We take analytical pursuits seriously around here, but every once in a while, an oddity catches our attention that's just too good to pass by without mention. A piece in Monday's New York Times Science section is the perfect case in point.
Science Times columnist John Tierney writes about the equation he and author Garth Sundem derived in 2006 for predicting the probability that a celebrity marriage would endure. He recounts the variables taken into account with the so-called Sundem/Tierney Unified Celebrity Theory: "the relative fame of the husband and wife, their ages, the length of their courtship, their marital history, and the sex-symbol factor (determined by looking at the woman’s first five Google hits and counting how many show her in skimpy attire, or no attire)."
Six years hence, Tierney reports "firm empirical support" for the equation. As predicted, Demi and Ashton are kaput. So are Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock, as well as Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Meantime, Boston buds Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have surpassed the five-year mark in their marriages, just as the equation said they would.
But no resting on laurels for these guys. To quote Tierney, "As
impressive as these results are, we believe even more scientific progress is possible."
Here's the impetus:
While the 2006 equation did a good job over all of identifying which couples were most likely to divorce, some of the specific predictions proved too pessimistic. Because Demi was so famous -- and much more famous than Ashton -- we gave their marriage little chance of surviving a year, but they didn’t split until 2011. We were similarly bearish on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (because of his fame, his two failed marriages and their age gap), but they’re still together.
What went right with them -- and wrong with our equation?
To find out, Sundem crunched some more numbers and came up with a better way, as Tierney says, "to gauge the toxic efforts of celebrity." The new equation dismisses Google hits and instead uses a ratio of mentions in the NYT to mentions in the National Enquirer.
Tierney quotes Sundem:
This is a major improvement in the equation. It turns out that overall fame doesn’t matter as much as the flavor of the fame. It’s tabloid fame that dooms you. Sure, Katie Holmes had about 160 Enquirer hits, but she had more than twice as many NYT hits. A high NYT/ENQ ratio also explains why Chelsea Clinton and Kate Middleton have better chances than the Kardashian sisters.
What's more, as the new analysis shows, the wife's fame is more important than the husband's. (Duh -- isn't everything about the wife more important than the husband?!) But that crucial variable combines with a few others -- like "the spouses’ combined age (younger couples divorce sooner), the length of the courtship (quicker to wed, quicker to split), and the sex-symbol factor (defined formally as the number of Google hits showing the wife 'in clothing designed to elicit libidinous intent')" -- in the 2012 version of the Sundem/Tierney Unified Celebrity Theory.
Which couples might we find still wed well into the future, thanks in part to long courtships? Kate and Prince William, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, and Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z. Conversely, we shouldn't expect Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes to see to their 15th anniversary (nine years from now), according to Sundem and Tierney.
It's all a bit of malarkey, of course. And whether Sundem and Tierney have applied any true quantitative measures to their celebrity marriage predictions is anybody's guess. But it is a clever way to get notice for Sundem's new book, Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Reveal Lab-Tested Secrets to Surfing, Dating, Dieting, Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants, and More.
To quote an esteemed colleague, this is "sorta hilarious and stupid, and imminently ignorable." Or not, as I've so chosen. How about you? Any clever uses of analytics -- faux or no -- you care to share?