Reminder: The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullsh*t Statistics

The six most quoted "too awesome to be true" stats that, in fact, are ...
Reminder: The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullsh*t Statistics's new book is now on sale. What follows is one of 22 classic articles that appear in the book, along with 18 new articles that you can't read anywhere else.

Every once in a while, you'll hear a statistic so striking you can hardly believe it's true. Our first impulse is to repeat it, because knowing interesting things tends to make people like us better.

Unfortunately, some people are so desperate for interesting facts to quote, that they'll just pull them right out of their ass. Then those facts get repeated, by--you guessed it--people like us.

The six most quoted "too awesome to be true" stats that, in fact, are ...

You Accidentally Swallow About 8 Spiders a Year

This extremely commonly believed statistic has been fed to us by countless internet chain mails, and probably by some know-it-all kid who sat next to you in some class or other. When you sleep, you open your mouth to breath (and drool on your pillow), and supposedly this is the ideal window of oppurtunity for all the spiders who hang out near your bed hoping to be eaten alive.

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

Well, first of all, this a real kick in the crotch of the intellect of spiders everywhere. Although spiders are occasionally seen doing stupid things, it's safe to assume they have enough wit to realize when they're about to crawl through the mouth of a damned giant. If the giant white teeth aren't enough to deter them from going spelunking down your dark, wet throat (apparently no other animals have these) you'd think the heavy draft and deafening snoring sounds would be some sort of indication of how terrible a home your mouth would be.

Who Started It?

Back in 1993, people were already getting fooled by online urban legends at an amusing rate. So, a columnist for PC Professional named Lisa Holst decided to prove that you could make up anything on the internet and people would believe it.

She did this by making up a set of facts that were utterly ridiculous, the spider myth among them (which itself was taken from a collection of insect folklore that dates back to the 1950s), and unleashing it on the world in the form of emails.

In a twist of oh-so-predictable irony, people who forwarded chain mail about this just "happened" to forget to include the fact that these were completely fake.

Who Was Fooled?

Ask a group of internet strangers and you'll find at least a handful of people who wholeheartedly believe this myth. Presumably because they read it somewhere. You've even got this supposed entomologist from quoting it.

In 2006 The UK's Daily Mirror warned that "the average person will swallow anything from eight to 20 spiders before they die."

Not satisfied to go along with the normal fudged data, The Mirror upped the ante of retardation by adding "A spider is also likely to drink from your eye at least THREE times in your life. Some experts have suggested they are attracted by the vibrations of snoring and the smell of undigested food - a good reason to floss your teeth before bedtime."

Really, is that what it takes to get the UK to worry about dental hygiene?

You Only Use 10% of Your Brain

You've heard it since you were a child, and it might have even crept into one of your textbooks: "We only use 10% of our brain! Just think what we'd be capable of if we could tap into the rest!"

The idea that the brain has UNLIMITED POTENTIAL is probably pretty appealing to 2nd grade teachers whose students complain that they can't do ONE MORE math problem. We still remember our teachers happily informing us that we're only using 10% of our brains, so we could do ten more if we wanted. The implication was of course that if we worked hard enough, we'd be able to set fire to the school with the power of our minds.

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

How fast are you reading this article? Well, let's suppose you are only using 10% of your brain. Now, read it 10x faster. Go, do it now! Are you having trouble? Yeah, that's because you can't devote that other 90% to just whatever you want. The parts of the brain are specialized, so trying to use all of it at once isn't going to make you any smarter. That would be like trying to become a better writer by striving to use all the keys on your keyboard in every sentence.

So the part of your brain you're using to read this article is not the same part you'll be using tonight when you get drunk and fight a hobo. There's even a special part of the brain that apparently keeps you from turning into a dick (No, really).

Who Started It?

There is a bit of debate on who exactly brought this bullshit statistic into the world. A series of neurologists over the past few hundred years figured out that a human can survive when parts of the brain are removed. Over time, this was misinterpreted to mean that the brain uses little of its potential, and thus the 10% statistic was born.

