All-Time Dumbest Scientific ‘Facts’ That My Soldiers Actually Say

Some of my fellow soldiers have said some pretty unscientific or unrealistic things. A lot of these things are based on sensationalized, hyped, outdated, misread, or otherwise incorrect science. Some of it comes from their own weird minds, but a frightening amount comes from regurgitating science-sounding ‘facts’.

My Brain! You have failed me motivational poster

“You only use 10% of your brain. Except Einstein, he used 12%.”

This is often traced back to a vitamin advertisement from the late 19th century. I’ve seen a few other explanations, too. Obviously, we use 100% of the brain. We may not always use it well, but it’s doing something. After a theist ranted about ‘proving god exists mathematically’ I found out that Einstein is commonly added to many myths as they evolve.

“You lose 50% of your body heat off the top of your head when you are cold.”

This myth is often traced back to a faulty military science test. I even had a soldier tell me that it was true, and that the military discovered it. The theory was apparently framed around the concept that ‘heat rises’.

“If you put a pubic hair in the [urinalysis] cup, you pass.”

There are all sorts of myths like this passed around by soldiers with very low rank. Niacin, cranberry juice, swallowing charcoal tablets, squirting soap in the cup, etc. These people may at best cause suspicious ‘error’ and spark a more closely monitored re-test. I’m sure there are plausible methods to avoid detection, but it’s funny how many non-scientific ‘truths’ are spread by stoners in the barracks.

“My baby is sick and I don’t produce milk, I need a sick donor-mother to give me her breast milk, for the yummy antibiotics.”

I hope this soldier isn’t reading this. She knows I like working with her… but wow this is an awful idea. If anything, you’re risking introducing a new sickness. Also, I knew what she meant, but there is a difference between antibody and antibiotics.

“You could mummify a body with a bag of Doritos.”

I traced this one back to a joke on Slashdot’s article about one of the guys who made Doritos. It popped up on my soldier’s facebook without that humorous context. She said it aloud in a matter of fact way, as if to say, “Hmm. Interesting fact!”

“I’m on a diet that starts with massive calories and junk food and then you slowly ween off over the next few months.”

Burn more calories than you consume. I’m not saying it’s easy to do, and some have an especially hard time at it. However, the ‘science’ part is simple.

“I don’t shave before exercise because shaving makes it grow back twice as fast (or thick).”

This is a ‘private excuse’ for not shaving. The regulations clearly say that males must shave before the duty day begins, which means the first formation (typically 6:30 AM). There may be some sort of effect that a blunt razor cut causes stubble to grow back somewhat more noticeably the next day, but certainly not any faster. Even then I’m dubious. Rather than debunk this myth, I usually just tell them to shave twice, and they just shave the once at the appropriate time.

“When I was in the National Guard, we used to give out tickets to see Noah’s Ark.”

This was actually said by an atheist, just being a little loose with her words. I quickly replied, “You know that’s not a real place, right?” Our supervisor thought I was being disrespectful but laughed too.

“I opened one bank account with 10% interest rate. But I’m smart. I opened a SECOND bank account with a 10% interest rate.”

To her credit, she was a really good sport about this when I explained to her that she could just put all the money in a single bank account. She is not an idiot, but this was pretty funny. She brought it up often and had a great sense of humor about it.

“Wearing more clothes / covering more skin actually keeps you colder, so I want to wear my long sleeve uniforms for exercises in the summer!”

I wasn’t going to correct this one, but then a few other soldiers standing around piped up in total agreement. I suggested that if they ‘really’ want to ‘keep cool’ in the summer that they might pile on 4 layers of uniforms, or even the burqa we keep for OpFor missions.

“Those wishing ponds at the mall that you throw coins in are a rip off”

This guy said the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, constantly. He wanted to build a tollbooth on a random road, to get rich. I told him he might die trying, but he insisted that his would be made out of steel and the cars wouldn’t harm him. This guy deserves his own post for all of the hilarious things he would say.

One time, he told me that there was a machine that baked all the igneous rocks used to landscape our commander’s building. I told him that it was actually a volcano, but he said, “No, dude, they have a conveyor belt take them out of the lava pit at different temperatures. That’s why they are different colors.”

