THE BLOG

Urban Myths Exposed

01/07/2010 02:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Debunking urban myth is my journalistic mission. Last year I revealed that drinking eight glasses of water a day provided no health benefits. Today I explode seven widely believed urban myths:

STEP ON A CRACK, BREAK YOUR MOTHER'S BACK



This erroneous belief is due to attribution error plus confirmation bias propels .

When a mother breaks her back, an offspring usually recalls steeping on a crack. Wracked with guilt, he confesses to everyone, "I stepped on a crack and broke my mother's back."

His observation is passed on, perpetuating the myth, and confirming the belief that if one steps on a crack, one will break one's mothers back. (Broken-back mothers universally blame their affliction on negligent offspring.)

People fail to observe the false positives (offspring do step on a crack, but mother breaks her back anyway) and false negatives (daughter steps on a crack, but the mother does not break her back).

When these data are included, the link between stepping on a crack and breaking your mother back is very weak, and may be due to random fluctuations. Researchers at Cal Tech concluded that stepping on a crack increases the chances of your mother breaking her back by only 3.6%.

AN APPLE A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY

A University of Wisconsin study tested this theory by establishing three groups:

Group 1 ate apples everyday.

Group 2 thought they ate apples every day, but, in fact, were given a tofu substitute.

Group 3 ate no apples

Researchers recorded all visits to doctors for ten months. The study concluded that apples had no effect on keeping the doctor away.

Lack of health insurance and low reimbursement rates were the most effective methods of keeping the doctor away.

NO TWO SNOWFLAKES ARE ALIKE

In Pullman, WA, on January 7, 1993, Alison Karp noticed that two snowflakes were exact replicas. Startled, she began to closely observe snowflakes. Since then she has reported over 120 examples of two or more snowflakes being the same.

"Most people believe that that no two are the same so they don't bother to look," she explains. "If you look closely, you find matches all the time. It's obvious if think about it. There a are a lot of snowflakes and not that many shapes."

Because Alison's samples always melted, scientists were initially skeptical. However, a 2006 NASA study proved Alison contention. NASA determined that in any given year, snowflakes outnumbered all possible shapes by at least fourteen to one. Ego, some snowflakes had to be alike.

ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME

This notion retains currency because it has been repeated so often in literature, opera, and film. In the Aeneid, Anchises directs his son Aeneas to Rome saying, "Where all roads converge, there you shall found Rome." When Aeneas asks how to get there, Anchises replies, "Take any road, you blockhead. They all go there. You can't miss it."

In the Opera Tosca, Angelotti escapes to Rome explaining, "I could not go anywhere else. Every road lead here."

In the movie Gladiator, General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) dispatches troops to Rome with the order, "Take any road. It doesn't matter. All roads lead to Rome. Don't sweat it."

But all roads do not lead to Rome! For example, Madison Street in Seattle runs from Lake Washington to Puget Sound. A road that starts and ends at water does not lead to Rome.

Numerous roads in Missouri end at the Mississippi River. Most roads in Detroit do not lead anywhere.

CLEANLINESS IN NEXT TO GODLINESS

While many things are next to Godliness, cleanliness is not one of them. Search the Bible, the Koran, and the New Testament and you will find little praise for cleanliness. Jesus, Muhammad, and Moses displayed a Gallic view of bathing.

None of the Ten Commandments pertain to flossing, washing behind the ears, or shampooing.

God himself found concerns about cleanliness hopelessly middle class, remarking, "They break my commandments and then obsess about under-arm odor. What a bunch of losers."

THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM

This may have been true at some point in the distant past. However, for generations the early worm got eaten. Therefore, through natural selection, worms have evolved to be late risers often staying in bed until noon.

A recent study revealed that birds do not bother to look for worms until the sun is over yardarm.

EVERY DOG HAS ITS DAY

My dog, a Bichon Frise, has never had its day. My neighbors the Roaches have two dogs. To my knowledge, neither has had its day.

The Greater Cleveland area (pop. 2,250,871) is home to 437,159 dogs. Can you name a single dog in Greater Cleveland who has its day? If every dog had its day, over one thousand dogs would be having their day this very day in Greater Cleveland alone. Wouldn't someone notice?