Jul 14 2017

Goop Strikes Back

goop-kimmelGwyneth Paltrow has been using her celebrity to promote a “lifestyle brand” she calls “Goop.” The site recommends all sorts of medical nonsense, like detox, earthing, putting stuff up your vagina, and the usual scaremongering about “toxins” or whatever. Recently I wrote about Goop’s promotion of magical stickers that are alleged to align and balance your vibrations.

Deservedly she has received push back from science communicators who are trying to raise the level of scientific literacy and critical thinking in the world. The concern is that she is spreading misinformation and pseudoscience, which is increasingly harmful in our modern technological world.

One highly vocal critic has been Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB who is particularly offended by the fact that Paltrow wraps her pseudoscientific misinformation in “female empowerment.” I’m sorry, but taking advantage of women by scaring them and selling them nonsense is not empowering – it’s exploitation. Apparently Goop has been stung by this criticism, and decided to hit back. The results are predictably awful, but do provide an opportunity to deconstruct some popular anti-intellectual nonsense.

“Team goop” begins:

As goop has grown, so has the attention we receive. We consistently find ourselves to be of interest to many—and for that, we are grateful—but we also find that there are third parties who critique goop to leverage that interest and bring attention to themselves.

This sets the tone for the rest of the article – which is mainly just one long ad hominem attack laden with logical fallacies and further misdirection. They basically call Dr. Gunter and others attention whores, as if the only possible motivation for criticizing them for pseudoscience and bad advice is self-promotion. It is ironic that this accusation comes right on the heels of congratulating themselves for their own self-promotion.

So let me get this straight – self-promotion for the purpose of making money by selling pseudoscience and misinformation is great, but promoting consumer protection for free is attention-seeking. Given the current political environment, this type of insane spin should be very familiar. My concern is that such spin is so common people are becoming inured to it, and are ceasing to be appropriately outraged.

They continue:

Encouraging discussion of new ideas is certainly one of our goals, but indiscriminate attacks that question the motivation and integrity of the doctors who contribute to the site is not. This is the first in a series of posts revisiting these topics and offering our contributing M.D.’s a chance to articulate theirs, in a respectful and substantive manner.

Actually the attacks have been quite discriminating. That’s actually the point – to correct sloppy science and logic. This is the equivalent of the Trump administration trying to point fingers at the leaks in order to divert attention from the information contained in the leaks. Goop is trying to shoot the messenger to divert from their substantive criticisms of Goop’s dubious claims.

This tactic is also common among pseudoscientists. They try to seem like the reasonable ones, just asking questions, and calling for a respective dialogue. Of course they want a respectful dialogue, because that automatically brings them respect and legitimacy they don’t deserve. This is classic trolling: claim something outrageous, then criticize those who get riled up by the outrageousness of your claims, and call for respectful dialogue.

Here comes an old chestnut:

We always welcome conversation. That’s at the core of what we’re trying to do. What we don’t welcome is the idea that questions are not okay. Being dismissive—of discourse, of questions from patients, of practices that women might find empowering or healing, of daring to poke at a long-held belief—seems like the most dangerous practice of all. Where would we be if we all still believed in female hysteria instead of orgasm equality? That smoking didn’t cause lung cancer? If every nutritionist today saw the original food pyramid as gospel?

So it’s OK to question everything – except your motives. They are apparently beyond question. Got it.  Because why would anyone question the motivations of someone selling magical stickers for $120 a pack?

There is also a Galileo gambit in there. They are just brave and open-minded enough to question tradition. Sorry, that is unmitigated bullshit. It is actually science that has consistently been smashing traditionally held beliefs, that is open to new evidence and ideas, and that strives to be truly empowering with actual information. They back up this tactic with the, “Science has been wrong before,” gambit. Of course it has, because science is self-critical. That does not mean your nonsense is real.

There is also some standard alternative medicine nonsense in there. CAM is a lifestyle marketing scam, which fits well with goop. CAM often is selling the feeling of empowerment, just as they are often selling hope. But it is a false sense of hope and empowerment, because it is based on nonsense and not reality.

They then take direct aim at Dr. Gunter:

There was a tremendous amount of press pick-up on the doctor’s post, which was partially based on her own strangely confident assertion that putting a crystal in your vagina for pelvic-floor strengthening exercises would put you in danger of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome—even though there is no study/case/report which links the two—and also stating with 100 percent certainty that conventional tampons laden with glyphosate (classified by the WHO as probably carcinogenic) are no cause for concern. Since her first post, she has been taking advantage of the attention and issuing attacks to build her personal platform—ridiculing the women who might read our site in the process.

