Monday, March 31, 2014

Beware Half-Truths

P.T. Barnum once bought a load of white salmon and found them to be unsellable. Buyers were used to pink salmon. He sold the fish by canning the meat and printing, "Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can," on each can. The statement was 100% true, but completely irrelevant. Pinkness isn't a sign the fish has gone bad, it's merely a different species. Nevertheless, the implication was enough to depopularize pink salmon and create a demand for white salmon.

In November and December of1946, sponsor Kellogg's kicked off chapters of the Superman radio story, "The Secret Letter," by promoting their Kellogg's Pep Cereal with the inclusion of a comic themed pinback button in each box. They promised that characters such as Superman, Orphan Annie, and Moon Mullins would, "...look as real on the button as they did in the funny papers." The implication was that the characters would look "real." However, because it was worded with their appearance in the newspapers as the standard, the buttons only had to display the same simple art for the promise to be true.

Title: Salt | Date: 01/21/2011 | Photographer: Drtony999 | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Today, foods containing "sea salt" are being marketed to health oriented shoppers. First of all, mined salt is only underground because that ground was once under the sea. Thus it's all "sea salt." Labeling salt "sea salt" is like saying white salmon won't turn pink in the can. It's 100% true but completely irrelevant.

As for the idea that sea salt has some kind of benefit, salt marketed as "sea salt" is coarse, like Kosher salt, and isn't quite as processed as table salt. However, sea salt & table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight. If a buyer tastes a difference & buys it for taste that's valid, but buyers shouldn't think of it as more or less healthy than typical salt.

My point is, we’re surrounded by falsehoods nestled inside half truths and misconstrued  statements of fact.  Facts, when presented with a particular slant, CAN lie.

Always question statements such as:
  • Priced as low as - The term "as low as" means it's the very least  buyer will pay for something, most buyers will pay more.
  • Free - One can bet good money companies aren't shelling out good money for advertising in order to give away FREE goods & services.  Odds are, there will be a cost to the consumer somewhere along the line,
  • All Natural - The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t define it, although food makers won’t get in trouble as long as so-labeled food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances.”   That means there’s room for interpretation.  So a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or be injected with sodium.
  • Light - To be considered a "light" product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the fat content.
  • Nothing works better - This doesn't mean the product in question is the best, many such products may be equally effective.
There  are many other examples of misleading, if technically true, statements.  Bottom line, one should consider every possible angle before accepting anything as truthful.

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