Posts filed under ‘Despite Popular Belief’
By Erica Geiger
Almost everyone has heard of evolution and most of us have a vague idea of what it means. Animals with useful traits survive and pass on their genes. Over time, these positive traits become more common and a species evolves. Most of us aren’t scientists, though, and a number of evolution myths have popped up over time.
Myth #1: Evolution is “just” a theory
We usually think of theories as being possibilities, not facts. A “theory” in science, though, takes on a different meaning. I personally like this definition from the National Academy of Sciences:
“a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”
In other words, a scientific theory is an explanation that has been backed up by many studies and a substantial amount of evidence. We don’t call it a “fact” because science can always change as we learn new information. We’re all pretty sure the Earth rotates around the Sun yet that concept is called the heliocentric theory. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll find any evidence that goes against this “theory” but scientists still don’t call it a fact.
Myth #2: Humans evolved from monkeys
This is a common one and often used in an attempt to discredit evolutionary theories. It’s also not true; humans did not evolve from monkeys. We did share an ancestor with African apes (note that “apes” aren’t monkeys) about 8 million years ago but that doesn’t mean we evolved from them. Instead, there was a great ancestor that eventually gave rise to humans and apes. We’re most closely related to chimpanzees because of this ancestor but there were two distinct evolutionary paths.
When the human species began to evolve, the chimpanzee species was evolving separately. We’re related, we didn’t directly evolve from any modern primate species. We do share over 90% of our DNA with non-human primates, including gorillas and other great apes. On the other hand, humans also share 90% of their DNA with mice! That doesn’t mean humans evolved from mice, it’s just a result of most mammals sharing genes.
Myth #3: Survival of the fittest means the strongest will survive
Sometimes people will use the term “survival of the fittest” to excuse a behavior. I’ve unfortunately overheard someone say that we shouldn’t help those weaker than us because “it’s survival of the fittest!” The average person interprets this idea, originally thought up by Charles Darwin, as meaning that the very strongest will survive. The problem is that “fitness” has an entirely different meaning in biology. It doesn’t refer to strength, health, or physical fitness at all. Instead, biological “fitness” refers to the ability to pass on your genes, generally by having offspring.
In evolution, the end goal is to pass on your genes to the next generation. That doesn’t necessarily require being the strongest, however. In fact, animals that get into too many fights might become injured or killed. Even if they won most of those fights and were the strongest in their group, death means they won’t be passing on their genes. Those animals would therefore be considered to have low fitness. On the other hand, a somewhat weaker animal that stays out of danger might be able to successfully raise several offspring. That animal would be said to have high fitness. In primates, including humans, being a good parent will often raise fitness more than being strong. From an evolutionary standpoint, being able to lift heavy weights means nothing if you never settle down and raise children.
If you want to learn more about how evolution works, the University of California in Berkeley (among others) have put together great evolution resources: click here.
Photo: Wellcome Images UK
Multilevel Marketing (MLM) Organizations are not Pyramid Schemes. I’m not trying to defend MLM companies, because I think those are terrible businesses for most people, but I wish more people knew what a real pyramid scheme was because they’re so fascinating!
So try to forget everything you know about MLM and pyramid schemes, unless of course you already know that a pyramid scheme is very different from Multilevel Marketing.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with multilevel marketing companies, these are the companies where your success depends heavily on how many other people you can recruit into the company (because you get a bonus for selling them in and/or a cut of their sales). They also involve direct selling of products. Some of the largest and most recognizable MLMs are:
- Avon Cosmetics
- Amway (Household Goods)
- Mary Kay (Cosmetics)
- Herbalife (Vitamins/Supplements)
- Primerica (Financial/Investment Products)
- Tupperware (Home Storage)
- Pampered Chef (Kitchen Tools)
You probably recognize most of the companies listed above and they’re not small companies. Pampered Chef is the smallest one in that list and it’s a $500 million publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange! Avon is the largest at over $10 billion in revenue with more than 6 million sales people.
