With about 6.3 million Twitter followers, @UberFacts on Twitter reaches millions of people with little nuggets of trivia every day. Unfortunately, many of those “fun facts” are completely wrong or misleading.
I dredged up every UberFacts tweet from yesterday — all 64 of them, from midnight to midnight PST — and did a bit of fact-checking. The results weren’t encouraging. (Buzzfeed, apparently thinking along the same lines, has just published an interview with UberFacts curator Kris Sanchez.)
Looks like 38 of them were true, 11 were false and 15 were partially true or highly debatable — what I’m calling true-ish. We all make mistakes. But UberFacts really does seem to make more errors than your average fun fact account.
1. Turtles were living on our planet before dinosaurs were.
2. Weird Al Yankovic was the valedictorian of his high school.
True. Yankovic was also a member of his high school’s Volcano Worshippers Club. “We started the club just to get an extra picture of ourselves in the yearbook,” Weird Al would later tell Dr. Demento in an interview.
3. Women attempt suicide about 3 times more often than men.
True-ish. Women do attempt suicide at a higher rate than men, but this fact in isolation would give most people the wrong impression that more women die from suicide. Women in the U.S. are roughly one fourth as likely as men to successfully commit suicide, with much of this a result of different suicide methods — men in the U.S. are much more likely to use a firearm.
If you or someone you know is thinking about or threatening suicide, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
4. In California, there are more required hours of training to become a barber than to become a police officer.
True. In the state of California, a barber requires 1,500 hours of training before they can take the State Board exams. The minimum training requirements for becoming a police officer in California is 888 hours of training, including the exams.
5. The sunlight hitting the earth is was [sic] trapped inside of the sun for about 30,000 years before being released.
True-ish. This one is worded a bit like my tweets around 3AM after I’ve sipped an adult beverage or two. More accurately: The energy hitting Earth right now in the form of sunlight took about 30,000 years to make its way from the sun’s core.
6. Singapore Airlines have “corpse cupboards” to store people who die mid-flight.
True-ish. Only some of Singapore Airlines’s aeroplanes have a compartment near the exit row that’s large enough to fit a body. This is limited to their longest flights — specifically their Airbus A340-500 aircraft that fly from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York. But somehow this fact, originally from a 2004 Guardian article, has taken on a life of its own, evolving to the point where it’s become accepted as fact that all of Singapore Airlines flights have “corpse cupboards.”
Even the planes that have them only use them as a last resort. As the airline told the Guardian at the time, “The compartment will be used only if no suitable space can be found elsewhere in the cabin.”
7. The vagina naturally produces hydrogen peroxide to help fight off bacteria.
True. Though the hydrogen peroxide only fights off certain kinds of infections.
8. Baby hedgehogs are called “hoglets.”
True. Interestingly, baby hedgehogs weren’t called hoglets until the early 1990s. Until the mid-90s or so, most books simply referred to them as baby or young hedgehogs. The words pup, piglet, and kit were also sometimes used.
9. Starfish don’t have brains.
True. While starfish have a complex nervous system, they lack a centralized brain.
10. Cuddling with a teddy bear releases the same amount of endorphins as having sex – Putting you in a good mood.
False. This supposed fact appears to come from a popular email chain letter. While hugging a teddy bear may feel good, there’s no evidence that it releases the same amount of endorphins as having sex.
11. Foods rich in vitamin B6 have the ability to make your dreams more vivid and help you remember them.
True-ish. Yes, there was one study done in 2002 that suggested B6 may cause people to have more vivid dreams. But it was done using just 12 students over the course of five days. More study is definitely needed on this one.
12. A female praying mantis rips the head off of the male during sex.
True-ish. Yes, the female praying mantis will sometimes bite off its mate’s head during sex, but not even a majority of the time. Sexual cannibalism appears to happen about 5-30 per cent of the time. Laboratory conditions (bright lights and such) seem to cause it to happen more frequently.
