True/False looks at commmonly held beliefs with a scientific mindset and tries to find out if they are, well, true or false. Sometimes the answer is clear, sometimes things are quite murky, and there are often some surprises.

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  • The seventh wave is always a big one

    It isn’t encouraging that the relevant research starts off calling this the myth of the seventh wave. Certainly you will be disappointed if you go down to the beach and expect every seventh wave to be, like clockwork, bigger than all the rest. But while the magic number seven is all washed up, the idea of regular patterns in waves has better prospects. Continue reading.
  • No man is shorter than his mother

    Jenny Chisholm doesn’t mention whether she has a particular man and his mother in mind but she wonders about the truth of this. We’re well conditioned to expect a boy to outgrow his mother, and it’s probably even the usual result, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Continue reading.
  • Grape seeds cause appendicitis

    I’m sure I’m not the only one to have wasted the odd youthful hour worrying about the consequences after swallowing a fruit seed. While my concerns centred on unrealistic (though alarming) scenarios such as finding a sapling inching its way up my throat, Linda Caradus has queried a more reasonable fear, that of appendicitis. Continue reading.
  • Spoilers make cars go faster

    Race cars have rear spoilers. Race cars go fast. So that shiny new car with a rear spoiler must go like the clappers, right? Not as fast as a race car — it has no racing stripes after all — but plenty fast all the same. Continue reading.
  • Polar bears cover their noses while hunting

    Polar bears really are very well camouflaged for their wintry habitat — except for that black snout. Their solution, according to oral traditions of local hunters, as well as occasional reports from outsiders, is to cover it with a paw while hunting. A nifty idea, but also rather dubious. Continue reading.
  • Ants won’t cross a chalk line

    Could chalk really be the velvet rope of the ant world? You can’t help feeling someone has just got ants mixed up with demons. In general, a chalk line won’t keep ants out, even if it is part of a pentagram and you stand inside it intoning words of great magick (as the kool kids are calling it now). Continue reading.
  • Headlights use a lot of petrol

    Leo de Vos has heard that driving with your lights on during the day consumes a significant amount of petrol. You do use measurably more fuel running the lights but whether that’s significant depends on how you look at it. We could get the numbers for this by going out with a fleet of cars, carefully road testing them and collating the results in a shiny binder, but I’m already sitting down (and I don’t see you getting your keys) so I’m going with a quick calculation on the back of an envelope instead. Continue reading.
  • Most animals make their own vitamin C

    Vitamins are only vitamins if your body can’t make them itself. Ian M. has heard that most animals make their own ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C. And he’s heard right: inability to make ascorbic acid is the exception rather than the rule throughout the living world. Continue reading.

Or try these...

  • Aliens built the pyramids

    I don’t mean the kind of aliens who vex immigration authorities but the little green kind, or grey or whatever they are supposed to be these days. The Great Pyramid at Giza is big, and building it was no mean feat, but if you think extraterrestrial engineering was required then you’re just underestimating the abilities of our forebears. Continue reading.
  • Glass is really a liquid

    The evidence being that very old window panes are thicker at the bottom because they’ve flowed down over the centuries. Let’s dispatch this piece of misinformation for a start. Yes, many old windows are thicker at the bottom, but they were thicker at the bottom when they were installed. Continue reading.
  • Cats always land on their feet

    It certainly seems that cats believe in this one, with their casual disregard for height. Perhaps you’ve been tempted to test the theory yourself from time to time when Marmalade got underfoot at just the wrong moment. Fortunately, for us, such measures are unnecessary because cats test it themselves every day. Continue reading.
  • Mice like cheese

    If cartoon mice have taught us nothing else (and I doubt they have) it is that mice can’t resist a nice bit of cheese, especially if it’s Swiss. But these animated rodents have been blowing smoke in our eyes because mice, on the whole, don’t like cheese at all. Continue reading.
  • You can catch cold from the cold

    Does cold weather give you a cold? The season for both is now upon us which no doubt explains why Peter Riches, Chelsea Turner, Holly Luxton-Russell and Anna Read have all written urging me to address this question. Anna is already certain it is false and wants me to disseminate the fact. Continue reading.
  • Knuckle cracking causes arthritis

    If you’re like me and rate the sound of cracked knuckles as an irritation second only to nails on a blackboard then this common warning seems like poetic justice. Yet, in a further sign of the unfairness of nature, arthritic hands do not come about because of cracked knuckles. Continue reading.
  • Thirst means you’re already dehydrated

    Imagine if this were generally true. You’d see billboards declaring “Not thirsty? Better have a drink anyway”. Neurotic parents would hook their obscurely-named children up to intravenous drips. And rather than scoffing at people who carry a water bottle at all times to keep themselves topped up, we’d all be doing it too. Continue reading.
  • Teflon is bad for you

    There you were smugly avoiding that whole trans-fat hornets’ nest by using non-stick pots and pans. And then someone tells you that Teflon, the miracle stuff that coats them all, is bad for you. Relax: you haven’t traded one early death for another. Teflon is not poisonous — as long as it’s used properly. Continue reading.
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