I have always found it bizarre how much stock we put in things said by celebrities. If someone is a good actor or singer or athlete, for some reason we buy the products they endorse. They don’t get paid millions of dollars because no one listens to them. Michelle Dickinson points out the obvious:
When was the last time you saw a scientist on the cover of a glossy magazine or watched a reality show about the comings and goings of an engineering lab? The answer is probably never because our detail oriented and focused careers struggle to compete with the public’s huge appetite for sensational celebrity news and gossip.
Many celebrities achieve their elevated status through excellence in acting, singing or sports, however, these skills don’t make them an expert in science, nutrition or medicine.
Even so, we are seeing more and more examples where scientific advice is being given by people whose status is measured by the number of Twitter or Facebook followers they have rather than their academic qualifications and experience.
A study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that people trust celebrities with their health, even when it might cause them harm, and that celebrities are often perceived as having greater credibility and sway than medical doctors, despite having little if any medical knowledge or expertise.It goes against common sense, which tells us to see a mechanic when our car is broken, to visit a doctor when we are ill and to watch one of the Iron Man movies when we want to watch Gwyneth Paltrow play a personal assistant.
Paltrow has managed to be held in higher esteem than doctors by some of her followers, hundreds of which paid thousands of dollars last week to attend her health and lifestyle summit. The summit used A-list celebrities and book pushing doctors to give out medical advice, sell health and nutritional products and promote beauty treatments. Products included a $115 medicine bag containing “magically charged stones” for healing and inner strength and a $90 jade egg which apparently increases feminine energy when inserted into your nether regions.
Even though many of the products sold at the conference were nothing more than pseudoscientific snake oil beautifully wrapped in pretty packaging, they were priced at such a premium that many were convinced they must work.
The cynic in me wants to say that anyone dumb enough to take Gwyneth Paltrow seriously and shell out huge amounts of money for scam products deserves to lose their money, so screw ’em. But this kind of thing is not just bad for them, it’s bad for society in a number of important ways. I don’t have a solution to it, other than that anything that makes health claims should be subject to rigorous testing by the FDA and no one should be allowed to sell a product making such claims without credible studies to prove its effectiveness.