MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

To make it clear from the outset: do not watch Gwyneth Paltrow’s 6-part Netflix series. It’s not worth it!

I could have guessed that too, of course. But the BBC had asked me to watch some of it and, wanting to help, I agreed and then joined a small group of scientists to discuss what we had seen (here is link to the broadcast).

The 6 episodes follow a similar pattern; two ‘experts’ (often decorated with a PhD, DC, DO, or similar title) are talking to well-groomed middle-aged women (including Gwyneth) and reveal their insights into different topics including anti-ageing, sex, psychedelic drugs, cryotherapy, energy healing, clairvoyance, etc. Normally, one would expect the two ‘experts’ to come from different perspectives, disagree on certain issues and discuss them productively. Not so here!

On the contrary, one ‘expert’ tends to be more outrageous than the other, and the two support each other in producing the most embarrassing nonsense (just one exception: the episode on sex). The amount of utter bullshit is completely overwhelming; so much so that even a sceptical listener is bound to fall silent with embarrassment. I find it futile to do another fact check, as others have published one in addition to ours on the BBC (see above).

In no time at all, the ‘experts’ then manage to re-write the laws of nature and throw almost everything we know about health and disease out the window. Gwyneth is often the focus of the camera looking pretty, and exclaiming ‘so cool’, ‘how the fuck does that work’ or similarly profound comments. The other ladies can be seen nodding obediently.

‘Science is just one way of knowing; intuition is another’, the ‘experts’ explain. Yet, in nearly every second sentence, they proudly impress the audience with their cutting edge ‘science’. At closer inspection, this ‘science’ turns out to be a mixture of platitudes and the worst pseudoscience imaginable. To any informed listener, this can only be cringingly embarrassing; to the lay audience, however, it might even look impressive.

The videos involves many volunteers who receive this or that form of quackery and usually start crying as soon as the camera catches them. They are clearly impressed with the idea to be on a Netflix video together with a film diva. Several volunteers stress that, in fact, they approached all this as sceptics – only to display minutes later the exact opposite of scepticism.

On returning from the BBC, got more and more depressed about these Netflix videos and our post-truth society. The misinformation promoted in the videos is as dangerous as any other fake news, I felt. So, what can be done about it?

There are several options, as far as I can see:

  1. We can ignore it. That would have been my preferred choice, but sadly this is hardly possible. The news about Paltrow’s Netflix foray is all over the place. To pretend it does not exist is to give way to her attempts to mislead the public.
  2. We can approve of it. I fear that this is exactly what millions will do. Sadly, this will increase the harm such misleading information does – not just in terms of healthcare, but more importantly in undermining rational thinking in our society.
  3. We can oppose and publish what we think. That’s what I did (and I did not mince my words; the BBC might even edit much of what I said). But will it have the desired effect? My fear is that the comments of the small troop of critical thinkers assembled by the BBC will, in the end, merely help Miss Paltrow and her fellow charlatans to get even richer by defrauding the gullible public.
  4. We can ridicule it. I have recently tried this as well. But I am perhaps not best suited to do this. It would be good if comedians would pick up this theme. I suspect that this could be the most effective way of making progress in preventing harm to the public.

 

41 Responses to Netflix, Goop, and quacks in our post-truth society

  • It would be good if comedians would pick up this theme

    Well, yes, they tried – for several years, no less:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmY1MWHsdVM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg0HCStAYMA

    Unfortunately, Mrs. Paltrow may be outrageously stupid when it comes to science (or even basic concepts such as ‘facts’ and ‘truth’), she and/or her behind-the-scenes business advisers appear to have refined the principle of “Any Publicity is Good Publicity” into a high art, succeeding to turn even ridicule into a promotional feel-good show:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q11UD-6XT-8

    • I’m under the impression that the Alternative Universe tries to expand its consumer and follower base by means of a variety on the old-established divide-and-conquer strategy known as firehosing, in effect diluting actual facts and science with humongous loads of BS.

      This often happens under the guise of encouraging people to ‘make up their own mind’ (a.k.a. ’empower’, in alt-speak), in effect telling people that they can simply choose the facts and reality of their own liking, of course in the hope that these ‘facts’ and ‘reality’ are the ones offered by the Gwyneth Paltrows of this world (which of course is easier than even inventing your own facts – and much, much easier than doing actual science to learn things about our world).

      I’m afraid that the believers in this sort of nonsense have no idea how they are being manipulated; and even the ones doing the manipulation may not be aware of it – what they see is an effective business strategy, so why think twice about it?

