Celebrity endorsements that are science fiction trashed in annual list
By ALOK JHA, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT - THE GUARDIAN
Added: Wed, 29 Dec 2010 13:39:43 UTC
[Moderator's note: Sense About Science does excellent work, and its website is a valuable resource.]
Have you heard the one about the bracelet with holograms that can improve your strength and flexibility, or help you lose weight? Did you know that sperm was highly nutritious and something to be reabsorbed into the body, particularly before a fight?
For the past 12 months a range of celebrities have endorsed and promoted a whole range of scientifically dubious ideas. Fortunately, for anyone concerned that people might take the celebrity nonsense seriously, scientists and doctors are on hand to dispense some corrective wisdom on the dodgiest of these claims.
The campaign group Sense About Science (SAS) has collated scores of examples of scientific abuse from the past year and today publishes its annual list of celebrity-science shame. "When people in the public eye give opinions about causes of disease, cures, diets, or products we should buy or avoid, that's it, their opinion goes worldwide in seconds," said Lindsay Hogg, assistant director of SAS. "It gets public attention and appears in every related Google search for months. So if it's scientifically wrong, we're stuck with the fallout from that."
This year saw the biggest rise in dubious ideas among celebrities about the way our bodies work, said the campaigners. Olivia Newton-John, for example, told a newspaper in the summer that she took extra digestive enzymes and "plant tonics" to boost her immune system. Pop star Sarah Harding, meanwhile, extolled the virtues of sprinkling charcoal on to her meals to Now magazine, as a way of absorbing the "bad, damaging stuff" in the body. "All the digestive enzymes you need are produced in a beautifully co-ordinated way by different structures in your gut," said Melita Gordon, consultant gastroenterologist at Royal Liverpool University hospital. "They work best at the exact location where they are produced. Your body makes all the enzymes you need, in the right place, at the right time."
Writer and chemist John Emsley pointed out that, although charcoal was known to absorb toxic molecules when used in gas masks and in sewage treatment, it was unnecessary when it comes to diet because the body is already quite capable of removing any "bad, damaging stuff" it encounters in ordinary consumption. "It might help prevent any smelly farts, though."
SAS also pointed to several examples of sports stars, actors and even Spanish government ministers endorsing Power Balance, a silicone bracelet that contains a hologram. David Beckham, Kate Middleton, Robert de Niro and Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello have all made positive noises about the device, according to SAS.
Greg Whyte, a sports scientist at Liverpool John Moores University, said Barrichello's claim that he felt and performed better when he exercised wearing the bracelet was not surprising. "Over time physical training enhances oxygen transport and consumption, and increases muscle mass and range of motion," he said. "Any perceived enhancement to his performance from wearing the Power Balance bracelet is likely to be a placebo effect, as he expects to feel a change."
Cage fighter Alex Reid took things much further with his tips for health this year. Giving his fans advice on how to prepare for a match, he told the Sun: "It's actually very good for a man to have unprotected sex as long as he doesn't ejaculate. Because I believe that all that semen has a lot of nutrition. A tablespoon of semen has your equivalent of steak, eggs, lemons and oranges. I am reabsorbing it into my body and it makes me go raaaaahh."
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