A lot of great science stories came out this year. Unfortunately, so did a bunch of myths and hoaxes that really misrepresented science. In no particular order, here are 10 of the biggest science stories to hit the internet this year, that were completely untrue.
A chain email that was started in 2007 went viral this spring. It claims that Johns Hopkins, an internationally renowned medical facility, released an “update” about the “truth” of cancer. The fake update contained claims that a strong immune system will prevent cancer, nutritional deficits cause cancer and supplements will help, and that chemotherapy does more harm than good. In an effort to preserve their good name, Johns Hopkins addressed the claims on their site years ago, describing the real science behind each falsehood.
A video went viral in June that depicted a man cliff diving into Sydney Harbor, only to be met by a rather large great white shark. Though the video was titled “GoPro: Man Fights Off Great White In Sydney Harbor,” there wasn’t any actual interaction between the swimmer and the shark. That was most likely due to the fact that there wasn’t actually a shark near the swimmer. Technical flaws with the video made it very apparent that video of the shark had actually been spliced in with the video of the swimmer.
Another perennial headache is the claim that Mars will appear as large as the full moon in the night sky. The situation would never occur. Ever. The original claim began back in 2003, and has resurfaced every year since then. Originally, Mars was close enough to be viewed with a 75x telescope, making it look as big as the moon normally looks with the naked eye, but it took a ridiculous twist. This year was especially ridiculous, as Mars was on the opposite side of the Sun on the date it was alleged to be at its closest point ever, and the moon wasn’t even close to being full. Mars would need to be 118 times closer than it has ever been in order for this to be true.
In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Patent Office approved a patent for a compound containing silver oxide, with alleged benefits that included ridding the human body of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, better known as AIDS. Over the summer, 9GAG irresponsibly created a graphic that said “Want to know a secret? 5676977 Just Google it.” The number is the patent number, implying there was a hidden AIDS cure. There is absolutely no evidence that silver oxide can treat AIDS, and getting a patent for a product is not at all the same as having FDA approval (that requires years of study and piles of evidence).
Another myth that keeps resurfacing year after year is the claim that NASA predicted a global blackout in December 2012, though the myth has been revamped to apply to 2013 and 2014 when the predicted event never happened. It was said that there would be a global blackout for 3 days, during which time the Earth would actually travel between different dimensions. This panic was caused when NASA administrator Charles Bolden participated in a video about general preparedness, in case of tornadoes, floods, and normal things like that. Definitely not for traveling between dimensions.
One of the strains featured in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine has drifted, meaning the virus has evolved slightly from the time the manufacturers of the vaccine began to make it and the start of the flu season. There was a claim from the ever-horrible Natural News claiming that the CDC’s announcement was tantamount to an admission that the seasonal vaccine doesn’t work. In fact, the vaccine covers multiple strains. Even in previous years that experienced a drift with a particular strain, the vaccine was still able to provide some degree of protection and lessen the severity of disease.
In 2003, researchers discovered fossilized human remains in the Atacama Desert. The remains were much smaller than would be expected for a child, leading to speculations that this was actually the remains of an alien. A documentary by the name of Sirius also fed into the hype that the skeleton was not of terrestrial origin. Ata, as the skeleton is known, could have suffered from a number of diseases that could have caused the skeleton’s small stature, including dwarfism, progeria, or a side effect of mummification.
A photograph went viral over the summer by a man named Justin Arnold who claimed to spot a two-headed alligator while walking his dog in Florida. Unfortunately, there were some clues in the picture that indicated it wasn’t actually a real animal. Additionally, Arnold’s website is filled with faux oddities, including a fish said to have grown fur (because it apparently got cold and morphed into a mammal). It is currently unknown whether the two-headed alligator was the product of shoddy Photoshopping or creative taxidermy.
Over the summer, pseudoscience website RealFarmacy.com published an article describing ways sunscreen can actually cause cancer. Some of the claims state that blocking the sun’s rays causes troubling Vitamin D deficiencies, sunscreen users are more likely to get melanoma, and that sunscreen uses endocrine disrupting chemicals. Of course, the entire article was based on fear mongering and not solid scientific evidence, so please remember to use sunscreen to protect yourself from skin cancer.
Shark enthusiasts around the globe were collectively dismayed to see that Discovery Channel–yet again–produced a mockumentary during Shark Week. This summer’s installation built upon the flick from 2013 that provided “evidence” that the massive prehistoric beast was still swimming about in the waters. Though there were disclaimers stating that the “experts” were really just actors, they went largely unnoticed and many people were misled, expecting Discovery to only put out reputable material.