Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Just for fun, here is a bit of silly e-mail that I got from a family member who shall remain nameless. As an exercise in critical thinking, I decided to "debunk" some of the fun "facts," just to see how hard it would be.

Weird Things You Would Never Know!!

Butterflies taste with their feet.

True (I thought so, but here is a source)

A duck's quack doesn't echo, and no one knows why.
Not true (source, Encarta Q&A)

In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than
all the world's nuclear weapons combined.

Unverifiable, but not inconceivable. The equations for since kinetic energy E=1/2 mv^2, the energy of a hurricane is dependent on the average windspeed (say, 160 kph) and the air mass (this I can't even guess).

Update: here is a source (Ask Jack that says;
The figure you usually see is that the latent heat energy released in a hurricane in one day could be equivalent of the energy released by 400, twenty-megaton hydrogen bombs.

So this one is a gross exaggeration (what, on the internet?), but on the right track.

On average, 100 people choke to death on ball-point pens every year.

I was unable to verify this one at CDC or any other site I could find. It seems reasonably likely to be true, especially if you count the cap of the pen

On average people fear spiders more than they do death.

I couldn't find a source for this one either

in a survey of 30 eighth graders (link here) taken for a class, I gather, fear of death came in ahead of spiders 15 to 12. I am sure this is a representative sample of the population at large, so I will deem this one false!!

Ninety percent of New York City cabbies are recently arrived immigrants.

Thirty-five percent of the people who use personal
ads for dating are already married.

Elephants are the only animals that can't jump.

I don't know about the "only" part, but here's a quote;
Elephants normally walk at a speed of about 6 km/h (about 4 mph) and can charge at up to 40 km/h (25 mph). They cannot gallop or jump over ditches, but readily take to rivers and lakes, where the water supports them and enables them to swim long distances without tiring.

source Encarta

Only one person in two billion will live to be 116 or older.

This one is just statistics. Look at the shape of the curve of age-adjusted mortality, and you can see the tail in the 100's, and estimate the probability of living to age X. It sounds about right, although extremely long-life is probably not an independent variable

It's possible to lead a cow upstairs...but not downstairs.

Women blink nearly twice as much as men.

False. A bit of a long quotation, but worth it;

BACKGROUND: Two major reference works suggest that men and women blink spontaneously at different rates, but they disagree with regard to which gender blinks faster. METHODS: Spontaneous blink rates of 59 males and 86 females, 44 of whom were taking birth control (BC) pills, were measured for 5 consecutive minutes. Schirmer test results and tear break-up times (TBUTs) were also obtained. RESULTS: Females taking BC pills blinked at a mean rate of 19.6 times per minute, females not taking birth control pills blinked 14.9 times per minute, and males blinked 14.5 times per minute. There were very large differences between blink rates for individuals in each of the groups.
From J Am Optom Assoc 1994 Nov;65(11):763-70. And you thought there weren't any good research projects out there!

The Main Library at Indiana University sinks over an inch
every year because when it was built, engineers failed to
take into account the weight of all the
books that would occupy the building.

Shockingly, this one turns out to be an Urban Legend, as evidenced by the web page "Main Library is not Sinking"

A snail can sleep for three years.
I'm not sure sleep is the word, but;

some desert species are able to remain sealed within their thick shells for two or more years

source, Encarta

No word in the English language rhymes with

Unverifiable, but kinda silly anyway! I'll let this one slide

Average life span of a major league baseball: 7 pitches.

True, or at least there is a source for it

Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never
stop growing.

I always thought this was true, but;

The size and shape of the eyeball changes rapidly during the first years of life

From Eye and Vision Development by A. Woodward.

The electric chair was invented by a dentist.


1881 - Dr. Albert Southwick, a dentist and former steamboat engineer, sees elderly drunkard touch terminals of electrical generator in Buffalo, New York. He is amazed at how quickly and apparently painlessly the man is killed and describes episode to friend State Senator David McMillan.

Source The Electric Chair

All polar bears are left handed.
This one makes no sense, but is not that far from the mark!

Are animals "handed," preferring one paw or claw to another?

Many are. Unlike human beings, though, the members of other animal species tend to be evenly divided in terms of which side they favor. There appear to be exceptions: most polar bears, for example, are thought to favor the left paw.

source, The Atlantic, another case of (shocking!) Web hyperbole!!

In ancient Egypt, priests plucked EVERY hair from their bodies,
including their eyebrows and eyelashes.

An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.

TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the
letters only on one row of the keyboard.

"Go," is the shortest complete sentence in the English

If Barbie were life-size, her measurements would be 39-23-33.
She would stand seven feet, two inches tall.

A crocodile cannot stick its tongue out.

The cigarette lighter was invented before the match.

Americans on average eat 18 acres of pizza every day.

I will defer to the reader to "debunk" the rest of these. As usual, a mix of strange but true, not even close to true, and typical web hyperbole. A great way to waste a couple of hrs on a tuesday morning!