The Great Apple Experiment: Time to Weigh In!

The week of yelling at and coddling apple slices is over at last. Now it’s time to open up the jars and have a look-see. Your job, should you choose to accept it: examine each of the apples in the photos that follow, and indicate via poll which you think looks best and which looks worse.

The order of the photos was decided by coin flips, and the photos are unaltered except to black out the writing on the slips of paper behind them, which indicate which is which. I’ll post the original pics when voting is over tomorrow night.

[EDIT: For some reason, some people can’t see all the images below. Here are the links, which open in a different tab:]

Apple #1
Apple #2
Apple #3

Apple 1 Click to Enlarge
Apple 2 Click to Enlarge
Apple 3 Click to Enlarge

Which apple looks the worst?
Apple #1
Apple #2
Apple #3 free polls
Which apple looks the best?
Apple #1
Apple #2
Apple #3 free polls

I’ll close the polls at 23:59pm GMT tomorrow (30 March) and we’ll see if the results are statistically significant. We have Matt “Actually A Professional Mathematician” Parker on hand to crunch the numbers and explain how stats like this work!

Then I’ll make appropriate adjustments to the experiment, institute better controls, and give it another go. Some of the suggestions from you all and from Nikki Owens’ fans have been great, including: sterilizing the knife and cutting board, replacing mustaches with “love” and “hate” labels, and using halves instead of quarters as Owens did originally. This last one is tricky as it makes it more difficult to have a control apple, but I think I’ve figured out a good way to do it: there will be two full apples sliced in half. One apple will be control with no “love” or “hate” directed at it, and the other will get half love and half hate. In the end, if Owens is correct, the love/hate apple should have drastically different halves and the control apple’s halves should look identical. Thoughts on this?

Here are all my videos from the last week if you need to catch up:

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I can see the apples just fine.
    Also I would like to suggest that you make sure the apples are lit evenly so that the shadows don’t exaggerate any dark spots on the apples. An over head light source, I think, would work the best.

  2. What exactly are you testing here?
    “Whether “Love/Hate” effects rates of decay” or
    “How good are people in detecting the effects of “Love/Hate” on the rate of decay of apples

    And you could have added a “no observable difference” option, forcing a dichotomy is likely to lead to random guessing.

  3. I think your hate apple needs more force next time. I suggest the most excellent responses from the insults post from January.

    You can make that apple cry! I know you can. It will have botox-infested wrinkles and an addiction to anti-aging cream when you’re done with it.

  4. I don’t know if this has any bearing, but I’d be skeptical of eating any of those slices of apple. Maybe you used most of your available love on something else, Rebecca, but none of them looked particularly loved to me.

  5. @russellsugden: Actually, I’m pretty sure forcing a guess is ideal; it could uncover an attractiveness that people aren’t consciously aware of. You’d then perform statistical analysis to see whether any difference in votes between the apples is significant.

    But that would only tell you whether a given slice of apple is perceived as being more attractive than the others. To see if there’s a statistically significant correlation between attractiveness and application of love/hate, you’d have to repeat the experiment with several apple slices.

  6. You should add more photos of each apple so we can see different angles. Otherwise the photos might be biased towards the apples good or bad side (unless you consulted with the apples in which side they wanted shown in public).

  7. I don’t know how workable this is but maybe you could put th pictures beside one another, instead of stacking them up. That way you can see them all at once and they’re on a level playing field so to speak.

  8. Another suggestion (because I’m annoying that way): Is there a way so that people can’t see the poll results until the experiment is over so that people don’t know what others have already voted?

  9. The only valuable suggestion I have to add is that the apples’ images should be randomized, in case there is some preference for people to pick first or last. This does somewhat complicate using multiple apples, but perhaps you could also randomize which apple someone is rating. So instead of having one apple rated 360 times, you could have 10 apples rated about 36 times , with each possible combination of images rated approx. 6 times. It would not need to be truly random, as long as different image orders (abc, acb, bac, bca, cab, cba) are equally assigned and the raters do not know which is which.

