A while back, I wrote an article about the Consensus Fallacy and the way misinformation slowly evolves into “common knowledge.” I debunked five common misconceptions people tend to have about this crazy little world we live in. Give that a read here.

I thought I did well in my attempts to stamp out a few unfounded beliefs, but it turns out that the world is still chock-full of them. So today I am here to again to point out five more bullshit facts that people assume are true just because they hear them so often.

Bullshit Fact #1: Twinkies Have An Infinite Shelf Life

Uh…no.

Just like the majority of other foods, processed or not, Twinkies do, in fact, have a shelf life.

This myth relies on the assumption that Twinkies are made out of completely artificial ingredients and preservatives that allow them to withstand the typical effects of staling.

In fact, part of the myth actually states that Hostess made an incredibly large amount of Twinkies a few decades ago and they’ve been selling Twinkies from that original batch ever since.

This is flat out bullshit. Before 2012, Twinkies had a shelf life of about 25 days; since that time, a change in the recipe has brought that number up to 45 days. 1Kim, Susanna. (2013 July 9). What’s New About the Twinkie and Other Hostess Brands Favorites. ABC News.

45 days is still a fairly long shelf life for a baked good, but it is certainly not anywhere close to the assumed shelf life of decades or centuries. In fact, Twinkies are usually only on store shelves for a week or two. 2Kelley, Tina. (2000, March 23). Twinkie Strike Afflicts Fans With Snack Famine. New York Times.

The secret is that Twinkies don’t contain as much dairy as other typical baked goods do, which allows them to spoil more slowly. But they certainly do spoil, regardless of the preservatives in them.

Like any other baked good, the bread begins to harden and lose its moisture, as the cream begins to congeal and lose its smooth texture. They basically just get more disgusting than they already are.

None of this information makes Twinkies any more healthy, though. They are still processed, sugary garbage full of artificial flavors and preservatives. Just because something goes stale, that doesn’t make it any better for you.

And you thought you’d be surviving off of these with the cockroaches after the end of the world. Nice try.

Bullshit Fact #2: Buddha Was A Happy Little Fat Man

You know all of those lawn ornaments or statues of the fat, happy Asian man with the big belly and long ears that you were always told was the Buddha?

Yeah, well you were told wrong.

Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha, is actually described to have looked like a normal, skinny dude. 3BuddhaNet. (2008). What Was The Buddha Like?In fact, it seems as if he was actually quite handsome.

The fat little statues you see so often are actually of Budai, a Chinese deity who is thought to bring wealth or good fortune.

fat laughing man statue

Before he was revered as a deity, Budai was originally called Qieci. He was an eccentric Chan monk often remembered for his jolly nature and the way he was adored by children.

On his deathbed, Qieci is supposed to have claimed himself to be an incarnation of Maitreya, which is a future embodiment of the Buddha who is foretold to achieve complete enlightenment and teach the pure dharma. 4O’Brien, Barbara. (2017 February 23). The Laughing Buddha: How Buddha Came to Be Fat and Jolly. ThoughtCo.

He was later renamed or referred to as Budai which means “cloth sack,” after the cloth sack he carried around with him that held his few possessions.

Being that the words Budai and Buddha are fairly similar, and that Budai is believed to be the next Buddha, the two figures became synonymous in Western culture.

Nowadays, every statue of a fat little happy Asian man is assumed to be the Buddha even though us Westerners have little to no understanding of Buddhism, its values, or who Buddha even was. Isn’t American religiocentrism just a hoot?

Bullshit Fact #3: Vikings Wore Horned Helmets

Nope. They didn’t.

Archeologists have been digging up Viking graves for quite some time now and they have yet to find any horned helmets buried with the warriors (because warriors were always buried with their battle gear). Viking helmets were instead thought to have been made of wood or leather and sometimes reinforced with different metals. 5Short, William. (2017). Viking Helmets. Hurstwic.

It is actually hard to conceive of Vikings wearing horned helmets because of the hazard they would have posed to each other in close combat situations. It would get really annoying if Lars poked your eye out every time he whipped his head in your direction, wouldn’t it?

