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Journalists giving lobbyists’ advice to celebrities

January 4, 2007

A celebrity is someone who is pretty much famous for being famous.  Being a celebrity doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.  But strangely, it does mean a lot of people will listen to them as if they knew crap from car wax.

Now the reporters at BBC pass on this thought from Sense About Science, a lobby group* with ties to the Genetically Modified food industry: Stars need to check science facts, along with a few examples.

Even considering the source, it’s a sentiment I agree with.  From RFK Jr’s autism-vaccination connection to that movie actor who was elected president and wound up appointing James Watt to a cabinet position, celebrities are often tempted by popularity to believe they know what they’re talking about.

A hilarious example of empty advocacy can be found in Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t episode on environmentalism, where people attending a rally are enticed to sign a petition to ban the chemical, “di-hydrogen monoxide” because “it is found in our lakes and streams, and even in mother’s milk!.”

The unfortunate result of dimwit demagoguery is that it undermines the credibility of legitimate causes.  This is apparent in the very same episode of Bullsh*t, where Penn & Teller basically dismiss all environmental concerns because of a few people who just didn’t pay attention in high school science class.

Back to those lazy journalists who basically let lobby groups write their copy for them – go sell shoes or something!  Or failing that, at least study general science books on chemistry, geology, biology and so forth so you have a decent chance of distinguishing Public Relations from science when it lands in your inbox.  In other words, what’s sauce for the celebrity is sauce for the journalist.


* Here’s a clue that SAS is a lobby group:

If you are a commentator, medical charity, journalist, employer, educator, information service, local authority, national body, parliamentarian, health care provider, professional association, community group, NGO, lifestyle writer …or any other civic group in need of help or comment on a difficult or controversial area of science, call Sense About Science

Translation: “If you are too damn lazy to read up on a topic yourself, and would like us to hand you a packaged conclusion you can turn in to your editor so you can go to the pub, give us a call.”

For that matter, when a group has a self-serving label like “Sense” in their name, it’s like “Fair & Balanced” on a news show – you don’t take it very seriously.  It also pays to check out lobby groups by reading about them on the websites of other lobby groups. For instance, the anti-GM lobby group GMWatch has all the dirt on SAS.  Some of it may even be truthful.

By the way, it is true that I often link to BBC stories.  There are various reasons for this.  First, not all of them are derivitive; some are solid and connected to original sources.  Second, you can read them without having to “Register” or subscribe to a print edition.  For example, many good stories in Scientific American or The Economist are for subscribers only.  Also, they’re usually concise and well-written.  And I only link to BBC stories that are factually congruent with a wide range of other sources that I do trust. 

.. except the ones I link just to make fun of, like this one.  :smirk:


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