Commentary: Jeff Steer – Celebrity influence disdains rationality

    While the talk has been gossiping about Will Smith this spring, it’s bringing to mind a broader concept about this nation’s unhealthy focus on celebrities.

    Twenty years ago this month, the eyes of the country’s lawmakers were fixed on a witness at a gentle hearing. As CNN’s Jonathan Karl reports, “I’ve never seen so many people gather at an appropriations subcommittee hearing.”

    Was it a discussion about how much money would go to education or pandemic preparedness? No, members of Congress and the media flocked to watch star Julia Roberts ask for $15 million to fund research into rare, albeit dangerous, Rett syndrome. The International Rett Syndrome Society cites 3,000 cases of neurological disorders in the United States, which prevent patients from communicating or controlling their body movements.

    We all wish there was enough research money to treat or prevent Rett syndrome, as well as many other terrible diseases. But given the limited amount of dollars for research, we must spend that money wisely, getting the most benefit per dollar for public health.


    According to Dr. Arthur Kaplan, who was director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “a research pie is like a balloon; when a celebrity sits on one end, that budget really distorts.” distorted, because “the prevalence and burden of the disease have nothing to do with the disease that attracts celebrity support.”

    Should we take money from one cause and give it to another because one disease has a beautiful woman as an advocate?

    To the detriment of society and public health, things have only gotten worse in the past two decades. Celebrities, many of whom use their power for good, do a lot of harm, too. Not only do they distort our appropriation of research funding, they also discourage parents from vaccinating their children, get undue attention to their most absurd personal grievances, and spit out all manner of potentially harmful magic supplements.

    It’s easy to blame members of Congress for coming to hear (or see?) Julia Roberts, CNN and NBC for giving her free airtime, and more recently, TMZ and Buzzfeed for posting celebrity clickbait stories, but in the end we, the consumers of that content, who have The ability to vote using our remote controls and web browsers.

    However, it is worth inviting the media even to pay attention to the most unpublishable stories. Over the past few months, the Washington Post, NBC News, and CNN have been among the culprits, making headlines such as “Linda Evangelista sues $50 million for defacing cosmetic treatment.” The former supermodel has already experienced unwanted side effects of the CoolSculpting treatment. But there is a wrinkle. Given that Evangelista would have been required to sign a waiver accepting the same risks of side effects as hers, her $50 million lawsuit is, at best, a publicity stunt. The major news outlets in our country play the role of useful fools.

    It is not just ‘earned media’, it is paid media as well. Consider the constant ads on Fox News featuring former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee promoting Relaxium Sleep, an over-the-counter natural sleep supplement. This over-the-counter sleep elixir, among other things, is supposed to help you stay asleep at night. So if you wake up at night with a life-threatening but treatable medical condition like sleep apnea, you don’t even need to see a doctor.

    Too much for a “risk-free” offer.

    I like to blame the media, but in the end, as long as consumers read these articles, let Linda Evangelistas of the world get our attention or buy the products of celebrity hikers, we get what we deserve.

    We don’t let the musicians write the farm bill. Even the most famous midfielders don’t have much say in the national defence. We shouldn’t give tired movie stars, models, and politicians too much influence over our individual and public health decisions.

    Jeff Steer is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Consumer Choice. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.