15 facts you learned in school that are no longer true

15 facts you learned in school that are no longer true

Dinosaurs are not extinct

Kindergartners will laugh at you if they find out you still believe dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. They’ll point out the blue jays, pigeons, hummingbirds, and seagulls flying around your neighbourhood with their dinosaur genes. As paleontologist Steve Brusatte, author of the book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, told Reader’s Digest, “Today’s birds evolved from dinosaurs, which makes them every bit as much of a dinosaur as T. rex or Triceratops.”


Women suspected of being witches were not burned at the stake

First, no one was burned during the Massachusetts Bay Colony witch scare in 1692. In Europe, convicted witches were sometimes burned, but in England, they were hanged, and that’s the tradition the colonists followed after a group of young girls started having “fits” that the doctor blamed on supernatural afflictions. In all, almost 200 people were accused of being witches; 19 were convicted and hanged. One person was crushed to death under stones. Another myth about the Salem witch trials is that all the accused were women. Five of those executed (including the elderly farmer who was pressed to death) were men; plus, the accusations affected people from all circumstances and social positions.


There are more than three states of matter

You may have learned about three – liquid, solid, and gas. Those are the most common states of matter that we find here on Earth, but beyond our atmosphere, there’s a fourth state – plasma – and it might be the most common in the universe. When you add enough energy to an atom, its electrons can get away from its nucleus and react with a different nearby nucleus, creating plasma, which consists of highly charged particles with very high kinetic energy. Gases like neon are goaded into a plasma state by electricity to make glowing signs; stars are basically huge balls of plasma. But that’s not the only extra state of matter: In 1995, scientists created one called the Bose-Einstein condensate, where matter is super-cooled to almost absolute zero, causing molecular motion to practically stop. Nobody knows whether Bose-Einstein condensates exist in nature, but they can be made in a lab. Researchers are also investigating other states of matter, so the number could keep growing, according to Gizmodo.


We either have eight or 13 planets in our solar system

My sixth grade science teacher taught us “Mary’s violet eyes make John stay up nights plenty” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) – but then, in the 1990s, scientists found a doughnut-shaped region of the solar system out beyond Neptune that’s filled with asteroids, comets, and icy objects. They called it the Kuiper Belt and redefined poor little Pluto as a Kuiper Belt Object instead of a planet. While many ex-schoolchildren felt betrayed at the time, Pluto wasn’t the first planet to get demoted – it had already happened to a body called Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres was called a planet too when it was first identified in 1801, but over time astronomers realised it was part of an asteroid belt and revoked its planethood. But the story doesn’t end there – both Ceres and Pluto got bumped back up into a new category in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union declared them dwarf planets.


We don’t really know all the planets in our solar system

According to NASA, there are three other officially recognised dwarf planets circling our sun (all in the Kuiper Belt, with Pluto) and possibly hundreds more that haven’t been identified yet. And then there’s the mystery of Planet X – so far, it’s only hypothetical, but researchers at Caltech think it could be the size of Neptune and follow an orbit that’s circling the sun way out beyond Pluto. The final tally as of now, according to phys.org, is eight planets and five dwarf planets.


Neanderthals may have been as smart as humans

New research suggests that Neanderthals were not hulking cavemen who died out because they weren’t as sophisticated as the humans with whom they coexisted and interbred. In fact, they produced cave paintings in Spain about 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe, according to an article in Nature. They also used tools and made jewellery. So why did they go extinct? A 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that they might simply have been outnumbered by the waves of Homo sapiens that filtered into their territory from Africa, beginning around 50,000 years ago; two species can’t occupy the same ecological niche without one changing or dying out.


There isn’t such a thing as being left-brained or right-brained

I’ve always thought I’m left-brained, because of my analytical and logical nature, but it turns out that no studies have been able to show different areas of brain activity among people with different personality traits. Different parts of the brain definitely have different purposes – we know that from studying people who’ve suffered brain injuries or strokes, according to the Harvard Health Blog. Researchers still think control of language is located on the right side of the brain in most people, for example, and the back of the brain processes visual information.


Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t that short

He was actually about average height for his time – approximately 5 feet 7 inches – but cartoons published in England depicted him as short, according to a 2016 column by Tristin Hopper in the Canadian newspaper the National Post. When he died, the people present said he measured 5 feet 2 inches, but that was because of a difference between French and British units of measurement. However, he had already been depicted for years as a small, petty, childish person in British cartoons.


You have more than five senses

The big five—touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing—are our most basic senses, but we’re taking in information through a wealth of other mechanisms. Proprioception tells us where our bodies are in space, allowing us to stay balanced, according to Live Science. Kinesthetic receptors detect stretching in muscles and tendons, which helps us keep track of our various body parts. We also have receptors to keep track of how much oxygen is flowing through our arteries.


A swallowed piece of gum doesn’t take seven years to digest

Nobody knows where this myth came from, but it’s been passed along through generations of school-aged kids gulping down their gum to avoid getting busted chewing it in class. Paediatric gastroenterologist named David Milov told Scientific American that it’s definitely not true—although he does state that he occasionally comes across a hunk of chewed gum in the digestive tract during colonoscopies or endoscopies. But “usually it’s not something that’s any more than a week old.” Most gum passes right through the digestive system, so this stomach-churning myth is one of the lies you were told as a kid that you still believe.


Hair and fingernails don’t continue to grow after a person dies

Once oxygenated blood stops circulating at death, the cells that produce new hair and fingernail tissue can no longer function. The idea that hair and nails keep growing is a misinterpretation of what actually happens to a corpse in the hours and days after a person dies, according to the BBC. The skin dries out and retracts at the fingertips, making nails look longer. Men’s facial skin also gets dehydrated, which can extend stubble and make it appear to have grown longer.


We use way more than 10 per cent of our brains

Although it sometimes seems like we’re not running on all cylinders, brain scans show activity throughout the organ, even when we’re resting. Nobody’s sure where the idea came from that 90 per cent of our brain tissue is going unused, but any neurologist will tell you that’s definitely wrong.


ROYGBIV is not the lineup of colours in the rainbow

You probably remember learning the “ROYGBIV” initialism to represent the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Today, though, everyone from teachers to colour specialists have begun to forego indigo. The rainbow LGBT Pride flag also only has six colours – and many people are left to wonder why indigo, which seems to be just an arbitrary combination of two of the other colours (blue and purple/violet), found its way into the rainbow. Well, for that we can thank Sir Isaac Newton, a superstitious sort who believed that the number seven had a cosmic significance, per occult beliefs of the time. So he believed that seven colours, no more, no less, had to come together to make white, and chose indigo to join the other colours, potentially because of the popularity of indigo dye at the time.


The “I before E, except after C” rule does not always apply

In fact, there are so many instances where it doesn’t apply that even using the rule might seem silly when you stop to consider it. The rule, recited to elementary schoolers, works in words like friend, believe, and receive…but doesn’t in many, many other cases. In fact, estimates approximate that the rule is wrong 75 per cent of the time – words like weird, glacier, and science break the rule outright. Even the “…except when it says ‘A,’ as in ‘neighbour’ and ‘weigh’” addendum doesn’t help much.


The Great Wall of China is not the only manmade structure visible from space

This is untrue on multiple counts. For one thing, in 2003, Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei went up into space and subsequently claimed that he couldn’t see the Great Wall. Other space explorers have claimed that you can see it, but only under certain conditions, such as when there’s snow on it so that it stands out more from the surrounding land. Not to mention, you can see plenty of other manmade structures from space, including the pyramids and even some roadways and bridges.


Written by Krista Carothers. This article first appeared on Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.