99.9% Caffeine-free

The twelfth chapter of Carl Sagan"s 1996 The Demon-Haunted civilization (a serious contender for the best-ever title of a renowned science book) is referred to as The Fine art of Baloney Detection. Over there he rips into the advertising world for bombarding us through dazzling however irrelevant facts and also figures. The problem, in Sagan"s view, is we view these numbers and also think wow, that"s exceptional — and then never ever bother to consider what the figures actually mean. This is simply what the advertisers intend. "You’re not claimed to ask.", Sagan writes, "Don’t think. Buy."

Sagan is largely referring come the marketing supplied in over-the-counter drug sales; this problem came to be far more pernicious the year after ~ Sagan created this essay, when the united state legalized direct-to-consumer marketing of prescription drugs as well. Rather than taking on the massive, complex, and also troubling worries surrounding the market, ours the instance study presented right here examines one amusing and largely harmless instance of the same advertising tactics.

Below, a packet of warm cocoa that ns picked increase in a DC hotel lobby.




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"99.9% caffeine-free," the packaging boasts. That night at the hotel, a 99.9% caffeine-free drink seemed prefer a an excellent idea come me, a prudent different to an night cup the coffee provided that ns was currently chronologically disposed to stay up till bedtime three time area to the west.

But pause and think around it because that a minute. Caffeine is a really strong drug, after ~ all. And there"s a many mass in a cup of cocoa. Caffeine in coffee is not favor sugar in coke, for example. For this reason is a 99.9% caffeine-free drink really something you desire to drink right before bed?

Let"s number it out. How much caffeine is in a cup the coffee? follow to the center for science in the general public Interest, there space 415 milligrams that caffeine in a 20oz Starbucks coffee. (This transforms out to it is in on the solid side relative to various other drip coffees or milk-based espresso drinks.) That corresponds to around 21 mg that caffeine per ounce. An oz of water weighs about 28 grams*. Hence a Starbucks drip coffee is about 0.075% caffeine by weight. In other words, solid coffee is also 99.9% caffeine for free!

While i don"t have precise figure for this brand the cocoa, many cocoas have around 20mg the caffeine in a 8 ounce cup, i.e., they"re around 0.009% caffeine through weight. At very first I assumed that probably the 99.9% figure referred to the powder, not the perfect drink. Given the numbers about, the powder most likely is close come 0.1% caffeine by weight. However Nestle"s website renders it clear that they room referring come the ready drink, no the powder: "With rich chocolate flavor and also only 20 calories per single-serve packet, this cocoa renders a 99.9% caffeine-free, 8 fl oz serving."

Thus it seems to me that Nestle"s packaging might list an extra decimal place: 99.99% caffeine free. So while there"s nothing inaccurate or dangerous about the 99.9% assertion, it"s a type of silly point to say and also an even sillier thing for united state to be reassured by. Most constant coffees might be labeling in the precise same way. Therefore Nestle"s packaging gives us yet another example of how something can be true and still bullshit after a fashion.

*Some readers have taken united state to task for equating one fluid ounce (a measure of volume) v one oz (a measure up of weight). The is true the at room temperature in ~ sea level, a fluid ounce that water weighs much more like 1.04 ounces. However we like our coffee hot, and also as water approaches its boiling allude its weight philosophies 1.00 ounces per fluid ounce.


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