Devo is a band from the 1980s who got their name from the concept of de-evolution. The notion that instead of continuing to evolve, humanity has actually begun to regress. As I am not an evolutionary biologist, the details of the concept are beyond me.
But looking around, seeing the growth in anti-science ideas such as the belief in a flat earth, that vaccines cause autism, and the growth of pseudoscience products such as Goop makes the notion of de-evolution somewhat compelling,
Dr. Rohin Francis is a UK-based cardiologist, a man well trained in medicine and the sciences. His YouTube channel showcases offbeat science and makes for entertaining and fascinating viewing. His most recent video, Don’t Blame Gwyneth For Goop’s Success, is worth watching, and he makes it eminently clear that Goop deserves all the criticism that’s been flying their way. However, he astutely observed that to only concentrate on Goop is to miss the reason snake oil wellness peddlers like Goop and other charlatans are doing so well.
He makes several astute points, which I would like to highlight and expand on here. His question is this: why is Goop (and similar charlatans) so successful?
Goop and others in the wellness industry have a significant home-court advantage over traditional providers. They can make their own rules, and simultaneously do not have to follow the rules that those in regulated environments must follow. They do a great job in sowing the seeds of scientific doubt in conventional medicine and use that to their advantage.
Dr. Francis listed a few of their tactics, which are below, in addition to some that I have observed:
Definitive statements — Within medicine, scrupulous physicians and researchers will not make definitive statements. While smoking kills, no pulmonologist will tell you that smoking definitely kills. Obesity is a public health issue in the United States. However, a cardiologist will not tell their 500-pound patient that obesity will definitely kill them.
Comedian George Burns lived to be 100. He started smoking cigars when he was 14, always smoked a cigar on stage, and it is estimated that he smoked around 300,000 cigars during his lifetime. He joked about all the doctors who told him to stop smoking that they all had died. We may not know why Burns was able to defy the odds, but statistically, smoking does kill.
While physicians cannot make definitive statements, that uncertainty is certainly not a bad thing. It means that science continuously challenges their own beliefs.
Contrast that with alternative practitioners, celebrities, and those that operate out of the bounds of pure science. They can make definitive statements and guarantees. That difference is lost on the general public, who will choose the bad science guarantee of a sports star or actress, over the uncertainty of a highly experienced and trained physician.
Goop owner Gwyneth Paltrow does not have to adhere to the same rigorous scientific standards those in the pharmaceutical industry must follow, (she, in fact, has no training in the science or any advanced degree in science) and exploits the lack of consensus within the scientific community on topics of diet and health, to her, and Goop’s advantage, and profit.
Emotional anecdotes vs. scientific data — New age remedies will often use the power of emotional tales. Advertisements with first-person stories of how their lives were changed are meant to tug at the emotions of viewers. People will tell their health-crisis story, and show how it was how they were only cured by using the new-age, homeopathic, or similar remedies.
Traditional medicine often lacks the heartstrings of a personal anecdote and relies on data and statistics. Read about a drug in the Physicians’ Desk Reference, and you get dry facts and statistics. Perfect for a medical professional, but it lacks the emotional punch to tell a charlatan’s tale.
Goop and others rely on the power of someone telling their personal story are much more appealing and convincing than reading statistical data.
Big pharma — new-age firms like Goop demonize the pharmaceutical industry. They make them out to be money-grabbing monstrosities that only serve to make the shareholders rich while exploiting the sick. In countries like the US, where people can go bankrupt due to medical bills, doctors are often called shills for big pharma.
While the pharmaceutical industry certainly is far from angelic, the situation is undoubtedly better with them than without them. Every minute, countless lives are saved due to pharmaceuticals. The reason why the infant mortality rate is low in the US is directly related to pharmaceuticals.
For all of the complaints about big pharma and their profits, Goop products are quite costly. Goop is a for-profit company, and it does everything to build its brand, just like big pharma.
