Published December 28, 2011
From whale sperm to colon cleansers to the shape of a woman's foot when she has an orgasm, celebrities did not disappoint during 2011 with their penchant for peddling suspect science in the world's media.
In its annual list of what it considers the year's worst abuses against science, the Sense About Science (SAS) campaign named reality TV star Nicole Polizzi, Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann and American singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro as top offenders, with their dubious views on why the sea is salty, the risks of cervical cancer vaccines and the colon.
"I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleanser powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference," Quatro told the Daily Mail newspaper.
But SAS was keen to dispel such myths. It asked qualified scientists from various disciplines to comment on some of the worst celebrity science offences.
"The colon is very important in some diseases, but it certainly is not the cause of all illnesses," said Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist said in the review.
"Sore throats do not come from your colon; they are caused by viruses that come in through your nose and mouth. Taking 'colon cleansers' has no beneficial effect on your throat -- or on your colon."
While the review is partly about entertainment, the campaign group stresses it also has a serious aim -- to make sure pseudo-science is not allowed to become accepted as true.
After Bachmann used an appearance on a television show to tell a story of a woman from Tampa, Florida, who said her daughter had become "mentally retarded" after getting an HPV vaccine designed to protect against cervical cancer, doctors said they feared the damage done may take many years to reverse.
"It's tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse," said SAS's managing director Tracey Brown.
"At a time when celebrities dominate the public realm, the pressure for sound science and evidence must keep pace."
The review also highlighted a bizarre quote from TV personality Polizzi, who declared recently: "I don't really like the beach. I hate sharks, and the water's all whale sperm. That's why the ocean's salty."
Simon Boxall, a marine expert and oceanographer dismissed Polizzi's suggestion. "It would take a lot of whale sperm to make the sea that salty," he said.
Some of the most intriguing pseudo-scientific suggestions came via repeated second hand information picked up at parties -- never the most reliable source.
Christian Louboutin, a French footwear designer, was taken with something a fellow party guest told him about shoes.
"She said that what is sexual in a high heel is the arch of the foot, because it is exactly the position of a woman's foot when she orgasms. So putting your foot in a heel, you are putting yourself in a possibly orgasmic situation," he explained.
Kevan Wylie, a consultant in sexual medicine, responded drily that it's important to differentiate cause from effect.
"A woman's foot may be in this position during orgasm, but that does not mean that putting her foot into this position under other circumstances will result in orgasm," he said.