'Natural Things Can Kill You!' Scientists Correct The Most Annoying Misconceptions They Hear Everywhere.
Consider this a much-needed refresher course for those of us who drank away most of what we learned in high school.
This piece is based on an AskReddit thread. Link on the last page.
1/25. Chemicals do not equal toxins, otherwise everything would be poison. Water is made of chemicals.
2/25. Agriculture researcher here. So many people are obsessed with their food being "organic" or "natural". They're scared of aspartame, pesticides and especially genetic modification.
But the truth is almost everything you eat is altered and bred in some way to improve it. Our plants are ever-evolving and there are a lot more terrifying inputs in our daily lives than wheat that may have gasp a bit of rye DNA.
3/25. "If you can't pronounce an ingredient you shouldn't eat it." I'm a food scientist, and I'm here to tell you that if you do that, you will probably starve. Please don't starve.
4/25. "A scientific theory is just a guess." Please stop saying that.
5/25. Not all bacteria are bad and need to die. Some are nice and helpful, and even necessary for life on Earth.
6/25. Med student here. Patients refuse extremely safe medications that will save their lives for extremely dumb "natural remedies" and it breaks my heart. It seems that a lot of people believe that if something is natural, then it can't be harmful. But lightning and shark attacks are natural!
7/25. The one that boiled my blood back in the day was the idea that the CERN particle collider would somehow create a black hole that would swallow us all. I cant begin to explain how little sense that makes.
8/25. As an infectious disease researcher, it is pretty terrifying how unaware most people are of the public health dangers in the world. (continued...)
Keep reading on the next page!
They think that all the big issues now are about cancer, or Alzheimers, or heart disease. These are largely ailments of old age that most people in the world would be lucky to live long enough to suffer from.
There is no way around the paradox that the countries with the money for the research don't suffer from the problems that most of the world is battling. Worms and other parasites, tuberculosis, and vector borne viruses are the real scourges of this planet, and I fear that there is very little that will ever be done about it.
9/25. The failure to acknowledge that nuclear power is by far the safest form of power. I have patiently taken hours to explain each nuclear process, the specific details of each nuclear accident, the history, the importance of power as a whole as it relates to energy equality and global warming.
Then, when Im done, nobody actually believes any of it. Hooray.
10/25. People seem to think that the "Supermoon" is the most amazing thing ever to happen, and what do you mean the astronomy society won't be doing an event specifically for it?!
Like come on guys, this thing gets hyped up every single year. The media are terrible for picking it up and sensationalizing it every time. Yes, technically the Moon will be a bit bigger than it usually appears, but it's barely noticeable and people are usually disappointed.
11/25. Hacking things doesn't turn you into some god who can turn off the lights and control a train. It's much more boring than that.
12/25. As a meteorologist, there are a couple of things I would like to say. (continued...)
Keep reading on the next page!
People seem to think that predicting the weather is easy, and like to ask me why we get it wrong all the time? If it were easy, anyone could do it!
I especially hate when people say things like: "Well, if they can predict climate change over thousands of years, why can't you predict rain over the next twenty-four hours?" But then most people who say things like this end up not believing in climate change anyway, so... what the hell?!
Climatology is different than meteorology, folks.
13/25. I don't get when people say the scientific method is "biased". Biased toward what? Objective facts?
14/25. work with statistics, and people (especially reporters) seem to have a really bad grasp of correlation does not imply causation. Just because two things are correlated does not mean they actually effect each other.
A good example of this is the number of people that drown by falling in a swimming pool by year correlates with the number of films released by Nicholas Cage in that year.
I am NOT saying correlation has no value in stats; there's a lot of merit to it. The specific pet peeve is when people conclude 'x must cause y' because of correlation when often it's not as simple as that.
15/25. Low fat is not "healthy". The low fat myth really needs to die. Low fat generally means high sugar. The sugar industry paid for studies to frame fat as the culprit 50 years ago and we're just now beginning to change the narrative about it.
There are great documentaries on Netflix about this, but be forewarned: it's infuriating.
Keep reading on the next page!
16/25. People love to treat theoretical physics as if it were real, probably because the media reports it this way. String theory? Parallel universes? All unproven and just theoretical, but a lot of people think they actually exist.
17/25. That there is one cure for cancer, it's already been discovered, and pharmaceutical companies are "hiding" it from the public because they profit from selling chemotherapeutics. There are just...so many things wrong with that.
18/25. That man-made climate change is a liberal conspiracy theory. Please. Gravity is a theory too, but I don't see people going around tossing their children off of the roof.
Actively working towards preventing a national or global response to this very real threat is going to cause an unbelievable amount of human death and suffering over the next few generations.
19/25. Oh here's why sci-fi fans annoy me. You can't compare physics to history.
Whenever I tell people that faster than light travel is very likely impossible, they always tell me "well a hundred years ago we couldn't fly so in a hundred years we'll figure it out!"
No. Just because humans were too dumb to figure out lift and aerodynamics in the past does not make the bending of spacetime or the production of exotic matter a trivial feat of patience.
20/25. I hate when people say: "It's proven by science." Science doesn't work that way though.
Science doesn't prove things, it provides evidence. Only Mathematics can work in absolutes.
Keep reading on the next page!
21/25. Quoting Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka but That's funny Many significant results - let alone advances - are driven by seemingly insignificant yet curious observations which warrant further investigation.
And that's why we fund all kinds of research that doesn't seem immediately useful. We never know wheat we're going to find.
When the element 'Americium' was discovered, everyone said it was useless. Now we use it to make fire alarms. You never know what's going to be important.
22/25. As an evolutionary biologist, I hate the way people talk about this or that behavior from people as being "adaptive" or "must have evolved that way for a reason."
Just examining a trait and telling stories about why you think it must be specially adapted for something is just that, storytelling, and the opposite of how we handle things as scientists.
Also, for humans, cultural evolution is so much faster than biological evolution. Most of our behavioral traits are cultural but have no biological basis at all.
23/25. When you look at a map, the areas near to the poles appear way bigger than they are in reality. So no: Greenland is not "almost as big as Africa." Just saying.
24/25. This is a misconception about scientists rather than about science itself, but I think it's well worth pointing out. (continued...)
Keep reading on the last page!
I often hear people stereotype scientists as being arrogant about their own intelligence. I think the stereotype stems from movies or television shows that have that one super-genius character who absolutely hates being wrong.
From my own experience, that sort of individual wouldn't last long as a scientist. Science is about discovery, and you aren't going to discover anything if you convince yourself that you know everything.
The scientific method is based off of making mistakes and being wrong. Scientists didn't discover the structure of the atom in one shot; it took several iterations of "well, our model can't explain this thing we're observing, so I guess we need a new model" before we arrived at the model we're at today.
Being wrong is exciting because it means we have a chance to learn new things, and learning new things is what science is about. To quote Jules Verne:
"Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
I'm currently working in an academic research laboratory and I say "well, looks like I was wrong about X" or "I have no idea why Y is happening" on a daily basis. Professors and PhD students are some of the humblest people that I know because they're so used to being wrong and learning from their mistakes.
25/25. That the most popular decision will result in the best outcome. In science, democracy is a bad thing. It doesn't matter if I think clouds are made of mashed potato, or how many people I can convince to believe with me. Its wrong.
I think the world could use more of the scientific commitment to facts over sentiments.