People have been poorly treated by medicine — Women, those with chronic pain, and many other demographics have to a degree, been poorly treated by medicine. Chronic pain is notoriously hard to treat. Many women with complex, life-threatening conditions, spend years searching for a diagnosis. These people are often angry and frustrated with traditional medicine. To which Goop comes across as a kinder, gentler solution that listens to them.
The success of Goop is simply a symptom of the shortcomings of the medical industry. Sadly, there are many areas where contemporary medicine cannot help. Doctors are not perfect, some are incompetent, and the ones who suffer are the sick patients. Nevertheless, the answer, though, is not to turns to quacks like Goop.
Medicine is not perfect; in fact, it is far from perfect. However, it is still the best and safest option for any serious health condition. Alternative medicine lulls people into a sense of security that they are doing something about their health, and that means they neglect to receive actual medicine.
Many people are frustrated with medicine today. Disappointed that they cannot see a doctor, frustrated that their insurance does not cover what they need, and many more. Goop gives a sense of empowerment. But that comes at the cost of being cured.
Goop and alternative medicine give people hope and an alternative approach. However, when they use them to treat serious illnesses, the results can be deadly. People with cancer who use these therapies often reject conventional treatment, and these people die sooner.
Look no farther than Steve Jobs. Jobs was diagnosed with cancer in October 2003. Despite his diagnosis, Jobs resisted his doctors’ recommendations for medical intervention for nine months and relied on alternative medicine to deal with his cancer. According to Harvard researcher Ramzi Amri, Jobs choice of alternative treatment “led to an unnecessarily early death.”
Dr. Francis nails it on the head when he notes that the very existence and success of companies like Goop depend on anti-science and anti-intellectual standpoints, like flat earth proponents. They are based on naturalistic fallacies like the appeal to ancient wisdom, and the appeal to anecdotes, rather than empirical data.
For all its failings, traditional medicine is a huge success story of the modern era, and the safest option if you are sick.
Having it both ways — In his role as Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson said that “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”. With that, Goop wants you to mistrust science.
In a similar vein, Goop and other pseudoscience purveyors reject the scientific model. They want to attack science for not having all the answers. But they clothe themselves in the robes of scientific respectability with their language.
Goop is a rejectionist mentality
The Think different advertising campaign was used by Apple in the late-1990’s and was hugely successful, in addition to being critically acclaimed. It is good to think different, but not always.
Goop and the other charlatans want you to think differently, which means you make the logical jump that their products are somehow effective. But this think different approach has manifested into an anti-Western, anti-science, and anti-intellectual approach.
Vaccinations are perhaps the most significant public health discovery in history. However, without a shred of real scientific evidence, large swaths of the population believe that vaccinations cause cancer.
It is a scientific fact that the earth, and pretty much everything in the solar system is spherical. Much of physics is based on those facts. However, that has also not stopped many uninformed people from believing in a flat earth.
We are living in an era of a rejectionist mentality, and Goop is but one part of that very broken system.
Barnum was right
P.T Barnum (supposedly) said that “there is a sucker born every minute.” Goop and their friends exploit that on an unassuming public. As I wrote in New York News Radio — The voice of bad science, with all of the bad science in the airwaves and on TV, consumers need to be warned of the dangers and be skeptical of the smooth-talking miscreants selling snake-oil treatments.
Yet for all these suckers buying expensive Goop products, some of them may eventually pay for them with for their lives. In fact, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the National Health Service in England, recently accused Goop of spreading misinformation.
Stevens hit the nail on the head when he noted that the brand peddles psychic vampire repellent, says chemical sunscreen is a bad idea, and promotes colonic irrigation and DIY coffee enema machines, despite them carrying considerable risks to health.
Goop is a smashing success due to a combination of beautiful white actresses selling hope, and a public oblivious to science. She is pandering to a public ignorant of the basic sciences, buying these expensive products as fast as they can. These two factors combine into a most toxic, yet profitable mixture.