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The truth about myths

By Phil Hesketh

According to a report in The Geneva Tribune, on April 1st 1915 a French aircraft flew over a German camp and dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb.

The enemy troops immediately ran for cover, but no explosion followed. After a while, one brave soldier gingerly approached the bomb to discover it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, ‘April Fool!’

Now that’s what you call an April Fool joke. No fish up your exhaust pipe or shaving foam in your slippers. Instead, just the heart-stopping terror of seemingly imminent death followed by the overwhelming relief and realisation that you’re still in one piece.

Even though the calendar provides a clue, every year millions of people fall victim to pranksters and, for a short while at least, believe in something that clearly isn’t true. Which got me thinking about ‘myths’ in general and five in particular. I’ve described them below so that if anyone tries to tell you they’re true, you can explain exactly why they’re not. Whilst you read them, I’m going to do what I always do on March 31st - text my sons to say “Tomorrow - don’t even think about it.” I tricked them a few times - when they were little boys - on April Fools’ Day and every year they plot and plan and scheme to get me back……..

Myth number one: ‘We use only 10% of our brain’

Although there’s no evidence to back this up, it might just as well be true for the numpties who believe it. American psychologist William James started the myth when he claimed that the average person fulfills only a small part of their potential. Unfortunately, a generation of ‘positive thinking’ gurus latched on to this idea and over time ‘fulfilling 10% of our potential’ gradually morphed into ‘using 10% of our brain.’ And when the preface to Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ repeated the claim it became widely accepted.

Myth number two: ‘Personality depends on which side of the brain is dominant’

This ‘right-brain/left brain’ concept is a much held belief but total nonsense. It’s true that we have two hemispheres that are responsible for different abilities, but they are interconnected and work together. Think of a connecting door between two hotel bedrooms. Now stop thinking about that because it’s a ridiculous analogy. The hemispheres do determine things like which hand you prefer to use, but none of this affects personality.

Myth number three: ‘Women talk more than men’

In 2006, a book called ‘The Female Brain’ claimed that women utter 20,000 words a day, and men just 7,000. Although this would conveniently explain why my wife always seems to have the last word, I’m afraid it’s pure myth. It turns out that the author’s research into the subject was less than scientific. (I mean how could you hear yourself count with all that chattering going on?) To disprove the claim, Professor of Phonetics Mark Liberman of Penn University looked at all the studies done on this and found conflicting reports that gave average female daily word-counts ranging from 4,000 to 25,000 words. He ultimately concluded that the claims were pure guesswork and that the only effective way to stop a person talking was with a gagging order. I may have added that last bit.

Myth number four: ‘The two numbers in Pareto’s 80:20 rule must always add up to 100’

Although Pareto’s 80:20 rule suggests otherwise, it’s simply not true that the two figures must add up to 100. For instance, I have one client who has a 98:50 in her business. 98% of her business is with one major supermarket chain and 2% is with another. In the car hire business, .5% of customers rent 25% of the cars. At Old Trafford, 33% of the revenue comes from 7% of the crowd. And, the top 6% of Cola drinkers in the UK drink 60% of the Cola sold. You get the idea.

Myth number five:

Although it’s accepted that placebos can enhance an athlete’s performance it’s not true that the IOC have banned the use of placebos in professional cycling. In the spirit of the day (April 1st, that is), the Seattle Area Cycling Blog reported this a couple of years ago and it’s still my favourite April Fool.

Wonder what the boys have got planned for me tomorrow?