5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

Science can explain most things, but most people can't explain science. That's why so many treat it like magic -- a few nonsense words they say to try to look smart without actually understanding anything. Even well-intentioned educators misuse many science cliches. Cliches which short-circuit their brains so that they don't have to think about what they're saying -- because thinking causes brain stress, and that makes you sweat away the scent of your new Axe, and then girls won't like you.

Let's look at the worst offenders.

#5. Schrodinger's Cat

The Science:

A cat is sealed in a box with a vial of poison and a radioactive sample. If the sample decays at a time no one could ever predict, then the poison is released and the cat dies. They call this "quantum superposition" and it means is that, at any moment, it's decayed and not-decayed. Who the hell knows? That also means the cat is simultaneously licking his little butthole all cozy in a box and dead as a door nail. You'll know for sure when you look. Better put on that gas mask first.

Via Dhatfield
Cats aren't transparent. Science is a LIE!

The Problem:

The problem is that it's bullshit. Or rather, poisonous radioactive catshit. Schrodinger designed his nuclear-animal-cruelty Saw-prequel to be so obviously stupid that it would reveal the ridiculousness of applying quantum mechanics, meant for super-small-scale stuff, to larger objects. His original description of the thought experiment is dripping with sarcasm (and panicked cat urine), but people have been teaching it as the real thing for decades because it sounds so Inceptiony and scientarded that it must make sense.

original E. Schrodinger, Die Naturwissenschaften, (1935) translation from Proc. Am. Phil. Soc, 124, 323-38 (1980)
Science hadn't invented winking emojis yet, or he'd have used them

See, quantum mechanics is meant to describe quantum things, and quantum things are wee tiny. Above a certain size limit, we don't see quantum effects. That's why it took so long to discover them. That's why we have non-quantum physics -- or as we used to call it, "physics." Regular ol' normal physics, which is recoiling in horror at your feline torture. That's why Schrodinger used cats in the first place: to make people pay attention to the obvious ridiculousness of the result. Which means a genius quantum scientist was the first person to use cat memes to mock something he thought was stupid. He mastered the internet and the core science required to make it possible before it existed. It's the smartest LOLCAT ever derived.

kmsh/iStock/Getty Images

But Schrodinger's long-suffering cat has become bad satire of science teaching, with alleged educators explaining, "Picture this, but not really. It's not really like that at all, but that's what's on the exam." It's basically taught a generation of students that quantum physics is about make-believe immortal cats that only live or die when you check up on them. The only useful part is how we could probably generate the world's electricity if we attached a generator to Schrodinger's spinning corpse.

#4. Saturn Would Float in Water

The Science:

This image was officially created by NASA -- hopefully not by any of the rocket staff.

"Saturn would float in water" is meant to bring the overwhelming glory of the cosmos down to an everyday scale. But it's like saying Galactus might have have cosmic cholesterol: petty, fundamentally misunderstanding how it works, and ignoring the planet-shattering consequences.

The Problem

It's the worst example of trying to make science accessible without understanding why it isn't. It's also wrong. The idea behind the statement is that yes, Saturn is enormous, but since it's a gas giant, isn't it amusing to note that it's buoyant enough to float down the river due to being less dense than water? It's a crazy fun fact to throw at children right before you give them the finger and call them stupid. It's also just plain wrong. Realistically, Saturn wouldn't float in water.

The parking job alone would be a bitch.

Saturn isn't a single object. It's a (probably) rocky core surrounded by a shell of metallic hydrogen, then liquid hydrogen. All those things are way denser than water. Two of them expand into more flammable gas than our world could ever know. Even air turns liquid hydrogen into an unstable explosive best described as "VERY ANGRY TNT." Saturn would go off like Planet Hindenburg.

So why do people say it would float? Because the vast shell of gas outside those core layers lowers the average density. Just like your house would float if you included all the sky above it, like a big-ass housey balloon. But not like Up, which was scientifically valid and heartbreakingly tender.

This is just a nitpicky side note, but I find it interesting, so I'm going to bring it up: For Saturn to float, you'd need a tank of water larger than Saturn. Then, something even larger than that to generate a "down" for Saturn to float against, because it would need to generate more gravity than Saturn ... which is pretty fucking big. The thing is, if you could bring that much water together, it would literally stop being water, because its own mass would cause it to undergo gravitational collapse and turn it into a moist star.

egal/iStock/Getty Images
"This is the least-wet water I've ever seen."

All of which is way more interesting science than density. What "floats in water" is trying to say is that the average density of Saturn is less than one ton per meter cubed. So you can see why they tried to make it sound more exciting. But that's only interesting if you already know what planetary densities are meant to be. That alien world would float on water? Sure, why not? It's an alien world! It can act as a flotation device for all the green-skinned nymphomaniacs asking about this Earth thing called "orgy."

#3. Galileo Dropping A Feather And Hammer From The Tower Of Pisa

The Science:

Galileo dropped a feather and a hammer from the top of the Tower of Pisa to prove his theory that all objects fall with the same acceleration.

Manakin/iStock/Getty Images
"We hadn't invented mics yet, so I had to improvise."

The Problem:

He didn't. And they wouldn't. All objects do feel the same gravitational acceleration, but gravity isn't the only force at play. Air resistance means the hammer will fall faster. You don't even need to commit hammer-crimes against birds in Italy to see this. Dropping a stone and a similarly-sized crumpled piece of paper shows the same problem.

Crisfotolux/iStock/Getty Images

Some teachers try to salvage the situation by saying, "They would fall at the same rate without air resistance", but that's like saying your parasitic twin would look like Scarlett Johansson if only it did its hair and makeup differently. Science isn't just a fiddly set of self-contradictory rules; it's the factual basis of EVERYTHING.

Worst of all is how they miss the greatest physics demonstration ever. Galileo didn't really drop a feather and hammer from the Tower of Pisa, but Commander David Scott did drop them on the Moon.

THAT's science! If air is in the way, we'll build a rocket ship and go somewhere it isn't! Then record the most magnificent first-year physics demonstration ever conducted on this or any other human-visited world! What I'm saying is that science class would be so much more awesome if they were conducted on the moon.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

Luke McKinney

  • Rss

More by Luke McKinney:

See More
To turn on reply notifications, click here


The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!