Stories you can use to start conversation or to add interest to speeches or presentations

Resources for Speakers - Anecdotes About Urban Myths and Urban Legends

Conversation Starter

[A great way to spark a conversation: you can always get a reaction from "Is that true?" from the gullible/uninformed through to to the sceptics who will be glad to tell you it's all made up]

Debunk Urban Myths

you can get a full debunk of urban myths at

Debunk Urban Myths

An axiom commonly dubbed "Hitchens' Razor" maintained "that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

The Mexican Pet

Jan Brunvald has assembled a collection of entertaining books on the subject, including The Vanishing Hitchhiker (the ghost of a young person who disappeared exactly 1 year ago) The Mexican Pet (which turned out to be a big rat, not an exotic species of dog) and The Choking Doberman (dog's owners come home to find guard dog has tried to swallow various bits of a burglar who is found nearby, bleeding)

Balloon Man

Guy named Larry Walters who supposedly tied a whole lot of helium balloons to a deckchair and sailed off into the sky, carrying a BB gun to pop the balloons as a landing strategy (recent story of a Brazilian priest who did much same thing and was last seen disappearing out into the Atlantic at a great height)


How Vaccines Cause Autism


If you get your ears tattooed with a Pepsi logo "they" have to give you free drinks for life

Airplane Toilet

A fat woman got stuck to an airline toilet after she accidentally flushed it while still sitting there and got her cheeks sucked immovably by the vacuum (this was disproved on Mythbusters TV program who showed that even if you sat down without using the seat you still couldn't get a good enough seal )

Train Windscreen

Train engineers test cabin windows of high speed train by firing supermarket chicken at it to test safety in event of bird strikes "Do you think we should have thawed it out first?"


Scientologists own one of the search engines on the web and use it to track everything you do so they can ID enemies and potential converts

The Rapture

Airlines make sure that 2 Christian pilots aren't paired in case The Rapture happens and there won't be anyone there to land the plane. Snopes has it here together with an explanation of how the Rapture is result of a recent translation of the Bible.

Alligators of New York

There are large alligators infesting NY sewers as a result of people flushing their pets down toilet when grew too big to keep in apartment

Flat Earth Believers

A flat Earth defies not only the laws of physics, but the law of the land. He alerts us to a legal precedent: “Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, proved in an English court that the world was round.” The case followed a bet in 1870 between Wallace and Flat Earther John Hampden as to the shape of the planet. Their test centred on observations made along the Bedford drainage canal, a 6-mile length of supposedly flat water. After correcting for refraction, Wallace’s measurements showed the world was still curved, but Hampden refused to accept the result and the case dragged on through the courts for over a decade. Eventually, Hampden was jailed for death threats and libel. Wallace regretted ever taking on the bet, writing that such people “can never be convinced”.

Wash Your Chicken

NPR posted an interesting piece recently regarding the washing of poultry in the kitchen. It turns out I have been doing things wrong in the kitchen – as well as some of the chefs on various cooking shows. The inside of a chicken or turkey should not be washed before cooking. It is OK to pat dry with paper towels. Washing only spreads germs throughout your kitchen while leaving plenty inside to still get you sick if not cooked to the proper temperature.

What was also interesting is the backlash the piece brought about on social media. Although a food safety scientist showed evidence of the germs being spread, no one wanted to doubt the wisdom of Julia Child. This is a classic case of Appeal to Authority. I often talk about this in my blog posts. A person’s credentials should absolutely be a factor in trusting what they are communicating. But no matter the expertise of a person, when presented with good evidence which goes against that person, it is important to trust the evidence. Just because Julia Child said to cook something a certain way doesn’t mean it is the best way. Such is the case of washing a chicken.

Cell Phones

A study called Cell Phones, Risks and Rumours debunked some urban myths that surrounded mobile phones. The research by Adam Burgess, of the University of Kent, found that a lit cigarette, let alone the low voltage of a mobile phone, would not ignite petrol at a filling station. The study found that a ban at petrol stations was not based on any scientific research, but a relatively instinctive precautionary response from those charged with responsibility for safety. Yet petrol stations still display warnings about mobiles, which nervous petrol station attendants are quick to make users aware of

Sneakers on the Powerlines

Snopes has it here, but meanwhile, in Canada ....

Historical UL's

King Canute has had a raw deal from history. He took his throne down to the beach in order to show his servile courtiers that not even a king could control the waves (that was in God's power alone). But, ironically, he is now most often remembered as the silly old duffer who got soaked on the seashore because he thought he could master the tides. When, for example, Ryan Giggs tried last year to use a super-injunction to stop the swell of news about his private life, he was hailed as 'the King Canute of football'.

