5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

Even well-intentioned educators misuse many science cliches.
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.

Schrodinger's Cat

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

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.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
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.

One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned UP in a steel chamber. along with the fol- lowing diabolical device which must be secured
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.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
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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.

Saturn Would Float in Water

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

The Science:

So) VI

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.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

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.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
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."

Galileo Dropping A Feather And Hammer From The Tower Of Pisa

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

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.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
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.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

According To Science, Bumblebees Shouldn't Be Able To Fly

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

The Science:

"According to science, the bumblebee can't fly!" is a useful statement. It states that the person saying it is an idiot.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
WilleeCole/iStock/Getty Images

Possibly an idiot with an adorably humiliated pet.

The Problem:

The origin of the myth -- and "flightless bumblebee" may be the least impressive mythical creature ever conceived -- was an engineer at a dinner party. He did a back-of-the-envelope calculation which showed the bumblebee can't generate enough fixed-wing lift to fly. But bumblebees don't use fixed-wing lift to fly. That is how airplanes fly, not bees. You might know this if you've ever seen one in real life, or learned more than one letter in a toddler's book. Plus, the fact that there are pantloads of bees flying about everywhere tends to support the idea that yes, they can fly. With science and everything.

3dalia/iStock/Getty Images

Ignore the conspiracy theory that all bees are faked with computer graphics.

The engineer realized he'd messed up later. But since they were at a party, they had better things to do than fix it. An anti-science idiot watching them definitely didn't have anything better to do, so he took this single data point as incontrovertible proof that all science was wrong, and proceeded to spread the word about the poor science behind airplane-shaped bees. Because before social media, assholes had to pull shit like that in physical social settings.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

In the old days, you had to make smiley or frowny faces with your actual face.

The thing is, science can't say bumblebees don't fly. Because they do fucking fly. The most important part of science is observation, summarized by Richard Feynmann as "If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong." If the facts disagree with the theory, then the theory is changed or thrown out. (Instantly making science saner than every political and religious movement ever to exist.) It doesn't have a personal agenda or stakes in the game, it just exists to help explain how and why everything exists.

The real physics of bumblebee flight are so smart that the scientist who solved them has a research prize named after them. How do bees fly? In a nutshell, they rotate those little wings super fast and create tiny tornadoes that give them lift. That's way cooler than just claiming it's scientifically impossible, and also gives rise to the hope that, one day, science will make giant bees that can lay waste to our enemies with beenadoes.

A Spoonful Of Neutron Star Material Blah, Blah, Blah

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly

The Science:

"A spoonful of neutron star material has a mass of ten million tons."

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
Slevin79/iStock/Getty Images

"Galactus likes his coffee like he likes his planets: massive."

You know how most matter is empty space? Neutronium isn't. Neutronium happens when atoms are stomped out of existence by overwhelming gravity. The so-called "weakest" force beats up electromagnetism, grabbing its electrons and shoving them right back up their own protons to create an utterly solid mass of neutrons. It's like how grandma's cake is light and airy, but when you make cake, it's a dense ball of flour that sits in your gut for a week. Sort of.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
wasja/iStock/Getty Images

Now imagine she's the Hulk and clapping back against the concept of matter.

That's why a teaspoon of it has a mass of ten million tons!

The Problem:

This may sound nitpicky, but a teaspoon of neutronium can't exist. If you could have a teaspoon of neutronium, you'd have a hole in your teaspoon, and your foot, and in the twelve thousand kilometers of Earth below you as it punched through everything that was in its way. Neutronium would smash through regular matter like a bowling ball through Styrofoam packing peanuts.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

"The most dangerous shot in bowling is the Xe-O3 split."

The gravitational bullet would crash down to the Earth's core and shoot the Earth through the heart. Then blast out the other side. Then take a 180 for the double tap, just to be sure it destroyed us real good. Then again, and again, sawing through the Earth as single-point band saw in the most apocalyptic example of simple harmonic motion ever -- or, as cosmic entities like to call it, "space-humping a planet into oblivion."

But don't worry! You can't have a teaspoon of neutronium. It's only held together by the ultimate pressure of a neutron star. The only stronger force would be a black hole, and you don't have that on your spoon either. Without an entire star's worth of matter holding it down, that teaspoonful will re-expand. Instantly. Ten million tons of regular matter exploding into existence, as if Wile E. Coyote dropped a teaspoon of Instant Mountain.

5 Scientific Explanations That Get Misused Constantly
Digital Vision./DigitalVision/Getty Images

Along with all the TNT ACME ever sold

Those ten million tons would explode out as a terrifying array of everything on the periodic table -- an entire mountain of transmutational fire, but mostly hydrogen. Which is flammable. And now punching exploding shock waves into air superheated by its impossibly fast expansion. So it all catches fire. Forget that, it'll catch plasma. If you had a teaspoon of neutronium, you'd be annihilated by a plasma bomb the size of a mountain exploding in every direction and obliterating a fair fraction of whatever country you're standing on.

But hey, you know, keep telling people it's a super-heavy spoon. That sounds cool too.

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