The helmets also would have been very heavy, and the weight would not have been balanced properly on the head. All of these factors would make them very cumbersome to wear in battle, regardless of any fear the Vikings might have been able to strike into their opponents.

The myth of horned helmets seems to have been the result of a nostalgic interpretation made by German Romanticists during the 19th century. In 1876, a series of musical dramas called Der Ring des Nibelungen were produced that featured prominent Norse characters. For matters of spectacle and artistic freedom, the Vikings in the operas were portrayed wearing horned helmets. 6J. P. P. (2013 February 15). Did Vikings Wear Horned Helmets? The Economist.

From that time on, the notion that Vikings wore horned helmets had permeated the cultural membrane. Other Romantic artists began depicting Vikings in paintings with horned and winged helmets, and thus, people assumed that these works of art were historically accurate.

Of course, there is the possibility that these artists thought they were creating historically accurate pieces. Many ancient Greek and Roman writers often described the contemporary Scandinavian warriors as wearing all sorts of eccentric garments on their heads, such as helmets with horns, wings, antlers, and others that were meant to represent different birds or snakes.

There is some evidence that Scandinavian helmets used in different rituals may have been decorated with bird or snake-like adornments, but the notion that the Vikings wore horned helmets regularly, especially for battle purposes, was erroneously misattributed to them. 7Nix, Elizabeth. (2013 March 20). Did Vikings really wear horned helmets? A+E Networks Corp.

There were many other Northern European groups that occupied the Scandinavian regions centuries before the Vikings during the time of the Greeks and Romans and it is thought that the horned helmets should actually have been associated with them.  

Over time, though, the prevalence of these types of helmets significantly declined, and by the time the Vikings ruled Northern Europe, the horned helmet played little to no role in their culture.

Also, while we’re on the topic, Vikings weren’t these dirty, barbaric assholes that history paints them to be. 8Roesdahl, Else. (1998 April 30). The Vikings. Penguin UK.Sure, they were alive during the Middle Ages and they engaged in some practices we frown on today, but the same can be said of the majority of other cultures throughout history.

So cut them some slack. And stop depicting them with horns on their helmets. It’s embarrassing.

Bullshit Fact #4: Lemmings Are Suicidal

No way, Jose.

This myth originates from the 1958 Disney nature documentary White Wilderness.

The film depicts a scene in which a large group of lemmings, which are a type of rodent that live in the Arctic region, seem to engage in some sort of hivemind mass suicide as they catapult themselves off of a cliff to their assumed death into a body of water below.

The problem is the scene was faked. The lemmings in the film weren’t hopping off of the cliff to kill themselves, or even because of some sort of group migration. They were being pushed by a contraption the film crew had built in order to get the lemmings to fall into the water. 9Mikkelson, David. (2016 October 13). Did Disney Fake Lemming Deaths for the Nature Documentary ‘White Wilderness’? Snopes.

The scene was not representative of anything that actually occurs in nature, and the entire sequence was completely fabricated. The lemmings they were filming were not even native to the area they were filming in, and the body of water depicted in the film is actually the Bow River, not the Arctic Ocean.
Talk about some bullshit, huh?

What the filmmakers may have based their assumptions of suicide on are the way in which large groups of lemmings will migrate across bodies of water when a specific area becomes too greatly populated.

This can occasionally result in the death of a few lemmings who don’t have the stamina to swim long enough distances without tiring, but to suggest that lemmings hurl themselves off of cliffs into water for any other reason is completely erroneous. 10Woodford, Riley. (2003 September). Lemming Suicide Myth; Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior. State of Alaska.

So the next time you make fun of your friend for getting the Lemming award in whatever video game you are playing, just remember all of the little guys that died for this misconception to exist and have some respect.

Bullshit Fact #5: Scientific Theories Are Just Scientists’ Best Guesses

Oh my God. Shut up. No.

I hear this one far more often than I should and it really pisses me off.

