Cable shopping channel QVC just had an episode that should call a lot into question, but won’t.
In the segment above, QVC host Shawn Killinger demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that she possesses nothing resembling a grade school understanding of astronomy. She is obviously not ashamed or embarrassed by this, as she is willing to expose it in horrible vividness on nationwide television. Launched with a statement that itself should never be uttered within earshot by any adult of normal intelligence who isn’t tripping or doing a cruel imitation of the late Anna Nicole Smith—“it almost kind of looks like what the Earth looks like when you’re a bazillion miles away from the planet moon”–Killinger engages in a debate over whether the moon is a planet, a star, or something else she doesn’t understand.
Over at Slate, astronomer/author Phil Plait provides a really smug and obnoxious explication of the issues involved, designed to make him look and feel superior: you see, the astronomic definitions of “moon” and “planet” are more complicated than the non-scientists mocking Killinger think they are, so he’s as much smarter than them as they think they are smarter than her! Wow, Phil, I’m in awe. And you are one of the reasons we are stupid: you make being educated look like a character flaw.
I just looked up Killinger’s bio on line. She is 32-years old, which means she has had about 27 years to get moons and planets straight. She is from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, an affluent community, so she can’t claim she was raised by wolves or street people, or that she had no access to libraries, teachers, books, Sesame Street, telescopes, Star Trek, Robert Heinlein, museums, Luke Skywalker, PBS, or human contact with the non-lobotomized.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State University, so we know she graduated from elementary school, middle school, high school and college without ever processing a basic fact of the physical universe that is constantly referenced in literature, popular culture and routine daily conversation as well as scientific discussions. We also know she saw a lot of good football.
She spent the past decade working in local and network news, most recently as the morning anchor for an affiliate in Orlando. In this role, Shawn reported on four major hurricanes, never once having any curiosity about what this big thing in the sky that affected the tides was. We are also told that she “interviewed newsmakers from Hillary Clinton to Jessica Simpson.” Jessica, at least, would not have been a good bet to explain Astronomy 101 to her. I don’t know about Hill.
A women with an appalling lack of basic knowledge and intellectual curiosity wasn’t handicapped at all in moving through the ranks of the news, journalism and entertainment industry.
She managed to navigate a full courseload in the American education system, with contact with at least 25 t0 40 teachers and educators, never learning a basic fact of astronomy, and worse, never realizing she should be learning it, and never had a conversation with a peer, family member or colleague that generated a spark of realization in her flabby and self-satisfied brain that this was something worth knowing.
She was then trusted by television viewers to enlighten them while engaging in her profession, when in fact she lacks rudimentary analytical skills and the native inquisitiveness of a raccoon, a task she was obviously incapable of fulfilling, although, of course, having been told her whole life that she was bright and educated, she would have no way to know this.
We are, in summary, negligently and naively relying upon an incompetent educational system to prepare people whom we foolishly will trust to digest, analyze and explain to us the occurrences of daily life, politics, the culture and the world around us. We will continue to spend increasing amounts of money on perpetuating this pathetic and ruined system, while meanwhile absolving parents of their duty to enlighten their offspring and instill them with a love of learning and the character to pursue that love in and out of school. We have allowed our culture to rot around us, celebrating the trivial, the lazy, the insignificant and the unchallenging, and yet remained intentionally blind to the inevitable and cataclysmic consequences of this. As we become intellectually lazier and unable to rely upon a rich archive of personal knowledge and cultural literacy to gird us against those who would manipulate our lives, desires and perception, our society is increasingly vulnerable to charlatans, demagogues, and frauds.
Laugh at the stupidity of Shawn Killinger if you like, but you are missing the tragic sinking spiral of ignorance that engulfs us all.
Personally, I don’t find it funny.
51 thoughts on “QVC Shows Us Why We Are Becoming Stupid, Ignorant And Helpless”
On one hand, you have Sherlock Holmes, who doesn’t know the Earth revolves around the Sun…because in his profession, that is, extremely detailed Forensics, knowing that bit of knowledge is utterly useless and a waste of his mental energy.