      • @Richard Rasker

        “I’m under the impression that the Alternative Universe tries to expand its consumer and follower base by means of a variety on the old-established divide-and-conquer strategy known as firehosing, in effect diluting actual facts and science with humongous loads of BS. This often happens under the guise of encouraging people to ‘make up their own mind’ (a.k.a. ’empower’, in alt-speak), in effect telling people that they can simply choose the facts and reality of their own liking, of course in the hope that these ‘facts’ and ‘reality'”

        Richard, I conclude that you prefer being around sheeple rather than people.

        Sheeple defination;
        “people compared to sheep in being docile, foolish, or easily led.

        Example – “by the time the sheeple wake up and try to change things, it will be too late”

        • @RG
          I am sorry to inform you that you appear to be a prime example of ‘sheeple’: You blindly accept and promote all sorts of nonsense, while at the same time being averse to critical questions. This is not a sign of intelligence or even scepticism. Sceptical people not only ask critical questions, they try to answer these questions by gathering actual facts and evidence about the subject at hand.

          Unfortunately, one of the more succesfull strategies employed by the pseudoscientific crowd is turning things upside down, in this case by telling people that rejecting established science and accepting total nonsense instead is somehow smart and laudable, and so is being promoted as ‘making up your own mind’ and ‘not being sheeple’. QED.

          • @Richard Rasker

            lol…. supporters of SBM hide behind the mystical word “science” as if it holds the all-powerful weight. Science has been proving itself wrong, for centuries, and keeps doing so.
            I’m all in for medical science, once I deem it beneficial and safe at the same time. Until then, I keep my distance. Me, my family and friends have been screwed over too many times.

            Pharmaceutical companies, with their deadly products condemn themselves over and over. Only the blind sheep accept their pill popping schemes.
            Many a sick and dying patient, as in chronically ill seniors that were prescribed a cocktail of five, ten of fifteen meds a day from MD’s, finally got fed up with a life of meds. They chucked them all out the window in a futile attempt to accept their fate….. and mysteriously got better health, without meds.

            Perhaps you could explain to me the “science” of this phenomenon.

          • the fact that you were able to post this comment via your computer, the internet, my computer and the web PROVES that science has not “been proving itself wrong, for centuries, and keeps doing so”. And this, in turn, suggests yet again that you are a moron.

          • @RG

            supporters of SBM hide behind the mystical word “science” as if it holds the all-powerful weight.

            It may not have provided all the answers— not yet, anyway—but you can be sure that if anything will, it will be science. So, yes, it is “the all-powerful weight.”

            RG, you keep saying things that border on just plain silliness. (Thankfully, I get a little laugh each time so there is some benefit.)

            I can’t believe you even believe these things yourself. Are you just having us on or do your neurons really fire that way? If the latter, talk therapy may not be enough. Perhaps medication? Or an essential oil? You might want to try a “Wellness Oil Kit” from goop. According to Gwyneth, “This supremely luxurious set gives you a small bottle of each of UMA’s incredible Ayurvedic oils, each grown, extracted, and blended on a centuries-old organic family farm in India.”

            “supremely luxurious,” “incredible,” “India,” “centuries old,” “organic,” “family farm”. . .” These are all good arguments for their effectiveness. If you buy into even half the crap you say, surely you’ll buy into this.

          • @EE

            The internet and my computer have nothing to do with the failures of medical science.

            Perhaps Richard will have the balls to address my question. Obviously you don’t have a REAL answer.

          • you just added MEDICAL, didn’t you – naughty you!

          • @EE

            I sure did, I think that is what this blog is about, and I think that is what we are discussing …. no ?

          • how clever of you!

          • @Ron Jette

            I’m asking you, EE … Richard or anybody else to address the issue I brought up earlier today in this thread. Please explain how this happens if SBM is so reliable.

            “Pharmaceutical companies, with their deadly products condemn themselves over and over. Only the blind sheep accept their pill popping schemes.
            Many a sick and dying patient, as in chronically ill seniors that were prescribed a cocktail of five, ten of fifteen meds a day from MD’s, finally got fed up with a life of meds. They chucked them all out the window in a futile attempt to accept their fate….. and mysteriously got better health, without meds.”

            You only choose to address what is convenient for you. Real patients want answers and solutions… not Pharma white paper…. and for sure not FDA BS.

          • I think you need professional help for what looks like serious paranoia

          • @EE

            Paranoia ??? is that the best you’ve got ?

            No, you are wrong professor. Please don’t respond with your typical and pitiful ad hominem fallacy reply.

            I’ll post a link that will attempt to explain to your feeble mind the seriousness of what I speak. It won’t take long for a great mind like yours, so please do read.
            However, I don’t need any such internet or news information to confirm to me that this phenomenon is real and present. I have seen this first hand. I have heard this very testimony from family, and second hand from friends of friends. You’ll call these testimonies anecdote, but it has been happening for years, and is crescendoing today in the USA. However, there are documented cases.

            https://khn.org/news/an-overlooked-epidemic-older-americans-taking-too-many-unneeded-drugs/

            Again, what is SBM doing to address it’s failures ?

