Celebrity endorsements for everything from homeopathy to Power Balance wrist bands are a depressingly effective substitute for scientific evidence. So if you can’t beat them, why not join them?
The sad fact is, when it comes to science, you can have as much data to support your claim as you like, you can have it rigorously tested, repeated, peer-reviewed, published, referenced copiously and awarded a Nobel prize, you can do all this, but if a competing theory has any element of celebrity endorsement, that’s the one most people are going to hear about. Even if it’s scientifically ludicrous. Actually, especially if it’s scientifically ludicrous. Just look at Power Balance wrist bands.
Celebrities promoting dubious science and scientists getting annoyed about it are nothing new. I guess this is understandable to a certain extent when you consider the sort of lives celebrities must lead, which must distort your world view somewhat. This is probably doubly true for famous actors, as their job is basically pretending that fictional worlds are real. That’s got to rub off on you at some point.
But it’s a depressingly common tactic for those who benefit from promoting or selling things contradicted by science to cite the supportive famous person as a substitute for genuine evidence. The latest example of this is a gushing puff-piece in the Mirror about celebrities who use homeopathy.
For those not yet familiar with homeopathy, it’s essentially a form of alternative medicine that argues that if you are suffering from an illness, then you take a substance that is known to cause the same symptoms as the illness or malady (eg if you have insomnia, use caffeine), dilute this substance down to the point where there’s none of it left in the water, then shake that water or slap it with a leather book (depends on who you ask, it seems), then sprinkle drops of the shaken/slapped water onto sugar pills and sell it to the general public as medicine.
Thing is, I’m not even slightly exaggerating for comic effect, that’s how homeopathy supposedly works. This isn’t mentioned anywhere in the celebrity article mentioned above, which I think is very telling. It does claim that “more than 10 million people in the UK” swear by it though. That’s around 15% of the entire UK population. Can that be right? I’ve never met anyone who swears by it in my 30 years. I’ve known plenty who swear about it though, are they counting them as part of that number?
I’m not going to devote an article to criticising homeopathy, there are plenty of people who can do that better. There are plenty of people who argue in favour of homeopathy, for numerous reasons, but it seems to be running into a lot of adversity these days, and it would be easy to interpret this latest media outburst as an attempt to boost support.