Here’s a sample from his Facebook, “25 randoms things about me”

25-random-things-about-me-facebook-fail

I was standing next to him when the ‘Army says I’m an alcoholic’ thing happened. And it is a pretty funny story…

This soldier was generally known for poor hygiene including wearing nasty uniforms. Our supervisor passed by and took him outside. He came back in saying he just got yelled at for being drunk. He told me that he had spilled liquor on his uniform a few days earlier, and that’s why it smelled. I was sure that he’d just get yelled at for being nasty again. However, he craved attention, and took it to a whole other level.

They took him to the MP station. For some reason, he actually admitted to being drunk on duty, mentioning some girl breaking up with him. He tearfully asked for help in lieu of punishment. They gave him a Breathalyzer and he passed with a 0.00 BAC! Since he had self-identified as drunk on duty and asked for help, the command had no choice but to send him to substance abuse treatment.

Only he could write himself into situations like that every single day. I loved being around him, it was like being in a sit-com, but I was the neighbor stopping by to witness a punchline. I was always nice to him, and even tried to pull him aside for tips on social graces (away from others). I stood up for him when he didn’t instigate whatever situation he was in, but this soldier was simply not passing muster. He got kicked out of the military eventually, and I hope he’s doing alright wherever he is.

What are your favorite science fails from your fellow service members (or co-workers)?

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  • daved

    That factoid about losing 50% of your body heat through your head is true — if the rest of you is dressed warmly, but you’re not wearing a hat. (I just saw this one in Ken Jennings’ new book.) If you’re also wearing a warm hat, it’s false.

    The one about how wearing more clothes keeps you cooler is probably a garbled version of the way, say, traditional desert Arab dress would keep you cooler — by covering the body with white, loose clothing, which allows perspiration to evaporate, but reflects the sun’s rays.

    The rest of them are, of course, false. Or complete gibberish, in some cases.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @daved

      The factoid about losing significant body heat (not 50%) CAN be true under certain circumstances. Given that we’re in the military, and winter weather situations are always accompanied by hats, it served no purpose.

      Although it is commonly believed that most body heat is lost through a person’s head, heat loss through the head is not more significant than other parts of the body when naked.[227][228] This may be a generalization of situations in which it is true, such as when the head is the only uncovered part of the body, or in infants, where the head is a significant fraction of body mass. [via wikipedia's list of common misconceptions]

  • http://beliefblower.com Renee Hendricks

    Funny. I always had heard it was the extremities where all the body heat was lost (this was emphasized when I was in the Army in Germany). So, we were to unsure hands, feet, and head were properly covered.

    I don’t have any additional stuff to add to your list but the one about the urinalysis is rather funny. We used to have guys who’d swear by drinking tons and tons of Mountain Dew just before the test. I was on an almost constant regime (off and on for a year) of this drug that turned everything bright orange – sweat, tears, and urine – so my tests were always thrown out (or at least I assume). Some guys got wind of this and really wanted to use whatever it was I was on. I had to tell them they’d need to go into sick call to get their own Pyridium LOL

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @Renee

      LOL. I remember handing a dark yellow sample and they said “THIS GUY NEEDS TO DRINK SOME GODDAMN WATER!” He was referencing those urine color charts in the latrines. Then he tried to ‘be cool’ with me (I wasn’t embarrassed though), asking “I bet you drank last night, huh?” Nailed it.

  • jamessweet

    Right, the “losing X% of your body heat through your head” thing is IF your head is not covered. Basically, your body heat escapes through wherever isn’t covered. Derp.

    The shaving thing, yeah, it’s complete BS. Where it comes from is that the very early “shadow” as your hair starts to grow back, it tends to be stubbly and stiff, because it’s short and tough. So if you shave only occasionally, most of the time you have a small amount of soft hair; but if you shave frequently, then right before the next shave you have stiff stubbly hair (still a small amount). The shaving doesn’t stimulate the hair growth at all; it just looks and feels different when it has been recently shaved.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @Jamessweet -

      Yeah, but ordering somebody to ‘shave twice’ is more effective and quicker. The still only shave the once, but they stop whining about it and attempting to massage their way out of trouble.

  • http://www.rubyquill.com abbeycadabra

    I think we need a list of “The 213 things Skippy is no longer allowed to believe in the U.S. Army”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      abbeycadabra … civilians need a link to the reference you just made. That’s classic. (I’m on mobile though!)

  • http://www.rubyquill.com abbeycadabra

    I’m a civilian, too. But! one link, coming right up. Those who haven’t read this, do, it’s delightful.

