We Are All Russell Wilson, Believer in Nonsense

Super Bowl Football
Photo: David J. Phillip/AP/Corbis

Russell Wilson, the star Seattle Seahawks quarterback, caught a great deal of flack last week for telling Rolling Stone that Reliant Recovery Water, a product he’s an investor in, may have helped prevent him from getting a concussion in last winter’s NFL Championship Game (he backtracked a bit later on). It’s good Wilson was called out for trying to promote incredibly shoddy science, but it shouldn’t be seen as that outrageous given America’s broader problem with this type of pseudoscientific snake oil.

The numbers on this are pretty dire. There’s a lack of understanding of scientific basics all over the place, and it shows up in survey after survey, study after study: 42 percent of Americans believe God created humans 10,000 years ago (2014); homeopathic remedies are a billion-dollar industry, despite the apparent physical impossibility that they work, with something like 5 million American adults and 1 million children using them per year (2012); psychologist Yoel Inbar found that study participants answer simple true-false questions about GMOs at only slightly better than a coin-flip rate, despite widespread and totally misguided outrage over their use; and there are widespread beliefs in plenty of other evidenceless concepts, like magnet therapy.

All this is often used as a cudgel to ridicule those dumb, misinformed Americans who don’t get science, which is a bit of an oversimplification, given that belief in wacky stuff isn’t as inversely correlated with traditional measures of intelligence as one might like to believe. But it’s more serious than that, anyway: This lack of understanding of how science works adds up to billions of dollars wasted; millions of people not getting the help they need; mistrust of “traditional” science and its more methodical, less flashy methods of understanding the world; and all sorts of other ugly results.

In other words: It’s just as likely that Wilson himself doesn’t understand the science behind his product’s claims, and is being bamboozled by whoever got him to invest in it, as it is that he’s intentionally trying to bamboozle others.

We Are All Russell Wilson, Believer in Nonsense