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Famous for Being Fatuous: Celebs and Pols Say the Darnedest Things—Especially about Science

If the recent election season has taught us anything, it's that fame does not equal brains, at least when it comes to science
the August 2011 Republican debate



Wikimedia Commons

In recent months, politicians cranking up their campaigns for the 2012 presidential elections have made some science claims that might be called interesting at best. Whether it's Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) comparing himself with Galileo or U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) claiming, against all scientific evidence, that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, it's clear that some leaders' grasps on science are tenuous at best.* Of course, this summer was hardly the first season during which politicians and celebrities have flubbed at science. In fact, it happens all the time.

We decided to take a look back at some of the biggest science goofs made by public figures in the past 10 years. Some of these were submitted by Scientific American readers, who wrote in with their favorites. Others came from Sense about Science's yearly report on celebrity science gaffes. The rest came from simply searching the Internet, and, let's just say, they weren't hard to find. Did your favorite make this list? Feel free to let us know about the latest vacuous statement tossed off as scientific fact that you've heard or read in the news in the past month by e-mailing us at submit@sciam.com. Please include a URL or other source that documents the statement.


Sally Kern, Oklahoma State Rep. (R), presenting some skewed social statistics:

"Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it's the death knell of this country."—March 11, 2008

"While terrorism has killed more than 3,000 people in the continental United States in the last 15 years, homosexual behavior has killed more than 100,000. It's a danger to life. It is a danger to health."—October 8, 2008

"We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that's tragic, but are they in prison because they are black or because they don't want to study as hard in school? I've taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn't study hard because they said the government would take care of them."—April 27, 2011

Rep. Hank Johnson, (D–Ga.), explaining why he was concerned for the U.S. territory of Guam if a new Marine contingent was sent to the island:

"My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize."—March 25, 2010

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly recently speaking with David Silverman, president of American Atheists:

"I'll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion," he told Silverman. "Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that. You can't explain why the tide goes in."—January 4th 2011

An article in O, The Oprah Magazine on a healer who calls himself "John of God" is overflowing with bad science. Susan Casey, the editor of O and author of the story, wrote:

"Despite widespread skepticism, evidence shows that energy healing not only exists but can be deeply powerful. Traditional Eastern treatments like acupuncture and Reiki act to strengthen the body's life force, known as chi or prana. Prayer as a conduit for healing is a long-held religious ritual, along with the laying on of hands."—December 2010 issue of O.

Model Heather Mills, promoting her newly opened vegan restaurant, told The Guardian just how unhealthy she thinks meat is:

"[Meat] sits in your colon for 40 years and putrefies, and eventually gives you the illness you die of. And that is a fact."—July 19, 2009

To the dismay of metallurgists all over the world, Rosie O'Donnell claimed that the 9/11 attacks had to have been an inside job, because heat simply cannot melt metal.

"I do believe that it's the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel."—March 29, 2007

To prove that it's not just U.S. celebrities and politicians who trip up, here's then–prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, trying to explain what proof is:

"A proof is a proof. What kind of proof? It's a proof. A proof is proof. And when you have a good proof, it's because it is proven."—September 5, 2002

Last but not least, cage fighter Alex Reid has some interesting ideas about sex and sports:

"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!'."—April 8, 2010

*Correction (10/12/11): This sentence was edited after posting. It originally misidentified Michele Bachmann as a Senator.

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