Is entertainment promoting pseudoscience?
With the rise of well-being also comes the rise of alternative well-being trends. These trends vary from meditation practices, the use of clean and natural products to alternative treatments. Their goal is to better one’s life by enhancing their happiness, health and overall prosperity. Those alternative trends have also worked their way in popular culture. Many documentaries speak of those alternative views, by attempting to debunk widely popular accepted scientific theories. Last week, the debate about pseudoscience in media resurfaced with the release of Netflix’s six-part docu-series, “The Goop Lab”. After it’s release, the mixed reviews started pouring in, accusing the fine line it straddles between experiences and pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is a system of thought or a theory that is not formed in a scientific way or in other words, a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.
In the 2017 Netflix documentary “What the Health“, produced by Joaquin Phoenix, an “expert” mentions that eating one egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes. Although this may seem like a credible point due to the fact that it was pronounced by a self-proclaimed expert, the actual research this argument relies on doesn’t support this claim and has a variety of limits.
The 2016 documentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” is another example of pseudoscience in the entertainment industry. This documentary’s key idea is that the MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella) causes autism. But, this idea has been debunked by multiple pieces of researches over the past decade, such as a study that was conducted on over 95 000 children and found no link between this vaccine and autism. This entire documentary is based on a few studies that were all discredited, and the fact that it was produced with the help of Andrew Wakefield, a discredited British doctor does not help its credibility.
In another 2016 documentary “The Climate Hustle“, produced and directed by Christopher Rogers, there is the use of questionable data supporting that climate change is not real. The researches supporting this claim have been debunked and rejected by the scientific community. Morano, the narrator of this film mentions that there is no consensus on the climate change issue, that it shifts. He based this argument on the lack of consensus on the matter in 1970, a number of scientist sactually predicted global cooling at the time. But, science being in constant evolution, basing an argument on researches from the 1970s that have been rejected by the vast majority of the current scientific community is a form of pseudoscience. Scientists have reached a consensus as of now, there is no denying that climate change is real, that the Earth is getting warmer, thus contradicting this documentary’s thesis.
“The Goop Lab” is probably the example that has the biggest reach in pop culture. Each episode focuses on a specific wellness alternative trend: psychedelic psychotherapy, cold therapy, women’s sexual pleasure, anti-ageing treatments, energy as a healing method and psychic readings. While each episode begins with a disclaimer warning the viewer that “The following series is designed to entertain and inform – not provide medical advice.”, it’s factual ambiguity and the credibility that an A-lister like Gwyneth Paltrow gives it has been widely criticized. The biggest criticism of its ambiguity comes from the fact that most of the experiences showcased are relatively new with a lack of conclusive research. For example, a December 2019 study has found that magic mushrooms (experienced in the first episode) can have a short term potential positive effect on depression. Another wide criticism of the series is that the subject vary from researched unconventional methods (such as psychedelics and cold therapy) to from one episode to the other
With the multiplication of this type of documentaries, it has become our responsibility as consumers to approach entertainment content with a critical mind and not accept everything as valuable facts or advice.