    The 213 things Skippy is no longer allowed to do in the U.S. Army: http://skippyslist.com/list/

  • lochaber

    I got chewed out a couple different times for trying to explain the cause of magnetic declination. People above me were taught by their predecessors that magnetic declination was caused by iron mines. Because someone higher ranking than them had once told them ‘iron mines’, I was being insubordinate for trying to explain that the magnetic north pole isn’t quite where the geographic north pole is. meh.

    Also got the one about wearing more clothes to keep cool in the desert- ‘cept, in our version, it only worked once you completely soaked the inner layer with sweat. somehow, those people managed to avoid getting themselves killed, damned if I know how.

    And yeah, all kinds of misinformation about urinalysis… even heard some guys talking about mixing some bleach into dr. pepper and drinking that…

  • Rich Wilson

    “If you drink hot coffee when it’s hot out it will cool you down because it will make you sweat more”

  • goidaym8

    A common one I heard often (even from my own father) on the farm is pissing on your wound or wiping it with a pissy cloth will kill germs and stop infection. It is reasonably correct if it removes infected debris, though urine is simply a sterile solution if the person doesn’t have a kidney nor bladder infection, so it can delay infection. Though it doesn’t have any antiseptic qualities so it doesn’t stop infections, it simply helps to clean the wound. So it is useless if gangrene or tetanus bacteria has already entered or gained a hold on the wound.

    I scored tetanus from a nail going through my foot, pissing on it was useless, the injection when I was rushed to hospital was the only answer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/blake.page.7 Blake Page

    A first class cadet at West Point once tried to convince me that the existence of a beer mug proved the existence of god. Something about man not being capable of original thoughts that could benefit the species without divine intervention because evolution doesn’t lead to creativity…didn’t make sense to me. Of course afterwards he went on to explain that dinosaurs were friends with Adam and his rib clone…our nation’s best and brightest

  • markr1957 (Patent Pending)

    LOL @ skippy’s list – except that in the British Army I served with calling a member of the SAS a wanker was seriously ill-advised! Not sure what your man meant though…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19217851 travisdykes

    I used to work with a guy at this restaurant who believed aliens were spying on us. He had a ton of great statements, but one of the best was when we were taking the trash out and a front was blowing in. He looked up at the clouds in the front line and said something to the effect of “Looks just like the alien ship from the movie Independence Day, yep, looks just like that. I’m going to go home and prepare”. He then went in, clocked out and left. (Yeah he didnt work there much longer).

  • clamboy

    WHERE IN THE WIDE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS IS THIS 10% INTEREST RATE?!?!?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      In my memory hole… What’s a more realistic number? I’m sure it was a normal number.

  • clamboy

    *sigh* I am depressed. If you can get one percent at a bank, any bank, I will congratulate you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @clamboy

      Goes to show how much a soldier relies on his/her spouse for finances (except dual-military situations). I haven’t seen a bill or a bank statement in over five years. That’s a true story, though. Perhaps it wasn’t interest rate, but it was a percentage and 2 accounts. I’ll ask that soldier when I see her next.

  • Rich Wilson

    The best rate I’ve seen is at ING Direct. I have my emergency fund savings there getting 0.75% APY. Not much, but a damn site better than Chase or BoA are offering.

  • lochaber

    Ooh, I forgot all the great medical stuff…

    we needed to eat more salt to prevent dehydration, so everyone had to eat the saltines in the MREs.

    also, cocoa powder dehydrates you, you can’t eat it unless you make cocoa (it even dehydrates you if you eat it, and then drink the equivalent amount of water (or more) you would mix it with)

    malaria is a virus (from a corpsman, who pulled rank when I tried to explain it’s a protozoan)

    Also got lectured by a 1st sergeant about my vehicle loan, because if I paid more then the minimum monthly payment (no early pay-off penalty), I would be paying more per month…

    I’m sure I’ll remember more later

  • http://irrelevantprocess.blogspot.com mxh

    I hear that 10% of our brain thing all the time, usually followed by “imagine what we could do if we used all 100% of our brain cells.” They usually get upset at me when I say “we could have a grand mal seizure.”

  • abb3w

    The addition of Einstein or other prominent figures to anecdotes and quote attributions seems to be an expression of “social validation” — bringing to mind others who are thought to share one’s attitude, particularly someone “important” that can be pointed to. I suspect the common way is a multi-step meme mutation.

