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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.