Sense about Science ? equipping people to make sense of science and evidence
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2011 Celebrities and Science Review
From fashion to fad-diets, medicine to super foods, and the environment to allergies, at Sense About Science we continue to monitor the science claims made each year by the influential and the famous. Scientists and members of the public send us the claims they have seen – about products, lifestyle choices and campaigns – that appear to make little scientific sense. We ask scientists to respond so that we can help celebrities realise where they were going wrong and encourage public discussion about sound science.
What’s new in the 2011 review?
- This year we have seen a strange difficulty with understanding the sea! US political commentator Bill O’Reilly claims we have no understanding of how the tides work, while reality TV’s Snooki Polizzi put forward her own theory for why the sea is salty (too much whale sperm). Amongst the many short-cuts to better health, supplements proved especially popular; with Suzi Quatro stopping all illnesses by taking colon cleanser, and Simon Cowell preferring his vitamins drip-fed.
- Meanwhile last year’s must-have gadget – the hologram-embedded silicone (Power Balance) bracelet spotted on the wrists of David Beckham and Kate Middleton – has fallen out of favour. Power Balance was publicly taken to task for its marketing claims and though still on sale in the UK, celebrity endorsements have declined. Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge) appears this year in our ‘has potential’ section.
- Boosting bodily functions also appears to have fallen out of fashion in 2011 compared with the postbag we had on this in 2010.
- Although we have come across some familiar and persistent problems – detox diets and ‘chemical free’ claims – fewer famous figures fell into these traps this year. Have celebrities finally got the detox message? Everyone except Gwyneth Paltrow it seems…
- It’s tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse. At a time when celebrities dominate the public realm, the pressure for sound science and evidence must keep pace.
To improve the outlook for 2012, we have distilled our scientists’ responses into easy-to-remember pointers for celebrity commentators.
Four new lessons from 2011:
Supplement what? Your body does a good job of taking in everything you need to stay healthy. If you seriously suspect a deficiency, it should be diagnosed and properly treated.
There’s a lot of well established science about our environment… So understanding the sea can be a source of wonder rather than confusion.
A correlation isn’t the same as a cause… ‘A’ following ‘B’ doesn’t mean that ‘A’ was caused by ‘B’ – it may be a coincidence, or ‘A’ and ‘B’ may both be caused by something else.
It is easy to prevent a condition that did not exist in the first place... but this is often the result of wishful thinking, not the short-cut to good health you tried at the time.
And this year two regular tips taken up by celebrities who got it right:
If it’s too good to be true…it probably is.
Detox is a marketing myth: our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science: “This is the sixth review. We’re seeing changes – people are contacting us, medical charities are briefing their celebrities more and working with us to follow up dangerous advice, and we now have over 5000 scientists and hundreds of organisations signed up to offer help. So there really is no excuse for celebrities promulgating misleading claims. While it gives us a good reason to talk about sound science on subjects like oceans and diets, sadly our publications don’t go nearly so far so fast as a comment by an A-list actress.”
Some coverage of Celebrities and Science 2011:
The Guardian Comment is Free High-heel orgasms? Colon cleanses? Celebrity 'science' is a bad joke by Tracey Brown
ChicagoTribune Whale sperm, orgasmic feet top 2011 bad science list
Toronto Sun Whale sperm, orgasmic feet top bad science list
Irish Examiner Named and shamed: Celeb pseudo-science pedlars
World Service (31st December programme from 47.07)
BBC Radio Humberside (29th December programme from 1.12.30)
BBC Wiltshire (31st December programme in 2 parts, from 27.53 and from 45.13)
Hayes FM (8th January 2012)
Author: Sense About Science
Document type: Celebrities and Science review
Published: 28 December 2011