Today in delancyplace comes a lesson on the spread and persistence of erroneous information. It's an excerpt from Samuel Arbesman's book "The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date" that features Popeye. Yes, the cartoon sailor man who kept getting into trouble, then downing a can of spinach to give him jolt of super strength:
"I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eat my spinach... I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!"
Popeye's spinach habit can be traced to an data recording error in 1870 by Erich von Wolf, a German chemist. Von Wolf measured the amount of iron in spinach, but, when transcribing his data he accidentally misplaced a decimal point, raising the iron content in spinach by an order of magnitude.