Spoons Will Kill You

Written by: Captain Skellett // January 6th, 2010 // Recent Research, Science at Home, Science Communication, Unethics

The deadly spoon, it makes a knife look tame by comparison. Indeed, only a meat cleaver attached to a hand beater is more dangerous.

Being a lover of spoons (not literally thank you very much. I’m just fond of them, okay? Nothing wrong with that) I am skeptical of this research which suggests that spoon dosing of medication is a major health risk. Yes sir, skeptical I am. This is the first time I’ve disagreed openly with research, so here’s hoping it doesn’t bite me in the ass like my last parrot did.

So I found this story in Science Daily today – “Can Kitchen Spoons Be Dangerous Spoons? Too Little or Too Much Medicine, Depending on Spoon Size” which takes you through to this press release and this swanky picture

Made by this swanky photographer.

With a shoot like this, you know you’re onto some quality research, and oh yes, it’s been picked up by several news sources. To quote the press release (as so many of these news articles did) using kitchen spoons to measure liquid medication tends to lead to significantly over- or underdosing “beneath the point of effectiveness” according to Dr. Wansick.

Here’s the method they used: They took 195 university students, and asked them to measure out a teaspoon of cough medicine into three spoons in order: 1. A teaspoon. 2. A medium sized tablespoon. 3. A large spoon. Then the researchers measured how much liquid they poured. The conclusion: In the medium spoon they underestimated by 8%, in the large spoon they overestimated by 11%. Over time this could add up to an overdose.

Why I think it’s crap
In the paper and especially the press release they say this is an important health risk. Is it? The first line of their report says that “spoon dosing has been identified as 1 of the 3 major causes of dosing errors and pediatric poisonings,” but when you read the report they’re referencing, it says the cause is people giving a child a whole tablespoon worth of medicine rather than a teaspoon (because of the confusing tsp / tbsp shorthand.) It’s not parents taking a tablespoon and try to measure out a teaspoon of medicine in it!

Who in their right mind would do that anyway? Why not just use a teaspoon, particularly if giving it to a child? Is the “I’ll measure it sort-of teaspoonish that’s close enough” thing a common issue in poisonings? Not according to the paper they reference in that first line. How many people use teaspoons to measure medicine nowadays? The report doesn’t say.

All this paper concludes is that people are crap at estimating how much a teaspoon of liquid is when they use a tablespoon to measure it. Big whoop.

What I have a problem is, is how they’ve marketed it with a press release and a photo shoot to say that spoons are dangerous, based on no clear evidence to suggest this is a real health threat as there’s nothing to say PEOPLE ARE EVEN DOING IT let alone getting sick from it!

This crappy example of science communication made me snap my peg leg in half. Now I’m going to eat a bowl of jelly to console myself, and I’ll enjoy every damn spoonful.

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google


3 Responses to “Spoons Will Kill You”

  1. Lab Rat says:

    I’ve never actually medically poisened myself with a spoon, but I have made some pretty funny tasting currys.

    Don’t medicines for childred nowadays tend to come with their own little plastic measuring spoons? Although I guess if those get lost people might just resort to grabbing any old spoon out of the cupboard, which could potentially lead to dosing problems if the spoon is the wrong size.

  2. Dear Saladfingers,

    Your love of spoons is fascinating. I have to agree with you though, sometimes reporters take the angle way too far. Almost as though they get together and go what isn’t scary yet? I know SPOONS! I want a 10 page report on my desk telling our readers how this inanimate blunt object is a deadly weapon in the hands of your average housewife.

  3. gemgem says:

    when katherine drinks cough medicine, she just opens the bottle and takes a couple of swigs. being that she isn’t dead yet, i have no fear that the children of the earth are in no immediate danger.

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