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Iron Stories

The Spinach Popeye Iron Decimal Error Story (SPIDES): Why you should always check your references

Mike Sutton


To inform knowledge in research methods and dissemination ethics for the natural and social sciences, this article reinforces the importance of citation to support all assertions of fact. New findings are presented for the history of biochemistry, nutrition, psychology, medicine, and the social sciences. Bio-chemistry papers and scientific news reports from the 1930’s seriously undermine a long standing truism that in the 1920s and 30s, bio-chemists, nutrition experts, public health policy makers, and E. Segar the creator of the newspaper comic strip Popeye were misled either by a decimal place error in 19th Century published research, or else by erroneous interpretation of 19th Century scientific findings, to exaggerate the iron content of spinach tenfold. Further, the failure to study original sources is evidenced in a multitude of completely erroneous publications claiming that these apocryphal errors caused Segar to choose spinach for Popeye’s super human strength. In fact, Segar chose and promoted spinach for its vitamin A content alone.

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posted: June 30, 2018