Malarkey comes in many forms. There's the laughable malarkey, like "this electronic belt can make you lose weight;" there's the easily questionable malarkey, like "tanning beds are safer than sunlight;" and then there is the malarkey that seems so reasonable, so highly probable, many of us just don't question it. This malarkey is believed so widely, it might as well be true.
And yet, it's not.
Some of the myths are harmless; some pose potential dangers. A few may be inconvenient to remove from the common-knowledge database, which could explain why they're still around, turning so many of us into inadvertent purveyors of hogwash.
Let us now slightly impede the hogwash cycle. Here, 10 bits of malarkey that have a tendency to slip through the "hey, wait a minute" filter. The first one is known by many to be false, but resistance to the revelation is still strong, and understandably so.
Diamonds Are Rare
Beloved? Sparkly? A cultural symbol of forever love? Certainly. Hardest natural substance known to man with the possible exception of lonsdaleite [source: Griggs]? Yep. Rare gem? Not in the least.
Diamonds are in such great supply that the only way to keep their prices high and maintain the illusion of rarity (and thus extraordinary value) is for the diamond industry to hold back the vast majority of its gems [source: Webb]. Were any significant number of those tucked-away diamonds released into the market, prices would drop, the illusion would be revealed, and everyone and his mother could afford to own a princess-cut rock.
The same would happen if any significant number of treasured "family diamonds" were put up for sale -- thus De Beers' brilliant "Diamonds are Forever" campaign, which convinced women everywhere to never, ever part with their gems [source: Epstein].
Next, the water we drink ...
Bottled Water Is Safer Than Tap
Think that bottled water you're gulping is better for you than the free stuff out of the tap? You're not alone in your misconception.
Might it taste better to you? Sure. It may have fewer minerals in it, more minerals in it, or different minerals in it than your tap water, which affects the taste. Do you prefer to drink water that's had the fluoride removed? Fair enough -- though your children's teeth might not thank you for it later [source: Kids Health]. Are you of the opinion that mineral water has health benefits that regular water does not? More power to ya.
Safety, however, is a different matter.
Municipal water sources are highly regulated for safety, with mandatory contaminant checks in happening hundreds of times per month; bottled sources are evaluated more like four times per month. And those evaluations, along with safety standards and levels (and definitions) of purity, are regulated mostly (and in some states entirely) by the bottled-water industry itself, meaning it's often voluntary.
Next, making a slippery issue worse ...
Oily Skin Needs Drying Agents
In acne-prone teens (heck, in acne-prone adults), the drive to dry the heck out of the whole darned thing is a strong one. Rubbing alcohol may enter the cleansing routine. Moisturizer may be omitted. Hourly facial scrubs may seem like a really good idea.
All understandable, and all counterproductive. When you over-dry and irritate oily skin, and then make matters worse by depriving it of moisture, the oil-producing sebum glands think they're not doing enough, and they step up oil production to help achieve balance [source: Total Beauty].
Drying routines, then, only end up increasing oiliness. For acne, a cleanser containing salicylic acid is ideal; for oily skin in general, go with an oil-free moisturizer; and carry blotting papers to mop up extra oil instead of scrubbing when you see some shine [source: Lamont-Djite].
Up next, a rather sad one.
Pit Bulls Are an Aggressive Breed
As far as information garnered from experience, the media, friends and animal control goes, there can be little doubt that pit bulls -- or more accurately, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, or some mix thereof -- are one of the most aggressive breeds around. Maybe even vicious. And born that way.
The strange truth is, while reported dog bites back that up, science does not. In 2008, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied thousands of dogs representing 33 breeds for aggressive tendencies toward humans. Pit bulls (and Rottweilers) scored below Chihuahuas, Jack Russells, and, topping the aggression scale, dachshunds [source: Dobson].
Among the least aggressive were Labradors, greyhounds, and Bassett hounds.
What pit bulls do have in spades is prey instinct, which does increase the possibility of aggressive behavior toward other animals. They were originally bred in the 1800s to take down bulls by the nose [source: Guthrie]. They also have incredible strength, extraordinary owner loyalty and more than their share of terrible owners, all of which can contribute to dog-bite attacks. Why, then, do reports show far more pit bull attacks than dachshund attacks? Probably because dachshund bites are less likely to require a trip to the ER [source: Guthrie].
Next, it really does seem possible, until ...
Flu Shots Can Cause the Flu
When (or if) you get a flu shot, the doctor, nurse or pharmacist probably offers a disclaimer that goes something like: After your shot, you may experience a low fever, aches or a runny nose for a few days.
So, it can cause the flu?
And anyone who knows just a little about how vaccines work knows that the flu virus is actually in the flu vaccine.
So, it can cause the flu?
Nope. The flu virus is injected into your body when you get a flu shot, but that virus is dead as a doornail [source: Today]. A dead virus can't infect anybody -- however, it can still stimulate your immune system to learn how to fight it, so if you come into contact with the live version, your defenses are already in place, ready and able (in most healthy individuals) to destroy it before it can put you in bed for a week.