$10 billion in revenue and 6 million sales reps is impressive, but it also cuts at the heart of why I don’t like MLMs and why many people try to steer clear of them. If we do some quick math to understand those numbers, $10.3 billion in revenue leaves each of the 6.2 million sales reps and 42,000 employees with about $1650 each.
Of course, we can assume the 42,000 employees are being paid a reasonable salary or they’d probably go work somewhere else. So that leaves a sales rep with even less than $1650 as an average. We see the best sales reps driving around in pink Cadillacs, so we can also assume the best sales reps are making much more than $1650. In other words, some sales reps are doing very well and others don’t make enough to survive.
That’s not a problem per se, any sales rep is responsible for their own success of course. But a lot of people are sucked into these ventures with the promise of (potential) wealth. I’m not speaking about Avon specifically, but I have been invited to meetings for other MLMs and that was always the pitch. When the results don’t match the pitch, people start to feel like they’ve been scammed, especially when they’ve paid money to join or buy product inventory to get started selling. While they’re not exactly trying to scam people, they are giving a hard sell and I have been to pitch meetings where people were misled about typical results.
Multilevel marketing companies are legal, assuming they’re actually selling a real product (and the product is legal). Again, they might not be good business opportunities but they are technically legal. Like I said, they’re on the New York Stock Exchange! In fact, there are plenty of legal and lousy business opportunities out there, go to any franchise trade show and see some for yourself — MLMs do not have a monopoly on lousy (high failure rate) business opportunities.
On the other hand Pyramid Schemes are illegal. They are fly by night operations (sometimes literally since they may only operate at night). They are not traded on stock exchanges. In fact, these are some pretty big indicators that a business is not a pyramid scheme: it is legal and the company is on a stock exchange.
Because a lot of people dislike MLM organizations and think they’re a scam, they often refer to them as “Pyramid Schemes” either out of confusion or as an insult or exaggeration. There’s also that funny scene in The Office where Michael Scott draws the Organization Chart of an MLM and then Jim draws a pyramid shape around it to demonstrate that it’s a Pyramid Scheme:
It’s a really funny scene, but as we know: MLMs are not Pyramid Schemes.
So, let’s get to the really interesting part:
What is a Pyramid Scheme?
The key indication that you’re dealing with a Pyramid Scheme is that the people involved actually describe it as a pyramid scheme. They may have clever code names for the organization, but nobody is denying the fact that it’s a pyramid scheme because it’s important for everyone to understand how that works and it’s important for everyone to know it’s illegal so they can tread carefully. On the other hand, people in MLMs never refer to their organizations as Pyramid Schemes, because they probably don’t know what a real pyramid scheme is, and they do know they’re not in one because their business is actually legal — lousy perhaps, but still legal.
So let me get back to the beginning, if there’s no product involved then how does anyone make money? That’s the evil genius of some pyramid schemes: they just pass around money!
The Eightball Model
This type of Pyramid Scheme is called the eight ball model because there are exactly 8 people at the bottom of the pyramid. There are exactly 4 people above these 8 (one person for every two below). There are exactly 2 people above the 4 (again, one person for every two below). Then there is 1 person above the 2 (again, one person for every two below). If you haven’t figured it out, this structure makes something that resembles an actual pyramid shape:
This is another key difference between Pyramids and MLMs — Pyramids actually look like Pyramids. MLMs can have any number of people on each level and therefore the never actually look like pyramids.
So how does a Pyramid Scheme keep its pyramid shape when new people join? The person at the top of the pyramid gets kicked out (blue) and the pyramid divides in two new pyramids with the 2 people on the second level (red) now as the top person in each of their own pyramids.
Now there are two pyramids and the people in each pyramid will try to recruit people to join the bottom of their pyramid which will then force these 2 pyramids to become 4 pyramids (and so on). This is illegal because there are only so many people who can join the pyramid so eventually there will be many pyramids that are waiting for people to join and not enough people in existence to join them, thus everyone already “invested” in the pyramid will lose their money.
