Celebrity publicist develops mathematical 'fame formula'

(Zero + Bullshit)Spin = Total bullshit

Posted in Bootnotes, 28th July 2008 12:28 GMT

A celebrated celebrity PR consultant has written a book in which he offers "mathematical" proof that fame - or anyway, spikes in fame - last fifteen months, rather than any traditional period of minutes. However, the bogo-scientific gloss applied to publicist Mark Borkowski's theories is so fragile as to shatter at a glance.

Borkowski's celebro-mathematics come to us in his new book The Fame Formula, out this week. The Guardian has obligingly run an extract, in which the eponymous equation is outlined:

F(T) = B+P(1/10T+1/2T2)

where:

F is the level of fame;

T is time, measured in three-monthly intervals. So T=1 is after three months, T=2 is after six months, etc. Fame is at its peak when T=0. (Putting T=0 into the equation gives an infinite fame peak, not mathematically accurate, perhaps, but the concept of the level of fame being off the radar is apposite.);

B is a base level of fame that we identified and quantified by analysing the average level of fame in the year before peak. For George Clooney, B would be a large number, but for a fabulous nobody, like a new Big Brother contestant, B is zero.

P is the increment of fame above the base level, that establishes the individual firmly at the front of public consciousness.

This formula fits the data remarkably well, giving a precise numerical value to the 15-month theory: if I put in T=5 (corresponding to 15 months after the peak), it gives F=B+P(1/50+1/50), which works out at F=B+.04P. In other words, up to 96% of the fame-boost achieved at the peak of public attention has been frittered away...

Either the Graun, Borkowski's publishers or the man himself appear to have suffered a slight typo at the end of the "formula", going by that last paragraph. It looks as though what Borkowski means is something like:

ft = b + p((1/10t) + (1/2t2))

But frankly the typo is nothing. If words and numbers have any meaning at all, the formula is plainly rubbish. At t = 0, f is infinite, rendering the whole idea of b self-contradictory. Fame only ever equals "base level" plus "increment of fame above base level" at t= approximately 0.8, around nine weeks after the event in question - George Clooney boosts his fame by means of a new girlfriend, movie, arrest or whatever.

And worse. At t = infinity, f = b, still "a large number". Hundreds or thousands of millennia from now when today's civilisation, the human race, even the Earth itself are all dust, George Clooney will still be as famous as he is today between "spikes". So will every other celebrity above the Big Brother level. This is plainly bullshit, even within the bullshit terms of reference Borkowski has set himself.

The famous actors, hellraisers and celebrity girlfriends of the Regency period are already faded almost completely from public view, a mere couple of centuries after their heyday. Who now remembers Mrs Jordan (actress and celebrity girlfriend, 1762-1816)? Emma Hamilton (famous model and bigshot's arm-candy*, same period)? Edmund Kean (well-known drunk, adulterer and actor, same period)?

Nobody, that's who, except a few weirdoes/history buffs. They plainly had a high value of b in their day, but it has declined almost to Big Brother contestant nothingness - indeed, probably below.

So Borkowski's formula doesn't work in the short term, and it doesn't work in the longer term either. The fifteen-month figure is plucked from the air. The man plainly knows a lot about celebrity, but he - and his anonymous "select group of willing mathematically minded researchers" - are mathematical and historical illiterates.

"It's not quite devil worship," says Borkowski, describing his profession.

That seems fair. The celebrity publicists would seem to have quite a hill to climb before they appear as respectable and worthy of attention as devil-worshippers. ®

*You need especially good arm candy when you have only one arm, like Admiral Nelson.