The nasal-spray form of the vaccine does contain a live, significantly weakened form of the virus -- that kind is only used in healthy people, neither very young nor very old, whose immune systems are in top form. "Flulike symptoms" are more likely to develop with the nasal spray, but they fade once the immune system figures it out, and before it turns into the actual, awful flu [source: MedLine].
Next, a misperception that can lead to disaster.
Coffee Can Sober You Up
But they don't. The only "drunk" trait coffee can counteract is the tired, foggy feeling. So drinking coffee when you're drunk just makes you a judgment-impaired, over-confident, dehydrated, uncoordinated and very awake drunk person [source: Discovery].
Which would probably be fine except that adding "very awake" into the equation can make a drunk person feel less drunk -- thus making driving a car, operating a backhoe or chopping some vegetables seem like perfectly reasonable propositions.
Next, a happy one!
If It's High-Fat, It's Bad for You
We've been so well-conditioned to think we need to go low-fat to stay healthy, some of us have missed the memo: Some fats are good for us.
In the last decade or so, research has revealed that it's really the saturated and trans fats (and especially the latter) that contribute to such ailments as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes [source: Paturel]. The unsaturated fats are actually necessary components of a healthy diet.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in fatty fish like salmon and trout, in olive oil and in foods like nuts and avocado, have a range of health benefits. They can increase the body's ability to absorb vitamins; provide tons of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids; and can help lower cholesterol levels [source: Paturel].
The key, as always, is moderation. Most experts recommend between 50 and 80 grams of (healthy) fats per day, depending on a person's ideal weight and calorie intake [source: Cleveland Clinic]. One avocado, for reference, has about 30 grams.
Next up, it just seems so true!
People Have Different Learning Styles
In the worthy quest to help students be more successful, the education community is always looking for ways has to improve teaching methods. One of the more recent theories states that people have different, sense-based "learning styles" that dictate how well they absorb and comprehend new information.
The theory has struck a chord with educators and students alike. They see it every day. Some learn best when information is presented visually; others when the presentation is auditory or kinesthetic [source: Riener]. And so lessons are geared toward satisfying each style of learning. The problem is, there's no actual evidence that these "learning styles" exist [source: Neighmond].
Research has never been able to back up that which seems so obvious in the classroom. Studies reveal that under controlled conditions, there is actually no difference in the way people respond to visual, auditory or kinesthetic modes of teaching [source: Neighmond].
According to science, our brains all learn in pretty much the same way. What does differ between students is background knowledge, areas of greater or lesser ability and areas of more or less interest. All of these factors affect how well people learn [source: Riener].
Incorporating variety in lessons, then, and even sensory variety, is an excellent approach to increasing understanding across the board -- but not because students have inherent, sense-based learning styles. Variety helps because students come with different knowledge bases, talents and interests -- and because it can help keep them awake during math class [source: Riener].
Next, malarkey that can cost lives.
Heart Disease Mostly Affects Men
It's no mystery why so many people think heart disease is a man's issue. In movies and TV, it's almost always the men who have heart attacks. In the news, heart-health stories are mostly geared toward men. And, until fairly recently, even science has focused on men's hearts, not women's.
But a lot of that is starting to change. Why? Because heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women. It kills more women than all forms of cancer combined [source: Ricciotti].
This may be at least partly due to a lack of public knowledge on the topic: Women have different symptoms during a heart attack, and they may not recognize them because they're looking for the ones that men experience [source: Ricciotti].
Research is also starting to reveal that women's hearts may function differently from men's, a factor that could contribute to a woman's 50-percent greater chance of dying during heart surgery [source: Ricciotti].
And finally, a debunking that's going to be very, very difficult to believe if you have a kid.
Sugar Makes Kids Hyper
It flies in the face of generations of experiential evidence, but the fact remains: Controlled scientific studies have never been unable to uncover any proof that sugar causes hyperactivity in children [source: Sachs].
Some parents are simply going to reject the findings against what they have seen with their very own eyes. And who can blame them? Just drop by a candy-laden birthday party and watch the truth in action.
Science's response: Birthday parties are exciting, and excitement can make kids hyper. The candy has nothing to do with it [source: Rothman].
Admittedly, in this case the malarkey may be too "surprisingly believable" to dismiss, no matter what science says. And that may not be a bad thing. The fear of hyperactivity can encourage parents to limit kids' sugar intake, an excess of which is detrimental to their (and everyone else's) health.
So, who knows. Maybe a little malarkey is all right.
For more information on these and other bits of malarkey, check out the links on the next page.
Is the world run by the Illuminati or just some reptilian overlords? Test your knowledge of conspiracy theories with this HowStuffWorks quiz.
Author's Note: 10 Surprisingly Believable Bits of Malarkey
In this article's first draft, entry 5 was not flu-related. Originally, that entry read "Tanning Beds are Safer than Sunlight," a topic I wanted to address due to the shocking amount of damage resulting from that particular misconception (fueled, of course, by the tanning industry).
