Cambridge mathematicians not yet wasting time completely

I came across this weird story by Ben Goldacre at a site called Bad Science. The Daily Telegraph (a British newspaper) printed a story that claimed that a team of Cambridge mathematicians had shown that actress Jessica Alba had the sexiest walk. The simplest explanation would be that a Telegraph reporter was hanging out at a bar frequented by Cambridge mathematicians who announced, five pints into the evening, that the sexiness of Alba’s walk was objective fact.

The actual story is much more bizarre. A PR firm, as a small piece of a larger marketing strategy, wanted to produce scientific-sounding research that proved that curvier women were sexier than skinny women. They hunted around for someone who would produce the desired result, apparently without much success. They did find a single Cambridge mathematician to analyze survey data for them. When that didn’t result in the correct answer, they simply made up the result they wanted and reported that in a press release. A press release that the Telegraph reported as fact.

If you had that kind of power to feed drivel to newspapers and get it printed, why would you waste it on something as banal as Jessica Alba, sex symbol? Why not Wallace Shawn, sex symbol? Why not: Cambridge mathematicians discover that thanks to years of children not brushing their teeth three times a day, the world is going to end next Tuesday? It’s time that public relations stop being about the money, and start being about the artistry.