What Twitter Thinks and What Is: Common Scientific Misconceptions


While collective human knowledge has been rapidly expanding, it is not uncommon that the knowledge of many individual humans can remain somewhat stagnant. Often, the general public tends to wholly believe some inaccurate scientific information. With the development of Twitter, the spread of pseudo-scientific statements is more easily facilitated, and can be rather disturbing (though often amusing).
Here, I explore a few common misconceptions, with insightful Twitter commentary along the way.

Diamonds are highly compressed coal 
More than 99% of diamonds was formed more than 90 miles below the surface, in conditions of extreme heat and pressure from carbonate rocks. Coal, on the other hand, is formed mostly from prehistoric plants and is not found more than 2 miles below the planet’s surface. An extremely small amount of diamonds are formed from coal, but this is only possible in the case where there is a meteoroid impact (and still, it’s more likely that carbonate rocks will form diamonds in this situation). Likely, these girls have read too many Nicholas Sparks novels:

Love & Life ‏@LifeandLoveNote Feb 1
Relationship is not finding a Gold or Silver among the rocks of life. It is accepting each other as Coal till Diamonds are formed with time

Kissless ‏@KisslessLadies Jan 13
All diamonds start as coal.
After time and pressure the dark rock becomes a brilliant, clear priceless gem.
Stick it out, be a diamond.

Unfortunately, these often retweeted Twitter accounts are in for a rude awakening, unless a meteoroid happens to strike their boyfriends. Perhaps if they just used “carbonate rocks” rather than coal, the sentiment could be just as touching, but more accurate.

Eating before you swim causes cramps.

This mantra is extremely popular among concerned mothers; however, there is no evidence supporting it. You actually can eat before you swim and not get cramps or drown.While athletes who swim often forgo food immediately before swimming to avoid gastrointestinal distress, the rest of us will likely be fine meandering around the pool after eating a Hot Pocket, free of cramps. However, this misconception makes for good threats.

Dametus Brown ‏@OfficialJerard  Feb 17
I hope you eat the whole pizza, go for a swim, catch a cramp and drown.

This girl is on the right track, though:

         Anna Waldron ‏@annaphase  2 Jul 2012
I think the reason youre not supposed to swim right after you eat is not because youll cramp & drown, but because of the awk food baby.

Humans don’t use more than 10% of their brain.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. If we only used 10% of our brain, what would be the purpose of all the rest of that pink mass in our head? Evolutionarily, having a large target of a head for predators is not exactly advantageous, and women have to push that big head out during labor (the sexual dimorphism in having wide hips is the consequence). Our large head is made for our brain, and every portion of it serves a function. Perhaps this misconception stems from the fact that not all 100% of our neurons are firing at the same time. This pseudo-philosophy on Twitter nearly moved me to tears:

@OmarImranTweets  Nov 18
They say Humans use only 10% of their brains. It seems like they use only 10% of their hearts too.

I’d hate to crush this poor guy’s hopes, though:

Nile Harris ‏@JewelOf_TheNile  14 Jul 2012
I love thinking about how humans only use 10% of their brains it makes me feel like....i really can go super saiyan 

Alcohol kills brain cells. 

This is probably a massive relief to most college students who previously held this misconception. However, alcohol does indirectly kill brain cells in one of two ways, both in heavy, chronic drinkers typically defined as alcoholics. The first occurs when an alcoholic tries to stop drinking cold turkey: since their brains have adapted to the heavy alcohol usage, stopping abruptly can cause excitotoxicity, where nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation (potentially including areas of the brain). The second occurs when Korsakoff’s syndrome develops from a lack of thiamine for people who get most of their daily calories from alcohol, implying serious harm to the brain.

John Heberle ‏@thejohnheberle  Feb 12
Mom: You know alcohol kills brain cells
Uncle: You know I heard I only use 10% of my brain, so that means I have 90% to lose

This tweet actually contained two of the misconceptions I chose, though from different relatives of the tweeter. There is likely reason to fear for this family.

Scott Eddy ‏@MrScottEddy  Feb 10
I wish alcohol killed fat cells instead of brain cells.

I’m not sure the potential disintegration of the lipid bilayer membranes holding our cells together is ideal, but I feel you, Scott.

Humans evolved from monkeys.

The great evolution debate is full of misconception, but this is something both believers and nonbelievers of the theory (a scientific theory, that is, putting it on the same level as germ theory and the theory of gravitation) can agree on:. We, in fact, evolved from a common ancestor. Evidence actually suggests that this common ancestor, existing 5-8 million years ago, was bipedal, and chimpanzees and bonobos then evolved to become more capable climbers, on a separate path from humanity.

Robin Malau ‏@lowrobb  Jan 30
If humans descended from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?

Read above for why this is inaccurate. The next is remarkably insightful:

Deon Lundy ‏@deon_L  Nov 20  
In my opinion...
Saying that a #human could evolve from #Monkeys
Is the equivalent of saying
A #MacBook PRO #evolved from a #Toaster

…Unfortunately, not in the way this tweeter means. Toasters and MacBooks do have a common ancestor in primitive electronics, using this analogy, but Toasters did not evolve into MacBooks the same way that monkeys did not evolve into humans.

In the age of information, one can find out almost anything they could want to know about anything with the click of a button. Unfortunately, it is also the age of social media, and it is easier than ever for misinformation to spread like wildfire, as well.  A simple Google search can often discern the truth, but it is up to each browser of the Internet to take it upon themselves to find the right answers to the hard questions, including those of science, and to not be deceived by what is most widely believed.

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