rotate, a helicopter wouldn’t be able to stay in the air. (Ah, but they do rotate Herr Stumpenbrainen). I can’t recall where I heard that version, but it seemed as good as any.
However, having looked into it further, it seems not to have been a German, but a French biologist, at whose doorstep we can lay this particular basket of road apples. In the article linked above, Wikipedia states:
In the 1930s, the French entomologist Antoine Magnan indeed postulated that bumblebees theoretically should not be able to fly in his book Le Vol des Insectes (The Flight of Insects). Magnan later realized his error and retracted the suggestion. However, the hypothesis became generalized to the false notion that “scientists think that bumblebees should not be able to fly”.
I don’t know why this guy Magnan laboured under this temporary misconception – maybe for the very reason attributed in some sources to the German aerodynamicist, that the wings look awfully small for the job. However, as far as I can tell, he’s the only one who ever suggested such a thing, more out of puzzlement than dogmatic certainty, I’ll wager, and even he took it back. That was 80+ years ago!
This isn’t to say that the mechanics of bee flight haven’t fascinated aerodynamicists over the years. We’re always keen to understand the sophisticated biological adaptations that permit creatures like bees, dragonflies, and hummingbirds to pull off their amazing aerial stunts, and bumblebees were indeed interesting because they seemed among the most unlikely aeronauts of all. They’re big and fat and their wings are pretty small, yet they don’t just fly, they fly really well. This led to a perfectly valid question, which, yes, has been studied scientifically: I wonder how, exactly, they do that? In other words, which laws of aerodynamics are they exploiting?
We think we have it pretty much figured out, but all that was ever in question was the precise bag of tricks that bees were using. Nobody thought that bees might be violating the laws of aerodynamics. No scientist ever maintained that we were at a dead end, that since the damned bees couldn’t fly it must be an optical illusion or something, because science was always right and therefore the bees weren’t actually flying, and what were you going to believe, science or you own lying eyes?
That’s what it suits some liars to claim, though. People are repeatedly told that pig-headed scientists, true to form, worked out long ago that the bees can’t fly, so that’s it, case closed as far as they’re concerned, even when the frigging things are busily buzzing all over their own gardens, and that’s how stupid science is, so don’t believe any of it. It started as a popular misunderstanding, innocent in a way, but now it’s been twisted to serve the pernicious ends of pseudoscience and science denial by the likes of Mike Huckabee and the truly terrible monsters he seeks to enable.
The end game of this kind of bullshit is always something awful. Religious zealots fear Darwin will make the book of Genesis seem like nothing more than a myth, a belief which would tend to erode the flock and undermine their authority – and then who’d step up to stop women from making their own reproductive choices? – so they tell you that evolutionary theory insists that we humans evolved from monkeys. Monkeys! Crazy bastards! They usually claim this while showing you a picture of a chimp, which is not a monkey. People who know better keep explaining that no, we aren’t supposed to have evolved from monkeys, or even chimps, but all of us primates are obviously related, and can therefore be thought of as different branches of the same tree. Somewhere back there in the dust must be a common ancestor to all of us. Here’s what those party-poopers get: Yeah, yeah. Tell somebody who gives a flying f%@#.
In much the same way, the zealots stress over and over that evolution is “just a theory”, apparently thinking that “theory” means the same thing as “hypothesis”. No, a theory is something that started as a hypothesis, and has since been proved. Actually, a Wikipedia entry says it best:
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world.
Details, details. Nothing so nuanced means anything in this age of idiots with social media bullhorns. A moron like Senator James Inhofe can walk into Congress with a snowball in his hand, and say “See? Global warming is a hoax!” –
– and everybody will nod, sagely, and chuckle at the global warming knuckleheads. Some sad-eyed climatologist might stress during some unwatched cable show that there’s a huge difference between climate and weather, and that the odd unseasonable snowstorm doesn’t refute the observable truth that the whole globe, overall, is getting warmer over time. Here’s what he’ll get, if anybody hears him: yeah, yeah.
This seems to be an uncritical era when people will believe anything, whether it’s that educated experts insist bees can’t fly, or that Hillary Clinton’s crew of degenerate Democrats is running a child pornography ring out of a pizza parlour in downtown Washington.
It’s only the truth that makes them bridle.