Science Sense

Sense About Science, a charity that promotes “good science and evidence for the public”, released a new leaflet today: Sense About Science for Celebrities. It turns out that politicians aren’t the only ones that make rather interesteing statements about science – other celebrities do too! Okay, that was harsh and not in the spirit of the leaflet. My apologies.

Anyway, Sense About Science is encouraging celebrities to check the facts before they speak out on issues like organic foods, healing by touch, and vaccines – because many of them hold the same misconceptions that the average person does.

The leaflet quotes statements made by celebrities naked chef Jamie Oliver, Madonna, and many others that show a misunderstanding of science or conclusions at odds with the evidence. The leaflet then quotes professionals in the fields related to each statement – nutrition, medicine, plant science, toxicology, etc – explaining why the celebrity’s thinking is wrong.

For example:

Carole Caplin, lifestyle guru on how to prevent breast cancer by giving women more information about “the importance of keeping the lymph system clear and unclogged”.

Prof Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery, University College London: “Carole’s idea of keeping the lymph system “clear and unclogged” has no meaning whatsoever. “It is not based on knowledge of anatomy or physiology of the human body, let alone of breast cancer.”

According to the leaflet, “People in the public eye are often drawn into promoting theories, therapies, and campaigns that make no scientific sense.” I think the statement would be just as true if the words “in the public eye” were removed. We are often drawn into ideas that lack scientific evidence but make sense based on our own observations and experiences.

Who hasn’t embarrassed himself or herself by saying something absolutely wrong with great conviction? I remember working with a student who was convinced that Alaska was an island. This is amusing to us that have seen other maps, but like most of the blunders in the leaflet, it just reflects an opinion made without all of the information.
We all know people tend to listen to celebrities even when they talk about things completely unrelated to their fields. Sense About Science is encouraging celebrities to be scientifically responsible role models by making sure they aren’t missing any crucial pieces of information before they express an opinion to the world. I wholeheartedly applaud this effort, but let me add that if the campaign makes a difference, I’d like the celebrities to be known for checking the facts and not for promoting the “right” ideas. After all, it doesn’t make much sense for us to accept their opinions without doing our own fact checking.

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