5 Bits of 'Common Knowledge' Science Has Disproved
Familiar adages such as "look before you leap," "a stitch in time saves nine," or "never let Robert Shaw drink on your shark-hunting trip" have been passed down through generations for a reason: They're simple, memorable ways to impart important lessons, so we don't have to stumble through life discovering all this crap by trial and error. However, it turns out that many of the simple pearls of wisdom we take for granted as universal truths just don't stand up to the cold, hard scrutiny of scientists who are forever trying to shatter everything we once believed in ...
"Early to Bed and Early to Rise Makes a Man Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise"
This saying is attributed to Ben "Ride the Lightning" Franklin in his Poor Richard's Almanack, but it turns out ol' Ben wasn't exactly breaking new ground here in any way, other than his spectacularly assholish spelling of the word "almanac." He was simply rewording a bit of advice from Aristotle, the original East Coast party king, who said, "It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom."
And it makes perfect sense when you think about it; someone who stays up until 3 a.m. binge-watching seasons of Friends and then passes out with both hands stuck in different Pringles cans until noon the next day isn't going to reap as much knowledge and success from life as someone who goes to bed too early to maintain meaningful relationships with their peers and wakes up at an hour that would make most people cry tears of blood. Success in any pursuit takes discipline, and there's no clearer demonstration of discipline than setting your alarm for 5 a.m. and resisting the urge to punch the snooze button into dust when it screams you awake in the morning.
But Science Says:
There's no direct connection between getting up inhumanly early and personal achievement. In fact, if there is any correlation between sleep schedules and a wealthier, healthier, and wiser lifestyle, it's quite likely the other way around.
Multiple studies going back as far as the late '90s call thunderous bullshit on the benefits of being an early riser. One 2013 study on teenagers revealed that night owls tend to be better at inductive reasoning and get higher scores on intelligence and memory tests. Translated from scientific babblespeak, this means that teenagers who stay up crazy late are more likely to end up with "prestigious jobs and higher incomes." They do, however, tend to get slightly lower grades in school, presumably because paying attention is hard when you're struggling to keep your eyes open for half the day because you were up all night writing a novel.
That covers wealth and wisdom, but what about health, the third part of Benji Franks' famous old man advice? Well, one study went so far as to test all three claims, and found that (in addition to being no less wise or wealthy) night owls were about on par with early risers as far as their likelihood of shuffling loose their mortal coil. The exception to this seems to be Australia, where researchers found that teens who were night owls were more likely to be obese than their early-rising counterparts -- and that's a big fucking deal in a country where outrunning dangerous animals is an occasional necessity.
So getting up early doesn't really give you any solid advantage over people who burn the midnight oil and roll out of bed well after McDonald's stops serving breakfast. Take that, Ben Franklin.
Related: Happy Birthday, Badass - August 5
"The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease"
No one's quite sure where this idiom originated. It first appeared in its current form in a story written by author Cal Stewart back in 1903, but the spirit of the phrase appeared (once again) in Poor Richard's Almanack, from America's favorite advice-dispensing dusty old pervert.
This seems to make total sense. After all, it's been demonstrated time and again that fortune and opportunity smile on those who are not afraid to speak their minds. From Loudmouth Dave in accounting winning that promotion ahead of Meek Stanley, to that Starbucks customer who pitches a table-flipping fit over his jacked-up latte order and getting free coffee for a year, we know that brash, assertive people are the ones who get ahead in life.
But Science Says:
While extroverted job candidates may very well be better at grabbing the attention of prospective employers, there's a ton of evidence showing that the quieter, pre-greased wheels (i.e. introverts) end up achieving more business success in the end.
See, while Loudmouth Dave may make a great first impression because he's all about pumping up his strengths and making himself look good to others, over time his performance tends to diminish, and his ability to work with the rest of the team gradually crumbles (the fact that "loudmouth" is almost always followed by the word "asshole" might have something to do with that).
Meek Stanley, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. While it's true that quiet people who prefer not to rock the boat tend to have a much more difficult time getting noticed right off the bat, they generally work better in teams than their bombastic counterparts. Furthermore, their contributions get better and better over time, building up momentum like a timid, socially incapable steam engine.
Many of the most successful CEOs in America, including Bill Gates and probably even Steven Spielberg, are introverts, meaning that although they excel at managing teams to solve complicated problems, they would much rather be doing the parts of their job that don't require them to speak to other human beings.
Girls Want to Settle Down, Men Want to "Sow Their Oats"
We don't need to cite any one idiom here -- every romantic comedy, sitcom, song, etc is based around this one simple premise. Every guy wants to be a pimp, every girl just wants him to "put a ring on it."
And this is science, right? A woman can only bear one child at a time, but a man has so, so much sperm. The stuff is begging to be flung around in the hopes a few lucky spermatozoa survive long enough to meet a fertile egg and burrow into its nougat center.
