Which Celebrities Are Science-Illiterate Whack Jobs? Find Out Here

By Jennifer Welsh | December 29, 2010 2:31 pm

Every year, the Sense About Science group puts out a list of some of the most egregious blunders made in science and medicine during the past 12 months. But they’re not talking about surgeons’ errors or the research mistakes of lab workers; instead, SAS focuses on celebrities who adopt fad diets and bogus healing remedies, and then spread the nonsense around the world.

In 2010, many celebrities–including David Beckham, Robert De Niro, and Shaquille O’Neal–jumped on the “Power Balance” sports fad (don’t actually go to that website, it will make you stupider). This absurd system suggests that plastic bracelets and pendants with holograms will optimize the body’s natural energy flow because they’re “designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.”

Sigh, I suppose we actually have to say this: There is no way a hologram could change your athletic ability. The website doesn’t even try to explain the company’s “science.” But just so we cheapies don’t all go around strapping our credit cards to ourselves before a long run, Michael Blastland responded to a claim from Shaq (who endorses the product) that the bracelets help him win basketball games. From the SAS report (pdf):

“People have their ups and downs. Sometimes the ups occur when they wear odd socks, sometimes a new bracelet. Give enough bracelets to enough people and some are bound to have a great day. That’s just chance. And when you ask people to report the ups, it’s the ups that tend to be reported. That’s known as selection bias. So maybe it seems to be the bracelet that did it, Shaquille, but most likely it’s chance and selection.”

Another interesting celebrity fad is the “Master Cleanse” diet, in which people live on a “lemonade” made with maple syrup, lemon, and Cayenne pepper (gross) for up to two weeks (they also take laxatives nightly). The diet has been lauded by the likes of Naomi Campbell, Ashton Kutcher, and Demi Moore.

In the report, dietitian Anne Raymond noted that starving from a “cleanse” might actually cause the release of toxins:

“Essentially it’s not cleaning your body–it’s starving it! A severe diet might actually lead to the creation of potentially harmful chemicals called ketones as a result of changes in your metabolism.”

There’s also a fighter who extols the benefits of “reabsorbing” his sperm, and a pop star who crumbles charcoal over her food. Take a look at the rest of the pseudoscience insanity spewed by celebs this year if you have time/need a good laugh/are feeling too optimistic about the world. To make it easier on you, the society has distilled the celebrities’ main mistakes into four easy to remember points:

Two old chestnuts:
– Nothing is chemical free: everything is made of chemicals, it’s just a case of which ones.
– Detox is a marketing myth: our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

Two new lessons from 2010:
– There’s no need to boost: bodily functions occur without ‘boosting’.
– Energy and fitness come from… food and exercise: there are no shortcuts.

Sense About Science is a British charitable trust that aims to “respond to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society,” according to its website. The group not only educates celebrities, but also maintains a database of information from scientists about these pseudoscience alternative therapies.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Crazy Pseudoscience Theory of the Day: Cell Phone Ringtone Can Cure Your Allergies!
Bad Astronomy: Jenny McCarthy still thinks vaccines cause autism
Bad Astronomy: Oprah drinks the antivax Kool Aid
Cosmic Variance: American Association for the Advancement of PseudoScience
The Intersection: Who’s Not Vaccinating?
DISCOVER: The 50 Most Important, Influential, and Promising People in Science

Image: Flickr / stevecouttes

  • Mariana

    Gisele Bündchen may have defended breastfeeding for the wrong reason, but being Brazilian, she is bound to believe not breastfeeding your baby is irresponsible/bad parenting/something like that. This is because the Ministry of Health started a massive pro-breastfeeding campaign in the 80’s that hailed all the advantages of breast milk over formulas wrt to the child’s immune system, allergies and a host of other things. As a result, nowadays everyone here believes a mother should *always* breastfeed unless she has a very good reason not to. (An aside: we are dumbfounded by the association Americans seem to make between breastfeeding and sex. Here it’s the other way around – a mother breastfeeding in public won’t even be noticed as doing anything out of the ordinary, let alone be asked to not to do so.)

    I never checked the research, but at the time it made sense to me that a mother’s milk would be much more a adequate source of nutrients for a baby than formulas. I don’t know if research has shown this, though (if anyone would care to enlighten me…).

  • Mark McAndrew

    A copycat version of those idiot bands was advertised here in the UK on Groupon, no less.

    I hear the Advertising Standards Agency has opened an investigation.

  • Jose Ramirez

    Maybe someone should notify Beckham, De Niro and O’Neal about this

    http://www.powerbalance.com/australia/CA

    “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974″

    So funny!

  • Buce Wayne

    In reply to Mariana: I work with infant nutrition research in the US, and you are absolutely correct, the slogan “Breast is Best” is absolutely true, so I can understand defending breastfeeding. I (and any certified Dietitian you ask) will tell you the same thing, that breastfeeding during at least the first 6 months of life is the best way to go. I wish the US picks up a similar pro-breastfeeding campaign as to what you mentioned soon for the sake of the children.

