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Taylor Swift Should Not Date a Climate Scientist: The Perils of Fame in Policymaking

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Deitchman
November 13, 2023

“I wish Taylor Swift was in love with a climate scientist,” tweeted Dutch Actress Katja Herbers in a viral message responding to the hoopla and attention devoted to the iconic singer’s new relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Although there are many eligible bachelors in her dating demographic providing expert research and analysis in the climate and energy domain, it’s obviously Ms. Swift’s prerogative to connect romantically with whomever she desires. The idea that celebrity is part of the solution to vexing technical challenges related to global environmental commons problems requires consideration in the discourse, as global to local leaders grapple with trust issues around polarizing public policy considerations.

Each touchdown for Travis Kelce is worth the same number of points as a teammate or opponent with a less famous significant other reaching the endzone. Mr. Kelce’s media exposure as Ms. Swift’s boyfriend has provided benefits to the league, his team and himself through increased viewership and sales of tickets and merchandise, but its impact on his skills—positive or negative–are intangible. The hypothetical climate scientist with whom Taylor Swift might fall in love would surely see increased readership and invitations to present his findings. The actual science in and of itself would, of course, be no more rigorous, reliable or valid than the work of another qualified expert. The National Football League and its partners are profiting from this present relationship, but science relies on credibility in the public policy sphere. 

One of the most famous scientists of the current decade is infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.   Rather than becoming a symbol of technocratic expertise for his clear, erudite and measured discussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Fauci’s omnipresence during the period of initial research and discovery about the novel coronavirus has cast him as a hero or villain in the cultural zeitgeist. Instead of his fame leading to a better understanding of this illness, he became fodder for the celebrity-driven media ecosystem. Celebrity can be a force for good, as Ms. Swift’s efforts have increased voter participation and Mr. Kelce has encouraged vaccination for COVID-19. Attention could direct resources and public outcry towards addressing energy and environmental needs. Celebrity, however, does not serve the procedural and technical understanding of complex policy problems.      

There is a relationship between celebrity and democracy. The strength of celebrity aided reality television star Donald Trump into the White House and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger into California’s governorship among other actors, athletes and various other famous people into legislative office. In 2008, John McCain ran a television advertisement accusing Barack Obama of being more of a celebrity than a leader in a race President Obama went on to handily win. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Margorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert are among the bipartisan Members of Congress who have harnessed the power of traditional and social media to build their brands and become household names despite their lack of seniority in the Capitol. Considering the toxicity of modern politics and the recent paralysis in the House of Representatives with the failure of a stable speakership, it is fair to ask whether there is too much celebrity in democracy today.

For public policy and public administration professionals, and the scientists and scholars who provide useful data and analysis to inform governance and decision making, the best work speaks for itself. Communicating results, relationship building and networking are critical skills to drive success in these fields and one’s personality certainly shapes the effectiveness of an analysis. Ultimately, however, much of the work of government and civil society is about trust and competency. Celebrity is entertaining, but it does not solve the core needs of our democracy.

Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are important people who provide entertainment and economic opportunities. The future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Professional Football Hall of Famer are the epitome of a power couple who individually and—assuming their relationship continues to flourish—collectively can use their voices not just to sing and podcast about football, but impact public policy in profound ways. When it comes to the science that might underscore their advocacy, they need to listen and learn from the experts. In this age of misinformation and polarization, one obligation for those with a platform is to ensure that they are speaking to facts and truth.

People should enjoy Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce for their immense gifts on the stage and football field and the intrigue of their burgeoning relationship. People should respect climate scientists and other scholars for the important work they do identifying problems and facilitating innovative and effective solutions. While there can be overlap and coordination between entertainers, athletes and scientists, they play different roles in the flourishing of humanity. Taylor Swift has a responsibility to her fans and the global community, but it is not on her to bring climate science to the forefront. In fact, if the viral tweeter Katja Herbers were to look at the understated, already existing work of climate scientists she might just find, to quote Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”, “That what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.”

Author: Benjamin Deitchman is a public policy practitioner and a Taylor Swift fan in Atlanta, Georgia. He hopes this unsolicited advice does not make him an anti-hero, but if it does then he could admittedly sing, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” Dr. Deitchman tweets from @Deitchman and his email address is [email protected]

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