Back in the day I used to do a weekly feature every Friday that I used to call Your Friday Dose of Woo. For purposes of the bit, woo consisted of particularly ridiculous or silly bits of pseudoscience, quackery, or mysticism, such as the Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface. Amazingly, I managed to keep that up for a couple of years, but over time I started sensing that I was getting a bit too repetitive. The same bits of pseudoscience kept recurring. Over time I had to dig more and more to find suitable bits of woo that amused me enough to inspire me to ever more over-the-top heights of sarcasm.
Earlier this week, it occurred to me that, should I ever want to resurrect YFDoW, I could easily just do a weekly column about some bit or other of utter nonsense from goop, the website and now lifestyle magazine developed by actress turned into this generation’s Oprah Winfrey (at least with respect to promoting self-indulgent, New Agey nonsense like jade eggs). I don’t plan on doing that, mainly because it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to tie myself to an artificial schedule of having to do a specific kind of post on every Friday. That doesn’t mean that I can’t take today to thank Gwyneth Paltrow for providing me with what is likely to be a long-term go-to source of pseudoscience and quackery, a well that I can draw from whenever the mood hits me.
After all, where else could I purchase Psychic Vampire Repellant? That’s right. You read that right. goop is selling actual psychic vampire repellent! But what is this product, actually? Glad you asked:
A spray-able elixir we can all get behind, this protective mist uses a combination of gem healing and deeply aromatic therapeutic oils, reported to banish bad vibes (and shield you from the people who may be causing them). Fans spray generously around their heads to safeguard their auras.
This is how you use it:
Shake gently before each use. Spray around the aura to protect from psychic attack and emotional harm. Avoid contact with eyes. Do not ingest or inhale.
And such a bargain, at a mere $30 for a 3.4 oz bottle!
But, I ask (that is, after asking where I can get me some of this), what the heck is in this stuff? Only the highest quality ingredients:
Sonically tuned water, rosewater, grain alcohol, sea salt, therapeutic grade oils of: rosemary, juniper, and lavender; a unique and complex blend of gem elixirs, including but not limited to: black tournaline, lapis lazuli, ruby, labradorite, bloodstone, aqua aura, black onyx, garnet, pyrite and mummite, reiki, sound waves, moonlight, love, reiki charged crystals.
Skeptics that goop’s customers are, I’m sure they want to know who the reiki master is who’s charging those crystals up. Inquiring minds want to know. (Too bad Paltrow’s customers aren’t exactly what you would refer to as “inquiring minds.”) Fortunately, I am, although I have to question whether wasting my inquiries on the sort of mystical, “empowering,” New Age bullshit that Paltrow sells is a good use of my brain cells. Probably not, but it amuses me, at least to a point, and if it helps explain why what she’s selling is bullshit it’s worth it. It’s also worth it because I can point out that Paltrow’s minions over at goop are learning a bit about how to protect themselves from charges of selling quackery and unproven medical treatments:
Disclaimer: This product has not been evaluated by the FDA. Gem Elixirs are not intended to diangose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition. Gem Elixirs are not intended to replace the advice or care of a medical professional.
This is what we refer to a Quack Miranda warning.
Of course, psychic vampire repellent is so silly that there’s really not much to do with it but to point at it and mock. However, it’s also of a piece with everything that Paltrow is trying to do, as was revealed by an interview with her published by her new goop Magazine that appeared earlier this week. It’s almost as though she’s trolling her detractors in a way. The photo of her portrays here in a bikini covered in mud. Then she describes the origin of her interest in quackery (I know, I know, to her it’s “health and wellness”). It began when her father became ill and required a feeding tube after surgery:
But yes, getting back to wellness: Long story short—when my dad got sick, I was twenty-six-years-old, and it was the first time that I contemplated that somebody could have autonomy over their health. So while he was having radiation and the surgery and everything, and eating through a feeding tube, I thought, “Well, I’m pushing this can of processed protein directly into his stomach,” and I remember thinking, “Is this really healing? This seems weird. There’s a bunch of chemicals in this shit.”
