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Matters of Fact

The truth isn’t always what it seems.

Some everyday facts you think are true may actually just be common misconceptions elevated by their continuous use into a “fact.” Let’s dive in and separate the fact from the fiction. 

Storm shocker

The saying goes that lightning never strikes twice. But if you find yourself caught outdoors during a thunderstorm, it’s best to heed caution and not count on Lady Luck. In fact, lightning certainly can strike in the same spot more than once. Locations at taller heights with isolated objects, like the CN Tower, are at a higher risk of being struck by lightning.[1] Check out this clip of lightning striking a TV tower 50 times.[2]

Who has a better memory, you or your goldfish?

When it comes to the capacity of a goldfish, popular opinion has most of us thinking this popular pet has a memory of about three seconds. So you may be surprised to learn that a goldfish can remember things for months. The three-second myth was disproved when researchers installed a lever in a fish tank that would make food available at a specific time each day. Amazingly, the goldfish learned how to press the lever, and also when it was lunch time.[3] Remember that the next time you annoyingly tap on your goldfish’s tank – it might just hold a grudge against you. 

Toro, toro, toro!

A popular tradition in Spain and Mexico, bullfighting involves a swirl of bright colours to provoke a high-spirited bull. Matadors famously wave a red cape in front of the bull, enticing it to charge. It’s often assumed the bovine’s anger is provoked by the colour red, but this is actually not the case. Bulls are colour blind, and they charge because they don’t like the flapping motion of the cape.[4] 

Which way does your toilet flush?

Have you ever travelled across the equator, say to Australia, and then checked to see if the direction of a toilet flush has changed? A popular belief – often associated with the Coriolis effect – is that water swirls down a toilet in a counterclockwise direction in the southern hemisphere, and clockwise in the northern hemisphere.[5] However, the direction of your toilet flush actually has nothing to do with the hemisphere and can swirl both ways in either hemisphere. While the Coriolis effect is a fact, the amount of water in your toilet is too small to be directly influenced by its physics. Instead, your toilet’s infrastructure and its plumbing influence its flush direction.[6] Watch the myth get debunked here.[7] 

Splish, splash, my fingers got pruney in the bath! 

You might think you’ve been soaking in the tub too long when your fingers and toes get all wrinkly. However, this isn’t a bad thing: wrinkled fingers and toes mean that your body is adapting to your environment. This adaptation is a reaction from your nervous system that allows you to have a tighter grip on wet objects. Consider how we change our car tires between seasons – smoother tires for dry summer roads and heavily treaded tires for the wet winter. Just like rain treads, these wrinkles help redirect water away from our fingers and toes so they can function better.[8] 

Five-second rule – you can still eat that, right?

At some point, we have all yelled “five-second rule” as a cookie, apple slice or a piece of lettuce slips out of our hands and hits the floor. This “rule” helps us to justify eating off the floor, deciding that the food hasn’t been there long enough to really get dirty. But is that actually the case? Not according to recent studies measuring the levels of bacteria of certain foods contracted from various surfaces at timed intervals.The risk of bacterial transmission depends on two things: the moisture of the food – the wetter the food, the more bacteria will transfer – and the amount of time food spends on the affected surface. More bacteria will transfer when food is left on a surface for a longer period.[9] 

Thanks to science, we now know the basics of germ theory, but that wasn’t always the case. The root of this five-second rule myth is associated with the dining hall of Genghis Khan. Originally known as the “Khan Rule,” it declared that any and all food that fell and sat on the floor (no matter how long) would still be eaten. The rule evolved from the notion that any food prepared for Genghis Khan was good enough for his company.[10]

Before you go and blame Genghis Khan for all those years that you may have been eating floor bacteria, the five-second rule has maintained its fame in modern culture. During an episode of Julia Child’s The French Chef cooking show, her attempt to flip a potato pancake resulted in a potato pancake infused with bacteria when it landed on the stovetop. Managing to get the pancake back in the pan under five seconds, Julia Child fully endorsed our favourite rule.[11] 

So, whether you are as royal as Genghis Khan or as gastronomic as Julia Child, the bottom line is that you should never eat food off the floor or other contaminated surfaces. Even if you can’t see the bacteria, they’re still on your snack. 


© 2020 Manulife. The persons and situations depicted are fictional and their resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. This media is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide specific financial, tax, legal, accounting or other advice and should not be relied upon in that regard. Many of the issues discussed will vary by province. Individuals should seek the advice of professionals to ensure that any action taken with respect to this information is appropriate to their specific situation. www.manulife.ca/accessibility 


[11] Ibid.

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