Everything You Know… Is Wrong

There’s a mangy pack of lies living in your brain—and it’s high time to drive em out.

Swallowed gum stays in your gut forever. Briefs lower your sperm count. Black guys have big weenies. Why do you still believe these old wives’ tales? (And, for that matter, why did you marry such an old wife?) Because a “responsible” adult handed these easy-to-believe lies down to you way back when you were still gullible enough to hardwire them into your belief system (i.e., before college). Sit down and take notes: Here are the cold, hard facts about everything you thought you knew.

 

Myth 1: Using A cell phone can give you brain cancer.

The Truth: No need to get a hang-up over this one.

While cell phones do emit mild microwaves of radiation (about as dangerous as the ones you get from staring at a Hot Pocket heating up in the microwave for a few minutes), they may not actually fry a single one of your cells. Some experts believe obsessive use (such as strapping the phone to your head with duct tape) could boost your risk of brain cancer slightly, but research done on humans and animals has yet to bear this out. “There’s no solid evidence that cellular phone use does any damage to your brain,” says John Moulder, a professor of radiation biology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

 

Myth 2: Women with pierced tongues give the best head.

The truth: Believe it, buddy.

A very unofficial survey of four New York City body-piercing parlors and a large number of our friends confirms beyond a doubt that a barbell in the tongue is the bomb. Izzy of Mean Street Tattoo, a tattoo and body-piercing parlor in New York City, says pierced tongues offer another world of sensation because of the added texture. “When you’ve got that little ball under there…it’s like an added stimulus,” he says. “Add that to a woman who knows how to give head and it makes being on the receiving end even better.” Some pierced girls will even freeze their tongue studs before beginning or attach the equivalent of a French tickler to their barbell. You decide.

 

Myth 3: If you lick a certain kind of toad, you’ll hallucinate/trip.

The truth: This one’s only kinda true.

As a matter of fact, there is a trip-inspiring critter. Those interested in further research should check out Colorado’s Sonoran Desert in the evenings between May and June during the toads’ breeding season. That’s when they’re out in full force getting busy. Swipe your tongue over the large poisonous glands located on the forearm or neck of the Bufo alvarius. But a better way to go is to collect the venom and smoke it after it dries. The secretions contain bufotenine, listed as a controlled substance by the DEA. An informed source reports that smoking the aforementioned dried venom delivers a “pleasant, warm, safe, and sensuous feeling of well-being complete with strong auditory hallucinations.” Side effects are minor, including nausea and an increased heart rate. And the lingering memory of licking a toad.

 

Myth 4: The Catholic Church is the largest landowner in the world.

The truth: Nope.

Even if it were possible to calculate all the land owned by Catholic churches worldwide, they still wouldn’t officially be considered the largest landowner. “Collectively, Catholic churches may own a lot of land, but to say that the Vatican owns all that land wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate,” says James A. Cassidy, general manager for Monitor Communications, the house organ of the Catholic diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. “Each parish in every town is technically owned by the individual group of people within the community that funds it.” Aha.

 

Myth 5: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object you can see from space.

The truth: Not true.

“Although the Great Wall can be seen as a thin, gray line from a standard 250-mile-high orbit, it’s not the only man-made structure visible with the naked eye from that distance,” says Kirsten Larson, a spokeswoman for NASA. Airport runways, highways, cities, Marlon Brando’s underwear drawer, and a running list of other man-made structures can also be seen. They don’t get as much play as the Wall, because they’re not as long and thus harder to identify from that distance.

 

Myth 6: If you put your car in neutral going downhill, you’ll save gas.

The truth: Sure, but it’ll kill your car.

If you coast downhill, you can actually save fuel, simply because you’re feeding less gas to the engine. So why not take it a step further and just throw it into neutral? Technical minds at BP Amoco have concluded that while a neutral position could possibly save a tiny bit of gas when going downhill, you’ll pay back the pennies you save on fuel hundreds of times over in transmission repair. And besides, car-safety experts agree that it’s unsafe to shift in and out of neutral while moving. The techies at BP Amoco suggested a better way to conserve fuel would be to roll the windows up to reduce drag.

