Value Pack

I saw this in my local supermarket the other day

In my local supermarket the other day, I saw these Milo bars. A ten-piece value pack; and what great value it is at only $2.77/100g (or $0.749 each).

Nestle Milo Bar, 10 pack. Price is $7.49.


But then I looked a little to my left, and saw this:

Nestle Milo Bar, 6 pack. Price is $4

It is exactly the same thing, except this packet has only six bars in it. But wait, at only $4.00 for the box, that works out to $2.50/100g (or $0.667 each). Surely this latter item is the true value pack!

Moral of the story: don’t trust the marketing!

Hoax debunked: If you’re trying to quit smoking, go to a sauna 3 days in a row.

I’ve seen this picture doing the rounds on Facebook lately, and I couldn’t find someone who had debunked it:

A picture of a sauna with the text: If you're trying to quit smoking, go to a sauna 3 days in a row. You'll sweat out the nicotine and it'll be easier to quit.

I’m not a chemist, physicist, or physician; so take this with as many grains of salt as you see fit. The way I see it, there are 3 major things wrong with this assertion:

1) Nicotine is metabolised by the liver, whether you sweat more isn’t going to make your liver work faster (it will actually work slower if you are dehydrated).

2) The elimination half-life of nicotine is about 2 hours, so 3 days after a cigarette the nicotine would be long gone, sauna or no. For example, if you had 10 cigarettes worth of nicotine in you when you stopped, by the time 72 hours had passed you would have 0.0000000003 of a cigarette’s worth of nicotine.

3) Addiction to nicotine is what makes you want to smoke. If this method did somehow magically remove nicotine faster then the desire for nicotine would come back sooner; pretty much the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve!

So sauna away, if that’s your desire; just don’t expect it to help you quit smoking.

Nuclear fearmongering

Oh dear, the Tokyo olympics are in danger due to the extreme radiation that is going to envelope the entire Northern hemisphere and destroy the earth!!!!

I hate all the fearmongering that came out of the Fukushima incident. The linked article is a classic example of that. What happened at Fukushima was bad, but it wasn’t earth-shattering. The problem is that we will never know how bad because the anti-nuclear people spread so much misinformation (maybe the pro-nuclear people do too, but they seem to be a lot less vocal about it). And of course you should take anything said by anyone with a vested interest in nuclear power with a grain of salt.

I picked one nugget of information in that article and researched it, as a kind of litmus test for accuracy.

It failed.

The article says:

“The US has allowed food measuring up to 1,200 Becquerels per kilo to be sold in the US from Japan, while the Japanese allowable concentration for food is only 100 Becquerels per kilo. What does the US government think it is doing purposely exposing people to radioactive food?”

What a load of needlessly scary crap.

The becquerel is a unit which simply describes how many atoms decay every second. One becquerel = 1 atom decayed in one second. It is a tiny, tiny figure, and 1200 atomic decays per second across 1kg of produce is not much at all. For reference, in 1kg of water, there are more than 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms. The number for 1kg of food will be slightly smaller because food has heavier elements, but it is a good reference point.

The becquerel doesn’t even tell you what type of nuclear decay it is. Is it emitting gamma radiation? Alpha particles? Beta particles? They all have different effects on the body, and the number of becquerels alone doesn’t tell you anything about what the radioactivity will do to you. The measure you want to pay attention to is sieverts. Sieverts show how much damage the radiation does to a body. I refer you to XKCD for the best visualisation of the impact of sieverts.

Here’s a last nugget of info: did you know that the natural potassium in your body produces more than 4000 becquerels (260,000 atoms per minute ≈ 4300 becquerels)? That’s right, you are producing more than 3 times the legal per kilogram food limit in your own body, and that’s just from the potassium. There is also carbon, and hydrogen, and any other natural radioactive isotopes that you have in your body.

I’m not specifically pro-nuclear, but I think it should be considered in a measured way against all alternatives. It won’t always be the best option, but sometimes it will, and we need to make the decision based on actual facts and known risks rather than some emotive fear of the unknown.

How Foreign is Foreign Aid? How misleading is a misleading graphic?

I have noticed this little picture doing the rounds of Facebook lately:

Infographic by The Australia Institute depicting Australia spending 1/3 of its foreign aid budget on itself

Source: The Australia Institute

It says that Australia is the 3rd biggest recipient of its own foreign aid. Whilst this may be technically accurate (though it isn’t, see below), it is incredibly misleading. In the interest of perspective, here is the media release in which the $375.1 million was announced.

According to the media release, the money is used to support asylum seekers in Australia before they have been processed.

There are two quotes from that release worth noting:

  1. Australia’s aid expenditure for the financial year 2012/13 will be a record $5.2 billion“. Whilst the asylum seekers in Australia awaiting processing may be the third largest recipient of money (though they are not), it still only totals about 7% of the total funds.
  2. It is legitimate aid delivered in accordance with OECD guidelines and is consistent with the practice of other OECD countries including the United States ($895 million in 2010); France ($435 million in 2010); Sweden ($397 million in 2010); Netherlands ($339 million in 2010); Norway ($335 million in 2010); and Canada ($284 million in 2010).

Oh, and the infographic also forgot to mention $1.4 billion going to a “global program”, which is aid not tied to any specific country.For reference, here is the distribution of foreign aid, according to the source (AusAID) for the 2012-13 budget:

Australian Foreign Aid Distribution from 2012-13 budget

Source: Ausaid

It is also worth noting that of the 46 OECD nations listed as donors, Australia ranks 9th by amount donated:

Spreadsheet screenshot showing Australia ranking 13th by aid donation based on dollars

And 13th on aid as a percentage of GNI:

Spreadsheet screenshot showing Australia ranking 13th by aid donation based on GNI

Source: OECD Aid statistics by donor and sector – interactive charts

This last point matters, because it is very hard for people to easily assess a single figure in isolation – we work best having something to compare to. If the info-graphic had mentioned that Australia was in the top 10 OECD donors, or in the top 1/3 by percentage GNI, it would have a very different impact (hence the reason these particular facts were omitted…)

This blog entry is not a comment on whether Australia should increase or decrease its foreign aid spending; it is merely an example of how information can be presented in a biased or misleading way to influence people.