Pseudoscience

Why Your Guru Is Bullsh*t

Why your Guru is Bullsh*t

Namaste, motherf*ckers! You’ve finally found enlightenment, taken up yoga, and maybe even kicked that nasty sugar-coated gluten habit. And it was all with the help of your new guru that you found in the bowels of the internet who’s self taught in the keys to the life, the universe, and everything… and they’ll teach you too if you’ll buy their recipe guide, exercise instruction video, access to their meditation channel, subscribe to their Instagram page (because butt pictures prove that they’re scientific AND enlightened) — all for the discounted price of $149 per year.

Plus tax.

Gurus are all the rage lately. There’s a guru for every need, age group, and shampoo type. Fitness stars like Tracey Anderson are all over the gym Instagram. They sell groundbreaking workout routines and post memes of both encouragement and letting you know that your abs are still probably not as good as theirs. Want to find your tribe as a mother? Head over to former actress cum mother superior Jessica Alba at the Honest company, offering the helpful advice that everything you feed, bathe, and diaper your child in is both killing your kid and proving that you’re a terrible mother this week. Do you want a range of deep thinkers and enlightened minds with all the latest advancements in health and human development? Internet medical wisdom from such celebrities as Joseph Mercola, Deepak Chopra, and whatever the f*ck superfood guru David Avocado Wolfe is ranting about this week will fill some void in your life.

They’re all in the guru business, and they all have one thing in common.

They’re undeniably full of sh*t.

Shaping Up Into A Disaster: Tracy Anderson

You’ve finally decided that it’s time to get into shape, and for this you need… something. Sneakers. Electrolytes. That stuff that you rub on your inner thighs to make them not chafe (or your nipples, whatever your kink is), and of course, a fitness guru.

Oh boy.

The latest in a long line of bleach blond, tanned skinned, threateningly perky health revolutionaries Hollywood has spat forth is Tracy Anderson, pint-sized abomination of a trainer to the stars. In a home workout video industry rife with the physical prowess of everyone from Jane Fonda to Hugh Hefner’s ex-girlfriends, Tracy Anderson, at the very least, sweats sometimes.

She’s trained the who’s who of beautiful bodies — Gwyneth, J-Lo, Madonna — and isn’t that evidence that her method works? The proof is in Gwyneth’s preternaturally preserved posterior that she can deliver on her lofty claims that:

“You’ll get long lean muscles.”

“You won’t get bulky.”

Is she really? And is Gwyneth’s body enough evidence to check out Tracy Anderson’s Method?

Sometimes an ass is just an ass.

Anderson’s story is magically similar to a lot of other instant-online gurus:

“I was overweight, then I discovered the secret to weight loss, and now I’m inspiring others via my Instagram account/personal blog/Amazon affiliate links/products I endorse. Here are five variations on a squat, a picture of my abs, and a weird revolutionary quirk on fitness that will make me sound like I’ve unlocked the key to weight loss, a twelve hour orgasm, and making your husband not steal the blankets. Now pay me. Namaste.”

Did that sound obnoxiously familiar? It’s because it’s the same exact ploy used by every single weight loss and fitness guru ever. Their dirty secret is that there’s no secret. Their “system” to weight loss is a lot of moving and cutting calories, and odds are they’re doing it just a touch differently than the last guru.

What’s new and improved about Anderson’s method? Some of her whackier claims include…

  • Women shouldn’t lift more than three pounds or they’ll become bulky,
  • Running and cycling give you a manly ass.
  • Eating baby food is appropriate dietary supplementation for adults.
  • Exercises to pull skin tighter to the muscle.
  • She trains ‘accessory muscles’ instead of your large muscles.

And all these claims must be worth something, because a year’s worth of it, including training and her food program, is estimated to cost $33,000. The gym membership alone costs $900 per month.

Are any of her claims backed up by science or hard data? No, they’re backed up by Tracy’s “independent research.” Translation: she bounces around the gym a lot and is shocked that hours of cardio along with a low calorie diet keeps people skinny. This is coupled with her stubborn refusal to get any fitness or dietary certifications. The claims are also backed by a group of genetically gifted Hollywood A-listers whose bodies already looked pretty amazing before they started working out with Anderson.

