4 “scientific facts” that are not really scientific facts

What are the scientific facts that people usually get wrong? originally appeared on Quora: the place to acquire and share knowledge, enabling people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Reply through Dave Consiglio, a high school chemistry and physics teacher and community college teacher, the Quora:

What are the scientific facts that people usually get wrong?

The bombs make balls of bright orange flame. No: real bombs don’t waste energy on heat and light and instead try to do what bombs are designed to do, move things really fast so they get damaged. They do this by creating gas, and we have a name for that: wind. Bombs are basically tiny wind turbines – they produce a powerful blast of wind that knocks things down.

Acids burn everything in infinite amounts. Acids dissolve some things, but a lot of things are unaffected by acids. Glass, many stones and minerals, plastics are all largely spared. Worse yet, people think that the acid will eat and eat an endless amount of the substance. Acids follow the law of conservation of mass, if an acid is going to dissolve something, say a metal, it will only dissolve an amount equivalent to the amount of acid, expressed as the molar ratio. In English, one cup of acid cannot dissolve two tons of metal. Maybe it can dissolve a metal cup, and even it will take a long time.

The Earth is closer to the sun in summer. Ah this old chestnut tree. Earth is actually closest to the sun in January (currently) and the distance to the sun is relatively small compared to the axial tilt. The best analogy I can think of is sunburn: early in the morning and late in the afternoon you don’t get much sunburn, the light angle is low. But in the middle of the day, be careful. It’s time for sunburns. There are other factors at work here, but that’s the basic idea.

Anecdotal evidence is evidence. “My grandfather smoked for eighty-seven years and he didn’t have cancer, so I can smoke and be fine.” An example does not do science. Science is about patterns, trends and relationships, but also exceptions and outliers. Smoking makes cancer more likely, but not guaranteed. Running in traffic makes traumatic injury more likely, but not guaranteed. Same idea.

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