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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the originator of the Market Reduction Approach to theft. He is the General Editor of the Internet Journal of Criminology He is an alumnus (BA hons. Law and PhD) of the University of Central Lancashire. All ideas and opinions are completely his own. Personal Website Dysology.org
 

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Did Popeye Really Increase Spinach Consumption and Production by 33 percent in 1936?

Apr. 24, 2011 6:24 pm

How can we be sure that we are seeing real patterns in data and not merely seizing upon that which meets our biased prior expectations?

Can We Crack the Popeye Statistical Challenge?

There is a widely accepted story that spinach growers in Crystal City Texas erected a statue of Popeye in 1937 in recognition of the comic character’s creator E. Segar increasing spinach consumption in the USA by 33 per cent at a time when farmers were hard pressed. The statue still stands in Crystal City but can the story stand up to statistical analysis?

It has long been noted that humans see patterns in data and attribute them to causes. Hence people see a man in the moon, or Kate Middleton's face on a jelly bean, and concoct conspiracies from random data.

It is hypothesised that we are pattern seeking animals and that this pattern seeking was essential for human progress and survival (Shermer, 2007 p. xxiv). Seeing patterns in random data is compounded by the fact that people have a tendency to try to prove their current hypothesis is correct by picking out only examples that confirm it, while ignoring all that do not (Sutherland, 2007. p. 99). Availability error (Sutherland 2007) may lead us to focus upon only spinach production data for 1936 – the year when Popeye was a box office smash in the cinema. Then there is the problem of Mertonian self-fulfilling prophecies, which have a general tendency to convert little effects into big effects (Gilovich 1991. p.6) which means we need to consider also whether spinach farmers might have planted and harvested more spinach in anticipation of increased spinach demand driven by Popeye.

To gather data with an aim to check out the Crystal City Popeye statue story, in 2010 I wrote to every single United States Department of Agriculture station in the USA asking for any historical data they had for annual spinach production.

The data are presented below in Table 1. As my simple annual per cent change analysis reveals, it turns out that Texas did indeed have a 33 per cent increase in production (not consumption) in 1936.

Was Popeye’s spinach eating the cause of that increase? Only the right statistical analysis can tell.

Can we tell from examining all the historical data whether this is likely?

Set out below is the data I collected form the USDA and briefly analysed by way of simple percentage change analysis.

What statistical method is best suited for helping us decide whether this data is random or whether there is a pattern related to Popeye? Knowledge in this area might help to inform what we currently know about effective media use in bringing about nutritional attitude change.

I will of course publish an attribute to whoever helps to crack the Popeye Challenge and will include it in a book I am writing on Dysology.

Additional possibly relevant information:

· 1930 - 36 the dustbowl years focused on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The Winter Garden area where spinach was grown would have been relatively safe.1930 Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

· 1930 something unusual happened in 1930 to significantly reduce spinach production in Texas - but it continued to rise in other states.

· 1931 Popeye strip cartoon reveals for the first time that spinach is the secret of Popeye’s super powers.

. 1932 (December) Popeye delivers a political message in comic strip "If ya don't give the farmers relief, I'll knock ya all out from in between yer ears and lay ya among the swee' peataters like nobody's business!

· 1936 FDR’s New Deal introduced. Soil Conservation Act encourages farming other then wheat, rice, cattle in favour of non soil eroding crops. This may have had some impact. USA also introduced Agricultural Adjustment Act to control supply of 7 basic crops (not including spinach) - may have led to more supply of spinach as farmers encouraged togrow more diverse crops.

· 1936 - First two reel colour movie Popeye the Sailor V Sinbad the Sailor. Either posted alongside or above as the main feature at cinemas.

· 1936 Last year of the dustbowl that began in 1930

· 1936 Largest spinach crop for all states.

· In Texas for the 5 YEARS BEFORE Popeye even ate spinach (which was first published in a newspaper strip in 1931) (1926-1930), production increased 135 % on the previous 5 year mean (1921 -1925) acreage. Average acres production increased 51 % over the next 5 years.

Table 1

THE POPEYE EFFECT ON USA SPINACH PRODUCTION

50 years of acreage of Spinach Harvested 1928 - 1978 by Dr Mike Sutton (2010)

Year

Texas

California

Washington.

Colorado

Total

Texas p.a. % change

1928

25600

1,000

620

300

29448

1929

28650

1,400

750

400

31200

12

1930

25060

1,550

709

450

27769

-12

1931

27850

1,700

990

500

31040

11

1932

30800

1,830

920

700

34250

11

1933

44000

1,690

850

770

47310

43

1934

35500

2,220

850

730

39300

-19

1935

36000

2,300

720

840

39860

1

1936

48000

2,170

830

1260

52260

33

1937

46000

2,400

1120

1320

50840

-4

1938

40000

2,800

1290

1450

45540

-13

1939

35400

3,000

1130

1200

40730

-12

1940

34400

3,200

1210

1500

40310

-3

1941

35400

3,000

1210

1700

41310

3

1942

41000

3,000

1150

2000

47150

16

1943

38500

3,800

1500

2800

46600

-6

1944

38600

3,400

1700

3000

46700

> 1

1945

36000

2,800

1650

3200

43650

-7

1946

38000

3,000

1850

2300

45150

6

1947

34400

3,100

1530

1900

40930

-9

1948

27,000

3,100

1720

1700

33,520

-22

1949

28000

3,000

600

1500

33100

4

1950

22000

2,800

350

1500

26650

-21

1951

14500

2,800

350

1200

18850

-34

1952

15500

2,500

350

700

19050

7

1953

11000

2,500

330

800

14630

-29

1954

11500

2,000

290

700

14490

4

1955

10000

1,900

290

900

13090

-13

1956

10500

1,900

290

1100

13790

5

1957

9300

1,800

no data

1300

12400

-11

1958

9800

1,800

no data

1600

13200

5

1959

9300

1,800

no data

1800

12900

-5

1960

8500

1,600

no data

1900

12000

-9

1961

7600

1,400

no data

1900

10900

-11

1962

6900

1,500

no data

2100

10500

-9

1963

5800

1,600

no data

1700

9100

-16

1964

6800

1,700

no data

1500

10000

17

1965

6900

1,700

no data

1100

9700

1

1966

6500

1,600

no data

1300

9400

-6

1967

6000

1,600

no data

1200

8800

-8

1968

4500

1,400

no data

1100

7000

-25

1969

6000

1,360

no data

1100

8460

33

1970

5800

1,450

no data

750

8000

-3

1971

6200

1,520

no data

910

8630

7

1972

5100

1,650

no data

900

7650

-18

1973

5600

1,700

no data

1100

8400

10

1974

4500

1,900

no data

1000

7400

-20

1975

4100

1,900

no data

650

6650

-9

1976

3300

2,150

no data

860

6310

-19

1977

3400

2,800

no data

 
Daniel Williams
January 4, 2012 at 10:41 pm
Applying Granger causality to the Popeye Challenge

Hi Mike, I experimented with Granger causality for the "Popeye Challenge":

http://badassdatascience.com/2012/01/03/spinach-superpowers-and-granger-causality/

Hope you like it!

Thinker's Post
Mike Sutton
January 7, 2012 at 6:08 am

Dear Daniel

Very many thanks indeed.

I'm not statistical expert (obviously), but I think your analysis at least shows that the apparent pattern is not random fluctuation (something caused it). Am I right in interpreting your results this way? Or is there some knowable and measurable probability that it could still be random?

Mike

seema
July 4, 2011 at 3:11 am
GAMECLOUD Technologies - Game Testing, Game Development, Customer care services, Spoof Animations, Pune, India
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