I was pleased to help the excellent UK-based charity Sense about Science by designing their annual Celebrities and Science leaflet again this Christmas. Celebrities and Science 2012, compiled by volunteers, expertly rebuts the silly health fads and other ill-informed enthusiasms of the rich and famous. It is a grimly funny document.
Most celebrities are distinguished in only one or two of a small number of fashionable pursuits (such as singing, acting, pouting sensuously or being elected to government), outside of which they have no special expertise. Unfortunately, celebrity endorsements lend a spurious authority to all kinds of mumbo-jumbo. And the dodgy pronouncements of fashionable people can reach more eyes and ears than even the most media-savvy scientific researchers, feeding a culture of dangerous ignorance about cancer, diet, genetics, climate change and evolution.
Among other things, this year’s review reports that oxygen shots, placenta pills and coffee rubs have joined the long list of frivolous showbiz “treatments”; that Simon Cowell has paid somebody to “heal” his house with “good energy”; and that TV personalities are as credulous as ever about homeopathy. Needless to say, there is no evidence that any of these things works better than placebo.
But there’s also a satisfying twist. In 2012, many celebrities concerned about science and health took care to get their facts right, some even contacting Sense about Science for advice. Those old bugbears, “detox diets” and immune “boosting”, slipped quietly out of fashion. Jennifer Aniston, Michael Phelps and Al Murray were among those depositing nuggets of scientific wisdom on the unsuspecting heads of the public. Quackery, superstition and pseudoscience might just be on the wane in celebrity cloud-cuckoo land. The Independent, with tongue not entirely in cheek, is hailing a new enlightenment.
Other press coverage: