We all love the cartoon character Popeye (and if memory serves me correctly, it was also a film string the late Robin Williams).

If you are unfamiliar with the character, the story-line will be familiar to you as it is the sort of story-line that most cartoons use.

It goes along the lines of hero (Pluto) gets bullied and tied up to be blown up / run over by a car / squashed by a falling piano / etc, etc by the baddie (Bruto or is it Brutus?!). Bruto usually ends up kidnapping Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl as well. It looks as if time is running out for Popeye but fear not, all is not lost. Popeye pops open a can of spinach, eats the lot and low and behold gets superhuman strength enabling him to stop himself being blown up / run over by a car / squashed by a falling piano / etc, etc, rescue Olive Oyl and inflict on Bruto the same thing he was trying to inflict on Popeye.

OK, I hear you thinking, am I reading the right blog, is this an A1 literature blog post.

But wait, here is the link with the nature of science! – Popeye’s claim that spinach is high rich in iron is not true due to a decimal point error. In 100g of spinach there is approximately 3.5 milligrams of iron and not 35 milligrams.

The mistake was made in 1870 by German chemist, Erich von Wolf but instead of rectifying the mistake, he let it be.

The impact of this was far reaching The Popeye cartoon boosted the consumption of spinach in the US by a third.

Medical research on this incident shows that humans tendency to ignore evidence and also believe something that sounds correct.

All of which links in nicely with Nature of Science statement 5.3, namely:

“As well as comprising knowledge of how scientists work and think scientific literacy involves being aware of faulty reasoning. There are many cognitive biases/fallacies of reasoning to which people are susceptible (including scientists) and these need to be corrected whenever possible. Examples of these …. include accumulation of anecdotes being regarded as evidence.”

How can this be used in class? Well, it is a great to use when a student makes a mistake in a test or in a lab report – why not get a few Popeye stickers and give these out to the students. It’s a bit of a gimmick but helps them to remember!

Do you have a good Nature of Science example to share? If so, we would love to read how you do it, so please feel free to share your ideas below.