It was where I started to make the connection, or to wonder if there was a connection, and started doing a bunch of research on sugar and cancer and environmental toxins and pesticides and everything else. And I think what happens is, as soon as you test something and it works and you feel better, you really catch that “wellness” bug.
“There’s a bunch of chemicals in this shit”? I have news for Paltrow: There’s a bunch of chemicals in everything, including each and every thing goop sells. Heck, her psychic vampire repellent is full of chemicals. She named some of them. Of course, whether the chemicals that are advertised as being in there actually are in there, who knows?
It turns out that Paltrow has become so credulous that she’ll try almost anything, no matter how ridiculous. She views this as being brave, inquisitive, and adventurous. I view it as being so “open minded” that her brains fell out long ago. I could tell from her interview that she had tried detox foot baths, one of the most outrageous health scams out there. She didn’t feel any better after that (surprise! surprise!); so she moved on. She also tried some sort of “color therapy,” but apparently it wasn’t fo her.
She’s also very, very much into “cleanses,” like the Master Cleanse and the Alejandro Junger cleanse:
It’s only a three-day cleanse, and also I’m very “all or nothing.” So I was very amped up on the idea of seeing it through to completion. My best friend did it with me and she ate a banana on the second day, and I was like, “You f%$ked it up. All results are off.” I felt very toxic and sluggish and nauseous on the second day, and by the third day I started to feel really good. And in the book, some people do it for seven days, ten days, thirty days. I was like, “I’m good with the three-day introductory cleanse.” And I remember the next day, I was like, “Oh wow, I just did this cleanse and I feel so much better, so I can have a beer and a cigarette now, right?” It was the nineties.
But I do remember feeling that that’s where I caught the bug. And then the Alejandro Junger cleanse was really instrumental in terms of explaining to me that, especially as detox goes, our bodies are designed to detoxify us, but they were built and designed before fire retardants and PCBs and plastic, so we have a much, much more difficult time, and the body needs some support, which is why cleanses can help. I just anecdotally felt great and so I started doing more and more. And by the time goop came around and we started writing about wellness content, then it started to get really fun. And the girls make me try everything. I’m always the one.
As I like to say, “detoxification” is fashionable nonsense. There are a couple of “flavors” (if you’ll excuse the term) of rationales for “detoxification.” One is that we’re “poisoning ourselves from within,” also known as autointoxication. The idea here is that the poop accumulating in our colons is leeching “toxins” into the bloodstream through our colons and slowly poisoning us, causing all manner of chronic disease. Never mind that we don’t have 20 lbs of built up fecal matter in our colons, as those claiming that “death begins in the colon” often opine. The colon is very good getting rid of the body’s solid waste; it doesn’t accumulate except in the case of significant disease. When it does, it usually results in acute, not chronic illness. (Toxic megacolon, anyone?) The second rationale is more like the one that Paltrow makes, that “chemicals” are assaulting out body in such quantity and new forms that our livers are no longer able to “detoxify” our body without help. The problem, with this claim is that it’s just not true, either. There is no need to “detoxify.
Not surprisingly, Paltrow is now starting to think that medical marijuana will be an important “natural” health aid and treatment for various things that we evil, reductionistic “Western” doctors don’t accept. Never mind that the evidence for the utility of medical marijuana for most of the conditions for which it is advocated is, at best, thin and, at worst, nonexistent.
Paltrow also has a—shall we say?—rather loose interpretation of what constitutes good medical evidence:
And then we are as a culture, very resistant to more natural options.
I think there’s a general reticence to this idea that we can be autonomous over our own health, that there are other options. So, that if you have arthritis or IBS, you can maybe, possibly, make a diet change that’s really impactful. There might not be board-certified physicians doing double-blind studies that can lay out the results in the same way; the empirical evidence is anecdotal. But, you’ll have people really resistant to the idea, like it’s better to be on five prescription drugs than to maybe cut gluten out of your diet.
And at goop, our job isn’t to recommend, or to have an opinion: We’re just like, this is fascinating. Let’s ask this doctor this, let’s ask this doctor that. I think we know that, for example, we’ve tried certain things that are more holistic, and they’ve had incredible effects. But it doesn’t behoove a pharmaceutical company or chemical company to spend lots of money on trials about whatever it is.