You will probably recognize in there the denialism strategy of criticizing scientists for being confident, while misrepresenting their evidence-based confidence as “100 percent certainty.” But let’s take a look at the specific claims. Dr. Gunter is only saying that putting foreign objects up your vagina carries the risk of bacterial contamination. She is not “strangely confident.” This is a fairly basic and well-established concern.

But notice the subtle deception – they claim that their crystal eggs have not been specifically tested, as if we need to test every possible foreign object itself in order to make conclusions about foreign objects in general. Rather, given the known risks of putting potentially contaminated objects into your vagina, it should be up to goop to prove that their jade eggs do not carry such a risk.

The dichotomy here is clear, when you read Dr. Gunter’s article and goop’s response. Dr. Gunter is saying that Kegel exercises are evidence-based and work fine. If you want to use weights to help the exercise, they exist, or you could even use your fingers. All of the alleged benefits of the jade egg can be had safely for free. The jade egg is an unnecessary component, but that is what goop is selling, implying that the jade itself is important to the benefits.

So on one side you have a gynecologist making very logical and evidence-based arguments, and promoting female health and all the things that goop claims to promote. On the other side you have goop selling magical jade eggs with unsubstantiated claims and ignoring a potential risk. Yet they attack Dr. Gunter as being self-promoting.

Dr. Gunter also criticized goop for fearmongering about tampons, and again they pulled the “100 percent certainty card.” They then refer to the WHO report on glyphosate, which has nothing to do with glyphosate in tampons. Further, the WHO report has been highly criticized, specifically for failing to include the latest and best data showing no association between glyphosate and cancer.

Cherry picking and misrepresenting data in order to stoke unwarranted fears is just OK according to goop, apparently. But if you call them on it, you are just a self-promoting whore.

The next paragraph is truly despicable:

Some of the coverage that goop receives suggests that women are lemmings, ready to jump off a cliff whenever one of our doctors discusses checking for EBV, or Candida, or low levels of vitamin D—or, heaven forbid, take a walk barefoot. As women, we chafe at the idea that we are not intelligent enough to read something and take what serves us, and leave what does not. We simply want information; we want autonomy over our health. That’s why we do unfiltered Q&As, so you can hear directly from doctors; we see no reason to interpret or influence what they’re saying, to tell you what to think.

The reference to walking barefoot is to earthing, the notion that walking barefoot can absorb “energy” from the Earth. The goop team just glosses over the extreme pseudoscience of earthing, as if Dr. Gunter is criticizing the simple practice of walking barefoot.

But the tone of the whole paragraph is disgusting. This is a con-artist’s bread and butter, to appear to side with their victim, and to interpret criticism of their practices and claims as if they are criticisms of their marks. They are spreading misinformation, according to the opinion of many experts (including this one). Criticizing that misinformation is not an attack on the autonomy of their victims (I mean customers).

This is also not about intelligence. There isn’t even a relationship between any measure of intelligence and acceptance of pseudoscience. There is only a negative correlation with education when you get to the highest levels of science education. The fact is, interpreting medical science is difficult and complex. Medicine is also an applied science. Ethical and responsible medical practitioners have a very thoughtful balance between respecting the autonomy of their patients, while providing expert advice and advocacy.

Criticizing medical misinformation is part of patient advocacy. It is not an attack on autonomy. Giving misinformation is an attack on autonomy.

They further write:

And speaking of doctors, we are drawn to physicians who are interested in both Western and Eastern modalities and incorporate the best from both, as they generally believe that while traditional medicine can be really good at saving lives, functional medicine is more adept at tackling issues that are chronic.

I could write entire articles about this gem (here is one by Peter Lipson on SBM). The whole east vs west thing is a false dichotomy. The only thing that matters is science-based vs fantasy-based. They also repeat the canard that scientific medicine is not good at dealing with chronic illness. This is a crock. No one claims that we have solved all problems or have good solutions to every medical challenge. As life expectancy increases and we successfully treat more acute problems, then of course we are seeing more chronic illness. These can also be very challenging to manage. But scientific medicine is steadily making advances, and any current limitations does not mean that magic works.

They conclude by repeating the same nonsense about just asking questions and being open minded. They also follow with two articles by their consulting doctors. Perhaps I will address them in a later post. Meanwhile here is a good takedown by Orac. Here is another by Vox.



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