So again, MLMs are not Pyramid Schemes. But, to make things more complicated, some scams pretend to be MLMs. This further confuses people into thinking MLMs are scams and scams are Pyramid Schemes. One method of making a Pyramid Scheme sound like Multilevel Marketing is called a:
In a matrix scheme, victims typically pay a fee (or buy a fake or worthless product) to join a queue to receive a luxury item (iPad, Cellphone, etc). These businesses are sometimes made to seem like MLMs because the people are told they will receive their item quicker if they get their friends to sign up.
The person running the scheme waits until income equals double (or more) of the cost of the item and then they send out the first item to the first person on the list. When income doubles the cost of the item a second time, they send the item to the second person on the list. This is a ponzi scheme to some degree, but it also suffers from the same problem as the 8 Ball Pyramid Scheme: exponential growth is required to pay each new person who joins, which eventually becomes impossible to sustain.
At the end of the day, the Federal Trade Commision does have some specific criteria to tell the difference between MLMs and Pyramid Schemes. MLMs:
- Have a real product to sell
- Sell the product without requiring the customer to join the MLM
- Pay commission for real sales, not recruiting
Regardless of the differences, you should be wary of both Pyramid Schemes and MLMs since it’s quite possible that you’ll lose your money in both.
By Chad Upton | Editor-in-chief
I often come across the statement that Japan’s coastline is longer than Australia’s.
Although Australia has more than 20 times more land area than Japan, Japan actually has a longer coastline according to the World Factbook. The World Factbook, published by the CIA, lists Australia’s coastline at 25,760 km (16,007 miles) and Japan’s at 29,751 km (18,486 miles).
As you can see in the graphic above, Japan fits comfortably inside of Australia. So, how is it possible that it has a longer coastline? (more…)
By Chad Upton
I know, the sun doesn’t look green. But, keep in mind the sky looks blue and we know it’s not really blue. The sky appears blue for the same reason some people’s eyes look blue — an optical illusion known as the Tyndall effect.
When scientists measure the wavelength (color) of the sun, the peak output is in the transition area between blue and green (about 500 nanometers). So, technically, the sun is green-blue. But, why doesn’t it look green? (more…)
By Chad Upton | Editor
Before we could even go to space, the myth was the great wall is visible from the moon. Ever since we got to space, astronauts have been looking for it.
Mathematically, the wall would have to be at least 70 miles (110 km) wide to be seen from the moon with unaided eyes. Since the wall has a maximum width of 30 ft (9.1 m), this is easily dismissed as myth. The moon legend came from a 1754 letter by William Stukeley; his remarks on the massive size of the wall could have been literary hyperbole. But, some people took it literally.
In his defense, there have been a few claims that the great wall can be seen from low earth orbit — as little as 100 miles (160 km). A number of astronauts have claimed they have seen it. Even the European Space Agency claimed it was visible and published a picture. A week later they issued a press release indicating it was actually a river and not the Great Wall of China.
NASA claims it, “generally isn’t [visible], at least to the unaided eye.” Mathematically, it’s the same answer, unless you have 20/3 or better vision. But, according to the Journal of Optometry, “Not even the best of human eyes at a simple glance could see the Great Wall of China from Space.” That’s because the anatomy of the eye limits vision to an acuity no greater than 20/9. So, 20/3 is impossible.
The gaza pyramids on the other hand are about 22 times wider than the Great Wall of China; they are visible from low earth orbit.
Photo: Keith Roper (cc)
By Chad Upton | Editor
Winter hat, stocking cap, beanie or toque; whatever you call it, it keeps your head warm. But, it doesn’t necessarily keep you warm.
An old US Army survival manual suggested wearing a hat since “40 to 45 percent of body heat” is lost through your head. This recommendation is thought to have come from a military experiment over 60 years ago when participants were dressed from neck to toe in Arctic clothing, but no headwear. Over time, this has snowballed into “most” heat is lost through our heads. (more…)