Will winning an Oscar improve your lifespan? Believe it or not, that’s a hotly debated topic among medical researchers, and it’s one of the hundreds of relatively recent academic papers that have focused in some way on the Academy Awards, according to a new analysis from Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch.
Analysts culled through ScienceWatch’s vast citation database to find that Hollywood’s biggest night has had a significant impact on the global research landscape. Over the past 15 years, the Oscars produced about 200 scholarly papers, crossing the gambit of disciplines from sociology and gender, to economics and disability, to medical research.
Christopher King, editor of ScienceWatch, said the variety of research areas speaks to the Oscars’ vast cultural and commercial reach. “Culture, commerce, psychology, consumerism -- these are important facets for modern life, and the Academy Awards seems to tie all of these together,” he said.
Although very few actors will ever experience the bliss of taking home the coveted gold statuette, the Oscars do provide a sound framework for studying specific populations and tracking them over time. For instance, the question of whether Oscar winners live longer than their non-winning counterparts has been a topic of debate since at least 2001 when “Annals of Internal Medicine” published the results of a study that examined that very question. Hoping to glean insight into whether social status is an important predictor of poor health, researchers found life expectancy was 3.9 years longer for Oscar winners compared to less-recognized performers.
But that wasn’t the end of the debate. Five years later, a second paper revisited the data and found the survival advantage for Oscar winners was far less dramatic -- closer to one year. In that case, researchers said the statistical method used in the original study was flawed.
Another highly cited Oscar-related paper looked at the economic impact of an Academy Award nomination. Published in the journal “Economic Inquiry” in 2001, the study found “a substantial financial benefits for a nomination and award for best picture and best actor/actress.”
If the scientific community loves the Oscars, scientists can take heart in knowing the feeling is mutual. This year’s crop of best picture nominees features two science-themed movies: Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game,” about the cryptanalyst who helped solve the Enigma code during World War II, and “The Theory of Everything,” a biopic about the famed physicist Stephen Hawking.
King said he’s seen them both, but he isn’t making any predictions. “I would have a hard time picking between those,” he said.