So the thinking goes that men want to hump everything even remotely resembling a female, up to and including pillows. Women, on the other hand, dream only of their soulmates, the perfect guys they can settle down with forever. Men dread getting stuck with one sex partner for the rest of their lives, while women long for it.But Science Says:
A funny thing happens when you put a bunch of men and women in a laboratory, hook terrifying machines up to their genitals, and show them some porn. When they watch the same fuck video repeatedly, both men and women get bored with it at the same rate. When you show both of them a variety of erotica, women get more turned on by stories of sex with strangers than men do.
Now take this lesson and apply it to the old stand-up comic routine about how once couples tie the knot, women lose interest in sex. The conclusion men have drawn from this is that the women in these scenarios simply never liked sex in the first place -- it was something they allowed the guy to do in order to get him to commit. But studies show that when women lose their sex drive, it's only towards their own partners. Because even more than their men, they simply get bored with monogamy. They would rather be out banging a bunch of new partners. You know, the thing we think of as the defining characteristic of male sexuality.
Of course, if you want to see a bunch of data in the other direction, simply do a poll asking women whether they'd prefer to settle down or bang four dudes every weekend. Women always report far fewer sex partners on average than men. Once you realize this is physically impossible (since heterosexual men and women must by definition be having the exact same amount of sex with each other) you realize that the myth doesn't come from how women behave, but what women admit.
And while we're talking about sex ...
"All the Good Men Are Taken or Gay"
We've all seen it in the movies: If a woman meets a man who seems too good to be true, that's because there's an approximately 100-percent chance that he is too good to be true. He'll turn out to be secretly married, or gay, or a ghost, or a serial killer. All the legitimately awesome dudes are spoken for -- any available guy who is fun, handsome, kind, and successful is most likely seconds away from transforming into a werewolf and eating your entire family.
And it's not just a movie thing -- we've all either listened to a friend bemoan the lack of guys who are both single and worth a shit, or have been the one doing the bemoaning ourselves.
But Science Says:
The truth is that this isn't so much a matter of all the good men being taken as it is a matter of women perceiving unavailable men as being good.
At the risk of hitting some kind of adage overload, it all comes down to a different old saying: "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." Put less idiomatically, it's called "nonindependent mate choice," and it means that females tend to be heavily influenced in their choice of partner by observing whom everyone else has chosen as theirs. Not only does this affect a woman's perception of a man's suitability as a long-term mate, but it can even influence how physically attractive you find him. Studies have shown that the more attractive a man's mate is, the more attractive he appears to other single women. With that single sentence, thousands of single men just simultaneously updated their Tinder profile with hastily photoshopped pictures of them arm in arm with Emma Watson at an Applebee's.
But before all you single guys get the bright idea to pay your pretty cousins to accompany you to the bar every Friday night, you should know that this preference for attached men isn't a uniform deal. There's also evidence that it's affected by a woman's menstrual cycle. Ladies will be more attracted to unavailable men during low-fertility phases, but will gravitate toward hot single guys when their bodies say it's time to play dangle bingo.
"'Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost Than Never to Have Loved at All"
The most-quoted version of this phrase comes from the poem In Memoriam A.H.H. by The Right Honourable Alfred, Lord Tennyson (and yes, all of those words are his actual title). In Memoriam was Freddy Ten's tribute to his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. So technically, the sentiment about having loved and lost is referring to how much you cared for a dear friend, though over the years, it's come to be more associated with love of the genital-colliding variety.
If you've ever been through a bad breakup, or your wife fell off a bridge and exploded because Gerard Butler could only save one of you, someone has invariably tossed Lord Tennyson's timeless piece of wisdom your way. After all, it's much better to have experienced whatever brief time you had with a person than to have never met that person at all.
But Science Says:
Harvard PhD, Project Scientist at UC Santa Barbara, and all-around human being expert Dr. Bella DePaulo explains that, at least when applied to romantic love, Tennyson's poem could alternatively be titled The Most Useless Piece of Shit Ever Written. According to her, in "happiness, health, longevity, and pretty much everything else that has been studied (except maybe wealth), people who have always been single do better than people who were previously married."
It all boils down to the fact that people who have never been in a relationship "have not experienced the same depth of stress (or crisis or loss) as people who have been divorced or widowed." Caring for another person (and caring for yourself for the sake of another person) is as much an endless font of neurotic anxiety as it is a supportive partnership. Therefore, the poor loveless bastards who never managed to connect with another human are actually happier, healthier, and tend to live longer than those of us who have spent entire evenings weeping into a bowl of macaroni and cheese because it suddenly reminded you of the time you and your partner stayed in and watched The Patriot on USA.
Habitual singles end up faring better in other areas as well. For example, they generally have more diverse social interactions, because rather than focusing all their energy on a single relationship, they develop a wider range of stronger friendships. And since they have no one with whom to split all the grinding responsibilities of being a grown-up, they have to do everything themselves, and as a direct result, they develop a more balanced and rewarding set of skills. Which is probably why they're so good at video games.
Federico loves writing about science and math. You can tell him how badly he screwed up this article by contacting him here and making fun of his username.
For more things you believe but probably shouldn't, check out The 5 Most Statistically Full of Shit National Stereotypes and The 6 Most Frequently Quoted Bullshit Animal Facts.
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