  10. The Problem with seeing the 3rd pic seems to be if you’re running AdBlock Plus in Firefox. It has a rule to block any image with the keywords “300×250” which the 3rd image seems to have in its name.
    Fix is that you can either turn off Adblock Plus for the page , or Rebecca could rename the images.

  11. @Skept-artist: I concur. The lightning can have a pretty dramatic effect on the appearance of the slice. Ideally, the apple slices would each be placed under the same lighting/camera rig in the same orientation, to eliminate that as a source of confounding ugliness.

  12. Is the lighting done with intent because it is the same piece of apple? To my eye there are some things about all three that are very similar. Although, after another look pic 2 has some attributes that make me doubt this.

  13. Done! I’ve enjoyed this, and I think I’ll do a round it myself! :D

    Agreed that, at least on the next go-around, do not make the poll results visible until after it is closed. What if PZ Myers decides #3 is the worst of the bunch?

  14. Judging by the comments, I’d also suggest an additional question: “Would you describe the difference between the apples as… Obvious, Significant, Not Significant, etc.” Something along those lines, at least, just as a simple clue about the effect size.

  15. Instead of doing one half love/half hate, why not have an apple that you don’t speak to at all? That way, you have a control for whether or not speaking in and of itself has an effect.

    My hypothesis: that apple will feel neglected, become sullen, withdrawn, and socially maladjusted, then finally snap, killing all of the other apples in a fit of rage.

  16. If you place the parts on your windowsill (I just love that word) like this (|) and photograph each of them from above, facing the window, there would be no shadows to skew the results.

    I’m looking forward to the improved study of this very important research project.

  17. I love that you chose different lighting for the apples. It really accentuates their unique personalities. I feel like I know apple #2 better because of it.

    And honestly, most mustachioed apples look the same to me. I’m not a fruitist, I’m just sayin’.

  18. I voted for the same apple for both questions. I HAVE RUINED YOUR POLL.

    Fine, I didn’t, but I wanted to. Because I am a child. I can has apple?

  19. If I cannot pick that one is better or worse than the others, any pick I make would invalidate the experiment.
    There is no selection for “They all look the same”, so I cannot vote. :-(

  20. Lighting issues noted, but I find it weird that people keep assuming I used different lighting for each. The apples were all photographed within moments of each other on the exact same spot. I think the reason why two have a bit of shadow is because they have more severe angles.

  21. The real problem with the experimental design is the lack of technical replicates. If there is a physical reason that one of the slices undergoes oxidative browning faster (e.g. latent bruising, localized pathogen, etc), and it is in one of the treatments, then it could be misinterpreted. Such experiments need multiple replicates within treatment and control groups.

    The other idea is to use an objective sensor rather than a human poll. If the three were homogenized you could compare the color to a pantone chart, or if you are really fancy use a spectrophotometer to measure the actual degree of browning. This would be a much better quantitative measure and would eliminate photographic bias or positional effects in the survey.

    Other ideas: Hate vs. lemon juice!

    I tried the same experiment on my neighbor’s kids and it sort of worked. One of them runs away when I come outside.

  22. Notice how the shadows of all three apples are going off in different directions? This can only mean the apple photos were shot on a soundstage with controlled lighting and not the MOON!!!!!!


    Also, number three apple has a ziggy zag line which looks like the back of Homer Simpson’s head.


    UNLIKELY!!!! When one considers that there was an episode of The Simpsons where Homer went into outer space WITH?????? BUZZ Aldrin!!!!

    Since The Simpsons is a farce AND Homer Simpson and Buzz Aldrin were on a show together AND the apples have a Homer Simpson zig zag, this can only mean THESE APPLES HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THE MOON!!!!1!1101011!!!!

  23. To solve the lighting problem I suggest a lightbox, they are cheap and easy to make :

    Also, you will probably get better results from the polls if the results (and comments on voting) are not displayed until the voting is closed. We could be seeing popular votes becoming more popular on the basis of their existing popularity, instead of getting a good sample of opinions.

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