March 5th, 2013

brutal!, bad bad bad bad

In which I reveal myself to be a harsh science fair judge

I spied this photo on Facebook earlier today:

A school project showing the amount of sugar in beverages
Photo via Occupy Wall St. on Facebook

And I have some problems with it that would force me to mark it down if I'd been judging it at a science fair.

  1. No analysis. I mean, it's a nice poster and all, but telling me the total sugar content of various beverages doesn't tell me anything but the total sugar content of those beverages. Should I avoid beverages with a lot of sugar because ingesting too much sugar is bad for you? Should I avoid any beverage that has any sugar? This display provides no useful information either way.
  2. Oversimplification to the point of obfuscation. Is the lactose in 8 ounces of milk chemically and nutritionally equivalent to 3 teaspoons of refined white table sugar? If not, that needs to be explained. I realize that the bags of sugar are metaphorical, of course, but scientists need to be up front about that sort of thing.
  3. Duplication of media. It's good to know Coke contains a lot of sugar — I think; see point no. 1 — but I don't need to be told that when the size of the container increases by 50%, the sugar content goes up by 50%.
  4. Unit mismatch. Liquid measurements are given in milliliters, except for the Super Big Gulp, which is given in fluid ounces. And the sugar content is given in teaspoons. At least they're all units of volume, but one should choose one system of measurement and stick with it. SI would be best, of course, but I can accept US customary units if you're consistent about it.
  5. False claim. An empty plastic cup contains no sugar, so if you're going to claim a Super Big Gulp contains 32 teaspoons of sugar, you need to say what was in it when you took the measurement. Also, it's worth noting that a 44-ounce cup would not typically contain 44 ounces of liquid; no one fills up a cup like that to the rim, and most people add ice. I will grant that whomever made this poster may have taken that into account, since the sugar measurement is lower than I would expect had it been filled with Coke.

Having said all that, maybe this wasn't a science fair project. It could be a visual display for an informative speech, and all the issues I just raised are moot. Or it could be part of a science fair project, and the complaints raised in nos. 1,2, and 5 are addressed on the next panel or on the table or something. I'm sticking by nos. 3 and 4 regardless, though.