On the other hand, you have normal society, in which a Liberal Education (no, not political “liberal”) is utterly necessary for a “whole” human.
1, I don’t believe Sherlock really didn’t know that.
2. He’s fictional. It was a point Doyle wanted to make and I get it, but it was a mistake. Nobody like Holmes would have failed to pick up on such a basic fact—he remembers everything, and he had to have encountered it many times.
3. No real life Holmes could or would be successful with such holes in their knowledge.
In the British TV series Sherlock he has knowledge of an obscure historical supernova. Based on the show “forensics” includes any discipline that is relevant at the moment, including astronomy, history, art, mechanical engineering, et cetera.
What makes this particularly egregious is that in the same series, Sherlock and Watson had that selfsame conversation from the books about how Sherlock considered it a waste of memory to learn the Earth went around the Sun and was determined to forget it. Maybe Watson had unwittingly convinced him to do extensive astronomy research?
Yes I agree, I should have put more emphasis on my other “on the other hand”. I think Doyle was trying to showcase that a true expert and professional consumed wholly by his craft, could actually be dumb in other fields. But of course, you can’t be that brilliant if you don’t have a generally wide base of knowledge from which to draw inspiration and cross-references.
Why can’t people just say “I’m a little confused right now and I’m saying stupid stuff. Get back to me when I’m not so flustered?” and have it be accepted. I don’t think it’s unethical I think it’s pressure plus knowing you made a mistake and not being able to admit it.
They can…when they’re not supposedly broadcast professionals. And this is signature significance: nobody who knows squat about the moon or the solar system would ever call the moon a star or a planet no matter how flustered she was.
I found myself drawing the same conclusions as I read this that you expressed in the last paragraph. I’m actually so distressed about this (our broken educational system), that I’ve been considering the possibility of abandoning medicine and taking off in our RV. This would give us the opportunity to give the kids a real, rigorous education, as well as an adventure together.
In addition to all of the above, I’m deeply bothered by the following:
A) it never occurred to her that the moon might not be a star because it looks and behaves quite differently from all the other stars;
B) she has never heard of the Apollo space program, which involved people landing on the moon;
C) she has wondered about the nature of the moon and it never occurred to her to ask the internet;
D) she is not aware that a star is a gigantic fusion reaction in space;
E) corollary to D, she probably doesn’t know that the sun is a star;
F) that fashion designer said “am-AH-zing” without a trace of irony
I’m seriously considering starting what amounts to a freelance education enterprise, where people learn the skills they need to continue learning and surpassing themselves. People need to be shown that there are paths to excellence; it’s not something that simply comes to those who fail to challenge themselves. Furthermore, I aim to displace the foolish and mediocre from the collective attention of society. There is already a great deal of material, both classic and modern, depicting and describing excellence, and it’s about time people started learning from it.
Do it! Let me know if I can help.
May I recommend The Great Courses and Khan Academy as starting points on the path to excellence.
I should also have added Quora to the above list.
WOW ! These are truly awesome !! I’m sharing stuff from the Khan Academy with my kids as we speak. Thanks so much !
I recommend reading this from Wikipedia. It lists a lot of what is available online to learn.
I have taken classes from Edx and I’m partial to the organizations that are non-profit.
Sudden (hypothetical) plot twist! She could have turned to the internet for answers to life’s deep astronomical mysteries, but she chose Yahoo Answers instead.
Now is not the time for me to mention that the Earth-Moon system is really a double planet one…. it would be called that if it were anywhere else.
But for historical reasons, the Moon is regarded as a moon.
And me even mentioning this is like categorising varieties of infinity to someone who hasn’t grasped basic addition – and sees no need to.
Now explain why the Moon is a star.
Probably also not time to “not mention” something as though you are the holder of some esoteric knowledge, especially since it isn’t even a consensus definition anyway…
Isn’t the fact that our moon is a satellite in orbit around our relatively large planet, rather than a star, what gives them that label? I mean relative in relation to the moon.
That’s sort of the point of contention, because Earth isn’t relatively large compared to our Moon. Quite the opposite. The Moon is exceptionally large relative to Earth compared to all other planets in our system, behind only the recently demoted-to-dwarf-planet Pluto and it’s moon Charon.