    Shmuck 1 to shmuck 2: “A witty saying proves nothing”. (No attribution.)

    Shmuck 2 to shmuck 3: “Perhaps it was Voltaire who said ‘A witty saying proves nothing.’” (Speculative attribution.)

    Shmuck 3 to shmuck 4: “According to Voltaire, ‘A witty saying proves nothing.’” (Confident but unvalidated attribution.)

    There’s probably also some less honest people who skip the steps, and make up the association without concern for accuracy because conveying their point is more immediately important than the accuracy. The increasing prevalence of smart-phones to allow in-conversation fact checking out in the Real World may gradually make this direct approach counter-productive, due to the increased chance of loss of reputation/credibility.

  • joulesm

    One airman that I worked with had a really weird one. Our flight was going out to lunch to honor someone leaving the unit and we started talking about our paranoias. Someone said “whenever I enter a place, restaurant or whatever, I always look to find the closest exit in case we get attacked”. This airman responded with “oh me too, except that I always look up…I look for things to hold on to in case gravity stops working”.

    So not only does she think that Earth’s gravity might just turn off one day, but that if it did, she would go flying into space…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @joulesm

      LOL… “Slapstick” by Kurt Vonnegut featured gravity that fluctuated as often as the weather. Some days, you couldn’t get out of bed, but others you could leap across sky scraper roof tops. Hi ho.

  • gworroll

    I was always hoping for one coworker to drop her “evolution leads to animal behavior” theory on the wrong customer. Someone who might turn on asshole mode in response, Thunderf00t or The Amazing Atheist perhaps. Someone where the scene would be so big and contentious and dramatic that there’d be no choice but to fire my coworker.

    The senior part timers were not interested in going full time, so I’d be the one to get her hours.

    I had too much integrity to deliberately provoke that situation, but the thought did cross my mind.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    I never had too much in the way of science stupid in my shop, (Being an avionics tech helped with that), but some other folks:

    1) The Copilot who wrote up the TACAN on the B-1B they’d just flown for not working in the “official” position, abbreviated “off”. (yes, that shit happens. I was there. That’s exactly how he wrote it up, and I was never so glad to be an E-4 as when I passed THAT buck to the E-5 i was with and told him “here, YOU tell him.”)

    2) The SP who believed us when we said the avionics coolant oil, aka “coolanol” (can you tell the first B-1B base was in Texas?) wasn’t poisonous as much as radioactive. He threw down his weapon, and said “you fuckers can guard it, I’m leaving.” We had to chase him down and explain that we were just messing with him and please come back to the plane before you get reamed.

    3) the guy (forget the shop, not one of ours) on a launch truck who discovered that the bottle of grape soda someone had shook the shit out of (me), had, thanks to temperature and pressure, stayed liquid in -30 ambients. Until he started to open the lid. As it was a glass bottle, we all just dove for cover, then drove him to the emergency room on base so he could get many small bits of glass removed from his face and neck. At least he had the sense to close his eyes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      COOLANOL BWHAAHHAAHHAAHHAHA!!!!

  • dandelionc

    About the 10% interest rate on savings accounts:

    http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/moneymatters/a/savings.htm

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      @dandelionc – I don’t think it was TSP. I really think it was a simple savings account thing, and I was just way off with the 10%. Perhaps it was something like ’10% bonus points’ or some other gimmick. Still haven’t seen that soldier around to ask.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dogmatichaos David Wells

    Oh god, so many dumb things I’ve heard from soldiers over the years:

    “Dolphins don’t have teeth.”

    “Giraffe’s necks prove evolution is false.”

    “If you (take 2 aspirin, eat lots of carbs, drink lots of water/don’t drink lots of water, etc.) you’ll pass a pt test.” (admittedly, there are some things that might incremently improve your chances, but it was the stupidity over these miracle fixes to pass a test that was relatively easy to pass amazed me.)

    “This is how the Ranger’s/Navy Seals/Special Forces do it.” (Spoken in various iterations by a PFC with about 6 months total combined experience counting training.)

    “The moon/gravity doesn’t cause tides, tides are caused by magnetism.” This one actually was from a drill sergeant in Basic Training.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

    I have always loved the 10% of your brain thing. How and why would brains evolve to have 900% overcapacity?

    Jim

  • Chrissy

    When young, my mum told me not to shave my legs because shaving makes them grow back thicker and faster. Forget comb-overs, I have a vision of balding men shaving their heads.


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