The press release seems to have beeen reproduced by about a zillion British newspapers, usually in a shortened version; the longest version I could find is here, and I'll be quoting from it.
JESSICA Alba, the film actress, has the ultimate sexy strut, according to a team of UK mathematicians. Beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder - it can now be worked out using a simple mathematical formula.
Bullshit! And this isn't just me being bitter that I might not fit some social standard of beauty. It's me being bitter that mathematics is being "used" in this way. In Goldacre's column, we learn that there was no team. Richard Weber at Cambridge is the mathematician who's mentioned there, but only after Goldacre was contacted -- and Goldacre as far as I can tell is a medical doctor. (By "there" I mean Goldacre's blog post; I can't find a version of the press release that mentions Weber.)
The academics found that it is the ratio between hips and waist that puts the sway into a woman's walk - and the nearer that ratio is to 0.7, the better.
No they didn't! This seems like the stuff you see out there every so often about the Golden Ratio making things more beautiful -- and in fact that ratio's been used to sell pants! -- where there's some "magic number". There's at least some justification for the 0.7 number, though, in that Real Scientists have done studies, although the preferred ratio varies by culture. And it never seems to be given to more than one decimal place, which suggests that a few inches don't matter. Apparently Weber made a more nuanced comment that got cut down to this.
This ratio provides the body with the right torso strength to produce a more angular swing and bounce to the hips during the walking motion.
Furthermore, the waist-to-hip ratio might actually be important for physical attractiveness, but nobody said that had anything to do with the walk. I don't know much about biomechanics, though. But it looks like the causality just isn't there.
Oh, and they screwed the survey up so badly that it doesn't even mention anything that hair removal cream could actually do. You'd expect a study by a hair removal cream company to say that having smooth, shiny, hairless [insert body part here] was an important part of beauty.
Fortunately, they're just using this to sell hair removal cream. Recent studies have also shown that studies which are funded by pharmaceutical companies are far more likely to say that drugs do something goodthan studies which are not funded by pharmaceutical companies; that sort of hijacking of the scientific apparatus is a lot more insidious, as people could actually die.
I'm not saying that beauty can't be encapsulated in some sort of formula. But it'll be a lot more complicated than this one. (In fact, it might not be a "formula" at all, in the sense that you put in numbers which describe the person and get out a numerical rating of their beauty; much more feasible would be a recommendation system like that on Netflix or Amazon. As I understand it, those systems work by recommending books or movies to you that people who have bought the same books or rented the same movies as you also liked.)
And I'm skeptical of any formula that says that the same people will seem beautiful to everyone, because that's simply not true. I think someone could come up for a formula that will tell them who I am likely to find beautiful -- there are definitely patterns. But my tastes are not the same as yours. And don't try to tell me they should be.
P. S. I moved into my apartment a year ago today. As I sit here, I look out my kitchen window and see a truck from the movers I used. This is probably not a coincidence, though, as September 1 is kind of a big moving day in my neighborhood.