Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire brand ‘goop’ today revealed a trailer for its upcoming Netflix show ‘The Goop Lab,’ starting on Jan 24th. As a cancer research scientist who spends a decent amount of time trying to fight misleading pseudoscience in the field, this fills me with dread as it is highly likely that the show will be an unashamed menagerie of mainstream pseudoscience.
Goop likes ‘wellness,’ that grey area which sort of intersects with health, suggests pointless lifestyle changes like detoxing and colon cleanses and sells very expensive vitamins that make you smell and, well…stuff nobody needs, to people with an abundance of money. But it also wades into slightly more dangerous territory, particularly with articles on its website and some of the reported contents of its conference. A recent study showed that people with cancer who choose ‘alternative therapies’ are far less likely to survive than those who choose conventional treatments. But what does this have to do with jade eggs, expensive cosmetics and the arguably less harmful aspects of Paltrow’s empire of mostly pseudoscientific stuff?
Firstly, I do have to congratulate Paltrow on one thing. She named a brand a word that I strongly associate with eye infections, cookery experiments gone wrong and well…slime and made a success of it. “We can’t say much—yet. But we can promise you that it’ll be goopy as hell,” says the now presumably outdated landing page on goop’s website about the series. Goopy. As. Hell. As a positive? Is this a play on words for superstar artist Lizzo’s ‘Good As Hell?’ Clearly I’m not part of goop’s target market. I don’t want to experience anything goopy as hell and if I ever do, I hope I am able to visit a physician. Quickly.
Brand names aside, my Forbes contributor colleague Bruce Y. Lee has published an excellent review of all things goopy in the new series trailer. To examine all of goop’s remaining pseudoscience would take far longer than I, or most humans of an average lifespan, have, so I want to focus on what goop says about cancer.
Goop has published some truly bizarre content on cancer topics, like this article by an osteopath saying that underwired bras “could” cause breast cancer. Firstly, I’m not sure why an osteopath is discussing the possible contribution of underwear to the risk of cancer in a part of the body they don’t even claim to work on. Secondly, it has been thoroughly debunked with the American Cancer Society calling it “a theory that lacks support” and Scientific American helpfully answering the question “is your bra killing you?” with a resounding and firm no, as the answer.
Goop also frequently misuses titles of various ‘experts’ to give them more credibility. For example, the man who wrote this blog about ‘what to do after a cancer diagnosis’ is indeed a doctor… he has a PhD in classical studies. Yes, the study of ancient Greek and Roman societies. What does that have to do with dealing with a cancer diagnosis? Other than the fact that ancient Greeks and Romans got cancer too, I’m not really sure. If I was writing about fine art, for example, my PhD in molecular biology would be completely irrelevant and I wouldn’t use it. Using his title in this context can only serve one purpose, to mislead.
Dr. Jen Gunter, a gynecologist who has been widely critical of goop for several years went to the goop conference in 2018. Among the snippets of ‘health information’ wisdom was that fear causes cancer. Gunter also reviewed all of the products for sale on goop online at one point in 2018, finding that 90% of 161 products had no scientific evidence to back up their claims.
In 2018, goop was reported to regulatory authorities in the U.K. for stating on its website that there is “little evidence to support the (many) claims that sunscreen helps prevent cancer.” The line appears to have since been removed, but to have the audacity to make such a claim that not only contradicts a huge body of scientific research, but also common knowledge that decades of public health and cancer awareness campaigns, is astoundingly bold. Such a thing alone should have trashed their credibility as a bona fide resource for health and wellness advice, but goop has a tactic to counteract that.
Take goop’s list of the best books about cancer. It includes the undeniably brilliant ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ by Siddartha Mukherjee, some widely-praised titles authored by cancer survivors and patients…and then on the opposite side of the spectrum, there is ‘Gerson Therapy’ which involves eating several kilograms of juiced fruit and vegetables daily and rounding this off with coffee or castor oil enemas. Needless to say, there is no scientific evidence that it works.
Goop is often very contradictory and herein lies its main danger. Not everything on the website is…terrible. The articles which are decent lead people into thinking that goop branded articles and products are to be relied upon, to be trusted. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are also often suggestions of ‘alternative approaches,’ along with a short disclaimer to check with a doctor before trying any of whatever they suggest. Does anybody ever really heed that advice? Probably not and i’m pretty sure goop is aware and indeed, profits from this.
Contrary to some beliefs, cancer research scientists like me and medical professionals are not threatened by goop, we simply just don’t want to see people with cancer misled, hurt and exploited. A Netflix TV show means that the reach of any harmful ideas could be huge. Empowering people with cancer with good, evidence-based information about everything from wellness, to nutrition, to treatments is wonderful, misleading them goes against everything we work for and causes a ton of problems for oncologists, too.
The excerpt for the new Netflix show features one woman writhing in pleasure on a table (or perhaps pain, it is hard to tell), another with tiny needles in her face and a discussion about psychic mediums. None of which have anything to do with cancer, as far as I’m aware. Let’s hope that goop sticks with the sometimes ridiculous, but ultimately less-harmful side of its brand for the new show and stays away from the serious topics.