In my last post, I wrote about some advice my college physics professor gave during a guest lecture in a humanities class: “No matter what field you plan to go into, learn math. Math is how you know when you’re being lied to.” I listed some examples of how researchers use math to bamboozle. Understand the math, and you are de-bamboozled.
But that’s assuming you want to be de-bamboozled. Some people – I call them “boozlers” – refuse to abandon their cherished beliefs, no matter how clear you make the math. I came to this conclusion some time ago, after I uploaded the “Spurlockian Bologna” clip to our YouTube site.
You can watch the clip in the About the Film section of this blog, but in brief, it demonstrates that Morgan Spurlock couldn’t possibly have followed the rules he laid out at the beginning of Super Size Me. The numbers just don’t add up. We’re talking about simple math here, so I didn’t expect this clip to generate much of a debate.
How wrong I was.
As it turns out, Spurlock has legions of fans who are boozlers. Whether it’s because they loved Super Size Me, they hate McDonald’s, or they have a big, gooey crush on Spurlock, they simply will not believe he cheated, no matter how clearly or logically you explain it to them.
After wasting a lot of time in fruitless online debates, I realized boozlers don’t think like the rest of us. Most people (I hope) think like this: If it’s a fact, I believe it. If it’s not a fact, I don’t believe it. In other words, we find math and logic convincing.
But a boozler thinks like this: If I believe it, it’s a fact. If I don’t believe it, it’s not a fact. Logic has no effect on them.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I actually discovered that the more logical I was, the nuttier they became. They produced rationalizations that were so convoluted, merely reading them put me in serious danger of pounding my head on my desk. (And if I remember correctly, one of the boozlers offered that exact suggestion.)
I now refer to a “I refuse to believe it” rationalization as “a boozle.” Just for fun, I’m going to share some of the boozles I received after the Spurlockian Bologna clip went online. But first, let’s recap the facts and the math.
Spurlock laid out these rules for his McDiet:
- I must eat three square meals per day.
- I must eat everything on the menu at least once.
- I can only super-size a meal if they ask me.
He was asked to super-size nine times. Since 3 meals/day * 30 days = 90 meals, that means he could only super-size 1 meal in every 10, or about twice per week. So the majority of his meals would’ve been limited to large combinations. Put together a day’s worth of large combinations at McDonald’s, and you get maybe 3,500 calories. And yet, Spurlock’s nutritionist told him at two different points in the film that he was consuming more than 5,000 calories per day.
In other words, at some point he realized his rules wouldn’t allow for a Sundance-worthy weight gain, so he ignored them. And yet all I ever heard about Super Size Me (before I finally saw it) was that it demonstrated what would happen if you just ate just three meals per day at McDonald’s.
Let’s look at some of the boozles. I’m quoting where possible, but some of the language was a bit colorful, so I’ve substituted symbols.
Boozle: The nutritionist could have had the wrong info on how many calories the foods in his log contained. It’s simple.
Logic: Ah, I see. He didn’t really consume 5,000 calories per day. His nutritionist, whose job is all about counting, couldn’t do simple addition. And since she repeated this miscalculation twice in the film, it must’ve sparked an interesting conversation during post-production:
“Hey, Morgan, she keeps chiding you for consuming more than 5,000 calories, but you really only consumed about 3,000. Should we do a little voice-over or a subtitle so people know she’s got the math all wrong?”
“Goodness, no. I’m too nice of a guy to embarrass her like that. I don’t think it matters if people think I ate twice as much as I actually did.”
And if she did get the math wrong, how in creation did Spurlock manage to put on 25 pounds in 30 days? A pound of fat = 3,500 calories, which means Spurlock consumed 87,500 calories more than he could burn. That’s 2,900 extra calories per day. Since he’s a tall (6’3″) young male, he probably burns at least 2,000 calories … even if he spends the entire day admiring his moustache in a mirror. Obviously, he did average at least 5,000 calories.
Boozle: How the $%#@ does this prove he broke his rules? He said he’d eat three meals per day, he didn’t say he’d only eat three meals per day.
Logic: He said “three meals per day.” In fact, he specifically named them – “breakfast, lunch and dinner” – for viewers who don’t know what “three meals per day” means. If he did eat four or five meals per day, then 1) he was obligated to say so, considering this was supposed to be a documentary, and 2) his entire thesis – look what happens if you eat three meals per day at McDonald’s – is kaput. All he proved is that eating four or five big meals per day is a bad idea. I think most people knew that.
Boozle: He never said I’m only gonna have one hamburger a meal with one frie too, you @#$%ing moron. If you actually watch the movie, then you see him eating a couple of burgers and a couple orders of fries. So maybe double some of those numbers and see what you get.
Logic: You got me there. He never said he’d only have one sandwich or one order of fries. Just one little problem … he stated specifically, “I can only super-size a meal if they ask me.” If he ordered two sandwiches and two orders of fries, he was super-sizing his meal without being asked. Doubling your order increases the calorie count even more than super-sizing the drink and the fries.
Boozle: He said he would eat everything on the menu, and shakes are part of the McDonald’s menu, and at about 1110 calories for a large, adding one of them to a meal easily puts the count above the 5,000.
