In September 2008, actress Gwyneth Paltrow launched Goop, a newsletter meant to celebrate a life of simplicity and health through travel advice, recipes, and exercise tips. "My life is good because I am not passive about it," Paltrow said at the time. "Don't be lazy. Work out and stick with it. GOOP. Make it great.”
But somewhere along the way, Goop morphed from a bland, tone-deaf guide to living your best life into a controversial enterprise pilloried for pushing expensive, and pointless, health and wellness trends. Paltrow leveraged her famous name to make scientific claims without any scientific evidence.
There were aromatic sprays that promised to “help prevent depression” and jade and rose quartz vaginal eggs to “balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles… and increase bladder control.” Goop claimed that $120 “biofrequency healing sticker packs”—that were supposed to “rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies”—were used by NASA to line space suits and track astronaut vitals. NASA promptly slammed these claims.
Paltrow’s anti-nightshade diet, praise of vaginal steaming, and recommendation of herbal “Sex Dust,” made her a modern-day snake-oil salesman.
She’s had plenty of company, though. Over the last decade, an anti-science movement has flourished, with other hucksters peddling alternative facts and fringe therapies as more “natural” ways to achieve maximum health.
Tom Brady’s TB12 Method promotes scientifically dubious “pliability training,” and the New England Patriots quarterback has also touted the drinking of “purified” water as an anti-sunburn hack. Trump advisor Gina Loudon’s latest book falsely stated she had a “PhD in psychology” and used head-scratching “science” like personality tests and birth order to determine the president is of “sound mind.”
The term snake oil salesman was coined in the 1800s, a reference to a centuries-old Chinese remedy: snake-derived oil loaded with omega-3 acids that were helpful for joints. Scammers recycled the idea to sell questionable products to gullible Americans, often slitting boiled rattlesnakes in front of crowds to hearken back to the actual snake oil so precious to Chinese railroad workers.
The latest iteration of the snake-oil salesman has more power than ever, thanks to social media. We now live in an age where a March for Science is necessary to underscore the need for fact-based research, where anti-vaxxers have sparked the re-emergence of diseases long thought to have been eradicated, where flat-earthers hold well-attended conferences.
The anti-science movement isn’t just silly—it’s dangerous, hurting the minds, wallets and healthcare decisions of millions of people. Luckily, institutions and watchdogs are fighting back. Over the last decade, The Daily Beast has also been there to call bullshit on these pseudoscientists. They’re not going away, and neither will we.