Five years ago, New York Times science reporter John Tierney and statistician Garth Sundem dipped their toes into the pool of celebrity gossip. Why would the esteemed journalists of the Grey Lady dabble in the lives of the rich and famous? For the lofty goal of predicting the success or failure of celebrity marriages, of course. For science.
Applying their expertise in statistics and science reporting into the world of gossip rags, the duo devised an equation that they argued could predict whether or not a star’s marriage would work. Their variables included the relative fame of the husband and wife, their ages, the length of their courtship, their marital history, and the sex-symbol factor, which Tierney and Sundem determined by looking at the woman’s attire in her first five Google hits.
Now, five years later, Tierney and Sundem are back, and they have the empirical evidence to prove the so-called Sundem/Tierney Unified Celebrity Theory. In his column in the New York Times, Tierney notes their formula predicted breakups from Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock and even Britney Spears and K-Fed. (Who’d have thought that wouldn’t last?) It also predicted that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, and Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso would stay married, which is also true. However, the equation was not flawless; for example, the duo predicted the demise of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, a union that is still going strong.
And now, Sundem and Tierney have a new and improved and even simpler formula for predicting celebrity marital success. The ratio of the number of mentions in the New York Times, divided by National Enquirer mentions. The new formula reveals that it’s the quality, not quantity, of the fame that is the biggest predictor — and having more tabloid fame than Times fame dooms the relationship. However, the duo also realized that it is the wife’s fame that really matters. “You could explain this two ways,” Sundem said to Tierney in the Times. “Either the guy’s powerless to predict the marriage’s fate, or he’s an enigma, indefinable by numbers. I prefer the latter.”