We’ve all encountered that argument, the one that is contentious and unmoving, ultimately resulting in one side uttering the phrase, “It’s apples and oranges.”

The phrase is a way to break the logjam of an argument that is more based on perspective and opinion than fact and has no hard, or even empirical, evidence to prove either side right or wrong. It’s a way of throwing up your arms and agreeing to disagree because you just cannot “compare apples to oranges.” They are simply two different things. However…

In an article for Improbable Research, a publication with the tagline, “Research that makes people laugh and then think,” Scott A. Sandford of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, unfolds some interesting research to argue you can compare apples and oranges. Sandford writes, “[It] is generally perceived as being a telling blow to the analogy, since it is generally understood that apples and oranges cannot be compared. However, after being the recipient of just such an accusation, it occurred to me that there are several problems with dismissing analogies with the comparing apples and oranges defense.”

Sandford lays out the argument: “First, the statement that something is like comparing apples and oranges is a kind of analogy itself. That is, denigrating an analogy by accusing it of comparing apples and oranges is, in and of itself, comparing apples and oranges. More importantly, it is not difficult to demonstrate that apples and oranges can, in fact, be compared.”

To harmonize both the materials and methods for comparison, Sandford prepared samples of actual apples and oranges “by gently desiccating them in a convection oven at low temperature over the course of several days. The dried samples were then mixed with potassium bromide and ground in a small ball-bearing mill for two minutes. One hundred milligrams of each of the resulting powders were then pressed into a circular pellet having a diameter of 1 cm and a thickness of approximately 1 mm. Spectra were taken at a resolution of 1 cm-1 using a Nicolet 740 FTIR spectrometer.”

The evidence provided was “a comparison of the 4000-400 cm-1 (2.5-25 mm) infrared transmission spectra of a Granny Smith apple and a Sunkist Navel orange.” The kicker: the results were quite similar.

 “Not only was this comparison easy to make, but it is apparent … that apples and oranges are very similar,” Stanford concludes. “Thus, it would appear that the comparing apples and oranges defense should no longer be considered valid. This is a somewhat startling revelation. It can be anticipated to have a dramatic effect on the strategies used in arguments and discussions in the future.”

In the meantime, get a better understanding of the important distinction between measuring shape and not just size in Pat Nugent’s Quality 101 article, “Form 101,” in the pages of this month’s Quality.

 As always, enjoy and thanks for reading!