13. People with higher IQs dream more.
Inconclusive. The only place I could find this little tidbit was on websites filled with nonsense that looked like they were designed in Angelfire circa 1998.
14. A man named Ramon Artagaveytia survived the fire and sinking of a ship in 1871, leaving him emotionally scarred. 41 years later, he was able to finally overcome his fear and decided to sail again. He then died in the sinking of a new ship called “The Titanic.”
True. That dude had really bad luck with ships.
15. Chewing gum can help your brain function more efficiently.
True-ish. Some studies have shown that chewing gum helps some people be more alert, but it didn’t help with other things like memory.
16. Buzz Lightyear’s original name was “Lunar Larry.”
True. Another name considered for the character was Tempus the Morph.
17. Married couples have sex an average of 58 times a year.
True. But that average doesn’t really tell us much. About 15 per cent of married couples haven’t had sex in the past 6 months to a year, while married couples under the age of 30 average about 111 times per year.
18. On average, people will spend about two weeks of their life kissing.
False. This one is almost certainly made up, despite the fact that it comes from the highly prestigious Journal of Snapple Studies.
19. The female equivalent of “morning wood” is “morning dew”… yes, it’s a real thing.
True. At least according to Urban Dictionary, the only real authority in this area.
20. LEGO men have those little holes in the top of their heads to allow air to pass through them, should a child ever get one stuck in their throat.
True. And if you haven’t checked out the Gizmodo’s Lego subdomain yet, you really should.
21. In the Netherlands, citizens with disabilities receive money from the country to pay for sexual services up to 12 times a year.
True-ish. Disabled citizens can receive benefits that include visits to prostitutes, but the “12 times a year” figure is actually pulled from advocates in the UK who have proposed a Netherlands-style program in their own country. It’s not clear if people in the Netherlands have a specific number of visits allowed per year.
22. The US government spends about $US300,000 a year to study the body language of Putin and other world leaders.
True. Though according to the Pentagon, those studies have not yet informed any policy decisions.
23. On average, US citizens drink 3 shots of liquor a week — Russian citizens drink twice that amount every week.
True-ish. The actual number is 3.3 shots for Americans. And 6.3 shots for Russians. South Koreans drink the most hard alcohol per week with 13.7 shots.
24. Vanilla-flavored snacks and treats often contain “castoreum” — Anal secretions from beavers.
True-ish. Though the claim that it’s used “often” is a stretch. Given the difficulty of milking this secretion out of beaver butts, you probably won’t find this stuff in your packaged junk food. According to National Geographic it’s actually hardcore foodies who seek it out.
25. Over-thinking is one of the top causes of depression.
False. This is one of those “fun facts” you’ll only find on low rent self-help websites.
26. Crows can recognise human faces and warn other crows about dangerous people.
True. Crows are incredibly intelligent. Like terrifyingly so. Anecdotally, I remember a story about my grandmother who had a pet crow when she was a kid. It would follow her to and from school each day. [Correction: I just got a text from my mum informing me that it was my grandfather who had the pet crow. Hi Mum, thanks for reading!]
27. Jagermeister was originally intended to be a cough medicine.
False. Jagermeister was first concocted around 1935 as a digestif. Some people think it tastes like cough medicine, which is what keeps this inaccurate fun fact alive.
28. Ikea is actually the world’s largest and richest “non-profit charity.”
False. Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, started the Stichting INGKA Foundation, one of the largest charitable organisations in the world. Ikea uses this foundation to avoid paying much in taxes — as little as 3.5 per cent on annual profits some years. But given the elaborate tax evasion schemes of many huge corporations, this should come as no surprise. Calling Ikea the world’s largest “non-profit charity” is very misleading.
29. The background noise in a room affects the taste of the food you’re eating.
True. As the Guardian points out, there’s been a tremendous surge in people studying this phenomenon lately. Who will be the first researcher to surreptitiously replace the Dean Martin at Olive Garden with Slipknot?