But these celebrities, though they can afford her exorbitant gym and personal training fees, are also prone to insecurities that make them vulnerable to someone with ridiculous fitness claims… just like everyone else. Unlike the rest of us, the price tag isn’t a big deal. 

When asking trainers with actual bonafides for their thoughts on Anderson, after the laughter died down, they had a lot to say. Certified trainer Dean Somerset has written extensively about Tracey Anderson. He rips into her claim that she invented dance aerobics (because Richard Simmons existed), and as for her claim that women should never lift more than three pounds? Her favorite client, Gwyneth, in the same video where she espouses the three-pound-rule, talks about carrying her thirty-pound son.

Still waiting on those big, manly muscles to develop, Gwyneth. Tick-tock.

“Most women can’t get “bulky” from lifting without regular injection of illegal anabolic substances, but they fear it,” syndicated fitness columnist and trainer James Fell told me, explaining part of the secret to Anderson’s success. “There are a pile of pseudoscience spewing shit nuggets who bear the dubious dishonor of being ‘Made Famous By Oprah.’ In the case of Tracy Anderson, replace ‘Oprah’ with ‘Gwyneth Paltrow.’ Any science-minded person who reads Gwyneth’s blog will quickly realize she can’t be trusted with anything sharper than the kindergarten scissors.”

So why does it work? Fell says “Tracy is guilty of that effective yet unethical promotional practice of preying on fear and telling people what they want to hear. They’re worried they’re going to wake up one day looking like a steroid-infused bodybuilder, so Tracy says, “Don’t lift heavy!”

The irony is that, during her classes, they’re pulling on resistance bands which Anderson calls her “invention” (no, Tracy, just… no). It’s not the same as lifting weight, but it’s working your muscles in a similar way and can easily stimulate the same force as lifting more than three pounds.

Are her dance moves really everything she markets them to be according to science? Not a chance. She claims to be working your ‘accessory muscles,’ but the scientific definition of an “accessory muscle” is when you have a duplicate muscle, not your small muscle groups. And if you watch her dancing, two things become abundantly clear: One is that if you move like this for an hour a day, of course you’re going to lose weight, it’s a lot of cardio. The second is that she’s clearly just bouncing around. This is not a revolution. This is ass shaking with a failed ballerina. 

So do you need Anderson, whatever she claims to “invent” next, and her nutty expensive workout system? No. Just go out, move, and count calories.

And for f*cks sake, leave the baby food for your kid.

Joseph Mercola: A Natural (Health) Disaster

For good health, who needs to go to an actual doctor’s office now? You can do one stop doctoring via Google MD. That’s when you stumble across the doctor who promises to help you ‘take control of your health’ with the “World’s #1 Natural Health Website,” Dr. Joseph Mercola, medical guru. That sounds reputable. Where else would you go?

Anywhere else. Please.

Joseph Mercola, D.O., started off his career as a physician seemingly publishing legitimate research. Judging by his CV, he took a turn for the weird somewhere around the late 1990s. Since then, he hasn’t met a steaming pile of bullsh*t that he didn’t try to leech money from. Between pumping money into anti-vaccine campaigns to his deliberate misrepresentation of facts as it fits his pursuit of money, the only question when debunking his mishmash of medical mishaps is… where to start?

He’s “the 21st-century equivalent of a snake-oil salesman,” says Steven Salzberg, a research biologist at Johns Hopkins. And man, does he have a lot to sell. Fittingly, while disparaging the tested and proven treatments from the medical industry, he’s selling his unproven treatments on his website.

A $311 meditation headband. Astaxanthin for $46. Curcumin for $110. Ubiquinol for $87.

Bio-charged motherf*cking kitty litter for $18.

But Mercola, while continually ringing the alarm of money’s entanglement in medicine, has to keep the payments up on his sprawling compound somehow. Especially since, in 2005, the FDA ordered him to cease selling unproven supplements that he claimed aided in treating cancer, Alzheimers, heart disease, Crohns, and a lot of other things that you shouldn’t get treatment for from anyone selling magic pills on the internet.

