Sunday, 10 December 2017

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

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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.
 
Posted in Science / Social Sciences / Psychology

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":
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

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