    Also, I’m not sure if it is true that the US as a whole associates breastfeeding with sex, I know I sure don’t, and I don’t even have kids yet. It *is* true that breasts in general are more sexualized here than other countries though, we have very few openly publicized nude beaches and if you want a place to openly tan in the buff you really have to do some homework sometimes.

    As far as making a big deal from the comment that “it should become law” .. that is just media being sensationalist and blowing things out of proportion. What if she instead proposed goverment incentives for breastfeeding moms, extra money or something like that? That would be a *law* as well. The way this article is phrased makes it sound like breastfeeding is bad, and it simply isn’t.

  • Marc

    And just today, CNBC named Power Balance their “Sports Product of the Year” and it was embarrassing how their reporter commented on it. http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?play=1&video=1714498397

  • cgauthier

    So is the whole “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey encouraging mothers to kill/maim their children by medical neglect” not hip to complain about anymore? ‘Cause I thought they were still at it and that more and more children were being diagnosed with preventable illnesses.

    But, no, superstitious sporting fads and spicy lemon juice and semen reabsorbtion – that’s definitely something we should be paying lots of attention to. (Kudos for this blog linking to an article about the anti-vaxxers, tho).

    All that other stuff is funny and kooky and worrying, but there should always be room at the top of any article about celebrity kookiness to denounce people like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Oprah Winfrey as liars and murderers.

    And again, just for the record: Jenny, Jim, Oprah and many others are, in plain sight, for all to see, liars and murderers.

  • Jon

    I think that Oprah should be given a Lifetime Achievement Award by these guys; with all the “great” things she’s done for anti-science. Jim & Jenny get next year’s LFA.

  • Mark in Idaho, USA

    It appears that cgauthier has swallowed the KoolAid of Big Pharma. Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey have valid concerns about the abuse of vaccines. If you want to support science, read the real research, not that bought and paid for by our US FDA (the best government agency money can buy) and Big Pharma (the buyer.) Jenny and Jim may go over the top in their passion but the basics of their concerns are valid.
    News flash:
    Flu shots double the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
    Anti-bacterial soaps increase the likelihood of developing asthma and other allergies/immune system dysfunctions.
    Chicken pox vaccines increase the likelihood of contracting shingles ( a latent form of chicken pox virus) early in life.
    Tetanus shots only marginally reduce the risk of contracting Tetanus but increase the severity of the disease once contracted.
    The HIV epidemic can be shown to follow the distribution of the MMR vaccine. Did the vaccine create a breeding ground for the HIV virus? The study is too controversial to get funded.
    To support the thesis of scientific morons, look at the rants of Leonardo d’Caprio. This high school drop out likely uses velcro for his athletic shoes. I doubt he ever learned how to tie his own shoelaces, let alone recognize a scientific concept. He hasn’t the sense to not piss into the wind.
    And, when the mystics tell Oprah the scientific truth, she believes them.

  • Dunc

    Wouldn’t it be easier and more efficient just to list the celebrities that aren’t science-illiterate whack jobs?

  • MasterMind

    When Ashton Kutcher endorsed Master Cleanse did he by chance have a film crew around him? Cause that’s his “You Been Punked” crew. Either that or he’s smart enough to know he better endorse anything Demi endorses if he’s gonna get any.

    Cheers,

  • BernardL

    I don’t believe the vaccines can cause autism, but I do believe those one shot cocktails with a number of vaccines in one dose are dangerous to children. Vaccines should be spaced out and given one at a time with adequate time in between for the child to absorb it. It’s not crackpot theory. It’s common sense.

  • Matt B.

    BernardL, children encounter numerous, live, fully functioning germs constantly, and yet they typically survive it. Vaccines are dead or disabled germs, injected in order to create an immune response to the chemical signature of the live germs. It would be like worrying that a child on a diet of candy will become obese upon eating a bowl of oatmeal.

  • Alareth

    News flash:
    Flu shots double the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
    Anti-bacterial soaps increase the likelihood of developing asthma and other allergies/immune system dysfunctions.
    Chicken pox vaccines increase the likelihood of contracting shingles ( a latent form of chicken pox virus) early in life.
    Tetanus shots only marginally reduce the risk of contracting Tetanus but increase the severity of the disease once contracted.
    The HIV epidemic can be shown to follow the distribution of the MMR vaccine. Did the vaccine create a breeding ground for the HIV virus? The study is too controversial to get funded.

    Would you care to provide a link to any evidence for any of that? A single citation is all I ask.

  • http://lizditz.typepad.com Liz Ditz

    Wow Mark in Idaho! Such research! A news flash for you — when making claims, especially claims counter to the prevailing evidence, it is customary to provide citations, preferably from peer reviewed research.

    Let us take your claims one by one.

    Claim #1

    Flu shots double the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Primary source of this claim appears to be Hugh Fudenberg, who used to be a physician until deprived of his license by the North Carolina state board in 1995 citation. Since there are no other supporting studies, I think that we can put this claim into the “not proven” category. Unless, of course, Mark comes back and provides sound evidence.
    Claim #2:

    Anti-bacterial soaps increase the likelihood of developing asthma and other allergies/immune system dysfunctions.

