Science Fact or Fiction? Geek Tests Some Old Wives’ Tales

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You probably grew up hearing them - common misconceptions turned to rules by common repetition. Over the years old wives' tales and false wisdom has muddied the waters of actual science.

Well, Geek is here to set the record straight and let you know what is fact and what is fiction, with a short list of every day science ‘truths’ that vary from complete hogwash to surprising accuracy.

The Five-Second Rule

 Science Fact or Fiction? Geek Tests Some Old Wives Tales

It’s likely you heard this one from your own parents. If you grab that slice of apple off the floor fast enough it will somehow avoid contact with the millions of germs and bacteria covering the surface of, well, everything. So, does the speed with which you retrieve your dropped food actually reduce your risk of eating food covered in bacteria? While it seems like a no-brainer, new research may surprise you.

Aston microbiology professor Anthony Hilton, along with six final-year biology students, worked to dig in to the age old rule to find out whether or not it was accurate, as it is commonly thought to be among the scientific community, absolute hooey.

The researchers found that while at least a small amount of bacteria is immediately transferred to dropped food, the type of food and the surface on which it is dropped impact just how much bacteria is transferred. Moist food left on the floor for longer than 30 seconds contained ten times the amount of bacteria than on food retrieved in three seconds.

We believe that additional contact is being made between the moist food and the floor as it settles further onto the floor,” Hilton told Scientific American. The research team also found that food dropped on carpet had less bacteria than moist food dropped on a hard surface, and that dry food dropped on a carpet gathered the least amount of bacteria over the longest period of time.

So, while five seconds may be a bit too long, it seems that maybe mom was on to something. Of course, you might also want to consider just how hungry you really are before grabbing that slice of apple anyway.

Humans Swallow at Least 8 Spiders a Year While They Sleep

spider Science Fact or Fiction? Geek Tests Some Old Wives Tales

We’ve all heard it, and maybe you slept for a week with your arm over your mouth to keep those creepers out. But no need to worry, this one is total bunk. Bill Shear, a biology professor at Hampden–Sydney College in Virginia and former president of the  American Arachnological Society, sets the record straight.

We’re so large that we’re really just part of the landscape,” Shear says. Arachnid curator at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle,Rod Crawford, adds that a sleeping human is far more terrifying to a spider than the tiny eight legged creatures are to us. “Vibrations are a big slice of spiders’ sensory universe,” Crawford says,  “A sleeping person is not something a spider would willingly approach.”

With all our breathing and snoring, spiders are much more likely to run and hide than they are to find themselves trapped down your throat.

Carrots Improve Eye Sight

You probably thought your parents made this one up to get you to eat your veggies, but the rumor was actually started by the U.K Ministry of Food during World War II. While it has been suggested that the rumor spread to throw German forces off the use of radar technology aiding the British forces during night battles, there seems to be some small amount of truth in it.

The orange color of the root vegetable is due to its high content of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin-A. Vitamin-A assists the body in converting light into a signal that can be transmitted to the brain, allowing for better vision in low light. While you’re not going to be able to see perfectly in the dark just by eating bushels of carrots, a vitamin-A deficiency could result in blindness, as it does for 250,000 – 500,000 children a year.

Carrots themselves are a tasty treat that may give you a bit of vitamin-A, but research suggests that the most efficient way to get your dose of vitamin-A is actually through a supplement, as the beta-carotene in carrots doesn’t convert the vitamin as efficiently. Once your body has its fill of the vitamin, it will stop converting the beta-carotene. Big time fans of the carrot can expect another interesting side effect from the vegetable as well: Over consumption can result in a slight change of skin tone resulting in orange skin.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

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Traced back to a 1574 entry by John Withals, who noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever,” this old adage is in need of some updating. In truth, it would be better to say ” Feed a cold, Feed a fever.”

When you have a cold your body needs all the help it can get to help to fight off the illness. Along with warm blankets and some cuddles, food could be among the best medicine for the common cold, as your body will convert the food into energy it then uses to fight the illness and keep the body warm.

When it comes to a fever, it seems reasonable to assume that the body is already warm enough, and that the additional warmth from eating might be counterproductive, however research suggests this is the very reason eating with a fever is important. The higher body temperature during a fever is burning through calories, which give the body energy, at an accelerated rate.  In order for the body to fight off whatever is causing the fever, even more calories may be necessary than during a mild cold. Of course, the key ingredient in both situations is hydration. With both a fever and a cold, hydration is the key to a quicker recovery time. During a cold, dehydration can cause mucus to become hard, making it more difficult to expel, while during a fever dehydration could prove life threatening. This may well be how chicken soup came to be a sort of cure-all, as it provides the sick person with both calories as well as hydration.

Have you heard any old wives’ tales that may hold some real scientific credence? Share them with us in the comments section, or join the conversation on our GEEK Facebook page.


Images: Memegenerator, Fotolia, Warner Bros., Smithsonian, flickr

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