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5 Fake Facts You Probably Believe (and 5 Books That Can Set You Straight)

While some may argue we’re living in a post-truth society, facts are still as important as they’ve ever been. Let’s check our sources!
by Michael Benninger | Mar 30 2018

Fake news may be something that we contend with daily, but how often have you yourself repeated a statement without checking whether or not it’s true? There are lots of commonly believed ‘facts’ that don’t actually hold up after a little investigation. So here are 5 common truths that actually turn out to be less true, and infinitely more complex, than you probably think!


Fake Fact #1: The Inuit have 100 words for snow.

Debunked in: The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Many of us grew up hearing that the Inuit have up to 100 different terms to express the word “snow.” But, in actuality, they’ve only got about a dozen. That’s just a few more than English speakers have, accounting for words such as sleet, powder, slush, and so on. So how did the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” come to be? The 20th-century American linguist Benjamin Whorf popularized the notion that the Inuit have numerous words for white precipitation, and claimed it would be “unthinkable” for an eskimo to understand how English speakers use one word (i.e., snow) to describe the substance whether it’s on the ground, in the air, or accumulating on trees. Later writers exaggerated Whorf’s words and added unsubstantiated quantities to his quote, supporting the Whorfian Hypothesis (later known as linguistic relativity), which loosely states that a language’s structure shapes the speaker’s relationship with reality. To this day, there’s no actual evidence to support the existence of linguistic relativity, and it’s largely discredited in scientific circles.

Fake Fact #2: Weight loss is a simple equation of intake and output.

Debunked in: Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

A significant number of nutrition experts swear by a simple formula to explain why some people become overweight while others remain slim. If you consume more calories than you burn, they say, you’ll eventually pack on the pounds. They’ll argue that America’s obesity epidemic is the outcome of people living lazy lifestyles while over-indulging in unhealthy, high-calorie foods. But are our bodies mere balloons that expand and contract when we take in and expend energy? This oversimplification doesn’t account for the complex biological processes that take place within our bodies, nor does it explain how impoverished and malnourished people can still end up overweight. The truth is that modern science can’t state with certainty why people who share a similar lifestyle don’t share the same size and shape. It’s more complex than that. Age, nutrition, and genetic disposition all play a role relative to our waistlines, and more exercise and fewer calories don’t necessarily equate to a healthy weight.

Fake Fact #3: Repetition is the best way to learn something by heart.

Debunked in: Learn Better by Ulrich Boser

For untold ages, parents, educators, and employers alike have extolled the virtues of learning new skills by practicing them over and over again. But is repetition alone really enough to get something to stick? Not according to the many studies highlighted in Boser’s book. To truly transform new skills into lifelong knowledge, you must develop a deep connection to the subject you’re studying. This is among the best ways to grasp the nature of relationships among unfamiliar concepts. Also, rather than simply repeating what you’re attempting to learn, incorporate self-quizzing into your education. This involves repeatedly recalling and testing yourself on what you’ve been trying to understand in order to ingrain it in your long-term memory. Make the subject you’re interested in more meaningful in your daily life, and hone your new skills by getting feedback from others, who are likely to point out elements you’ve overlooked.

Fake Fact #4: Long-term monogamy is natural.

Debunked in: Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

Modern society favors monogamy in most areas of the world, but is a lifelong commitment to a single mate really our natural state? And if so, why are newspapers overflowing with articles about high-profile people who’ve cheated? And why, in some countries, do individuals engage in outside relationships despite the threat of persecution or even death? Here’s the truth: Our ancestors evolved to have sex with anyone—and everyone—they fancied. And, like it or not, we’re still biologically programmed to seek sex with scores of partners. Yes, it’s true, we can develop a deep, lasting love for another individual, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll always desire that person physically. Sexual promiscuity ran rampant in the tribes of early mankind, when sharing was mandatory and intercourse was considered a community resource.

Fake Fact #5: You should follow your passion.

Debunked in: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

The renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss.” But is this timeless advice…or merely a waste of time? That latter is true is the eyes of this book’s author, who argues that true passion is hard to find, and striving for a job you absolutely love will more often than not lead to dissatisfaction. So instead of attempting to build a career around your recreational interests, take a more realistic route and you’ll drastically increase your odds of success. Devote your free time to developing the rare skills today’s job market values, and you’ll ultimately be able to use your newfound strengths to gain professional leverage and live by your own rules. Don’t do what you love—learn to love what you do by taking control of your career.

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