But I changed it to a brief mention in the introduction for consistency's sake, since (in my opinion) that malarkey is not "surprisingly believable" at all. But it seems a wasted opportunity to leave it at that, so how about a few stats for good measure?
People who use tanning beds regularly are 50 to 100 percent more likely to develop skin cancer than those who don't [source: Robb-Nicholson]. This includes melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers out there. Those who have ever used a tanning bed are up to 15 percent more likely to develop melanoma, and that goes up to 75 percent when the first use is before the age of 35 [source: Skin Cancer Foundation].
Young women are doing the majority of the indoor tanning, so they're most at risk. If you know any tan-happy teens-to-20-somethings, you may want to pass along the statistics, especially this one: Roughly 10 to 20 percent of melanoma patients are dead within five years [source: Skin Cancer Foundation].
There. I've said it. Thanks for listening.
- "19 Best Products for Oily Skin." Total Beauty. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/p_best_oil_control
- Dobson, Roger. "Sausage dogs are the most aggressive dogs." The Telegraph UK. July 5, 2008. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2254479/Sausage-dogs-are-the-most-aggressive-dogs.html
- Epstein, Edward J. "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" The Atlantic. Feb. 1982. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/02/have-you-ever-tried-to-sell-a-diamond/304575/
- Freudenrich, Craig. "How Alcohol Works." HowStuffWorks. (Nov. 5, 2012) https://science.howstuffworks.com/alcohol.htm
- Griggs, Jessica. "Diamond no longer nature's hardest material." New Scientist. Feb. 16, 2009. (Nov. 5, 2012) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16610-diamond-no-longer-natures-hardest-material.html
- Guthrie, Julian. "Despite reputation, trained pit bulls can be wonderful pets, experts say." SFGate/The San Francisco Chronicle. June 4, 2005. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Despite-reputation-trained-pit-bulls-can-be-2665626.php
- "Influenza vaccine." Medline Plus. (Nov. 8, 2012) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002025.htm
- Kunin, Audrey. "The Ugly – and Deadly – Side of Tanning." Dr. Oz. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/audrey-kunin-md/ugly-and-deadly-side-tanning
- Lamont-Djite, Tara. "Oily Skin Myths Solved!" Beautylish. June 21, 2012. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.beautylish.com/a/vcjir/oily-skin-myths-solved
- Layton, Julia. "How Bottled Water Works." HowStuffWorks. (Oct. 30, 2012) https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/bottled-water.htm
- "Myth: Can Drinking Coffee Help a Person Sober Up?" Discovery. (Nov. 4, 2012) http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/db/food/drinking-coffee-when-drunk-makes-sober.html
- Neighmond, Patti. "Think You're An Auditory or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely." NPR. Oct. 29, 2011. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/08/29/139973743/think-youre-an-auditory-or-visual-learner-scientists-say-its-unlikely
- Oz, Mehmet. "'Safe' Tanning Beds? Think Again." Dr. Oz. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/mehmet-oz-md/safe-tanning-beds-think-again
- Paturel, Amy. "6 High-Fat Foods That Are Good For You." SELF. Aug. 10, 2011. (Nov. 4, 2012) http://www.self.com/health/blogs/healthyself/2011/08/6-high-fat-foods-that-are-good.html
- "Reducing Fat Intake." Cleveland Clinic. (Nov. 8, 2012) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/weight_control/hic_reducing_fat_intake.aspx
- Ricciotti, Hope. "Heart Disease – Differences Between Men and Women." Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (Nov. 4, 2012) http://www.bidmc.org/CentersandDepartments/Departments/Medicine/Divisions/CardiovascularMedicine/YourHeartHealth/TipsforHeartHealth/HeartDiseaseDifferencesBetweenMenandWomen.aspx
- Riener, Cedar and Daniel Willingham. "The Myth of Learning Styles." Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. Sept/Oct 2010. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://www.changemag.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/September-October%202010/the-myth-of-learning-full.html
- Robb-Nicholson, Celeste. "By the way, doctor: Is a tanning bed safer than sunlight?" Harvard Women's Health Watch. Harvard Health Publications. Sept. 2009. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/September/is-a-tanning-bed-safer-than-sunlight
- Rothman, Josh. "Surprise: Sugar Doesn't Make Kids Hyper." Boston.com/The Boston Globe. Nov. 2, 2011. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2011/11/surprise_sugar.html
- Sachs, Jessica Snyder. "Sugar: Does It Really Make Kids Hyper?" Parenting. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.parenting.com/article/sugar-does-it-make-kids-hyper
- Webb, Merryn Somerset. "Diamonds: don't buy into the illusion." Money Week. March 1, 2010. (Oct. 30, 2012) http://www.moneyweek.com/blog/diamonds-dont-buy-into-the-illusion-00133
- "Worried about the flu shot? Here are myths, debunked." TODAY Health. Nov. 7, 2012. (Nov. 8, 2012) http://todayhealth.today.com/_news/2012/11/07/14977455-worried-about-the-flu-shot-here-are-myths-debunked?lite