When was the last time you saw a scientist on the cover of a glossy magazine or watched a reality show about the comings and goings of an engineering lab? The answer is probably never because our detail oriented and focused careers struggle to compete with the public's huge appetite for sensational celebrity news and gossip.

Many celebrities achieve their elevated status through excellence in acting, singing or sports, however, these skills don't make them an expert in science, nutrition or medicine.

Even so, we are seeing more and more examples where scientific advice is being given by people whose status is measured by the number of Twitter or Facebook followers they have rather than their academic qualifications and experience.

A study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that people trust celebrities with their health, even when it might cause them harm, and that celebrities are often perceived as having greater credibility and sway than medical doctors, despite having little if any medical knowledge or expertise.


It goes against common sense, which tells us to see a mechanic when our car is broken, to visit a doctor when we are ill and to watch one of the Iron Man movies when we want to watch Gwyneth Paltrow play a personal assistant.

Paltrow has managed to be held in higher esteem than doctors by some of her followers, hundreds of which paid thousands of dollars last week to attend her health and lifestyle summit. The summit used A-list celebrities and book pushing doctors to give out medical advice, sell health and nutritional products and promote beauty treatments. Products included a $115 medicine bag containing "magically charged stones" for healing and inner strength and a $90 jade egg which apparently increases feminine energy when inserted into your nether regions.

Even though many of the products sold at the conference were nothing more than pseudoscientific snake oil beautifully wrapped in pretty packaging, they were priced at such a premium that many were convinced they must work.

Paltrow is not the only celebrity to enjoy the "halo" effect giving them a cloak of generalised trustworthiness that extends well beyond their expertise; pseudoscientific alternative medicines and treatments that use jargon-filled descriptions have been pushed by celebrities for cash for years.

Pushing obscure treatments and unproven medical advice, such as detoxing, to the masses helps no one other than the fruit-filled bottled drinks companies, which can't even name the toxins they are removing, and the celebrity chef selling paleo-for-babies recipe books, which health experts warn could seriously harm infants.

The challenge we scientists have is figuring out how to reduce the serious impact that pop culture brings to big issues when faced with celebrities, including President Donald Trump, Jim Carrey and Alicia Silverstone, publically pushing their unfounded views connecting vaccinations and autism.

One advantage celebrities have over scientists is their clear communication skills and ability to emotionally connect with audiences, helping them to sway their followers to blindly believe rather than critically think about the issue.

Misguided celebrity advice can pose a serious health hazard, which is rising because of the declining amount of mainstream science in our media and increasing number of science-themed infographics being shared on social media without original sources being referenced.

Unless we have more education teaching scientific literacy that shows how medical advice comes from large controlled trials studied by scientists in rigorous ways on people representative of the general population, not the anecdotal evidence from one naturally slim and beautiful celebrity, who has learned the commercial value of their brand, the risk to our public health will only increase.