Science Fiction and Fact Blurred

The story that ‘a fifth of [British] adults incorrectly believe lightsabers exist’ has been doing the rounds for the last week. Which is a fairly shocking statistic, some of the others are equally shocking:

  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of people are wrong in their belief that humans can be teleported.
  • Nearly 50% of adults wrongly believe that memory-erasing technology exists.
  • More than 40% of people incorrectly believe that hover boards exist.
  • Nearly one fifth (18%) of adults have the incorrect view that they can see gravity.

Those are fair enough, but the original article, published by Birmingham Science City has a few others I’d argue are misleading:

“For example, over three quarters (78%) of Britons believe that invisibility cloaks exist only in the realms of fiction, and yet a team at the University of Birmingham, led by Prof Shuang Zhang, has developed a method for making objects appear invisible.”

Well, not strictly true. Prof Zhang’s work is to use a crystal, that can only ‘hide’ things up to a few centimetres, not exactly a cloak, so score one the punters, invisibility cloaks don’t exist.

“Almost 90% of people think it would be impossible to grow an extra pair of eyes, even though scientists, led by Professors Nick Dale and Elizabeth Jones, at the University of Warwick have found this is possible in frogs. The team believes they will be able to use the technology to explore eye development in humans and grow an ‘eye in a dish’.”

Again, last time I checked, humans were not frogs, so it is impossible for humans to grow an extra pair of eyes, score two the punters. Question should have been re-worded to say: ‘is it possible to grow an extra pair of human eyes?’ Then the answer might have been yes, but currently that is still a no.

“Seven out of ten adults questioned thought it was impossible to move objects with their mind, yet researchers at Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute have collaborated with California-based company, NeuroSky, to develop a headset which can read analogue electrical brainwaves and turn them into digital signals. This allows the user to manipulate images on a screen and power user-interfaces in games, education and medical applications using only their minds.”

Again, incorrectly worded. They said can humans move objects with their mind. No they can’t, telekinesis is impossible, score three the punters. If they had asked whether it was possible to control devices using your mind and get them to move objects, then yes, that would have been true.

So you have to wonder how the other questions were worded and therefore how bad, actually, the punters did.

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