Popular Misconceptions

Viking warriors wore horned helmets

False. Viking society developed in the 9th century C.E., and there is no evidence in archeological digs of helmets with horns. What archeologists have discovered are simple skull caps designed to protect the wearer’s head from overhead impacts. In 1942, a man cutting peat in Denmark uncovered two helmets with curved horns, which may have contributed to this misconception. However, carbon dating of pitch on the horns revealed that the helmets were from the bronze age (1,750 B.C. to 500 B.C.) and likely arrived in Scandinavia from the ancient Middle East. The myth of Viking horned helmets has been perpetuated by costume designers in Hollywood and stage designers the world over, and by the Minnesota Vikings football team, whose purple helmets depict horns.

Minnesota Vikings football team helmet. The white horns on the side are a misconception about what actual Viking warriors wore on their heads.

Adding olive oil to boiling water prevents pasta from sticking

False. In boiling water, olive oil (or any other type of cooking oil) floats at the top of the boiling surface while the pasta is cooking beneath. When you drain the water, the oil will coat the pasta, but all this does is prevent your sauce from sticking to the pasta and absorbing the sauce’s flavor. However, adding salt to the water before it boils, and before you add the pasta, will enhance the flavor of the pasta. Just don’t add oil.

Black holes are holes

False. So-called black holes are in fact regions of space where gravity is so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational force. They are not holes. If you were pulled into a black hole, you would not emerge in another region of space, as some science fiction films depict, you would simply be crushed by the immense gravity of the dense object. Before you crossed the event horizon, where the pull of the black hole’s gravity is inescapable, your body would be spaghettified as the gravitational force on the parts of your body nearest the black hole stretched that part of your body more than the parts farthest away from the event horizon—an unpleasant experience to be sure, but it wouldn’t last long. Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, is estimated to have a mass 4.3 million times greater than our sun and a diameter of 14.6 million miles.

Humans have just five senses

False. We have five primary senses:  sight/vision, hearing/audition, smell/olfaction, taste/gustation, and touch/tactition. The exact number of additional senses is open to debate, depending on how you define “sense.” Generally, senses refer to specific sensory cells that respond to physical phenomena and send signals to the brain, where those signals are received and interpreted. Beyond the fab five, other senses would include thermoception (sensing heat or cold), proprioception (sensing body awareness, like closing your eyes and touching your nose), and equilibrioception (sensing your body’s position to maintain balance).  Then there is sensing motion (kinaesthesia), sensing air and water pressure, sensing gravity, sensing color and moods associated with color, sensing pain (nociception), sensing mental or physical distress, sensing friendliness and hostility, sensing the passing of time (chronoception). What is missing? Perhaps the sense that something is missing.

Undercover officers must identify themselves if asked

False (usually). While this can be a complicated legal issue, particularly in cases of possible police entrapment, undercover police are not obligated to disclose their identities if asked. As one pundit noted, if this were true, then all criminals would have to do is ask everyone they encountered if they were cops, and few arrests would be made.

Here is a quote from the website Lawfare: “Broadly speaking, law enforcement officers do not have a legal duty to disclose either their identities or their agencies of affiliation, even if asked directly. Certain municipalities require police officers to identify themselves if asked, but there is currently no federal statute requiring officer disclosure of such information. Generally, federal law enforcement conduct is guided by the internal regulations of the particular law enforcement agency for whom the officers work—or, when federal officials are not involved, the regulations of local police departments.”  https://www.lawfareblog.com/can-law-enforcement-officers-refuse-identify-themselves

The misconception that undercover officers must identify themselves if asked is a popular Hollywood creation, but it is not true.

Photo credits:  Minnesota Vikings helmet:  Shutterstock; man adding oil to boiling water:  Photo 132354777 © Olena Yakobchuk | Dreamstime.com; black hole:  Shutterstock; butterfly on man’s fingertip:  Photo 155980128 © Vladimir Grigorev | Dreamstime.com; undercover cop:  Photo 30323945 © Simba3003 | Dreamstime.com; misconceptions: Photo 164571118 © Michalsuszycki | Dreamstime.com

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Terry Bacon