30. The more intelligent a woman is, the less likely she is to be fertile.
False. There’s a correlation between education and birthrates; which is to say that when a given society provides education to its women, those women have more options and independence and can freely choose how many children they would like to have. But this rather offensive tweet seems to say that smarter women are less able to have children and vice versa.
31. One gallon of gas would be able to charge an iPhone once a day, everyday for 20 years.
True. Well, probably. This fun fact comes from a vice president of strategic planning at ExxonMobil who was trying to make a point about energy density. So I guess make what you will of that, given the source, since this one is a bit hard to fact-check.
32. No matter how hard you pinch the extra skin on your elbow, you will not feel pain.
False. Your elbow has fewer pain detectors than many other parts of your body, but “feel no pain” isn’t quite accurate. Feel free to try this one out at home — just stay away from any vise-grips.
33. Men can get rid of an erection by sitting down and flexing their thigh muscles repeatedly.
True. That is, if the website howtogetridofstuff dot com can be believed. It doesn’t look like any major scientific research facilities have tackled this one yet, so we’ll just have to take their word for it. Or again, feel free to do your own experiments at home.
34. In 1997, Mattel released Becky, Barbie’s friend, who’s [sic] hot-pink wheelchair could not fit into the elevator of Barbie’s $US100 Dream House.
True. Back in 1997, Barbie’s Dream House had some major ADA violations. Mattel promised that future dream houses wouldn’t make that mistake.
35. Every year, more and more koalas are affected by chlamydia.
True. Australia’s koalas are lousy with chlamydia.
36. The fish from “Spongebob Squarepants” that always yells “My leg!” is named Fred.
True. But his mother calls him Fredrick.
37. There are 22 different ways to replicate a woman’s breasts with text symbols.
False. You’d be surprised at the ingenuity of a bro left with nothing but a popped collar and a smartphone. A cursory search in the more bro-tastic corners of the internet reveals that there are at least 28 different ways.
38. 230,730,000 songs are illegally downloaded every day; 160,000 songs are illegally downloaded every minute.
Inconclusive. Most of the numbers about illegal downloads are released by the recording industry, and even those numbers can vary wildly depending which way the wind is blowing that day. The industry also has a tendency to count any traffic travelling over P2P networks as “illegal” when some of it is not.
39. It takes your brain approximately 90 seconds to decide whether or not you like someone.
True. But the range appears to be more like 90 seconds to 4 minutes. Also, singling out “your brain” is a bit odd. It’s your brain and everything else attached to it.
40. The surge in production of the hormone oxytocin causes sex to act as a painkiller.
True. Though oxytocin isn’t just beneficial during sex.
41. Putting dry tea bags in a pair of smelly shoes will help absorb the unpleasant odor.
True. Dryer sheets are also popular.
42. The Hulk (comic book character) was originally grey, but was changed to green because it was easier to print.
True. Grey Hulk would sometimes pop up in later years.
43. Bob Marley was the father of 3 children born to 3 different women in one month.
True. Stephen was born April 20, 1972 to Rita Marley; Robert was born May 16, 1972 to Pat Williams; and Rohan was born May 19, 1972 to Janet Hunt.
44. There is approximately 20 trillion pounds of ants on the earth.
False. It’s actually about 6 trillion.
45. Men who masturbate more have a lower chance of getting prostate cancer.
True. But it’s not the act of masturbation that seems to correlate with the lower prostate cancer rates. Men who ejaculated more than 5 times per week during their twenties — regardless of how it all came out — were at a much lower risk for prostate cancer later on in their lives.
46. Luis Garavito, the world’s most dangerous serial killer (140 victims) only has to serve 22 years in prison and should be released in 2021.
True. The Colombians have since increased the maximum possible sentence for similar crimes to 60 years, though they don’t apply to Garavito, who could indeed be released by 2021.
47. Pigasus was a pig who ran for president of the U.S. in 1968.
True-ish. But not quite. “Ran for president” makes it sound like the pig was on ballots or something. Abbie Hoffmann and his gang of Yippies were performing street theatre with Pigasus in the lead up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which eventually turned quite violent.
