Goop Enters Netflix Deal: Has Pseudoscience Found A New Platform?

By | February 9, 2019

Elise Loehnen (L) and Gwyneth Paltrow will reportedly co-host a Goop series on Netflix. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for goop)Getty

Who knew that the pathway to getting a “docuseries” on Netflix would include selling jade eggs to put in your vagina and coffee to go up your rear end?

Orifices get ready. Gwyneth Paltrow’s company Goop recently signed a deal with Netflix to broadcast a series of 30 minute episodes hosted by Paltrow and Elise Loehnen, Goop’s chief content officer. Paltrow became famous as an actress, winning an Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her 1998 role in Shakespeare in Love. Loehnen was previously the editorial projects director of Conde Nast Traveler and the deputy editor of Lucky Magazine. Soon Goop and its content will have a new platform, or rather a megaphone, in Netflix, which has over 130 subscribers in more than 190 countries. Don’t ever say that America doesn’t export a lot of stuff.

Now it isn’t clear yet what content will be in this docuseries. For all we know, it could have real biochemists discussing the Krebbs cycle and the various chemical reactions in glycolysis, you know the real science that real doctors have to learn while in medical school. However, Goop’s track record has health professionals worried. After all, Goop has been the website featuring things such as:

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Actual gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter reviewed 161 of Goop’s wellness products for pseudoscience in a blog post entitled “I reviewed all 161 of GOOP’s wellness products for pseudoscience. Here’s what I found.” What did she find? Dr. Gunter wrote: “Of 110 products that made health claims or could be considered a health-related product only 10 had any kind of valid claim, meaning 10% of products were not pseudoscience.”

Arwa Mahdawi wrote an Opinion piece for The Guardian, calling the Netflix deal “a dangerous win for pseudoscience.” Timothy Caulfield, Professor of Law at The University of Alberta and author of the book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, tweeted about this:

The term pseudoscience is not like “computer science” or “social science.” It is not the science of studying “pseudos” or Phil Collins’ song “Sussudio.” Instead, defines pseudoscience as “any of various methods, theories, or systems, as astrology, psychokinesis, or clairvoyance, considered as having no scientific basis.” The danger is that those advancing pseudoscience may portray garbage as science by spouting vague statements such as “science says” or “studies say” or “experts say” or offering some mechanism that makes no scientific sense akin to saying, “the hamster in the wheel in your body is sad, this product will make the hamster happy.” The best thing that can happen when you use a pseudoscientific product is you feel better simply because you are convinced that the product works, i.e., the placebo effect. You then spent money purchasing something that you didn’t really need to purchase. The real danger of a pseudoscientific product is that you don’t seek proper care for a condition or you actually get harmed by the product.

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Alas, there is absolutely no shortage of people trying to make money by trying to sell you pseudoscientific health products. Many of these people are willing to pay celebrities, athletes, health professionals, or any others who can give them a platform to sell their woo wares. That’s why you have to be an informed shopper when sifting through health information and considering health products and services.

If the Goop docuseries wants to break from its jade egg past then it should do the following:

  • Fact check in a transparent way: Hire not just one but multiple fact checkers to cover different disciplines. Clearly broadcast who specifically they are and their qualifications. Fact checkers should have appropriate backgrounds. Thanos, for example, should not be a fact checker.
  • Clearly disclose the backgrounds and qualifications of anyone appearing on the show: “Wellness expert” isn’t enough information. Just because you make daily trips to toilet, doesn’t mean you are a “stool expert.” Also, if someone in one episode talks about how great coffee is and then in another episode discusses how great intestines are, it would be helpful to know that the person is selling coffee enemas.
  • Feature people with real scientific and medical backgrounds: Yes, education, training, qualifications, and experience actually matter.
  • Force people to provide clear and adequately detailed scientific evidence behind their claims: When someone claims that a supplement does something, the response shouldn’t just be “cool.” Ask deep probing questions such “how specifically does the supplement work” and “what scientific evidence can you provide?” Even established experts should be able to provide a clear explanation and evidence beyond simply saying, “trust me.”
  • Beware of people making definitive statements: Nothing in life is 100%. This is especially true in medicine. Treatments don’t always work. Many disease processes are still unknown. Your body is not just a wonderland. It is a bleeping complex system with many, many remaining mysteries.
  • Don’t give air time to conspiracy theorists and product peddlers who have no scientific evidence to back what they say and do: There are not “two sides” to everything. If a stranger walks up to you and smears poop in your face, there are not two sides to his or her doing that. That person is wrong. Unfortunately, for example, too much air time has been given to anti-vaccination claims that are not supported by scientific evidence.
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Remember, when you broadcast information about health, you can do a lot of good but also a lot of harm, depending on what you say and present. Health is a completely different ball game from other fields such as entertainment and fashion. If you say something not quite accurate about Iron Man’s or Supergirl’s powers or that sweater vest, the consequences may not be that great, except maybe having too many sweater vests around. By contrast, misinformation in health can be devastating. It can cause suffering and even death.

At this point, this new Goop Netflix “docuseries” can go two directions. One is providing real health professionals to provide real health information. The other is serving as yet another platform for pseudoscience. Which one is it gonna be?

Forbes – Healthcare