Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunscreen SPF and Diminishing Returns

(Graph courtesy of remixyourhealth)

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, seemed to come out of nowhere in the 1980s as people started to become aware of the need for sunscreen.  (Before that, "suntan oil" appeared to be a derivative of cooking oil that helped broil skin.)

The original explanation I heard for the meaning of SPF was that it allowed you to stay out in the sun longer by a certain factor.  My friends and I initially interpreted this as, if you were going to stay out in the sun an hour, you could stay out two hours with an SPF of 2.  Or 10 hours with an SPF of 10.  An SPF over 24?  That meant you could extend your life by adding hours to your day.

Like MPG, SPF is a hard number to build good intuitions around. The right interpretation of SPF is that, if you want sun damage of X amount, you can now stay N times as long to get the same X sun damage.  You want a an hour of sun damage?  At an SPF of 10, you can stay out10 hours and get the same amount of sun damage as one hour.

But most people don't have in mind a level of sun damage they want. Instead, they have in mind a time that they want to spend in the sun.  As with MPG, SPF is better understood once it is flipped.  Flipping it reveals that there are surprising diminishing returns.  As SPF numbers start to sound very impressive, growing from 30, to 45, to 60, to 100--and the price grows as well--the actual increase in skin protection is negligible.  More after the jump.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CO2 Emissions, Electric Vehicles, the New EPA Label, and a Great Feature at Fueleconomy.gov

A Scientific American post in April (by Julia Pyper, originally posted on Climatewire) captured a basic challenge facing people who want to buy electric vehicles as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

An all-electric Nissan Leaf in Buffalo, N.Y., emits relatively few greenhouse gases, equal to the amount produced by a gasoline-powered car getting 86 mpg. But in Denver, the same Leaf is equivalent to only a 33-mpg vehicle, such as a subcompact Ford Fiesta.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Quantity versus Price

A new paper in the Journal of Marketing by Akshay Rao of the University of Minnesota shows that people have a hard time with the following sort of question:
When offered the possibility of 33% off a product or the same product with 33% more quantity, which would you choose?