48. There are 101 flavours of Pringles throughout the world.
False. There are almost certainly more than 101 different flavours of Pringles in the world. I’ve reached out to Kellogg’s to see if I can get a definitive number.
49. People who laugh more are better able to tolerate pain – Both physical and emotional.
True. Laughter releases endorphins and has also been shown to lower blood pressure.
50. Oppositional defiant disorder is a recognised “mental disorder” for people that deliberately disobey authority figures.
True. Oppositional defiant disorder is indeed recognised, but the diagnosis has seen a number of revisions in the shift from DSM-IV to DSM-V — including many notes that behaviours associated with it are perfectly normal in developing children and teens.
51. A blue whale’s penis is usually about 7 to 8 feet in length.
False. The average blue whale’s penis is more commonly thought to range from 8 to 10 feet. Why are you short-changing blue whales, UberFacts?
52. Humans have the natural ability to smell fear in other people’s sweat.
True. The studies have been rather small, but point to this being the case.
53. The Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 was the shortest war in history – Lasting only 45 minutes.
True. But it’s helpful to remember that the United States hasn’t officially declared war since World War II. Being at war and declaring war are two different things. About 500 people died during the Anglo-Zanzibar War, and the majority of the carnage did indeed take place in less than an hour.
54. Peter B. Lewis, chairman of the Progressive Insurance company, donated over $US2.3 million towards to the legalization of marijuana.
True. In 2000, Lewis was arrested in New Zealand for possession of marijuana. He died of a heart attack in November of 2013 at the age of 80. Lewis had an estimated net worth of $1.25 billion.
55. More tigers are living as pets in the US than there are living in the wild in Asia.
True. It’s estimated that there are only about 3,200 wild tigers in all of Asia. There are about 5,000 tigers in captivity in the United States. And most of those aren’t even in zoos — they’re owned by private individuals.
56. Biggie Smalls cried the first time R. Kelly played him a clip of “I Believe I Can Fly.”
57. Spongebob was originally going to be named “Spongeboy” but couldn’t because a mop product was already using that name.
True. Though I’m frankly surprised a product called Spongeboy was for something as innocent as a household mop.
58. Men who watch porn more often tend to be more optimistic.
Debatable. I could find no study to back up this assertion. Sounds more like some kind of punchline, if you ask me.
59. Only female mosquitoes bite – Most male mosquitoes have a lifespan of only 1 week.
True. While not all of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world are bloodsuckers, of those that are, only the females suck blood. And while male mosquitoes may have short lifespans, females also only live about 1-2 weeks in the wild, or up to a month in captivity.
60. Cracking your knuckles does not hurt your bones or cause arthritis, the sound you hear is just gas bubbles bursting.
True. Though it still sounds gross. Stop it. I said stop it.
61. A human’s natural sleep pattern is about 4 hours of sleep, then 2 hours of being awake, followed by another 4 hours of sleep.
True-ish. There does appear to be evidence to support this theory, though the wording is a bit misleading. What I think they mean to reference is the idea of “first sleep” and “second sleep” that was much more common a few hundred years ago. People would go to sleep for about four hours, wake up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours and then go to sleep again for about four hours. The wording of this tweet kind of makes it sound like our natural sleep pattern is to sleep for 4 hours, be awake for 2 hours and then just repeat that cycle forever and ever.
62. In Holland, disabled individuals can get a grant from the government that pays for sex up to 12 times a year.
True-ish. Wait, didn’t we already do this one? Scroll back to number 21.
63. Chickens with white earlobes will lay white eggs, while chickens with red earlobes lay brown eggs.
True. And Aracona chickens lay green eggs.
64. James Earl Jones only made $US7,000 for doing the voice of Darth Vader.
True. Though adjusted for inflation since 1977, that was about $US26,000. Still not a whole lot, considering how big the Star Wars franchise became. Don’t feel too bad for Jones though, his net worth is now estimated to be about $US45 million.