 

Myth 7: Squeezing your thumb “web” will make a migraine go away.

The truth: Worth a try.

The web space at the base of the thumb is an acupressure point that, when pressed, may help you shake a migraine, says Dr. Fred Sheftell, president of the American Council for Headache Education (ACHE—get it?). Press that meaty area on the hand of the same side of the body as the headache. For normal headaches (tension headaches), the doc recommends reaching behind your head and pressing with both thumbs along the protruding ridge of the skull “until it hurts a little.”

 

Myth 8: If you touch a baby bird, its mother will abandon it.

The truth: Not a chance.

Whether a mother spurns your stench depends on the animal’s sense of smell, says Laura J. Simon, urban wildlife director for the Fund for Animals. Since birds have a terrible sense of smell, they wouldn’t even notice. Other animals, like monkeys, have such strong maternal instincts, not even your stinky touch would break the bond. But touch an animal like a baby rabbit and its young mom (who is especially sensitive to human smell) will ditch her kid. If your natural odor is especially feral, quit the scene after touching baby Bugs—and before the mother returns and attempts to mate with you.

 

Myth 9: To relieve a jellyfish sting, pee on it.

The truth: Hold it in.

Even though those silly Friends tried it, the golden shower approach doesn’t seem to work outside of sitcom city and porn flicks. Vinegar, which is acidic, is sometimes used to treat jellyfish stings. Since urine is also acidic, that’s probably where the pee idea came from, says Terry Peard, Ph.D., a professor of biology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “I’m not aware that urine alleviates the pain and it could make the sting worse by increasing the risk of infection,” he warns. Experts recommend a more standard solution: rinsing the sting with wet sand or seawater—which, if you live off New Jersey, might actually be worse than urine.

 

Myth 10: Statistically, flying is safer than driving.

The truth: Depends on how far you’re going.

With planes the risk goes up with the number of takeoffs and landings, while in autos, risk jumps with the distance traveled, says Todd Curtis, who runs for the typical safe-driving American male traveler—whatever that is—the risk of dying “is lower in cars than in jets for distances up to 300 miles.” (Figures not adjusted for whacko suicidal pilots.)

 

Myth 11: If you take Tylenol while drinking, you can die.

The truth: It’s possible.

No real cases of drunks keeling over dead from popping a little pain relief have ever been reported. But throwing back Tylenol regularly on a bellyful of booze has left some people with enough permanent damage to their liver to require a transplant. “Independently, alcohol and high doses of Tylenol are both toxic to the liver,” says Harry Scott Swartzwelder, coauthor of Buzzed and clinical professor of medical psychology in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. After an all-night bender, your liver’s already working overtime trying to metabolize every drop of alcohol you’ve poured in. When you drop Tylenol into that evil stew, it combines with the toxicity of the alcohol, poisoning the liver with a double dose of chemicals that has the potential to push some livers to the brink.

 

Myth 12: It takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown.

The truth: Sad, but true.

The mantra that every bleeding-heart optimist uses to encourage the rest of us to cheer up is actually correct. “Smiling only uses the zygomaticus major and a couple of other muscles below the eyes and around the mouth,” says Daniel Zwitman, Ph.D., speech pathologist in west Los Angeles and former professor at the UCLA medical school. Looking miserable takes a lot more effort, using lots of muscles with boring names. So, turn that frown…

 

Myth 13: You won’t die if you jump up just before a free-falling elevator hits the ground.

The truth: Wanna test it?

Unless you’re a physics wizard, chances are that pulling this stunt will do you more harm than good. “You’d have to leap at the right millisecond before impact,” says Leonard LeVee Jr., executive director of the National Association of Vertical Transportation Professionals. “If you failed, you’d crash into the ceiling, hit your head, break your neck, then fall to the floor and break something else.” Stay put. The safety system—required of all elevators—will take over. We promise.

 

Myth 14: Sex the night before competition can hurt your performance—athletic performance, that is.

The truth: True.