Tthe Emperor Caligula offers another case of the Canute problem. He has generally gone down in history as a mad megalomaniac: so mad that he gave his favourite horse a palace, lavish purple clothing, a retinue of servants, and even had plans to appoint it to the consulship, the highest political office below the emperor himself. In fact (so Winterling argues) his extravagant treatment of the animal was a pointed joke. Caligula was satirising the aims and ambitions of the Roman aristocracy: in their pursuit of luxury and empty honours, they appeared no less silly than the horse.

Sugar and Kids

While sugarplums may dance in children's heads, visions of holiday sweets terrorise parents with anticipation of hyperactive behaviour. Regardless of what parents might believe, however, sugar is not to blame for out of control little ones. At least 12 double blind randomised controlled trials have examined how children react to diets containing different levels of sugar. None of these studies, not even studies looking specifically at children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, could detect any differences in behaviour between the children who had sugar and those who did not. This includes sugar from sweets, chocolate, and natural sources. Even in studies of those who were considered "sensitive" to sugar, children did not behave differently after eating sugar full or sugar-free diets. Scientists have even studied how parents react to the sugar myth. When parents think their children have been given a drink containing sugar (even if it is really sugar-free), they rate their children's behaviour as more hyperactive. The differences in the children's behaviour were all in the parents' minds.

Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds

There was no widespread outbreak of panic across the United States in response to Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Only a very small share of the radio audience was even listening to it, and isolated reports of scattered incidents and increased call volume to emergency services were played up the next day by newspapers, eager to discredit radio as a competitor for advertising. Both Welles and CBS, which had initially reacted apologetically, later came to realize that the myth benefited them and actively embraced it in their later years.

Hats and Brain Temp

As temperatures drop, hats and caps flourish. Even the US Army Field manual for survival recommends covering your head in cold weather because "40 to 45 percent of body heat" is lost through the head.19 If this were true, humans would be just as cold if they went without trousers as if they went without a hat. But patently this is just not the case.This myth probably originated with an old military study in which scientists put subjects in arctic survival suits (but no hats) and measured their heat loss in extremely cold temperatures.20 Because it was the only part of the subjects' bodies that was exposed to the cold, they lost the most heat through their heads. Experts say, however, that had this experiment been performed with subjects wearing only swimsuits, they would not have lost more than 10% of their body heat through their heads. A more recent study confirms that there is nothing special about the head and heat loss. Any uncovered part of the body loses heat and will reduce the core body temperature proportionally. So, if it is cold outside, you should protect your body. But whether you want to keep your head covered or not is up to you

Water, Sugar, MSG

Eight glasses or two to three liters of water a day are not needed to maintain health.[292] The amount of water needed varies by person (weight), activity level, clothing, and environment (heat and humidity). Water actually need not be drunk in pure form, but can be derived from liquids such as juices, tea, milk, soups, etc., and from foods including fruits and vegetables. Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children. Double-blind trials have shown no difference in behavior between children given sugar-full or sugar-free diets, even in studies specifically looking at children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or those considered sensitive to sugar. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has a widespread reputation for triggering migraine headache exacerbations and other symptoms of so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome, but there are no consistent data to support this relationship. Although there have been reports of an MSG-sensitive subset of the population, this has not been demonstrated in placebo-controlled trials.

Killer Coins

A penny dropped from the Empire State Building will not kill a person or crack the sidewalk.[386] The terminal velocity of a falling penny is about 30–50 miles per hour (48–80 km/h), and the penny will not exceed that speed regardless of the height from which it is dropped. At that speed, its energy is not enough to penetrate a human skull or crack concrete, as demonstrated on an episode of MythBusters. As MythBusters noted, the Empire State Building is a particularly poor setting for this misconception, since its tapered shape would make it impossible to drop anything directly from the top to street level.

Poisonous Flowers

With flowers and leaves of red, green, and white, poinsettias are widely used in holiday decorations. Even though public health officials have reported that poinsettias are safe, many continue to believe this is a poisonous plant.In an analysis of 849 575 plant exposures reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, none of the 22 793 cases involving poinsettia resulted in considerable poisoning. No one died from exposure to or ingestion of poinsettia, and most (96%) did not even require medical treatment. In 92 of the cases, children ingested substantial quantities of poinsettias, but none needed medical treatment, and toxicologists concluded that poinsettia exposures and ingestions can be treated without referral to a healthcare facility. Another study, looking at poinsettia ingestion by rats, could not find a toxic amount of poinsettia, even at amounts that would be the equivalent of 500-600 poinsettia leaves or nearly a kilogram of sap.


Book Extracts on Urban Legends