    I am going to cut Mark some slack on this one, as in general, regular soap is as effective as “antibacterial” soap products in killing or reducing bacterial loads. citation In other words, antibacterial soaps are probably a ploy to sell more product that doesn’t really have a benefit. As to the asthma etc. claims? Not proven. But if Mark comes back and provides sound evidence, I’ll change my opinion
    Claim #3

    Chicken pox vaccines increase the likelihood of contracting shingles (a latent form of chicken pox virus) early in life.

    “Chicken Pox” is an infection with a virus in the herpes family, varicella zoster virus (VZV) . Like other herpes viruses, after infection resolves the virus then “hides” in the nerve roots. citation. Mark’s claim seems to be based on a series of papers published by Gary S. Goldman, PhD. Goldman, whose undergraduate degree was in computer sciences and whose terminal degree was in computer science citation and was granted by a defunct for-profit institutioncitation. In other words, Goldman had no training in infectious disease, vaccinology, immunology, or public health. Nonetheless, he published a series of papers based on a single population in a California population 2003 citation; 2005 citation; 2006 citation. A later paper by other researchers concludes

    Varicella vaccine substantially decreases the risk of herpes zoster among vaccinated children and its widespread use will likely reduce overall herpes zoster burden in the United States. The increase in herpes zoster incidence among 10- to 19-year-olds could not be confidently explained and needs to be confirmed from other data sources. 2009 citation

    Since there are no other supporting studies, I think that we can put this claim into the “not proven” category. Unless, of course, Mark comes back and provides sound evidence.
    Claim #4:

    Tetanus shots only marginally reduce the risk of contracting Tetanus but increase the severity of the disease once contracted.

    Tetanus is caused by an infection by the bacterium Clostridium tetani (C. tetani). The disease isn’t caused by the bacterium itself, but by toxins produced by the bacterium. The vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over time, requiring reimmunization at approximately 10-year intervals. As to Mark’s claim, I searched PubMed using multiple search terms, plus searching using several lay search engines. No results. I can only conclude that Mark made up this claim. Unless, of course, he provides citations.
    Claim #5:

    The HIV epidemic can be shown to follow the distribution of the MMR vaccine. Did the vaccine create a breeding ground for the HIV virus? The study is too controversial to get funded.

    This is a two-part claim (1) that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) somehow contributed to the AIDS epidemic and (2) that investigating the claim is “too controversial to get funded”

    Part 1: The MMR vaccine was licensed in 1971. HIV came to public attention in 1981 citation; most of the people affected were far too old to have received the MMR vaccine. Since there are no other supporting studies, I think that we can put this claim into the “not proven” category. Unless, of course, Mark comes back and provides sound evidence.

    Part 2: “too controversial to get funded” — well, until Mark provides evidence that there’s an MMR vaccine-AIDS link, I think that this can be safely dismissed.

    Again, Mark is making stuff up.

    To support the thesis of scientific morons, look at the rants of Leonardo d’Caprio.

    Non sequitir and far to silly to respond to.

  • http://roguemedic.com/ Rogue Medic

    Alareth,

    Those imaginary stories are just designed to create fear and confusion. Then it becomes a matter of trying to prove that 2 unrelated things have nothing to do with each other. This requires a lot of time and money, which is diverted from real medical problems. The results will never satisfy the critics. They will only make up more excuses for distrusting vaccines.

    These are the people who will pull a fire alarm just to watch the confusion they cause. They endanger other people for their own entertainment.

  • elleyeah

    @ rogue medic…was there proof that the world was round..before the truth was discovered?

  • cgauthier

    @Mark in Idaho, USA

    I’m so sorry for your children, should you have any. If you don’t please castrate yourself and, at the very least, stop using science-based medicine for the rest of your life. If you don’t BigPharma will get you!

  • RJ

    @ breast feeders
    Sure breaast milk is great for the baby…as long as the mother is eating correctly. If the mother has a horrible diet or is addicted to drugs, alcohol, etc., I doubt that her milk would be very nutritious or benficial to her baby than formula.

  • Alyson Irvin

    Honestly, I dont even think it is fair to say it is illiteracy that causes not just celebrities but many people in general to push science to the side and believe some pretty strange things. Im sure Im not the only one who has spent the time explaining to someone who believes something not in evidence, or which evidence contradicts and hit a brick wall. Its not a lack of information, or an inability to understand information, it is often a flat refusal to even look outside of the existing belief system at information that might contradict their existing beliefs.

    The majority of people believe what they want to believe, and a genius is someone who provides them with evidence or something that can pass for evidence to support this existing belief. An idiot is someone who provides an argument against their cherished belief.

  • Jennifer Welsh

    @elleyeah even the ancient Greeks knew the earth was round. In Columbus’s time no educated person though the earth was flat (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/history/1997Russell.html), just like no educated people today thinks any of these pseudoscience hoaxes or conspiracy theories are right.

    Thanks for the interesting comments and discussions. And thanks for Liz Ditz for doing my job for me!

    Jen

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