Then again, so can anything that remotely resembles exercise. “Sex is just another extracurricular activity—along with swimming, weight training, and cycling—that fighters are told to avoid to prevent them from overtaxing themselves and losing their edge,” says Tom Mustin, head boxing coach for the American 2000 Olympic team. He’s seen many fighters come close to losing bouts they should have won because they were doing the nasty the night before. Unless you’re Stephen Hawking, sex is still a physical effort, burning energy and taking the competitive edge off because it relaxes you. But is winning really more important than scoring?

 

Myth 15: If you mention the words “kill” and “president” in the same sentence over the phone, government computers will automatically record the conversation.

The truth: Who have you been hanging out with? Oliver Stone?

We couldn’t find any evidence that the Feds have the capacity (or desire) to monitor your wanking little phone calls to your pals. But should you be stupid enough to do this on the phone with government agents, you deserve to get Janet Reno’d. Three radio employees in Idaho recently thought it would be a hoot to tell some pestering teen callers to call an 800 number and say “I’m going to kill the president.” The number they called was at the White House; the pranksters were fired. Earlier this year, Vernell Aboytes’ friends, who were at his house at the time, called FBI headquarters to complain about the Elian Gonzalez case and—oops—to express an interest in hanging the president. A few hours later, the Feds paid Aboytes a little “visit.”

 

Myth 16: Red wine is good for you.

The truth: It’s good for your health, but only one vat at a time.

There’s at least one scenario in which a drink can save your life. For nearly a decade, the medical community has tried to explain the French Paradox—that the French suffer as little as one-third the fatal heart attacks of Americans despite having a diet laden with fatty cheeses and artery-clogging cream sauces. The evidence is pretty good that substances called flavonoids in red wine (also in tea, grapes, and onions) discourage blood clotting, reducing the possibility of heart attack. But there’s a catch to all of this: The bottle’s benefits apply only with the rogue—not the white—and only in small doses. More than a glass or two a day and the gain becomes a loss, although French movies become easier to take.

 

Myth 17: Swallowed gum takes seven years to digest.

The truth: No way!

The likelihood of anything staying in your stomach—even that White Castle burger—longer than a few hours is next to nil. The only time you’d have trouble, according to experts, is if you’re chewing and swallowing hundreds of pieces a day, in which case a doc will have to unstick it from your butt. Those pieces of Big Red you gulped before your date returned to the table will follow the corn kernel route, straight out of your body, undigested. This wad of gum whopper was concocted simultaneously by moms everywhere.

 

Myth 18: Wearing briefs instead of boxers will lower your sperm count.

The truth: Only if they’re permanently shrink-wrapped around your balls.

Even David Lee Roth’s painted-on crotch amplifiers are safe, say researchers. True, the family jewels are sensitive creatures that must be kept at an average temperature of 94 degrees, almost five degrees lower than body temp. If not for the external “to go” bag of the scrotum, keeping things chill down there would become every guy’s primary hobby. But to answer the question: Does wearing tighty whities, which draw the nuts unnaturally close to the abdomen, lower your sperm count? Researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center exaggerated the effect of briefs by strapping guys in polyester-lined aluminum cups. The result: a rise of less than two degrees in the scrotum, which wasn’t enough to kill the swimmers.

 

Myth 19: If you keep shaving your head, the hair will grow back thicker.

The truth: False.

Sorry to say, but all that shaving you tried at age 10 in an attempt to cop Tom Selleck’s look was for naught. “Normal hair typically has a very fine tip as it grows out, giving it a tapered, thinner appearance,” says George Cotsarelis, M.D., director of the hair and scalp clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. “When you take a razor to your face, you make each whisker blunt at the tip. That gives it a larger diameter, which some guys mistake for more hair growth.” So once it grows in, you’ll be back where you started. And yes, in case you’re wondering, this fact applies to the head, chest, and any other places you’ve tried to shave that we don’t want to know about.

 

Myth 20: If you get a ticket in a rental car, it won’t come back to haunt you.

The truth: Oops.

Your need for speed will catch up with you even if it’s not your car. Rental companies either give your info to the authorities so they can track you, or will pay the ticket and bill your credit card for the ticket plus a fee, says Paula Stifter, a spokeswoman for the Hertz Corporation.

