In Goop Health: An even quackier quackfest of dangerous misinformation than expected

It’s not a surprise that I’m not at all a fan of Goop, the lifestyle brand created by actress Gwyneth Paltrow that’s not infrequently been a punchline for its promotion of things like jade eggs intended for women to stick up their vaginas for all sorts of health and “energy” benefits, magic energy healing stickers, psychic vampire repellent, and all manner of New Age woo. It’s easy to laugh at the silliness of much of what Goop promotes, and, indeed, Stephen Colbert did just that masterfully with his Covetton House sketches parodying Goop; that is, before he decided to let Gwyneth Paltrow in on the joke and sell out promote her product last week. It’s also easy to be amused at how ridiculous the Goop quacks whom Paltrow evidently induced to attack steadfast Goop critic Dr. Jen Gunter were, given how one of them soon after moved to disassociate herself from Goop’s actions. There is, however, a darker side to Paltrow’s sale of expensive nonsense disguised as female “empowerment” to people with more money than sense. These dangers led to an outcry when it was announced that the second In Goop Health summit would feature Dr. Kelly Brogan, a “holistic psychiatrist” who is an acolyte of cancer quack Nicholas Gonzalez, claims that she can treat depression “holistically,” and (of course!) is rabidly antivaccine, repeating all manner of antivaccine tropes up to and including germ theory denialism in an e-book she published.

In Goop Health went on as planned last Saturday (not that I expected it to do otherwise), apparently without a hitch. Well, not quite without a hitch. It turns out that the aforementioned Dr. Jen Gunter managed to snag a ticket and showed up to the conference to see what it was all about. This pleased me mightily, not just because it meant that I could look forward to a detailed description of the pseudoscience and quackery presented at In Goop Health, but also because of this observation, contained in Dr. Gunter’s post on the conference:

I was initially worried they wouldn’t let me register, but some quick homework told me they had offloaded registration to a 3rd party so I thought it highly unlikely there was a no fly list. I did consider that I was just full of myself and they just didn’t care about me attending, however, along the way I received a tip that the GOOPsters hate me more than gluten, cow’s milk, and McChemicals combined so I think they just never thought I would go. Knowing that and managing to get in made it worth every penny.

I registered under my own name and even spoke with lots of people who work at GOOP, some very high up. At one point I was less than 6 feet from Gwyneth herself. No one recognized me with the exception of someone who follows me on Twitter (I’m sorry I forgot your name, it was a long day!) who approached when it was all over to ask if I was Jen Gunter and to tell me she liked my writing. Thank you!

Yes, I suppose it would be worth every penny, although In Goop Health is not cheap, as I’ve mentioned before. Tickets cost from $650 to $2,000, depending on the level of access and amount of swag. I assume Dr. Gunter paid the $2,000, plus the cost of travel and lodging. In any case, it is always immensely satisfying to see a skeptic infiltrate a conference of believers, particularly when, as was the case here, it is one of the two best-known and most vocal skeptics critical of Goop (the other being Tim Caulfield). I’ve written before about how pro-vaccine advocates were kicked out of the antivaccine quackfest known as Autism One and how biologist and blogger P.Z. Myers was refused admission to a screening of the creationist propaganda movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. (Hilariously, the people running the screening didn’t recognize Richard Dawkins himself and let him in!) It was not entirely unlikely that the organizers of In Goop Health might have decided beforehand that they didn’t want to let their most vociferous and devastatingly effective critic in to see what they were presenting.

It’s also important that Dr. Gunter got in because someone, somewhere, has to counter the puff pieces being written about In Goop Health, most of which treated it as a celebrity event and didn’t apply even an ounce of skepticism. Not surprisingly, VOGUE posted a glowing review, completely buying into the message that somehow buying expensive New Age products and pseudoscience empowers women:

Inside, stations featuring delectable bites from John Fraser’s popular vegan boîte Nix sat alongside haute coffee brews from La Colombe. But Paltrow has her favorites. “I love Moon Juice,” said the beaming founder, adding, “I’m very into adaptogenics.” However, Paltrow conceded that Goop and her team still have a ways to go to change mindsets on health and wellness. “We’re very lucky to be in New York City or Los Angeles, where women are incredibly empowered,” added Paltrow. “There’s still certain areas of the world that it would be great to empower some women and kick down a few doors.” Any future places she’d like to take her summit to? “The Middle East, Japan, or the South,” said Paltrow. “[Places] where women maybe still have some societal constraints.” As for herself, Paltrow has been working on her own 2018 resolution to get more sleep. “I’ve been pretty good,” said the actress with a smile, “I’ve carved out little bits of time for myself. I still have a bit further to go [but] I think I’m making progress.” And no doubt, with glowing and Goop-approved results.