Logic: Yes, the 32-ounce shake is on the menu, and it’s 1110 calories. But “at least once” doesn’t mean every day. The menu also includes a 12-ounce shake, and it’s only 440 calories. What happened on the days where he ordered one of those? The grilled chicken salads provide fewer than 500 calories, including the dressing. Let’s look at a day where he ordered these items – which he had to, according to his rules.
I’ll stack the odds in his favor by starting with the Deluxe Breakfast at 1150 calories. For lunch we’ll have the grilled chicken salad at 430 calories, and the 12-ounce shake at 440 calories. Heck, I’ll let him toss in a large order fries to add an additional 500 calories.
Guess what? Mr. “three meals per day” has consumed 2,520 calories so far. To get over 5,000 for the day, he will now have to consume 2,500 just for dinner. Once again, I’ll stack the odds in his favor by assuming he ordered a double quarter-pounder with cheese and this was one of the nine times they asked him to super-size it. The whole dinner adds up to 1,790 calories. He’s still 700 calories short.
Boozle: A shake is listed on the McDonald’s USA menu as dessert, but in Canada it’s listed as a beverage. So he could’ve ordered them without ordering extra desserts, as you claim.
Logic: Well, that makes perfect sense. He ate his meals in the U.S., but rabid hockey fans who say “eh” a lot believe if you pour ice cream into a cup, it’s no longer a dessert – it’s a beverage. So now he’s justified in pounding them down without telling us, and that means he wasn’t cheating on his rules. If this is all true, it means Super Size Me proved that it’s a bad idea to drink a lot of milkshakes. Funny how most people didn’t understand the the true, anti-milkshake message.
Boozle: He may not have told us he was eating extra meals, but he didn’t have to because the intelligent viewers understood.
Logic: (after banging head on desk) I never heard a single fan of the film – including the reviewers – describe Super Size Me as a documentary about what happens if you eat four or five meals per day. Roger Ebert is an intelligent viewer. Let’s take a peek at his review:
He does have a policy that whenever he’s asked if he wants to “super size it,” he must reply “yes.” But what he orders for any given meal is not uncommon, and we have all known (or been) customers who ordered the same items.
Mr. Ebert apparently believed Spurlock was simply super-sizing when they asked him, and otherwise eating “not uncommon” meals – which makes me wonder which McDonald’s Mr. Ebert patronizes. I’ve been going to McDonald’s for decades, and I have yet to see anyone put away 2,500 calories for dinner.
In fact, when I re-read Ebert’s review, I was annoyed all over again. Read the following paragraph:
It’s amazing, what you find on the menu at McDonald’s. Let’s say you start the day with a sausage and egg McMuffin. You’ll get 10 grams of saturated fat — 50 percent of your daily recommendation, not to mention 39 percent of your daily sodium intake. Add a Big Mac and medium fries for lunch, and you’re up to 123 percent of your daily sat fat recommendation, and 96 percent of your sodium. For dinner, choose a Quarter Pounder with cheese, add another medium order of fries, and you’re at 206 percent of daily sat. fat and 160 percent of sodium. At some point add a strawberry shake to take you to 247 percent of sat. fat and 166 percent of sodium. And then remember that most nutritionists recommend less fat and salt than the government guidelines.
Let’s set aside the fact that Mr. Ebert apparently believes the government’s recommendations for fat and sodium intake are based on something resembling science – they’re not. What annoyed me was that he went to all the trouble to do the math on the fat and sodium, but apparently not on the calorie counts.
The items Mr. Ebert listed add up to 2,820 calories. (My son could easily burn that off in one day, by the way.) Did it simply not occur to him to ask himself how Morgan Spurlock managed to consume more than 5,000?
But I digress.
Boozle: u r the biggest retard in the world! cant u c mcdonalds is bad for u! jeez even if he wasnt following his own rules he still ate it if u watched the movie u would understand.
Logic: If he didn’t follow his rules, then 1) he’s a liar, and 2) the entire premise of his film is bogus. All he proved is that consuming 5,000 calories per day will make you fat and screw up your health. The same thing would happen if you ate that much at home, or at your grandmother’s, or your favorite vegan restaurant.
Boozle: YOU ARE A #@$%ING MORON! all your $#*& is wrong, you’re just trying to prove something that i true. eat $#*& and die, i don’t see you making a difference in the world like morgan spurlock. so do us a favor and up and die.
Logic: (Hmm … better not try logic on this guy. I could inadvertenly incite a wife-beating incident.)
Fortunately, I also discovered that Spurlock has some fans who aren’t boozlers. One of them left a note on our site:
“Super-Size Me” was one reason among a long litany of influential reasons for me deciding to become a vegetarian. I think it was great film for helping a lot of people to re-think their food choices, but I am disgusted that he was so loose and misleading with his calculations.
Bingo! That’s exactly what disgusted me. That, and the fact that he refuses to show anyone his food log – which should, all by itself, convince anyone but a boozler that the guy has something to hide.
My food log, by the way, is posted on our site.