For years, people have debated whether Gwyneth Paltrow believes the bullshit (or Goopshit, as we like to call it here at Vox) she peddles through her lifestyle brand Goop. There were the infamous claims that jade eggs for women’s vaginas have the “power to cleanse and clear,” that wearable stickers allegedly similar to spacesuits “promote healing,” and that coffee enemas and colonic irrigations are helpful “detoxes.”
But there’s new evidence that she doesn’t consider herself to be responsible for the truth of any of her site’s “statements” — and therefore is unwilling to be challenged by any outside authority that might question the lack of scientific evidence for such statements.
In a masterful new profile of Paltrow by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in the New York Times Magazine, the actress turned lifestyle guru explained why a magazine collaboration between Goop and the publisher Condé Nast didn’t work out. She told Brodesser-Akner that she didn’t like all the publisher’s “rules.” One big one: Condé Nast insisted the magazine be fact-checked before going out on newsstands, according to the Times:
Goop wanted Goop magazine to be like the Goop website in another way: to allow the Goop family of doctors and healers to go unchallenged in their recommendations via the kinds of Q. and A.s published, and that just didn’t pass Condé Nast standards. Those standards require traditional backup for scientific claims, like double-blind, peer-reviewed studies. The stories Loehnen, now Goop’s chief content officer, wanted to publish had to be quickly replaced at the last minute by packages like the one on “clean” getaways.
G.P. didn’t understand the problem. “We’re never making statements,” she said. Meaning, they’re never asserting anything like a fact. They’re just asking unconventional sources some interesting questions. (Loehnen told me, “We’re just asking questions.”) But what is “making a statement”? Some would argue — her former partners at Condé Nast, for sure — that it is giving an unfiltered platform to quackery or witchery. O.K., O.K., but what is quackery? What is witchery? Is it claims that have been observed but not the subject of double-blind, peer-reviewed studies? Yes? Right. O.K., G.P. would say, then what is science, and is it all-encompassing and altruistic and without error and always acting in the interests of humanity?
The article also mentions that come September, Goop will actually hire its own fact-checker, presumably to check the articles run on the Goop website or in the magazine spinoff (which will continue after the Condé Nast split). The move was something Paltrow likened to a “necessary growing pain.”
If you’ve ever read Goop, it’s probably not surprising that Paltrow might resist fact-checking — a process that involves combing through every word in a claim to make sure it’s supported by solid evidence. (Journalist Clive Thompson described it in this great Twitter thread.)
But the details from Brodesser-Akner’s story are stunning for a couple of reasons. First, Paltrow sounds a lot like a certain president here: Truth is provisional, and there are no real facts. Second, she doesn’t seem to understand how science works.
“She equates not using science, and not using facts, with being open-minded,” said health researcher and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? Tim Caulfield, “which is exactly wrong. If you’re open-minded, you look at the facts, weigh the facts, use the body of evidence we have available to us to make determinations about what the reality is. And she doesn’t seem interested in doing that.”
She also made a classic woo-peddler’s move of making science the enemy, he said. “The idea that somehow science doesn’t have all the answers, science isn’t necessarily a morally good force, displays a misunderstanding of what science is. It’s not an ideology, not an industry, it’s not people. It’s a process.” Yes, pharmaceutical companies and doctors have failed people and done horrible things. But that doesn’t make the scientific method any less valuable; it means we need to strengthen it.
Worst of all, in her desire to inhabit a fact-free universe, Paltrow is saying it’s okay to deliberately mislead people, to have them spend money and make personal health decisions based on claims that could never hold up to scrutiny. Whether she believes the Goopshit herself may be beside the point.