If you ignored Earth and just looked at the Moon’s orbit around the sun, you’d have a hard time distinguishing it from the slightly perturbed orbit of a planet (such as Earth). Furthermore, the Sun’s gravitational effect on the Moon is about twice that of Earth’s. If Earth somehow vanished, the Moon would continue its merry way around the Sun, all planet-like (of course, if the Sun vanished, the Moon would continue around Earth, all moon-like as well).
Astronomy folks would instead observe that, judging by Earth’s Hill sphere, the Moon is still a moon. Personally, I think that smacks of shifting definitions for the sake of maintaining an illusory status quo; judging by this QVC debacle, we may as well officially declare the Moon to be a cheese wheel.
Well, from a purely technical stand-point, the moon could be called a planet, since the word ‘planet’ means “wandering star”. Admittedly, that would be pushing the envelope rather badly. All the wandering the moon is doing is in a circular path around the real planet, Earth. Well, sort of circular.
Except no one in ancient Greece would ever have mistaken the Moon for a wandering star either.
There is that. Kind of frightening to think that the Greeks were smarter, or at least more knowledgeable, than a modern self-proclaimed journalist.
Yeah, stupid Greeks. Oh, did you mean ancient Greeks? 🙂
Well, yeah, but……Actually, I shouldn’t say that. My ex-wife’s mother’s family were second generation Greek. On the other hand, she IS an ex-wife.
Fair game, brother.
That reminds me of a film made in the 1980’s at Harvard graduation asking graduates simple astronomy questions. Many are unable to answer them correctly, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Excerpt here:
I saw this film during an elementary teacher training course, to show the need for us to “unteach misconceptions” through hands-on lessons (using, e.g., a model of the solar system instead of an illustration in a book).
Honestly, I failed the weather one, but the second problem should have been well within the grasp of an MIT student. I’m sure they all had to take at least physics 1 and 2. Physics 2 is dedicated almost entirely to electricity and electromagnetism ;Ohm’s law, kirchhoff’s rules, resistance, capacitance, Faraday’s laws of induction, inductive and capacitive reactance, as well as optics and QM. Learning this fairly intense material, then not knowing how to complete a ridiculously simple circuit? That just doesn’t wash. It seems to me that we’re failing to impart basic logical reasoning skills, as well as enthusiasm for learning. I remember taking the LSAT many years ago, as I’m sure many of you do. Doesn’t it seem like that test, especially the logic games, would be a great way to teach kids how to think? I intend to do this with my two youngest when they’re much older.
Phew! I just looked up the definition of the moon and verified that I did in fact know what it was…and learned about some current moon controversies in the process. My education covered this topic. Sadly, what got glossed over in my era was American history. Fortunately, my parents took us to lots of museums, and I read a great deal on my own. But there are still gaps that I discover from time to time.
As do we all. The important thing is to realize it and keep learning
I just want to know when we can start mining the cheese and bring prices here on Earth down to more affordable levels.
Not very fond of green cheese. Rather wait until it’s cured and thoroughly dry, and has some flavor.
It’s either someone’s old gym socks or a fine French cheese…I can’t tell.
I almost said ‘longhorn’ cheese, but given your name, I figured that might be a mistake.
Nothing wrong with referencing them as a source of food, considering they are eaten for breakfast on regular basis by better schools.
Guess I don’t know how to imbed photos.
Funny you mention that. I was disappointed to learn that the moon isn’t actually made of cheese. My little brother believed it until he was about 6, if I recall. He also believed that Satan lived in the toilet. Poor kid had to use the woods for weeks. I tried my best to convince him that I had lied, but to no avail.
All I “know” is that there are no cats in America and the streets are made of Cheese…
Apparently I was aware of my Libertarian and Realist roots when I was but a wee lad, as my parents informed me later that I stood up during that movie and yelled in the theater “This is BOOOOOOORING and STUPID!”
The Air & Space Museum in DC offers a free planetarium show several times a week that explains the solar system at a very basic level. It is narrated by Big Bird and Elmo.
I’m tempted to forward her the link.
Start at 4:45.
