Celebrity Snake Oil

Jen Gunter makes an observation:

It is the standard Paltrow profile. They are never interviews. There are no real questions and of course no answers. Even when she was interviewed earlier this year by the BBC and asked about me (that “Canadian gynecologist”) she gave a non answer that was simply accepted and the reporter moved on.

As we rarely, if ever, read an actual interview with Paltrow it suggests to me they are not allowed. It would be nice if reporters and publications included the terms that got them access to publish images of Paltrow in a bikini.

There are, broadly speaking, two types of media interview: celebrity interviews and investigative interviews.

Celebrity interviews are basically marketing. Some celebrity — be they an actor, musician, writer or whatever — releases a piece of entertainment and then starts touring media outlets to promote their product. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but we do need to keep in mind that this sort of content is promotional and that neither the interviewer or interviewee expects any difficult questions to be either asked or answered.

Investigative interviews, on the other hand do — or should — involve difficult questions. These are the interviews in which the interviewer seeks to reveal facts on which the interviewee would rather not dwell: a political reporter trying to establish the consequences of a proposed policy; for example, or an investigative journalist seeking to hold to account an exploitative or dishonest business owner.

It’s when the dishonest business owner is also a celebrity that problems begin to arise.

While Gwyneth Paltrow should be challenged about her business and her business practices, she is instead talking to people whose idea of a tough question is to ask whether Pepper Potts will be in the next Avengers film. And Paltrow gets to promote her business to a journalist whose job it is to help her promote her business.

I have no problem with Paltrow giving celebrity interviews to celebrity interviewers to talk about her celebrity activities. But the celebrity interviewers need to recognise that they do not have the skills or experience needed to hold Paltrow the businesswoman to account and should stay well away from talking about GOOP.

Herd immunity saves lives

From the WHO Fact Sheet:

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2015, there were 134 200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 79% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2015 worldwide.
  • In 2015, about 85% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2015, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 20.3 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

In 2015 the Italian populist 5 Star Movement started circulating scare vaccination scare stories. Inevitably, this has led to a measles epidemic in the country:

In the first quarter of 2017, there is a six-fold increase in registered cases, with Health Ministry officials reporting 1,500 registered cases, up from 840 in 2016 and 250 in 2015. The United States Center for Disease Control issued a warning to tourists about the potentially fatal disease, Reuters reports.

No-one has died. Yet.

Quote of the Day: Embrace your mistakes

[Fear of being wrong is] why the quality of discussion is forever spiraling into the drain. People are afraid to be wrong. Tactical voting exists because people are afraid they won’t have voted for the winner (or a close runner up). It’s why ‘mediums’ and psychics exist and flourish (despite being Bullsh*t), and why people still turn to watercures, or homeopathy and believe in Astrology (again, all bullsh*t) and why Creationism has been a hotly contested topic over the last 15 years in school districts across the US – despite there being zero evidence to support a creationist argument.

Andrew Norton

I do feel obliged to add a minor disclaimer here. Although I agree with the thrust of Norton’s argument I would dispute his inclusion of tactical voting in the above quote. From a UK perspective, the First Past The Post voting system leads to most votes being wasted – unless you are a floating voter in a Midlands marginal, your vote really doesn’t matter. Under this system, people turn to tactical voting in an effort to keep out the candidate that they find most objectionable because they know that their preferred candidate doesn’t have a hope of being elected.

A more modern electoral system would, of course, remove the need for tactical voting. And this is why it’s so depressing that the UK electorate collectively decided that they were too stupid to count when given the opportunity.

Quote of the Day: Believe!

The Register reports that Christian satellite channel, Believe TV is facing “statutory sanctions” from Ofcom (normally a very hands-off regulator) for advertising dodgy products and claiming – among other things – that real medicine can be replaced with Ribena.

Halfway through the article, writer Bill Ray notes:

Ofcom also points out that anyone watching Believe TV is probably quite gullible

‘Nuff said.

Fairy Dust and the Streisand Effect

Italian blogger, Samuele Riva is being sued by Boiron, a French company that sells homoeopathic quackery. In fact, Boiron is the largest manufacturer of homoeopathic products in the world and the second largest manufacturer of over-the-counter products in France. This is big business, which is probably why the company was so stung when some random Italian pointed out just how silly this pseudoscience really is.

The product that Riva picked up on is Ooscillococcinum – and this really does deserve all the mockery that can be piled onto it. The company claims that the product has been made by diluting “oscillococcinum” (which doesn’t actually exist) at 1:100 dilution 200 times. This is the equivalent of diluting 1ml of original ingredient into a volume of water that is the size of the known universe.

Or, as Steven Novella of Science Based Medicine very eloquently puts it:

[E]ssentially Boiron takes fairy dust and then dilutes it out of (non)existence.

Novella summarises by saying:

I hope Boiron does draw a line in the sand over their oscillococcinum product, and that it becomes the center piece of a broader public discussion about homeopathy. Most of the public does not understand what homeopathy actually is. They think it means “natural” or “herbal” medicine. They have no idea that homeopathy is about taking fanciful ingredients with a dubious connection to the symptoms in the first place, and then diluting them into oblivion, then placing a drop of the pure water that remains and placing it on a sugar pill. The resultant pill is then supposed to contain the magic vibrations of the original substance.

This rank pseudoscience, which has no place in 21st century medicine, is the business of Boiron. Let’s see them try to defend themselves and their products. Let’s see them harass bloggers and those who are just trying to expose the public to the truth. Let’s see them argue in public how air bubbles in duck liver fantastically diluted can treat the flu.

Riva’s blog is in Italian, but he has set up an English Page, Boiron vs Blogzero, to provide updates on the affair.

Via BoingBoing