Celebrity Science

Ever hear one of your favorite stars talking about their favorite cleanse and decided you just had to try it? Or the latest greatest diet by so-and-so the super fit super model? How about someone in the breakroom recommending something Dr. Oz said was the way to go for their health needs? You might want to think about those before you jump in and try them…

I ran across an article while researching for a class, and it reminded me of a crack I’d made to a fellow classmate who had joked about doing something Dr. Oz recommended. Might want to find someone who practices real science! But does the average consumer understand what a line they are being fed?

Too often, Hoffman says, the health practices and products endorsed by celebrities are nothing more than “health-information pollution.”

“You might think that celebrities who promote things that don’t work aren’t causing much harm, but they are,” he says. “They make people aware of things that are unhelpful and wasteful and that can negatively affect their health. They also make it harder for people to figure out what they’re actually supposed to do to be healthy.”

The author points out that celebrities have a great influence on the everyday life of the average North American consumer. While at one time, celebrities were inaccessible and remote, now with social media and the internet, they can, and do, talk about everything. When they speak, people listen to them, for better or worse. Dr Yoni Freedhoff says that it is a problem when “the medical advice offered by celebrities is more highly regard than a doctor’s professional opinion.” Not only that, but with the world wide web, what they do say lingers on and on. Ellen Raphael, of Sense About Science, which offers to coach celebrities as part of its drive to increase the public’s understanding of science, said: “People in the public eye have disproportionately “loud” voices, and with the internet misleading claims live on for a long time.

Timothy Caulfield, a professor and author, who has written a book about the phenomenon, says that it’s all about the marketing, when it comes to what the celebrities say and why they speak. And why do we listen? Because we form an attachment pattern to the faces we see so often, and are inclined to like and trust them. Even Dr. Oz, an actual medical doctor, supports theories with no scientific support, and millions flock to his recommendation. Not all celebrities are so obviously fraudulent. Glenn Close and Michael J Fox both help reputable research happen by lending their support.

Bowl of heirloom tomatoes
non-organic produce, grown by organic principles. Confused yet?

We need  to look for the real truth, and to learn when we should verify before we trust blindly. Anyone selling a product must be doubly suspected, and as the author points out, it would be good to learn how to look deeper than simply accepting ‘studies say.’ What studies? And what did they really say? When we look at real facts and figures, we can rely on those with decisions that can affect our health and that of our families. This does not mean going to WebMd to search symptoms or cures for what ails us. Here’s an example of a good article with solid figures and studies, and it’s also a convincing argument against wholly relying on sites like WebMd for self-diagnosis.

“The same study found 24 percent of Internet users—18 percent of adults—have read online reviews of drugs or medical treatments. And 30 percent of adults in the U.S. believe that following medical advice or health information obtained online has helped them or someone they know.3 In addition, up to 89 percent of parents search the Internet for information about their children’s health concerns.4″ However, you might want to think twice about using the Internet as your only source of health information. First of all, there’s a chance you might misdiagnose yourself. One survey of 1,000 women in Britain—conducted by Balance Activ, maker of a vaginal infection treatment—found a quarter of the respondents misdiagnosed themselves and used the wrong treatment.5″ 

While most will admit that when used carefully, and without relying on only one site, there are also cautions against using sources like Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia is not updated automatically when important information, like that on prescription drugs, changes.

“And the problem is that patients may not have the background or training to assess what’s good medical information and what’s not,” said study co-author John Seeger. He’s an assistant professor in the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“So if the information they find online isn’t up-to-date, we have a real challenge,” he said.


In the end, it seems that the best solution is to spend some time and effort on educating yourself about health, and how to understand what a reliable source is, or isn’t. This is an important topic, and one worth the work, I would think. Rather than blindly following the ‘loud’ voices, seek out the truth, and be happier and safer for it.

6 thoughts on “Celebrity Science

  1. Dr Yoni Freedhoff says that it is a problem when “the medical advice offered by celebrities is more highly regard than a doctor’s professional opinion.”

    Possibly that’s because so many doctors give advice that’s not just wrong, it’s dangerous? Or it’s no better supported than what the celebrities are going off of, but without giving any sources for what they’re urging?

    At least a celebrity is openly not giving advice with an eye to a specific patient– I’ve got pregnancy pamphlets that put “doctors wish more people would do this” on the same level as “this actually causes problems.”
    I’ve drunk 16 cups of water for exactly one week in my pregnancy; the doctor flipped, because I gained eight pounds that week. I went back to drinking when I’m thirsty, and not only did my weight drop back in line with what it had previously been, a lot of worrying symptoms stopped when it did, like tingling in my extremities and really dire round ligament pain. The only reason I tried it is because being very well hydrated can prevent false positives on gestational diabetes.

    1. Doctors being idiots is a whole ‘nother post. You’re quite right, you can’t put yourself and your family blindly in their hands. But the celebs with their paid endorsements are far worse.

    Celebrated writer Cedar Sanderson, a 2015 Hugo Ward nominee, has just released the following information on her celebrated blog, “Cedar Writes.”

    “Educate yourself,” she says, stunning us all with her brilliantly incisive, luminous prose.

    Of course, what we are all breathlessly waiting to find out is the impact of her celebrity status in her college classes. Is she still having to touch stuff in her chemistry lab, or use the common disposable gloves available to regular students?
    Have the Regents of the University provided her with the additional security called for by her celebrity status? What is the impact of her Hugo nomination on her instructors in writing and literature. We think it might be intimidating to be responsible for grading the work of a Hugo nominee. Does Cedar change classes at the regular time, or does a cohort of body guards whisk her from place to place?
    I wonder if the amount of time she spends signing autographs will detract from her studies…..
    And finally,
    Will she still feel free to dance frabjously across campus, sprinkling daisies and field mice upon all and sundry, during those exquisite days of warmth and sunlight which will doubtlessly be an integral part of her future? Except for the snow, because she likes snow as well. Snow flowers and white sables to be sprinkled on snow days.

    1. LOL – Pat, I don’t talk much about this sort of thing at school. Thank goodness, I’m all done with any English of Lit class requirements. I have exactly one professor who even knows what the Hugo Awards are, and he teaches drawing. He knows what my skill level is there 😛 I don’t expect this to impact my day-to-day life much, I’m just hoping the backlash doesn’t leave a scar.

  3. You hope the backlash DOESN’T leave a scar? I cry you, Nay, Good Author! For
    “She that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the nominations feast her neighbours,
    And say “To-morrow comes the Hugo nominations”
    Then will she strip her sleeve and show her scars,
    And say “These wounds I had on on Sad Puppies backlash.”
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But she’ll remember, with advantages,
    What feats she did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in her mouth as household words-
    Mad Geniuses all: Dave Freer the monkey man,
    Amanda S. Green, Cedar Sanderson;
    Aye and Jason Cordova for the John H. Campbell!
    This story shall the good woman teach her tots;
    And Hugo Nominations shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few, we Sad Puppies!”

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