Facts tend to survive based on how interesting they are, rather than whether or not they're true.

Who Was Fooled?

Surely nobody takes this seriously any more, not when a ten-second Google search can tell you otherwise, right? Well don't tell that to Psychology Today, who ran that helpful 2006 article on how to access the lazy 90% of your grey matter.

One of their tips is to replenish the brain with nutrients, but we're assuming we get plenty with all the spiders we've eaten.

Men Think About Sex Every Seven Seconds

As we all know, men do nothing all day but think about having sex with their girlfriend/ex-girlfriend/friend that happens to be a girl/friend's sister. It should come naturally, then, that, on average, men think about sex every seven seconds or so, right? I mean, what else are men going to think about? Their jobs?

"Puhleaze, sister. We all know what's going on in there."

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

Let's suppose for a moment that you are a man. Have you thought about sex since you began reading this article? Well, probably, yes, because you just read the word "sex" several times. How about when you were reading the spider-eating segment moments ago? Were you imaging a massive spider-orgy? If so, you are unlike most men in the world. As a matter of fact, many experts estimate that 30% of men don't think about sex during the day at all. There are variants of this myth, usually ranging from 3 seconds to 20 seconds, but none of them are based on any actual research, and none of them are really true.

After all, how would they even arrive at such a number? Hook electrodes up to a dude's head and have him walk around for a week, counting how many times the sex lobe lights up?

Who Started It?

The origins of this statistic stretch long and far (no "that's what she said" intended), so again we can't pin it on a single person. We all know who it really was, though. A group of wives sitting at a table drinking tea or coffee, start talking about their horrible husbands. They just hate how it is always about sex sex sex sex sex. So, one of them pulls a number out of her head for a joke. "Did you know that men think about sex every seven seconds?"

The others have a good, womanly laugh about their husbands, and then they all run off to do womanly things, like quilting, or going to the bathroom at the same time. That's what women do, right? We don't really know.

Who Was Fooled?

Well, about half of us, according to this online poll. Countless sites are still including it among their "interesting facts" about sex, like this one and this one over here.

It seems like common sense would have squashed this one even before it got started. Obviously there are long stretches where a guy isn't thinking about sex (say, while spending 45 infuriating minutes on the phone with Microsoft tech support). To make up that average later he would have to think about sex every, what 2 seconds? So for the rest of the day his brain just turns into a spinning kaleidoscope of titty?

Spousal Abuse Skyrockets on Super Bowl Sunday

Surely watching the manliest of sports play out on the world stage brings out the redneck in all of us. It isn't too hard to imagine that a shitty husband or boyfriend might do something like this on Superbowl Sunday.

"Woman! Get me a beer! *smack*"

"Woman! Turn up the TV! I'm watching the Supabowl! *smack*"

"Woman! I don't wanna see you again for the next 2 hours unless you're nekked! *smack*"

And who hasn't been to a Super Bowl Party where one of the male guests gets into a fistfight with his wife in front of all their closest friends? What's that you say common sense? Pretty much everybody hasn't been to a party like that?

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

The problem with this statistic is that the kind of men who would hit their wives and girlfriends over something on TV are the kind of men who are already doing it anyway.

In reality, there is no solid evidence that suggests spouses are abused on Super Bowl Sunday, and in fact for some men the distraction of football might actually make them less likely to hit their wives.

Who Started It?

This myth reached its peak in 1993, when a series of battered women's advocates came forward claiming abuse hotline calls went up by as much as 40% on the day of the big game. Similar stats got repeated and inflated endlessly in the lead up to the Super Bowl, when every section of the paper is obligated to have a story about the Super Bowl, even if there's absolutely nothing to report. Oh newspapers, how we'll miss your journalistic integrity.

Who Was Fooled?

It becamse a big enough deal that NBC aired a public service announcement warning about the dangers of spousal abuse before the game. We hate to think how many abusive husbands, having settled in to watch football, saw the ad and thought, "Hey, that reminds me! I've been so preoccupied with the game that I haven't abused my wife today! Thanks, NBC!"