          • I am confused: is my mind ‘feeble’ or ‘great’?

          • @RG

            Paranoia ??? is that the best you’ve got ?

            This reminds me of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grai,l where the Black Knight has had all his limbs lopped off and he is bouncing around on the forest floor, wanting to fight, still thinking he is invincible.

            You’re a funny man/woman/alien/child/knight (or whatever you are), RG.

          • @EE

            Forgive me for the confusion, I assumed you would know when I was being sarcastic.

            Again, no real answer or attempt to furnish any defense for SBM failures. When will I learn to stop expecting a valid explanation from you.

            You post nothing more than silly worthless comments.

          • @RG

            Did you read the story you linked to?

          • @Mojo

            Ya think ? … yes

          • Did you read the story you linked to?

            Wrong question.
            Did you ‘understand’ the story? Evidently not.

          • @Björn Geir

            Not necessarily, he might just be misrepresenting it.

          • @RG
            Since you appear to insist on an answer from me, I’ll give you one – and it’s basically the same that I gave Roger, with some elaborations that I offered on previous occasions as well.

            Yes, real medicine isn’t perfect. It makes quite a few mistakes, and I recently experienced one such mistake myself. And I’m sorry to hear that your family also suffered as a result of medical mistakes and imperfections.
            BUT:
            – If you really believe that the answer is to abandon and denounce science-based medicine, you are one seriously ill-informed person. The best approach of course is to try and improve the weak points, while maintaining the progress that real medicine has made so far. No, this isn’t easy at all. As I said before: medicine may well be one of the most difficult things we humans do, and this means that mistakes and imperfections are almost unavoidable. The good news is that many smart people spend their whole lives working to improve this, and that things are improving, albeit often slowly.
            – And if you think that real medicine being not perfect means that we should instead embrace utter nonsense, quackery and things that have been made up on the spot, you are not merely ill-informed, but an absolute idiot.

            And this is where my answer ends, because in my experience, it is nigh impossible to reason with people like you in a sensible manner. Your comments appear to be motivated solely by emotions and overwhelmingly negative sentiments with regard to real medicine, and so far are devoid of reason and even realism.
            Have a nice life, and I hope that one day you will realize after all that doctors and medical scientists are doing quite a bit better than you choose to believe right now.

          • RG,

            During my medical training in the 1980’s I was taught about the dangers of polypharmacy (the prescribing of many drugs) and I have always tried to rationalise the drug charts of patients that came my way (provided that this did not involve straying too far beyond my areas of expertise). The article that you have linked to suggests that perhaps the US is starting to catch up with the rest of the world now.

            Unfortunately in oncology it is often necessary to prescribe a lot of drugs together to deal with the effects of chemotherapy etc. or to enable it to be given in the first place. For most of these it simply isn’t safe to wait and see if the patient can manage without them. I am now on the receiving end of this myself with 15 different prescription drugs (not counting the ones I have when I come in for hospital treatment), all of which are there for good reasons.

            But I do think very often doctors add their own prescription without giving enough thought to what their colleagues might already have done, and it is not always easy for a GP to go against the recommendations of a specialist.

          • @Dr. JMK & Richard Rasker

            Richard
            I appreciate the reply, but the content or your response missed the mark completely. You offered nothing new to what has been said here previously about SBM.
            I myself do not attempt to promote any particular alternative therapies, but I do take pleasure in pointing out the failures of SBM, for they are many. Do we throw SBM out the window completely ? … I think not.
            You and others will claim that SBM corrects itself when possible. May I point out that there has been no correction to the over prescribing of medications. To only acknowledge a problem is not a solution.
            MD’s are still over-prescribing seniors, and it’s a terrible problem. SBM need to fix it !!

            Dr. JMK
            As usual, you made a fine rebuttal post.
            I did not realize that you Dr. are on so many medications. I do understand that in the case of fighting cancers, more meds might be required. I hope you stay in the best possible of health, with or without the medications.
            That said, the article I linked made no mention of fighting the chronic illness of cancer, but did mention many other chronic illness specifically. I suspect you own experience causes you to see things in light of your own situation.

            I’m not sure what you meant when you stated that the “USA might be catching up to the rest of the world”.

            I ask you, who will turn around this serious over-prescribing of prescription medications ? Will hospitals …. no, MD’s…. no, Pharmaceutical Corporations…. no, will the ill patient ? …. perhaps yes. However, not without the insight and the confidence to say no to their own MD’s.
            I hold little confidence the this issue will be rectified any time soon.
            Clearly the vast majority of patients are not even aware of the seriousness of the problem, much less a solution.

