I have been in enough meetings during my career where one or more of the participants has been accused of comparing apples with oranges, the inference being that the two concepts are so dissimilar that they are incapable of being compared with each other. It is now an accepted idiom in everyday speech. But is it an appropriate analogy?
Thank heavens there is someone in the scientific community who has taken up the challenge. Step forward Scott A Sandford of the NASA Ames Research Centre in California (natch). He took an apple (Granny Smith, I believe) and a Sunkist Orange and prepared the samples by desiccating them in a convection oven at a low temperature over a number of days. Mixing the dried samples with potassium bromide and grinding them for a couple of minutes in a small ball-bearing mill Sandford pressed the resultant powders into a circular pellet and then subjected them to spectroscopic analysis.
The results of the spectroscopic analysis were that apples and oranges were indeed similar and that it was (relatively) easy to compare them. I’m not sure I would agree that Sandford’s elaborate preparation of the samples was easy but if I have a few spare days and a spare spectroscope I might give it a go. But the key finding is that there is no basis for the analogy and the next time anyone accuses you of comparing apples with oranges, you can turn round and say. “Precisely, you have made my point”.
Of course, those of us who delight in the etymology of words and phrases will smile smugly in the knowledge that the phrase was originally somewhat different as this exchange between Tranio and Biondello in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew shows, “T: He is my father, sir; and, sooth to say, In countenance somewhat doth resemble you. B (aside) As much as an apple doth an oyster, and all one”. Now I would like to see Sandford deconstruct that analogy!
I don’t know much about cats but popular conceptions about them are that they have nine lives and always land on their feet, even when dropped from a height upside down. I was pleased to read the other day that an intrepid member of the research community, braving the wrath and opprobrium of the animal welfare brigade, has set about to prove my second statement in a systematic way. Fiorella Gambale from Milan took a cat, turned it upside down and proceeded to drop it from various heights – a hundred times each from distances descending by intervals of one foot from 6 feet to one foot.
The results were that in every case over 500 instances the cat landed upright on its feet when dropped from heights of between 6 feet and two feet. However, when the moggy was dropped from a height of one foot it never landed on its feet once.
No explanation for this baffling phenomenon is proffered by la Gambale but I suspect that the distance travelled and the speed at which the cat drops are insufficient to allow it to perform the necessary acrobatics to right itself. Perhaps, inadvertently, in carrying out the experiment, she also confirmed that a cat has (at least) nine lives!
Isn’t science wonderful?!