Gag me with a spoon, as we (well, some people anyway) used to say in the 1980s.

Meanwhile The Daily Mail tried to make the price tag seem reasonable with the headline Drew Barrymore and Bryce Dallas Howard head up Gwyneth Paltrow’s sold-out Goop Health Summit in NYC where tickets cost up to $2,000 but guests bagged up to $3k of swag. That’s $3K retail, people. Remember the enormous markup of the products given away as swag. Meanwhile, other outlets “learned” things, like how orgasms are the secret to resetting your hormones and lowering cortisol levels and there is no gender or race in the afterlife. Indeed, other than Dr. Gunter’s post, I could only find one mainstream news outlet with a story with a headline like Gwyneth peddles ‘dangerous ideas’ at NYC Goop summit.

But what was Dr. Gunter’s experience? Noting how every attendee was issued fancy slippers and put them on, Gunter refused to do so, drolly noting how she thought everything was very “Hunger Games” and, “If shit got real cult-wise or they tried to throw me out I wanted to be able to run. Katniss would never give up her shoes.” Wandering around the exhibit hall sampling “tiny and surprisingly bland potions of chia pudding and avocado toast with over cooked eggs” she noted:

The event hall was filled with beauty treatments sold as wellness as if a scent or facial cupping could do anything except make you smell or swell. There were B12 injections from an anesthesiologist who looked like an understudy for the show The Doctors. He is apparently both an osteopathic and a medical doctor. Yes, he went to medical school twice. We asked. I watched him give an injection without gloves. Gloves are not required for injections, but it grossed me out although not as much as the long line of women waiting to pull down their yoga pants and receive a vitamin shot without giving a history or having a physical exam. I spoke with one person who said they were not asked to sign a consent. There was no fucking way I was getting an injection. I’ve read The Stepford Wives.

I’d say that Dr. Gunter made a wise decision here. I wonder if there was any raw water being sold.

What surprised me wasn’t so much how bad In Goop Health was, but rather how obviously fraudulent some of the featured speakers were. For instance, there was a psychic medium doing cold reading. Recognizing cold reading is Skepticism 101, after all:

There were back to back sessions where we learned that death IS NOT REAL. And it’s great. Laura Lynn Jackson, a “research medium” (see, words don’t matter), told us how she worked with clients to connect them with their loved ones. She strolled the crowd and her spiritual guide, who I assume is named Cash Only, helped her select three random women (the first was related to a GOOP employee, color me shocked).

Here are the questions the “research medium” asked to prove she was making a connection with relatives from the other side:

Do you have a plant?
Did you dad know anyone in the military or have a military connection?
Does your name or the name of someone you know have an L or an M?
Do you have a dog?
Do you have a cat?
Was your dad a bad communicator?
Do you like shoes?
Do you have a website?
Have your recently bought a purse or thought about buying purse?

We were in a room full of women with an average age of 40 who could all afford at least a $650 ticket for a shit show of nothing. Of course these questions will ring true as they are an exact description of the phenotype of GOOP attendees. L and M are also two of the most common letters. This was pure Barnum.

Then there was Dr. Eben Alexander, the neurosurgeon who “died” and came back to life who now sells books about how the afterlife and heaven are real. As Jen noted, there are some…holes…in his story.

In any case, some of the messages Jen managed to scribble in her notes included:

  • The brain is a filter that gets in the way of primordial consciousness.
  • We don’t need evidence based medicine if we have experiences.
  • God has pure healing energy.
  • Consciousness is not a noun it is a verb.
  • The voice in your head is not your consciousness it is a parlor trick.
  • We turn into light energy when we die.
  • Language reduces experience. (I almost fell off my chair, WORDS DON’T MATTER).
  • We can trust the universe as long as we live in love.
  • The placebo effect is getting stronger over time, this scares Big Pharma.
  • Spontaneous healing from cancer and infections can happen with love.
  • A deep spiritual journey can cure anything.
  • The person sitting next to you at any time was sent there by the universe so trust that.
  • School shootings happen because the kids who did the shooting were “disconnected from cords of love.”

That last one is particularly horrific, but no more so tha The Secret, which posits that you attract to yourself what you want; so if you really want something badly enough the universe will provide it.