Straight from the National Academy of fucking Sciences, a scientific theory is defined as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” 11National Academy of Sciences. (2008). Science, Evolution, and Creationism. p. 11.

bill nye holding squirt guns

A theory, then, is not some willy nilly belief about how the world works. A theory is an extensive framework for explaining some phenomena that is based upon knowledge we possess regarding the matter at hand.

So when your crazy uncle says, “I have this theory that cell phones give you cancer,” he is using the word completely incorrectly.

Yeah, thanks for your input, Uncle Carl, but you obviously have no fucking clue what you are talking about.

In English vernacular, the word theory has come to be synonymous with the word hypothesis, which is a proposed explanation for some phenomena. It is a statement that has an obvious truth value that must be falsifiable so that it can be tested.

“Cell phones give you cancer,” then, is a great hypothesis. You could devise several different ways to see if that statement is actually true (hint: it’s not).

But the statement is not a theory. You can’t just let a thought pop in your head and create a theory haphazardly.

Furthermore, theories are not to be written off as pure beliefs.

When I am talking to someone who is a little on the, uh, uneducated side, and I say something like, “Well the Theory of Evolution states-”

And then I get cut off with, “Well that’s just some guy’s theory. It’s not fact or anything,” I get a little pissed off.

This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start.

Again, for the people in the back, a theory is a rigorously tested, peer-reviewed concept that aims to create a universal model for explaining how some aspect of the natural world works.

It’s not a guess. It’s not a hypothesis. It’s not an approximation of knowledge. It is by no means a pillar of certainty, either, but a theory will always represent our current best conception of some phenomena at the current time.

In even broader terms, scientific theories are the basis of everything we claim to know about the universe. Don’t believe me?

Here is a list of theories that we live by in modern culture:

  • Cell Theory
  • Germ Theory
  • Plate Tectonics Theory
  • Atomic Theory
  • Quantum Theory
  • Gravitational Theory
  • Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
  • Dynamo Theory
  • Molecular Theory
  • Copernican Theory
  • Kinetic Theory of Gases

I could write a fucking book. Hopefully I’ve made my point.

Of course, I understand that words are defined by how they are used and not by what they objectively mean. If I could make a suggestion then, I would recommend we discontinue use of the word theory except in instances when we mean to say “scientific theory.”

And when we have a belief regarding something we are not certain about, we can use the word “hypothesis.”

This way, our layman’s definitions will match our scientific definitions, which really makes the most sense.

Science is everything. You use the scientific method to cook dinner, do laundry, or even change a lightbulb.

So to use different definitions for words that apply equally to experiments we make in the home or at the lab is ridiculous. It creates mass confusion and promotes scientific illiteracy.

Let’s stop this madness.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Five more pieces of bullshit that people pass off as knowledge. Keep an open ear for any of these things as you go about your fascinating life and be sure to keep your pimp hand ready in case you hear even a whiff of some bullshit.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Kim, Susanna. (2013 July 9). What’s New About the Twinkie and Other Hostess Brands Favorites. ABC News.
2. Kelley, Tina. (2000, March 23). Twinkie Strike Afflicts Fans With Snack Famine. New York Times.
3. BuddhaNet. (2008). What Was The Buddha Like?
4. O’Brien, Barbara. (2017 February 23). The Laughing Buddha: How Buddha Came to Be Fat and Jolly. ThoughtCo.
5. Short, William. (2017). Viking Helmets. Hurstwic.
6. J. P. P. (2013 February 15). Did Vikings Wear Horned Helmets? The Economist.
7. Nix, Elizabeth. (2013 March 20). Did Vikings really wear horned helmets? A+E Networks Corp.
8. Roesdahl, Else. (1998 April 30). The Vikings. Penguin UK.
9. Mikkelson, David. (2016 October 13). Did Disney Fake Lemming Deaths for the Nature Documentary ‘White Wilderness’? Snopes.
10. Woodford, Riley. (2003 September). Lemming Suicide Myth; Disney Film Faked Bogus Behavior. State of Alaska.
11. National Academy of Sciences. (2008). Science, Evolution, and Creationism. p. 11.

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