Celebrity science gaffes

The UK's Sense About Science charity surveyed some of last year's science-related boners pulled by celebrities. From New Scientist:
Did you know that when you eat meat, it stays in your gut for 40 years, putrefies and leads to a disease that kills you? "That is a fact," according to the model and charity campaigner Heather Mills...

Other celebs have been pulled up this year for apparently not realising that natural substances such as hormones are chemicals, and that ovulation is suppressed naturally by pregnancy and prolonged breastfeeding. Actress Suzanne Somers, for example, was quoted as saying that the contraceptive pill must be unsafe "because is it safe to take a chemical every day, and how would it be safe to take something that prevents ovulation?"

Actor Roger Moore, meanwhile, was taken to task for claiming that foie gras causes Alzheimer's disease, and Sarah Palin for dismissing evolution.

"Politicians and celebrities shamed for science gaffes" (New Scientist)

"Celebrities and Science 2009" (Sense About Science)


  1. This is why we should require celebs to hold graduate degrees in science. Natalie Portman can lead the way.

  2. There’s an urban / medical myth that John Wayne had 30 – 50 lbs. of rotting meat impacted in his bowels at the time of his death.

    This factoid is used by enema / detox enthusiasts.

    Not surprising that it has worked its way into the mind of vapid celebs.

  3. Wait, this means that celebrity spokespersons might not actually know what they’re talking about? They might just be reciting some kind of words they learned from a ‘script’?? They might even be getting paid to tell people these things???

    Perish the thought.

    1. In my experience celebrities aren’t any dumber or more misinformed than the average citizen- they just have a larger audience.

    2. Wait, this means that celebrity spokespersons might not actually know what they’re talking about? … Perish the thought.

      The issue is more that the public at large seems to think that being famous makes them a reliable source about… well… whatever really. Great (pop culture) power, great responsibility, etc. etc.

  4. Heather Mills also said Milk had pus in even after pasteurisation, and also said ‘That’s a fact!”

    She’s wrong, pasteurisation kills all the dodgy stuff.

  5. Ah, lovely, the joys of exposed ignorance, when the people who don’t know what they’re talking about (but think they do) coincidentally have automatic media coverage.

    Makes me angry, yeah, but more for the lack of critical thinking, and our celebrity culture.

  6. I know this list is primarily oriented toward UK readers, but let us not forget Bill Maher’s panic-mongering on the H1N1 vaccine–especially galling from someone who comes down firmly on the side of reality when it comes to evolution, global warming, and 9/11 troofers…

    1. That Maher video just enrages me. I want to reach my hand into the screen and strangle him. I can’t believe I’m on Bill Frists side. Only time, I think. “There’s a lot that western medicine misses”? You know what, there’s a hell of a lot more that hippy-dippy holostic crap medicine misses. Try curing cancer with homeopathy, I dare you (actually, I don’t. just use western medicine)

      There are few people that can drive me nuts so quickly like vaccine-sceptics. They should be beaten over the head with a knowledge stick.

  7. I never considered standing in front of an audience or camera and pretending to be someone else magically qualified you to consider yourself an expert on science, politics, etc. Maybe you could consider yourself an expert on acting but that is about it.

  8. Back in the 80s there was an ad for some ind of pain reliever that began thus:

    “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

    Followed by 25 seconds of inane drivel about the efficacy of the product.

    Even when you say it outright, it’s just amazing how many people are willing to be duped by the floating head in the big glowing box.

  9. We can add talentless MTV hack Jenny McCarthy’s crusade against vaccines that contain thimerosal. This is based on her belief that the deadly diseases they prevent are gone and that her background as a Playboy model gives her the insight of a PhD biochemist. I guess she’s rather see her child die of polio or rubella than some vague possibility of autism (who’s true cause is still unknown).

    If we based science on hunches and gut feelings, like she does, instead of experiment we’d still think flies spontaniously originated from rotting meat.

  10. One has to laugh at the fact that the “Sense about science” page has some media coverage links to publications notorious for their false and often irresponsible science coverage. This sort of thing backfires when newspapers can publish “ha! Celebrities are stupid but we’re not” articles.

  11. Oh, this is just priceless. From the “Celebrities and Science” publication at the Sense about Science website:

    The former tennis champion Annabel Croft has described the apparent remarkable recovery of her daughter Amber when she suffered severe food poisoning on a trip to Thailand: “I gave her arsenicum album*, which worked very quickly. She went from throwing up all night to dancing at the party.” *(Arsenicum album is a homeopathic product derived from arsenic.)

    Okay, but look at this reply from Dr. Keith Hopcroft:

    Food poisoning can clear up quite quickly in some cases just with clear fluids.

    There is nothing more dry than British humor, nor more sharp.

  12. I nearly did a spit-take at the last sentence of the linked article, regarding the myth about digesting meat proteins:

    “Any remaining indigestible matter is mechanically transited through the whole bowel in a matter of days and expelled in your faeces.”

    I totally thought it said “expelled in your faces.”

  13. On the other hand, I’d like to dispel the notion that “ovulation is suppressed naturally by … prolonged breastfeeding”. Yes, it often is, but please please PLEASE do not rely on breastfeeding as a contraceptive. Women can and do get pregnant while breastfeeding.

    1. Well said! Breastfeeding is not a reliable method of contraception, and even less so if you also have sufficient calories to maintain your body weight while breastfeeding.

  14. To be fair, horse placenta didn’t do shit for Robin van Persie’s ankle. He’ll be out until April.

    So…chalk one up for science.

  15. The Suzanne Somers quote isn’t really like the others. Just because a woman’s body naturally suppresses ovulation for a year or two doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily safe to artificially suppress it for decades. And if you read the quote in its original context, it’s clear that Somers is using “chemical” in it’s folk sense of “artificial chemical”.

    Which isn’t to say that she’s right about everything; she makes plenty of dubious scientific claims in that interview I linked to. But the New Scientist article is just taking the lazy way out.

  16. “boners pulled” heh heh. i recently found in a thrift shop a book from the 50s called “bigger and better boners” in this (ahem) vein.

  17. although i haven’t heard her talk about science per se, i have no doubt that paris hilton pulled a lot of boners in 2009.

  18. What about James May, on Have I Got news For You, trying to liken the Greenland icesheet to the ice cubes in his drink. “When the ice melted, my drink didn’t get any fuller..”

    And he is a man of science, for shame!

  19. Right on man! because the readers of Boing Boing really truly have a grasp of science and all its juicy goodness. We are all so lucky to have been given the genetic advantages and the Western opportunity to truly understand and appreciate science in all of its trappings. Cause everything we know now is “right” can’t be wrong- its all nicely packaged in the pretty gold standard wrapping of the double blind placebo study.

    BTW- pasteurization of a bucket of shit and a barrel of snot ‘gets rid of all the dodgy stuff’ just as well as bottle of milk but I’ll pass on slogging down a pint of it.

    Sheesh! I am old.

  20. I’m surprised they didn’t chastise Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy for their stupid vaccine fear-mongering.

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