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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

What Everyone Should Know About Science

By September 5, 2011

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I saw an interesting book at the local library the other day. It was about 100 scientific facts everyone should know. Unfortunately, many of the facts weren't facts at all and some weren't particularly vital. It got me thinking... what scientific concepts should everyone know? I've started a list. You can post additional ideas. I'll clean up the list once it's long enough. What do you think everyone should know about science?

Science changes.
Science is dynamic. Not everything you learned growing up is 'true' today.

Clear liquids aren't always water.
Hydrochloric acid is clear. You wouldn't want to drink it.

You need oxygen to live.
Just as not all clear liquids are water, not all gases contain oxygen. Plus, you can diminish the amount of oxygen when you introduce other gases (e.g., carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from combustion, helium from a balloon). Keeping this little scientific tidbit in mind may someday save your life.

Hot air rises.
So... if you can only heat the first or second floor of your house, heat the first floor.

What goes up must come down.
Gravity. Don't set heavy objects where they can fall on your foot, etc.

Water flows to the lowest point.
It's gravity in action. All liquids flow 'down'. This is handy to know if you ever need to actually find water, but its more practical applications involve plumbing and drainage.

Most materials expand when heated and contract when cooled.
Notable exceptions are water (ice floats, also important) and some types of wax. You can use this information to help open glass jars with metal lids, among other things.

That which doesn't kill you does not necessarily make you stronger.
I'm sure leaded paint chips taste nice and sweet. They won't kill you outright, but they aren't good for you. If you don't die immediately from something, that doesn't mean it's non-toxic.

While pure water doesn't conduct electricity, normal water does.
Hence it's a bad plan to have electric appliances where they can fall into the tub. It's not a great idea to go to the beach during a thunderstorm.

Comments

May 17, 2008 at 4:51 am
(1) David Bradley says:

> Hot air rises.

Only if there’s a gravitational field involved. Hot air doesn’t rise if you’re on a space ship where there’s only microgravity.

> If you don’t die immediately from
> something, that doesn’t mean it’s
> non-toxic.

If you ate enough lead paint over a long enough period the accumulated lead could kill you.

> normal water does

I hate to be a pedant, but the word “normal” in this context doesn’t ring true.

Finally, I’d add the most important scientific fact – All scientists are skeptics.

db

PS Nice post!

May 17, 2008 at 11:14 pm
(2) David says:

Are you sure all scientists are skeptics?

May 18, 2008 at 1:06 am
(3) Colin says:

You don’t have to take science as a “belief”. Anyone can get out and do real science. The best thing I learned about science was recreating Newton’s inclined plane experiements in 8th grade. It showed me that science is not only verifiable but you should verify it once and a while.

Light is an electromagnetic ray. There are electromegnetic rays that can’t be seen. Some of them can damage your eyes and skin.

May 21, 2008 at 9:17 am
(4) David Bradley says:

You’re not a scientist if you’re not a skeptic. It’s written in the contract.

db

July 7, 2011 at 2:37 am
(5) sacha davilak says:

What science isn’t — it’s not about (religious) faith and having all the answers. It doesn’t. Science deals with unknown things, and tries to quantify the uncertainty that is present in its results. Having uncertainty does not mean “no certainty whatsoever.”

September 5, 2011 at 11:23 am
(6) Andy says:

How about these:
1. All matter is composed of chemicals. “Chemicals” or things that “contain chemicals” are not necessarily bad.
2. On a similar note, “all natural” does not mean it’s healthy or good. There are plenty of natural toxins…

February 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm
(7) Sharon Michael says:

I agree with Andy!!!

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