Hmmm. If only there were a way to determine whether going “gluten-free” helps irritable bowel syndrome or arthritis… If only… Oh, wait, there is! It’s called science. It’s called randomized clinical trials, which Paltrow just dismissed in favor of a much weaker form of evidence prone to all sorts of biases, including the human tendency to confuse correlation with causation and the regression to the mean of symptoms, in which people tend to take remedies when their symptoms are at their worst and then attribute the regression to the mean of their symptoms to whatever they took or did, regardless of whether it actually affected the course of their symptoms or not.
How convenient, though. Paltrow washes her hands of responsibility for selling quackery by, in essence, invoking a variant of JAQing off. We’re not recommending anything, Paltrow is saying, we’re just asking questions that you can ask your doctors! Oh, and big pharma isn’t interested in our questions or remedies because it can’t profit off of them. Profiting off of them is our business model, after all! We make false health claims for profit!
Now here’s what’s irritating. There’s no denying that it’s an unfortunately effective tactic, but it’s irritating nonetheless. But what do I know? I’m just a middle-aged white male. Obviously my criticism of the pseudoscience and quackery peddled by goop is a product of my wanting to oppress women—or at least my being afraid of women “empowered” by goop to—gasp!—ask questions. So spake The Paltrow:
I really do think that the most dangerous piece of the pushback is that somewhere the inherent message is, women shouldn’t be asking questions. So that really bothers me. I feel it’s part of my mission to say, “We are allowed to ask any question we want to ask. You might not like the answer, or the answer might be triggering for you. But we are allowed to ask the question and we are allowed to decide for ourselves what works and what doesn’t work. We’re allowed to decide for ourselves what we want to try or not try.”
Oh, bullshit. Paltrow and her minions are more than allowed to “ask questions.” Paltrow just doesn’t like the answers she gets because her questions are premised on belief in pseudoscientific quackery. None of that stops her from bravely marching deeper and deeper into the swamp of pseudoscience for profit disguised as female “empowerment”:
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s our mission to empower women. Our mission is to support women with content, product, ideas, where they can get closest to their real identity and have the courage to speak and operate from that place. Whatever it is that they want to do in the world, whether they want to stay home with children, whether they work, whether they want to start a second career, whether they want to understand, like, you know, how an alternative health modality might benefit them.
Our mission is to have a space where curious women can come. We are creating an opportunity for curiosity and conversation to live. That the knock-on effect of that conversation is that somebody might think to themselves, “Oh, wow. This is how I can manage a difficult relationship at work.” Or, “Wow, like, maybe I can improve my relationship with my mother or my understanding that this is her personality.” Or, “Wow, maybe if I up my vitamin C intake, let me try it, let me speak to my doctor or see if it’s something I should do.” You know, whatever it is. So, we know that the world follows the consciousness of women. So we’re just trying to create this environment where, really, women again, can just feel okay about getting close to themselves and working from that place.
That space? Well, one example was Paltrow’s ridiculous “wellness summit” earlier this summer. Oh, and haters gonna hate, not because they support science and recognize Paltrow for the snake oil saleswoman that she is. Oh, no. It must be because they’re afraid of “empowered” women:
Yeah, when we had our wellness summit a few weeks ago, it was so incredible to see all of these curious like-minded women congregating in a space, making friends, having conversations, exploring all these different avenues together. It was really powerful. You know, it’s like, how do you control that? If there is an inherent cultural fear of women getting together and talking, pushing boundaries, you control it by ridiculing them for talking to each other.
No, women weren’t being ridiculed for “talking to each other.” Gwyneth Paltrow was being ridiculed for being a con artist, selling bogus “wellness” to women in the name of “empowerment.” And she didn’t like it. Not one bit. She did richly deserve it, too.
Basically, goop is a scam. It is nothing more than an online vessel to sell old-fashioned snake oil. Paltrow no more “empowers” women by selling her snake oil than, for example, Stanislaw Burzynski “empowers” cancer patients by selling them his ineffective cancer “cure.”