Of course listen to the whole thing, but 4:45 is pertinent.
Best stand up comic ever.
A moon has at least one more epicycle than a planet. Oh, you meant in POST-Kepler astronomy.
This isn’t surprising. Look at the high school and college curricula today. Math and science are severely minimized because, as Science Barbie says, “Math is HARD”. I don’t think I have attended or taught at a college that required every student to take even a single math class, much less a college-level math class. Without math, they can’t understand the physical sciences.
I had a Fine Arts professor once demand to know why the school system thinks that students should have to take Algebra. “Who is ever going to need Algebra”, she wanted to know. How do you answer such a question from someone who insists that everyone understand how the Renaissance changed painting styles?
I really think one of the reasons that math and science are minimized at the collegiate level is because of snobbery. If you look at math and science professors, they tend to come from a middle class or even a lower-middle class background. When you look at the humanities faculty, they come from an upper-class background. They look down on any area of college that actually has a plan for getting a job with the degree after college. “College is not job preparation, it is teaching people knowledge”, they say. Well, most of us in the science and math areas had to think about what type of job we could get with out degree because we weren’t born rich. Because of this, our area of knowledge is considered ‘uncouth’. It is like engineering. Engineering has only recently become a respectable profession. It has always been in-between a blue-collar and and white-collar profession. This is why the opinion of engineers and warnings from engineers are not heeded resulting in the destruction of Space Shuttles. Engineers and scientists are seen as a lower social class than managers and lawyers and physicians. As such, the knowledge such people possess is considered to be of lesser value than that of those more valuable classes.
Why should a journalist be embarrassed that they don’t know some trivial science fact? That stuff is only important to those ‘little people’. Journalists like her make a lot of money. Scientists are paid about the same as waiters. Math and science can’t be that important if it only gets you waiter-level pay.
Reminds me of an acquaintance who thought unicorns (minus the magic) were real, until well into college. When learning the truth she was amusingly embarrased, but took it in stride; I’ve never seen anyone take that kind of mistake with such class. In her defense, there are weirder animals out there. A horse with a horn can’t be that uncommon. 🙂
I don’t go to QVC to get an education, or to be edified by the ‘hosts’ on astronomy or the natural world. I’d suggest that if you find the education you get on QVC re: astronomy or any other subject inadequate, you look elsewhere for your teachers, because they’re not to found on a television channel dedicated to the selling of goods. Criticizing a cable TV salesperson for misstating information about astronomy is about as productive as going down to the mall and asking the saleslady her opinion on the source of dark matter.
Fact: the less misinformation on mass media, the better. Human beings don’t only learn from universities and books, they learn from peers, pop culture, acquaintances, random accident, a much more. I wouldn’t ask a salesperson for her opinion on dark matter, but I’d reprimand one in my employ who told customers what wasn’t true or accurate, whatever the subject.
First commenter ever to be so pompous as to include a degree in a screen name, and it’s a silly comment. Which is itself instructive.
Shawn’s ignorance reared its ugly head again this morning. in response to a viewer from California who mentioned they wish they had more water, Shawn laughed and said ‘but you have a whole ocean’. What an idiot.
You won’t get an argument from me.
As a physics professor who has taught Astronomy (apparently for too many years) perhaps I should start a side-course in Astrology. Furthermore, I will get the latest news in Cosmology from my Cosmetologist, whilst she cuts my hair and trims my nails: No, make it paints my nails… pink. Yes, that will do nicely.
Shawn is Shawn. She’s cute, quirky, is an excellent SALESPERSON doing HOURS of live TV. She often says the first thing that comes into her head and those who like her, follow her on QVC because of these characteristics. QVC’ers who DON’T like her for these reasons, skip her. She is a TV personality and has probably found her ideal niche on Q, not as a news anchor. She is actually 40+ yrs old and recently suffered a huge, personal loss and has been trying hard to get her head/heart back together while still working–again–on LIVE shopping TV.
And that’s why we have Trump as pres. Failure of our educational system.
Well, that’s one reason. Another is that Democratic and Republican power-seekers set out to exploit that ignorance for their own ends, and finally the public revolted.