ET EXTRA: Celebrity Thinking

05 May

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

“A 2006 study by S. Mark Young and Drew Pinsky published in the Journal of Research in Personality … supports the contention that celebrities as a group are narcissists.”

“Most celebrities have at best graduated from high school. Hence, it is quite extraordinary that they should feel sufficiently knowledgeable to contribute to complex issues in physics, psychiatry, medicine, and biology.”

-from “I’m Not a Doctor, But…” by Gad Saad, Ph.D., in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Psychology Today.

The article by Dr. Saad basically says that one should not bother listening to celebrities for their advice on matters of science. This is a logical fallacy of the kind known as “hasty generalization,” i.e. Dr. Saad assumes that all celebrities, as a group, have the same lack of education. It is however possible for some celebrities to achieve advanced education without formal training, or for some celebrities to have formal training.

Nonetheless, one of the important principles of Engineering Thinking is playing the odds, and in this sense Dr. Saad’s advice is sound; i.e. it’s best to be highly skeptical of the advice of celebrities, unless you know that they have achieved proficiency in the science of which they speak. I think this leaves out Tom Cruise, Oprah, Al Gore, Madonna, and numerous others.

Looking at the other side of the coin, it is quite amazing to me that regular folks pay so much attention to celebrities, particularly movie actors. The characters they play may move us, but the actors themselves are not those characters (with the exception of Audie Murphy, a real World War II hero who later acted his life’s story in To Hell and Back); they are unknown to us, their real selves hidden behind the protective distortions of their PR machines.

Shouldn’t the word “celebrity” be reserved for people who have actually given us something to celebrate, such as our military, police, firefighters, and others who risk their lives to protect the rest of us?

-Ed Walker


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