Can spinach make you strong like Popeye? Blogging about mistakes

Because my childhood hero was Popeye the sailor man, I grew up with an absolute belief that spinach was the most powerful vegetable. I love spinach. Whenever I force my son to eat spinach, I’d go, “Spinach is VERY good for you. It’s rich in iron.” And I couldn’t even stop myself singing the theme song to him: “I’m Popeye the sailor man. I’m Popeye the sailor man. I’m strong to the “finich” ’cause I eat me spinach. I’m Popeye the sailor man.”

Popeye with Google, image by pipot83 via Flickr

Popeye with Google, image by pipot83 via Flickr

Just two weeks ago, however, my whole world collapsed as I found out the truth about spinach.

Maria Popova (by the way, her nickname is Popeye), in her brain child, Brain Pickings, revealed the Popeye error in this wonderful post: What the Popeye mythology teaches us about how error spreads. The whole spinach sage was actually sprouted from a single incorrect data input.

Maria Popova recommended this book, The Half Life Facts by Samuel Arbesman. Arbesman reported that in 1870, when a German chemist, Erich von Wolf, recorded his findings of the amount of iron within spinach and other green vegetables, von Wolf accidentally misplaced a decimal point when transcribing data about spinach.

“While there are actually only 3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100-gram serving of spinach, the accepted fact became 35 milligrams. To put this in perspective, if the calculation were correct each 100-gram serving would be like eating a small piece of a paper clip.”

Samuel Arbesman, in The Half Life Facts

Though the error about the nutritional value of spinach was corrected 67 years later in 1937, the misconception becomes far-reaching. The belief of the “spinach power” has etched on people’s mind. Popeye later became the hero who helped the American nation increase the spinach consumption by a third.

Through Lorelle’s blog exercise, Blog Your Mistakes, I’ve thought of a few famous mistakes and how these mistakes may have shaped our views.

Can eating carrot make you see in the dark?

The spinach mistake was non-intentional, caused possibly by an exhausted chemist. The positive outcome of this mistake was a charming sailor and my happy childhood memory. What about the belief in carrot? Can eating carrot make you see in the dark?

Can eating carrot make you see better at night? Image by Jocki84 via Flickr

Can eating carrot make you see better at night? Image by Jocki84 via Flickr

I used to believe that eating carrot can improve vision. Now, I also know this carrot myth is just a misconception arising from the Second World War.

The British airforce convinced the public that a specific diet with carrot made the RAF pilots see better at night, and shoot down the Nazi bombers.

The mis-information was meant to mask RAF’s success using Airborne Interception Radar. Now, more than 70 years later, many parents still tell their children that “carrot makes you see in the dark.”

The intentional mis-information about carrot by the RAF has been corrected, yet many people still hold this belief. Consequently the mis-information has now become a scientific mistake, which continues to be passed on.

Is “no kissing” CPR a mistake?

In advertising, a CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) video by the British Heart Foundation last year caused a huge debate about the right and wrong way of saving lives.

British Heart Foundation’s successful advert advised a “no kissing” CPR. However, some people complained to the UK Advertising Standards Authority that the advert was misleading and the mistake the advert displayed could actually cost life. Later, this CPR advert was cleared by the complaints watchdog.

In the advert, the actor Vinnie Jones says: “First off you call 999. I know. Then no kissing. You only kiss your missus on the lips. You push hard and fast here on the sovereign to Staying Alive.”

I’ve recently completed a first-aid training course and learnt how to perform CPR on adults: 30 compressions + 2 rescue breaths. Our trainer confirmed that the new standard CPR for an adult with a cardiac arrest is 30 compressions and 2 rescue breaths.

On my course, we were taught mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and a machine was used to measure our accuracy — Did we cover the whole mouth? Did we release the air gently enough? Yet, the British Heart Foundation stood by its “no kissing” advert, as it aimed to increase bystander intervention only, not to offer a full emergency training.

How do you like the above mistakes, or perceived mistakes? I fancy the innocent Popeye mistake, as Popeye is a reminder of some happy childhood days. What do you think of the imaginative carrot mistake? The CPR video — is the information a total mistake, or would half-true constitute a mistake? Do you think the video helps save lives? Would it harm lives?

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

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31 thoughts on “Can spinach make you strong like Popeye? Blogging about mistakes

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      I had high expectations on spinach before, and I even didn’t mind if spinach was a bit pricey. I had thought of its amazing nutritious value……but now I know the truth. We used to grow a bit of vegetables in the garden, but it’s hard work dealing with worms.

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    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Your Blog Exercises are the best on the planet, and they’ve nourished me with lots of food (carrot and spinach) for thought. Thank you for the challenges.

  6. Ruby

    What Vinnie Jones told us in his advert was quite correct. Non-ventilation resuscitation has been around for several years – it’s been an option to use if for some reason we can’t do mouth-to-mouth (e.g. patient’s mouth covered in vomit or blood or some other substance we don’t want to get near our lips.

    The ‘gold standard’ (i.e. the best care we can do for our patient) is still to do full CPR – chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth. That is what first aiders are trained in. HOWEVER, if people do not know first aid, it is better to do chest compressions only than nothing. That is the audience the Vinnie Jones advert was aimed at. It is better to do one thing well than two things badly. For some time that has been the advice give by the ambulance service when someone phones 999 to report a cardiac arrest.

    In tests in Seattle when non-first aiders called an ambulance for a cardiac arrest they gave 50% instructions to do full CPR and 50% instructions to do chest compressions only. There was no statistical significant difference in the outcomes.

    So the bottom line is: If you know how to do full CPR, crack on and do it. If you don’t, follow Vinnie. In either case, make sure you call an ambulance (anyone seriously ill with chest pains/cardiac arrest needs an ambulance brought to them). And have a go – you can’t make them worse.

      1. Ruby

        No – I’m saying they are both right, depending on the circumstances. If you know how to do full CPR, do full CPR. if you don’t, do chest compressions only. In the first four minutes there is little difference between the two. After four minutes – well, who knows? But if you don’t do anything, the casualty definitely won’t survive.

      2. Janet Williams Post author

        Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing — but in this case, it sounds like we’re using a little knowledge or skill that we have to try to save life.

        The best thing would be to attend a proper training course, and keep refreshing our skills. Most people forget what they’ve learnt after a few weeks.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      No. I don’t. I don’t even know this actor. Any more information?

      I’m wondering why British Heart Foundation would use ‘gangsters’ to promote CPR? Who’s their target audience?

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