 

Myth 21: If you give a man’s nose a hard enough uppercut, you can drive cartilage into his brain and kill him.

The truth: Nope, but we’ve found a way to do it.

A fierce blast to the nose of some dastardly cretin is more likely to deliver a lawsuit than a death certificate. Robert Gotlin, M.D., who handles orthopedic rehab for several New York professional athletes, is skeptical of the idea of death due to cartilage but explains that “direct blows to the head can ultimately be fatal.” Specifically, says the doc, it’s quite possible that a “pinpoint direct blow to the bridge of the nose” can lead to cerebral hemorrhage and ultimately snuff out your assailant.

 

Myth 22: Traces of pot stay in your system for three months.

The truth: Yeah, but not enough to get you busted.

Minuscule traces of THC (the active ingredient in pot) can stay hidden in fat cells for up to three months, until they are finally metabolized by enzymes in your body over time. “Whether you should worry about these lingering molecules depends on who’s doing the drug testing,” says Harry Scott Swartzwelder, a clinical professor of medical psychology and coauthor of Buzzed. The federal government sets its standard at 100 nanograms of THC metabolites per milliliter of piss. Since smoking a joint only raises your urine to an average of 200 ng, you could smoke just days before and still keep your FBI badge. However, private companies can set their own standard, making it as low as 10 ng, a trace amount that could be left over after simply hanging around Woody Harrelson’s dressing room.

 

Myth 23: A dog year is equal to seven human ones.

The truth: Only ruffly..

A 15-year-old pooch may be geriatric, but that doesn’t mean that the math here is simple. “The ratio of dog years to human years is not a straight linear relation but a curve that starts high at one end, then drops off,” says Stephen Zawistowski, a scientific adviser for the ASPCA. “After the first year, a dog is a teenager—about 12 to 15 years old. After the second year, it is roughly 20 to 25. After that, each year equals fewer and fewer human years: five, then four, then eventually three.”

 

Myth 24: Black guys generally have bigger penises, while Asian guys have the smallest ones.

The truth: It’s just nuts.

Whether you’re hung like a rabbit or a rhinoceros probably has nothing to do with your race. Science has never shown any correlation between ethnic background and penis size. The closest you get to any proof of genetic luck is a 1996 study in which urologists at the University of California in San Francisco found that the penises (from biggest to smallest) of black, white, and Asian men varied slightly in length while flaccid but were roughly the same size (an average 5.08 inches) while standing at attention. And what’s more important, really?

 

Myth 25: Humans use only 10 percent of their brains.

The truth: Duh, of course not.

“There’s no scientific basis for the claim that we use only a portion of our brain power,” according to Michael Smith, principal scientist at the San Francisco Brain Research Institute. “All of your brain is active all the time. If you stick an electrode in any brain cell at any moment, it will fire several times per second.” The 10 percent myth wasn’t even created by a scientist, but rather philosopher William James, who said that we use “only a small part of our mental resources.” Then again, it may just be a convenient excuse for things like David Schwimmer’s popularity.

 

Myth 26: Wearing a baseball cap makes you go bald.

The truth: How hairbrained.

“Most people link baseball caps to hair loss because it’s the cover-up of choice for balding guys,” says George Cotsarelis, M.D., director of the hair and scalp clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. According to Cotsarelis, unless your hat weighs 20 pounds and you fiddle with it like Joe Torre every two seconds, just wearing a hat all the time can’t create the amount of friction needed to remove a lot of hair from the scalp.

 

Myth 27: Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the Giants Stadium end zone.

The truth: Impossible to prove. (Did we say that right, Mr. Gotti?)

Whether or not Tiki Barber’s spiking the ball on the incinerated remains of history’s most prominent labor leader is a mystery that may forever go unsolved. “There’s no proof that he is and there is no proof that he’s not,” says Avis Roper, director of communications for the New York Giants. But if history speaks for itself, then the answer is probably no, given that no investigative authorities have contacted Giants Stadium since it opened back in 1976 about the possibility that the rumor could be true. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

 

Myth 28: Roaches are the only species that’d survive a nuke blast.

The truth: A small one, yes.