As for the medical stuff, I’ve written enough about Dr. Kelly Brogan, her HIV/AIDS denialism, her beliefs that she can treat depression without medication, and her extreme antivaccine views before. So I was really curious to find out what she said at In Goop Health. Dr. Gunter reported:

Next up the psychiatrists. I was so here for this because I wanted to see an AIDS denialist, i.e. Dr. Kelly Brogan, in real life. The other two psychiatrists were fine, minimal woo and yes, they use meds. But Kelly AIDS-is-a-construct-of-big-Pharma Brogan never, ever uses medications. She can cure everyone without drugs. She didn’t tell us that she charges >$4,000 for the first 3 hours and her screening questionnaire is designed to rule out everyone who might actually need medications for anything. It is very easy to treat people who don’t need medications who are very healthy and then claim you have a special skill.

Dr. Brogan doesn’t believe serotonin is involved in depression. It’s like alcohol, she told us. Drinking reduces anxiety but that don’t mean you have an alcohol deficiency. Well of course not, but she also conveniently left out the part where alcohol isn’t a neurotransmitter made by our brain and serotonin is.

Someone, I couldn’t tell if it was Brogan or Elise Loehnen the Chief Content Officer of GOOP who was moderating the session, thought it was cool that they met a woman who almost died in childbirth and that was cool because she was willing to die for her beliefs. You have to respect that, was the implication.

I don’t “respect” foolishness, of course. In any case, Brogan’s is nice work if you can get it (and if you have zero concern about pesky things like evidence, science, or ethics).

There were others there with whom I was not very familiar and in one case not familiar at all. For instance, there was Dr. Taz Bjatia, a former pediatrician who is now a “board certified” integrative medicine physician who’s appeared on Dr. Oz’s show, which is not an endorsement. It turns out that she’s also nearly as antivaccine as Dr. Brogan is, and it only takes a brief perusal of her website to see promotion of quackery like craniosacral therapy, autism quackery, essential oils, and acupuncture. Then there was Dr. Sara Gottfried, an OB/GYN who appears to be all about selling supplements and, of course, a “detox” plan and “hormone balancing.” I might have to take a look at these two in more detail in a future post.

Here’s another one, Anita Moorjani. For some reason I had never heard of her before, but, really, I feel as though I should have. Here’s why:

She told everyone that she died from lymphoma and her brain was dead, like dead, dead, dead. Rotting, mush dead. And yet she was conscious and decided to heal herself. She was once healthy and even took supplements and yet she got cancer (supplements increase your risk of cancer, by the way). However, Anita Moorjani got cancer because she feared cancer! Then her dead, dead, dead brain figured it out and she came back from that beautiful place to pass on the message that fear kills and love saves.

It turns out that she was in the ICU but was also treated with chemotherapy. Whoops! This looks like a story I should look into more closely at some future date.

Dr. Gunter summed it up well:

I’ve never been to such a dull conference. There was nothing constructive. This was not the place or space to find even three things to do or change heath wise. It was a place to come and steep in the cult of GP and to be told that death is cool and that love cures everything. That cool, edgy wellness means a woman should trust her body to cure itself because science doesn’t know shit and experience is all you need. That God/nature/Goture has a plan and even if that includes some creepy dude sitting next to you telling you to smile, it’s all good because the Universe wants him there. And if your kid gets sick or you get cancer, well, I guess you just didn’t love enough.

And:

I’ve been to many terrible medical conferences with soul sucking black holes as speakers. If I hadn’t been so enraged at the messages that a child dies because of insufficient love and that loves cures cancer I would have fallen asleep. I also wanted to see it through. Now I know the truth of “In GOOP Health” and it is ugly.

Dr. Gunter is correct. Goop appears to be becoming more cultish every year. Of course, after having looked into some of the speakers, I’m not that surprised. It is always worse than you think when true believers gather; that is, unless you’ve experienced such lunacy before.

In any event, the key precepts of the Goop cult appear to be a central dogma that wishing will make it so that takes the shape of these ideas:

  1. Nature is always good and healing, never harmful or dangerous.
  2. Death is neither real nor permanent.
  3. Intuition trumps science
  4. Love can heal anything, even cancer that “killed” you
  5. Everything happens for a purpose, even that creepy guy sitting next to you

Of course, nature is not always good and healing. More often it is dangerous and deadly and will kill you without the least consideration, and, yes, death is real and permanent. Intuition cannot trump science and reality. Nor can love heal cancer. (Of course, as Dr. Gunter notes, the dark converse of the seemingly happy idea that love conquers all is that if bad things happen to you or you do bad things, it must be because of a lack of love.) Finally, sadly, most things in people’s lives happen for no purpose at all. People don’t want to hear or face these simple truths, which is why selling a message and products that go exactly counter to them has been so profitable for Gwyneth Paltrow.