[This piece got massively cut for space in the paper, fair enough but personally I can't bear to look. Here's the last version I saw, with added email action from Professor Weber at the bottom.]
September 1st, 2007
“Jessica Alba has the perfect wiggle, study says”. You have to respect a paper like the Telegraph, especially when they report an important piece of science news like this on their news pages, especially when it gets picked up by other people like Fox news, and especially when it’s accompanied by a photograph of some hot totty. “Jessica Alba, the film actress, has the ultimate sexy strut, according to a team of Cambridge mathematicians.”
This important study was the work of a team – apparently – headed by Professor Richard Weber of Cambridge University, and I was particularly delighted to see it finally in print since, in the name of research, I discussed the possibility of prostituting my own good reputation for this same piece of guff with the very same PR company in June.
Here was their opening email: “We are conducting a survey into the celebrity top ten sexiest walks for my client Veet (hair removal cream) and we would like to back up our survey with an equation from an expert to work out which celebrity has the sexiest walk, with theory behind it. We would like help from a doctor of psychology or someone similar who can come up with equations to back up our findings, as we feel that having an expert comment and an equation will give the story more weight.” It got them on to the news pages of the Daily Telegraph.
I replied immediately. “Are there any factors you would particularly like to have in the equation? Something sexual perhaps?” “Hi Dr Ben,” replied Kiren. “We would really like the factors of the equation to include the thigh to calf ratio, the shape of the leg, the look of the skin and the wiggle (swing) of the hips… There is a fee of £500 which we would pay for your services.”
And there was survey data too. “We haven’t conducted the survey yet,” Kiren told me: “but we know what results we want to achieve.” That’s the spirit! “We want Beyonce to come out on top followed by other celebrities with curvy legs such as J-Lo and Kylie and celebrities like Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse to be at the bottom e.g – skinny and pale unshapely legs are not as sexy. I will find out when we will have the results of the survey for you. Are you pretty free this month to work on it?”
So. Clarion Communications do a survey, but they’ve already decided what the result is, beforehand. Then they employ Professor Weber. Then they have the gall to put out a press release with the headline: “Jessica Alba voted sexiest walk: with the figures to prove it.” Nice. Who does their surveys for them? It was an internal email sent around the company.
The press release continues. “Professors have hailed the waist-to-hip ratio as a significant factor in judging female attractiveness – women with a waist-to-hip (WHR) ratio near 0.7 (waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference) are invariably rated as most attractive.” And why? “The 0.7 WHR also gives Jessica the torso strength to produce a better angular swing and bounce to the hips when she walks, helping her to show off her best assets when she walks – her shapely curves and smooth, glossy legs.” Ooh look it’s all sciencey.
But it’s already perfectly well known from real research that European men prefer women with a waste-hip ratio of 0.7, and I wouldn’t be so sure that has anything to do with their “wiggle”, “torso strength”, “bounce”, or any ridiculous rigged survey.
More than that, students of comparative sociobiology who enjoyed last week’s nonsense on “why girls prefer pink” might also be interested to know that cultural variations have been identified: the preferred ratio has been reported as 0.6 in China; 0.8 or 0.9 in parts of Africa and South America; and there is even variation related to ethnicity within nations, although this kind of thing wasn’t in the “cut me and paste” Clarion press release.
Then I managed to get hold of Professor Weber at a remote location in Greece. He told me this: “The Clarion press release was not approved by me and is factually incorrect and misleading in suggesting there has been any serious attempt to do serious mathematics here. No “team of Cambridge mathematicians” has been involved. Clarion asked me to help by analysing survey data from 800 men in which they were asked to rank 10 celebrities for “sexiness of walk”. And Jessica Alba did not come top. She came 7th.”
These “cash for bad science” stories add nothing to our understanding of the world, and they do nothing to promote science. They sell products, pay money, misrepresent the very notion of doing research, and sell the idea that scientists are irrelevant boffins engaged in pointless head scratching.
And did they really get 1,000 respondents from an internal email survey? Well maybe: Clarion Communication are part of WPP, one of the world’s largest “communications services” groups. They do advertising, PR and lobbying, they have a turnover of around £6 billion, and they employ 100,000 people in 100 countries. These corporations run our culture, and they riddle it with bullshit.
Here’s the email from Weber:
It’s pretty damning.
Dear Dr Goldacre,
I have heard that you have taken an interest in the press release that has
been put out by Clarion Communications about the analysis of what makes a
“sexy walk”. I am presently away on a research trip abroad, but my
attention has been drawn to this item in the press today. I have not been
pleased to read the nonsense that has been written and I thought you might
like some background.
The Clarion press release was not approved by me and is factually
incorrect and misleading in suggesting there has been any serious attempt
to do mathematics here. No such thing has happened. No “team of Cambridge
mathematicians” has been involved in producing the results that have been
reported. I do not endorse what the press release says. I did not approve
it and would not have done so if asked. I have emailed my contact in
Clarion Communication to ask for an explanation, but I have had a reply
that she is on holiday.