You Must Wait 30 Minutes After Eating Before Swimming

If at any time in your life you've had food in your hand near a swimming pool, you've heard this myth. You cannot swim until you've waited at least 30 minutes.

For some families, the more harsh "hour" rule was used. If you broke the rule, the implication was that you would get cramps, be unable to swim, drown, and die. This rule seemed to apply even if you stayed on the shallow end. According to this statistic, unlike air, water-to-skin contact has magical properties that cause the food in your belly to explode unless it is past a certain point in your digestive track.

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

Because you're not a Gremlin. As you may have already guessed, water does not, in fact, bear properties that form a cramp of death, should you get in the water after eating. Getting into the water after eating will have no more effect on your body than going for a walk.

In fact, the movement of your body in the water, particularly if you are just a little kid with floaties on, is more restricted than that of a typical walk. Granted, if you were to swim rigorously for exercise, you wouldn't want to jump in the pool and start swimming lines right after a big bowl of Chili unless your goal is to chum for some sharks with your mouth.

Who Started It?

This one actually comes from an old wives tale that slowly became popular over the years. Supposedly, your stomach is using oxygen to digest food that your muscles need to swim. In actuality, the amount of oxygen your body needs to swim is more than satisfied, whether or not you've eaten recently.

Who Was Fooled?

This cutesy little kids site is one of many offering swimming tips that still buys into the old "wait 30 minutes" rule.

These lies aren't without their consequences. What happens when they find out the 30 minute statistic is false. Doesn't that suggest that the other stuff on the page must be false, too? A horseplay revolution could arise, complete with much more serous acts of rebellions like kids diving in the shallow end, swimming during electrical storms and thinking they could stay under water longer by biting fart bubbles.

Christmas Causes Suicide

Christmas: A season of joy and togetherness and shopping and joy and shopping. It might be true that Christmas has become really commercialized (as you might have heard from Charlie Brown once or twice), but people generally seem to enjoy it. Aside from the stress, and family you hate, the travel and the junk lying around the house, of course. And the music.

Actually, when we hear that suicide rates jump during the holidays, it's easy to believe it. Especially if you've ever spent a Christmas drunk and alone, tearing up as you sit in your apartment and watch your favorite Christmas movie from childhood (Die Hard).

Why Is It a Load of Crap?

Actually, the suicide rate goes down significantly. Why?

While it's depressing as hell to be alone on Christmas, the truth is most of us aren't. It's just hard to commit suicide when there's people around constantly trying to get you to wear ugly sweaters. Depressed or not, most people aren't big enough dicks to let the kiddies find them hanging over the Christmas tree with a note pinned to their chest.

Who Started It?

In this case, no one fooled us more than ourselves. It's what they call confirmation bias; we decide ahead of time that people should get depressed over the holidays, so when we hear somebody killed themselves on Christmas, we assume the holiday was the reason.

Never mind that far more people kill themselves on President's day, and most other lesser holidays. Never mind that there could have been a thousand other reasons to be depressed.

Who Was Fooled?

The movie Gremlins, for one. A character quotes the suicide stat, which is one of several scientific inaccuracies we noticed in that film (see swimming after eating).

But also, just about every newspaper in the country tends to climb on board. Studies indicate that newspapers actually emphasize suicides during the holidays over the rest of the year, again assuming a link between the suicide and the holiday when they didn't even know if the victim recognized that it was the holiday at all.

In the general population, whether or not you believe this stat tends to depend on how much you hate Christmas (see this typical response from a ray of sunshine talking about how it's "no wonder" suicide rates go up that time of year).

For some reason, when we're miserable we like to project it on other people, and assume they're all miserable too. And, if thinking that other people are suicidal makes you feel a little less suicidal yourself, then go for it.

For more, go buy You Might Be a Zombie anywhere books are sold online or in person.

If you enjoyed that, you might like our rundown of 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think. Or head to the brand new Official Store and become a startlingly attractive walking advertisement for our site. And be sure to get the Cracked Hit List delivered in your electronic mailbox every Thursday. And be even surer to find out where the inspiration for porn comes from.

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