True/False looks at commmonly held beliefs with a scientific mindset and tries to find out if they are, well, true or false. Sometimes the answer is clear, sometimes things are quite murky, and there are often some surprises.

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  • Is no man shorter than his mother?

    Jenny Chisholm doesn’t mention whether she has a particular man and his mother in mind but she wonders about the truth of this. We’re well conditioned to expect a boy to outgrow his mother, and it’s probably even the usual result, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Continue reading.
  • Will ants not cross a chalk line?

    Could chalk really be the velvet rope of the ant world? You can’t help feeling someone has just got ants mixed up with demons. In general, a chalk line won’t keep ants out, even if it is part of a pentagram and you stand inside it intoning words of great magick (as the kool kids are calling it now). Continue reading.
  • Is the seventh wave always a big one?

    It isn’t encouraging that the relevant research starts off calling this the myth of the seventh wave. Certainly you will be disappointed if you go down to the beach and expect every seventh wave to be, like clockwork, bigger than all the rest. But while the magic number seven is all washed up, the idea of regular patterns in waves has better prospects. Continue reading.
  • Do grape seeds cause appendicitis?

    I’m sure I’m not the only one to have wasted the odd youthful hour worrying about the consequences after swallowing a fruit seed. While my concerns centred on unrealistic (though alarming) scenarios such as finding a sapling inching its way up my throat, Linda Caradus has queried a more reasonable fear, that of appendicitis. Continue reading.
  • Do polar bears cover their noses while hunting?

    Polar bears really are very well camouflaged for their wintry habitat — except for that black snout. Their solution, according to oral traditions of local hunters, as well as occasional reports from outsiders, is to cover it with a paw while hunting. A nifty idea, but also rather dubious. Continue reading.
  • Do fish never stop growing?

    Peter Corrigan wonders whether fish keep growing throughout their lives, and — if so — whether they are the only animals to do this. The short answer is yes they do and no they aren’t, but there is a little more to it than that. Continue reading.
  • Do spoilers make cars go faster?

    Race cars have rear spoilers. Race cars go fast. So that shiny new car with a rear spoiler must go like the clappers, right? Not as fast as a race car — it has no racing stripes after all — but plenty fast all the same. Continue reading.
  • Is it always darkest just before dawn?

    Neville Farquhar wonders whether it really is. We’ve all trotted this phrase out in the face of misfortune — usually someone else’s — but how many of us have actually camped out overnight with a photometer? If you did you would discover that the darkest hour is not always just before dawn. Continue reading.

Or try these...

  • Do head lice prefer clean hair?

    I remember overhearing this when I was knee-high to a grasshopper and thinking that, at last, I had the excuse I needed to banish bathing once and for all. Parental authority had other ideas, for which I am thankful — not just because the advantages of clean habits dawn on you with the arrival of adulthood, but because it turns out head lice aren’t as picky as I had heard. Continue reading.
  • Does wine soften tooth enamel?

    Wine-softened enamel would be ripe for erosion by chewing or brushing. Sounds like another of those urban legends designed to add a tinge of guilt to any Bacchanalian revelry — is it for real? Well, yes...and no. Yes it is true that wine erodes enamel. Continue reading.
  • Is brushing good for hair?

    Robin Peirce wonders if the practice of brushing a hundred times a day is good for hair. It’s no surprise this is associated with the Victorian era, when one could rely on one’s servants to do the actual brushing. It’s fallen out of favour now that the social order has been tipped and one has to rely on oneself for such things. Continue reading.
  • Does the solar system have eight planets?

    Connor Haley, who was recently wondering about the definition of fruit, has now turned to more celestial matters. It is true that are only eight planets in the solar system where there used to be nine, not as the result of interplanetary catastrophe but the stroke of a pen that changed the meaning of the word “planet”. Continue reading.
  • Should you drink eight glasses of water a day?

    We’ve all seen those haunted souls sipping water obsessively as though they may at any moment crumble to the floor in a pile of dust. You may be one of them. Even if you aren’t eternally clutching a water bottle there’s a good chance you try to guzzle eight glasses a day to ward off dehydration. Continue reading.
  • Do mice like cheese?

    If cartoon mice have taught us nothing else (and I doubt they have) it is that mice can’t resist a nice bit of cheese, especially if it’s Swiss. But these animated rodents have been blowing smoke in our eyes because mice, on the whole, don’t like cheese at all. Continue reading.
  • Are tarantulas actually harmless?

    Their bite won’t stop your heart, at least, though a tarantula doesn’t really need fangs, if you ask me. The mere sight of a huge, hairy, eight-legged creature approaching would be enough to make me lie down and surrender. But then I’m just not a spider person. Continue reading.
  • Are tomatoes fruit?

    While Connor Haley is focussed on tomatoes, Stephanie Edmond also wonders about pumpkins and watermelons. Two vegetables and a fruit? Or are they all fruit? Both are true, depending on context. Now, before you start tutting to yourself and muttering that this is all the fault of fancy-pants so-called experts bamboozling good honest folk, let me point out that it is our everyday senses of “fruit” and “vegetable” that are bamboozling. Continue reading.
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