Clarion asked me to help by analysising survey data on from 800 men in
which they were asked to rank 10 celebrities for “sexiness of walk”.
Jessica Alba was 7th on the list, near the bottom. I reported that there
was little one could conclude from the data on the 10 names, but that of
the variables I looked at, waist/hip ratio WHR had the greatest
correlation with rank order in the list. Top of the list was Angelina
Jolie, who had the second greatest WHR. Beyonce had the greatest WHR and
was ranked 4th. Clarion were looking for something to help with a
promotion for Veet. I suggested that as a bit of fun and nonsense, but no
more, that they could say something like the following:
“I have studied how 10 celebrities have ranked for “sexiness of walk” in
relation to their bust-waist-hip measurements. Jolie’s measurements at
36-27-36 mean she has the biggest waist surveyed, and a waist-hip ratio
(WHR) of 0.75. Scientists have repeatedly discovered that WHR is a
significant factor in judging female attractiveness. See, for example,
Women with a WHR near 0.7 are invariably rated as most attractive.
However, it’s probably ‘the way she moves’ which attracts, not just shape.
Angelina’s slightly larger waist may give her the torso strength with
which to produce a better angular swing and bounce to the hips than
minuscule stars such as Eva Longoria and Kylie Minogue can achieve with
32-21-33 and a WHR of only 0.64.”
I fear that the Clarion press release is an example of disingenuous and
perverted use this simple remark, not of any bad science. I trust you will
not wish to follow their lead.
Do please contact me by email if you’d like any more information.
Professor Richard R. Weber
Centre for Mathematical Sciences
Cambridge CB3 0WB
And here is the press release from Clarion Communications:
JESSICA ALBA VOTED SEXIEST WALK: WITH THE FIGURES TO PROVE IT
Hollywood beauty, Jessica Alba, is ‘strutterly’ desirable – she has the sexiest ever walk, according to new research revealed today by Veet.
Veet, the hair removal expert, has teamed up with mathematicians at Cambridge University to reveal a ratio to work out who has the hottest walk, and the Fantastic Four star clocked up the top score, thanks to her luscious legs and curvy frame.
Jessica scored a text-book perfect 0.7 when her vital statistics were ploughed into the ‘sexiness ratio’, below.
WAIST MEASUREMENT ÷ HIP MEASUREMENT = RATIO
Professors have hailed the waist-to-hip ratio as a significant factor in judging female attractiveness – women with a waist-to-hip (WHR) ratio near 0.7 (waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference) are invariably rated as most attractive.
The 0.7 WHR also gives Jessica the torso strength to produce a better angular swing and bounce to the hips when she walks, helping her to show off her best assets when she walks – her shapely curves and smooth, glossy legs.
Other beauty icons who rated highly:
- Screen siren Marilyn Monroe who scored an almost perfect 0.69 – who can forget her small part in the Marx Brothers movie, Love Happy, in which she debuted her very sexy walk, or the Seven Year Itch, which exposed Marilyn’s legs to the world?
- Catwalk queen Kate Moss has a WHR of 0.67, helping her to carry off the catwalk strut perfectly.
- Desperate Housewives babe Eva Longoria scores a near perfect 0.67 – as a former dancer in the Pussycat Dolls, it’s no wonder she’s perfected the perfect wiggle.
- With a WHR of 0.75, curvy Mr and Mrs Smith star, Angelina Jolie is also listed by experts to be amongst the top stars with the sexiest walk.
The Veet research also asked 1,000 men and women what they viewed as the perfect figure. A whopping 70% of British men62% of women envied the slighter frames of Cameron Diaz and Keira Knightley. revealed that they prefer the curvier figures of R ‘n’ B diva Beyonce Knowles or British beauty Kelly Brook to very-thin physiques like Victoria Beckham. But
Veet Beauty Panellist, Sarah Bunkell, comments: “It’s great to see such an eclectic mix of women scoring high on the ‘sexiness ratio’. Variety is the spice of life – long legs, larger waists, small hips and big busts can all contribute to a very sexy walk!”
To work out your waist-to-hip ratio, simply measure the waist and the hips and divide the measurement of your waist by that of your hips.
For more information, please contact Veet Press Office: Janie Cowan or Natalie Murtagh on: 020 ###
Notes to Editors:
- * Celebrity measurements taken from www.imdb.com were correct at time of press release
- Veet was formerly known as Immac
- Users are advised to always read the instructions in the pack before use
- Veet stockist number: 0845 #########
- Veet is a registered trademark
- The entire Veet range is accredited by the British Skin Foundation
- For more information, log onto www.veet.co.uk
For the stuff on waist-to-hip ratio, I read through a lot of the papers for another project a while ago, and the current Wikipedia page is just fine: despite my profound anality I have no problem with linking it, and that’s more honest than copying the references. Integridy. Yeah baby. Feel it.
And here is a great paper critiquing the WHR=0.7 stuff: