Celebrity Science

The current issue of Reader’s Digest has an article on “The Trouble with Celebrity Science.”  “What happens when stars weigh in on medical topics?…Celebrities may be perfectly qualified to evaluate sneakers, but that doesn’t mean you want to learn biochemistry from them.” They mention Tom Cruise’s sweeping condemnation of modern psychiatry, then focus on…

Are you ready for this?….

Woo-promoter extraordinaire Oprah Winfrey, anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy, and gluten-free advocate Elisabeth Hasselbeck!!!

With regards to Oprah’s recommendations for bioidentical hormones, they point out that if you believe they have all the benefits but none of the risks of pharmaceutical hormones, you believe in the tooth fairy. With regards to Jenny’s ravings, they clearly say vaccines save lives and do not cause autism and they stress that the science is not on Jenny’s side. Hasselbeck I wasn’t familiar with, but apparently she is famous from Survivor and The View and is gluten sensitive. She has written a book describing how she “discovered the myriad benefits that anyone can enjoy from a gluten-free diet: from weight loss and increased energy to even the alleviation of the conditions of autism.”Reader’s Digest says don’t bother with a gluten free diet unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

They even included a sidebar with 4 questions to ask before you buy into the latest health fad:

  1. Anecdote or evidence?
  2. How strong is the research?
  3. Who’s making the claim?
  4. Does it pass the smell test? (words like miracle and cure and conspiracy theories)

Reader’s Digest has been deteriorating in recent years and has published a lot of questionable medical information. They might have written about “The Trouble with Celebrity Science and Reader’s Digest Science.” But they have partially redeemed themselves with this article. Finally, a popular mainstream publication that supports science and is not afraid to contradict Jenny – or Oprah!

This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.


Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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