            One superior solution will be found in better health. Ill patients need to live lifestyles that promote better health so that medications to treat symptoms are not necessary. As long as patients go to MD’s seeking a solution for a problem or pain, MD’s will continue treating the symptoms by prescribing meds. Why ?? …. because heath care is a business (YES- that applies for CAM also), and also because they have few actual cures. The cure lies in the patient making lifestyle choices to provide themselves with better health.

          • thank you for amusing us again with you delusions; may I call you THE DELUSIONIST?

          • @EE

            You again reply with ad hominem, because you have no answers or solutions.

    • Dr. Joe makes the point that many woman may engage with this nonsense largely because they have not been served well by the health-care system. Good point. Maybe to counter The Goop Lab, we need to change THAT.

      My favourite line from his critique:

      “Anecdotes are dirty data: they are contaminated by a dozen variables we know and many more we can’t even imagine.”Dr. Joe Schwarcz, McGill University, Office of Science and Society

      • Just to correct the record: Joe did not write the article. I did. Thank you!

        • @Jonathan Jarry

          And I knew that! Damn. Please accept my apologies. All of them. I think I had Joe top of mind for other reasons. Great article, by the way. Thanks, again.

      • RG – you make a valid point re over prescription of meds.

        I gleaned this from an article in a UK broadsheet by a doctor who has a weekly column and writes with patients in mind.

        He writes about the ‘prescribing cascade’
        phenomena: eg a man late seventies, high cholesterol, sees GP prescribed statins. Two months later with aches and pains he is prescribed anti inflammatory, a couple of months later attending for flu jab discovers blood pressure raised so given another medication. A few months on with painful gout is prescribed another medication. A few weeks later doctor checks blood sugars, previously normal,now raised so given Metformin. Soon after develops diarrhoea for which he is given medication. The patient asks ‘why is so much going wrong?’ To be told ‘it’s your age’. The article then goes on to explain how, although this story may seem extreme, one can see how one can identify in a lengthy list of drugs, one or more have been prescribed to counter the adverse effects of another.

        Dr Paula Rochon – Canadian, I believe, has conducted geriatric studies and says ‘the prescribing cascade is always preventable by always considering whether any new medical condition might be the result of an existing treatment ‘

        As you say it needs fixing for many reasons, not least the well-being of the patients.

        • @Angela

          Thanks for illustrating better then I did.
          I’m glad that you understand what is happening, particularly to seniors, it’s a real tragedy. If Big Pharma is getting rich by helping patients to have better health and less pain… I’m all for that. However, when the opposite is occurring …. they should be ashamed of themselves. Beyond that, it should be exposed.

  • We are supposed to worry about this sh*t when the editor of NEJM steps down and says that “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.” A large percentage of what is supposed to be real science on which doctors prescribe toxic drugs and dangerous procedures, is not reproducible and/or written by ghost writers at pharma giants. First do no harm has become, do harm then pay a relatively small fine. Give me goop over crap any day; at least they arent killing people.

  • Gwyneth is already widely ridiculed, I doubt that there is any danger posed by her absurd advertorial, those that follow her, are already converted to the new moon goddess cult but her star is fading. The real issue of course is who they will pick to replace her as the face of hocus pocus once the audience reaction to this film is gauged to be weakly mixed.

    As real medical costs increase, particularly in the US, the search for credible home remedies and alternative treatments rise just as fast as the dark web market for prescription medication sales. A listers like the perfectly bottomed Gwyneth shift a lot of promise juice and biodegradable yoga mats on Shoptv. She has though, little following among the non LA types.

    Who would bee the UK face for this I wonder?

  • Goop’s business model seems to be based on trolling: making silly statements and harvesting money from the gullible.

    I suspect their success is partly to do with weaknesses in mainstream medicine, some very simple – British GPs tend to offer ten minute appointments whereas a homeopath might offer an hour-long consultation, some more difficult. Even I as a layman know that medical research has a replication problem (like psychology) and through the work of Ioannides and others that much published research is wrong. Rich companies spend money to promote dubious ideas (Coca Cola will tell you sugar is fine if you exercise enough, Gatorade spent a fortune claiming dehydration in exercise was a risk while people died of exercise-associated hyponatremia).

    I think the solution can only be to do medicine better. Human factors are amenable to improvement. One has to be a science nerd to get into medical training, but even nerds can learn to try to create a connection with they people they look after.

    I don’t think there is much to gain by shouting at the deluded. As with (eg) Trump or vaccine refusal that has little effect.

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