If you’re talking total nuclear annihilation, no one stands a chance. But cockroach cells divide every seven days, as opposed to continually (as in humans and other animals), says Joseph G. Kunkel, a professor of biology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Radiation messes with cell division. So, if the blast were localized, the six-sevenths of the roach population whose cells weren’t dividing that doomsday would stagger to their feet and march on. Whoa!

 

BEHIND THE MUSIC
From tales of Tupac to sleeping with the fish—literally—your fave rock myths explored.

Did Led Zeppelin screw a groupie with a fish?
It seems to be true, though the type of aquatic critter, mud shark or red snapper, is fishy. Tour photographer Michael Zagaris and tour manager Richard Cole both claim they witnessed the incident that took place at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle while on tour with Led Zep in ’69. But the fish ain’t talking.

Is Tupac Shakur really dead?
Shakur was pronounced dead on Friday the 13th, 1996 (spooky). Despite alleged pictures of his autopsied body littering the Net, Tupac has turned into the black Elvis—sans white jumpsuit. Public Enemy Chuck D has become the premier conspiracy theorist. He lists his “18 Compelling Reasons Why 2Pac Is Not Dead.” Among them: Shakur’s last CD, Makaveli, is named after the Italian philosopher who wrote about faking one’s own death to trick one’s enemies. Hmm…How slim shady.

Did the nerdy kid from The Wonder Years grow up to be Marilyn Manson?Nope. But looking at Manson out of glam garb, it’s easy to see why someone would think so. Marilyn Manson (a.k.a. Brian Warner) was born on June 5, 1969. Josh Saviano, who portrayed the bespectacled Paul Pfeiffer, was born on March 31, 1976. Far from serving as dark lord of the goths, Saviano spent his post–Wonder Years at Yale (where, it should be pointed out, the architecture is Gothic).

Does Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon sync up to The Wizard of Oz?
Though the band denies any connection, start the CD just as the MGM lion roars for the third time and they seem to be more in sync than five guys who sing for teenage girls. You find coincidences like “Brain Damage” playing as the Scarecrow sings “If I Only Had a Brain.” There’s a lot more, but we just spilled the bong water. Gotta run.
—O.J. Lima

HAVE YOU HEARD THE ONE ABOUT..?
Where the hell do urban legends get started? Right here, pal. Try these totally untrue whoppers on your buds. When your story comes back to you, expose the hoax and make the speaker look like a numb-nut.

Coke Head
On his way back from spring break in Mexico, this guy I went to college with decided to smuggle in some really high quality cocaine by hiding it in a little baggie in a shampoo bottle. But he forgot about it when he unpacked, and he left the bottle in the bathroom. The plastic bag had punctured in transit, and the coke had leaked into the shampoo. While showering, his roommate unknowingly used it. His head felt disturbingly tingly, but he went to class anyhow. About three hours later, in a biology lecture, he had a massive brain aneurysm. The cocaine had seeped through his scalp, and he’s been in a coma ever since.

Pickup Letdown
This guy I used to work with, a total asshole, met a drop-dead gorgeous girl at a bar and came on to her. Shockingly, she actually flirted back. Hardly believing his luck—it’s never this easy—he invited her back to his apartment for wild sex. They had one crazy up-all-night romp. In the morning when he woke up, the woman was gone, and scrawled on his bathroom mirror was a Web-site URL. When he logged on to the site, he found a news article about a local woman with AIDS who had infected more than two dozen men in the area and was still at large. The police were looking for her: Apparently, she targeted obnoxious men at singles bars.

Stuffing Nonsense
You know those crane games you find in arcades and truck stops? The ones where you operate the claw to pick up toys and candy? My cousin was at a carnival in San Diego with her five-year-old daughter, and the kid wanted a stuffed animal. So my cousin put in a quarter and maneuvered the claw right above a little teddy bear. She managed to pick up the bear, but right before she moved it over to the bin where she could claim it, it fell off. On its way down it knocked into a plush monkey, pushing it aside. Suddenly her daughter screamed, and my cousin saw that underneath the monkey was a severed human finger.
—Morrie Shudmont

 

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