Sense About Science publishes its annual review of celebrities’ misleading claims

Yep, its that time of year again, and so Sense About Science (I just love their name) have a list of the truly daft pseudo-science claims that various well-known celebrities buy into. In some ways it is perhaps understandable; folks who have a ton of cash burning a hole in their pocket and a desire to be younger and better looking will indeed be the target for those only too willing to make wild outrageous claims that can be theirs in exchange for $$$.

OK, lets start with a quick bit of background. Who are Sense about Science? They are a group of folks in the UK who work in partnership with scientific bodies, research publishers, policy makers, the public and the media, to change public discussions about science and evidence. They have a database of over 5,000 scientists, from Nobel prize winners to postdocs and PhD students, and use award-winning public campaigns to share the tools of scientific thinking and scrutiny.

This latest “2011 Celebrities and Science” is one such public campaign.

In other words, these are the good guys … they help people make sense of current discussions, they stand up for scientific inquiry, free from stigma, intimidation, hysteria or censorship, and they want everyone, whatever their experience, to stand up for evidence in public life.

Their latest publication, 2011 Celebrities and Science, can be found here.

Here are some of the truly weird claims they found …

US reality TV personality Nicole ‘Snooki’  Polizzi said: “I don’t really like the beach. I hate sharks, and the water’s all whale sperm.That’s why the ocean’s salty.”. Really!! … unfortunately for Nicole, they have a real oceanographer, Dr Simon Boxall, to explain that it is not all whale sperm.

We also discover that Bill O’Reilly, US TV host and political commentator has no idea what causes the tide, apparently its a big mystery to him: “In my opinion – alright?  Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.”. Nope, sorry Bill, we can indeed explain it, they have Dr Chris Lintott, an astrophysicist, ready to give him a call and explain the tidal effects of the moon. However, what is truly a mystery is why Bill does not know.

Then we have Michelle Bachman, member of the US House of Representatives and Republican Presidential Candidate, who told journalists: “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given the [HPV] vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.” Nope, sorry, Michelle, its not a fact, as Professor Sean Kehoe, gynaecological oncologist points out, “There is no evidence that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation or that there are dangerous consequences. The evidence that cervical cancer causes deaths, however, is unquestionable“. Some might hear a claim, believe it and then repeat it, but she has no excuse. As a Candidate she has expert advisers and researchers on hand to get her the facts … but then this is a lady who believes that the law of God, as codified in the Bible, should exclusively govern society, which is truly scary when you consider that this same law touts slavery as a rather good idea and that homophobic bigotry is just fine.

TV personality Simon Cowell described his drip-fed intravenous cocktail of vitamins C, B12 and magnesium as part of his bid to look and feel younger and healthier: “It’s an incredibly warm feeling… You feel all the vitamins going through you. It’s very calming.”. Yep, you read that correctly … he gets a drip-fed intravenous cocktail of vitamins. As explained by Ursula Arens, dietitian, of the British Dietetic Association, “Simon, unless you have a vitamin deficiency, what you eat in food will provide you with the vitamins you need. The absorption of vitamins is very efficient so – apart from people who are very ill or have particular gut problems – nearly all of what you eat is taken up by your body. If you are worried about not getting enough vitamins from food, and cannot change your diet, then vitamin supplements are a simple way to give you reassurance. However, my advice to you Simon, if you need a warm, calming feeling? A nice cup of tea!

Suzi Quatro, American singer-songwriter told the Daily Mail : “I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleanser powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”. She told the Daily Mail, so it must be true, they would of course check the facts … right? (Hint: the nickname for that paper is the Daily Fail). The Sense about Science folks have Dr Melita Gordon on hand to explain, “As a gastroenterologist, I agree that the colon is very important in some diseases, but it certainly is not the cause of all illnesses Suzi! Sore throats do not come from your colon; they are caused by viruses that come in through your nose and mouth. Taking ‘colon cleansers’ has no beneficial effect on your throat (or on your colon).You have probably been noticing a placebo effect, or an effect from other things you do to avoid throat infections, like avoiding infective contacts or washing your hands.

The above are just some examples, all very entertaining, and also very much a warning about how easy it is to fool ourselves with stuff that is simply not true and has no evidence to back it up. The fact that a famous celebrity has set sail on the good ship HMS Crazy is no reason for you to rush off and book a ticket to join them, instead it should be a red flag that triggers your “Potential Bullshit” alarm.

Oh yes, if you need the references for the various quotes from those famous folks, then download the “Sense About Science” leaflet, its all there.


Finally …

Here is the Video clip where Bill O’Reilly claims that he has no idea what causes tides. It is in the context of a “discussion” about Atheist billboards and is at the 2 min mark into the  5 min clip.

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