And of course, he sells a liver support supplement. Because it’s one endless detox, even though not reputable doctor has ever recommended a detox for someone with an actual liver problem. One of the ingredients in it, N-acetyl-L-cysteine, actually does something medically valid (this may be a first for the bullsh*t he sells). It’s used clinically to help treat Tylenol overdose, but if you’re not taking Tylenol (or only taking it at normal doses), there’s no reason to take it. It’s like advertising an EpiPen with a nebulous advertisement of “aids with allergies,” neglecting to mention that you don’t need to stab yourself in the leg on a “just for funsies” basis.

Furthermore, the side effects for the N-acetyl-L-cysteine can include nausea, vomiting, rash, and fever. There is no warning on the label for these potential side effects. It does, however, say “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration” about their claims of “liver support.” Much like all the rest of their supplements.

Translation: it’s snake oil.

Sadly, we’ve only scratched the surface with Mercola. When I asked Dr. David Gorski, surgeon and head of Science Based Medicine, about Mercola, he said, “In my opinion, Joe Mercola is arguably the foremost promoter of quackery on the Internet in business today. Certainly, he is one of the top three. He is rabidly anti-vaccine, having paid for ads for Barbara Loe Fisher’s anti-vaccine group the National Vaccine Information Center to air on the Times Square JumboTron, and seemingly there’s no pseudoscience too ridiculous to promote. Perhaps the best example of this was his fawning interview with Tullio Simoncini, a medical huckster who claims that all cancer is due to fungus because tumors are white and fungus is white (I wonder how he explains melanoma, which is brownish to black) and that the cure is to inject sodium bicarbonate solution into them.”

How many cases of preventable disease has he launched on unsuspecting children whose parents trusted the “world’s number one natural health website?”

In that vein, how many other diseases has he pushed bullsh*t treatments for? Let’s do this one lightning round style.

Ironically, while producing fake cures for things for which medical science has real treatments, a search on the chrome domed doctor’s website produces zero miracle cures for one ailment: male pattern baldness.

I’m sure he’s crying about that one into his pile of money.

But please, don’t give him any of your money to add to the pile. Because when you need medical treatment, you need a real doctor, not a guru.

Mommy Knows Nothing: Jessica Alba

Do you want someone alarmingly good looking to tell you which chemicals are bad for your children based on her ability to misinterpret studies? Were you scared sh*tless about sunscreen and spent a lot of time stressing about it this summer because someone forwarded you an article ranting about a bunch of “toxins” in your sunscreen? Do you refer to your child’s diaper as a toxic waste dump and you’re not referring to the green load creeping out the seams, but some allegedly nefarious chemical in the diaper glue that you read about in a mommy blog?

Let me introduce you to… Jessica Alba.

Wait… the actress?

Yes, indeed, Jessica Alba, who gave birth to a baby and then decided that she had also birthed a PhD in toxicology. While everyone else is trying to keep up with the Joneses by merely buying the latest trendy kale laced baby food, Alba mommed harder than anyone else by founding The Honest Company. She’s been scaring mothers sh*tless ever since with her hodgepodge of chemiphobic non-sense.

The Honest Company provides a handful of organic, non-GMO, gluten free, dragon-free, delivered-by-unicorn products that you need to keep your baby alive, in one piece, and moderately non-crispy. Baby formula, diapers, and non-toxic sunscreen are a few of their products available to the discerning parent.

But are any of the products worth it?

No.

Good night, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for — oh, wait, I should probably explain.

Honest Company’s organic baby formula (also labeled gluten free, because how often does milk have wheat in it?) will set you back 32% more than Similac’s conventional formula with a similar nutrient profile.

Huh. Well, if the nutrient profiles are similar (calories, protein, vitamins, etc), what’s the difference? And should you spend the money? 

All you’re paying for is a bunch of labels that make it sound like you’re momming like a boss. Organic does not mean healthier. It means that the products were grown with a different set of farming practices (different, not better). In both conventional and organic farming, pesticides are used (and neither will leave enough pesticide residue to cause any harm by the time the products hit market). But just like the chemicals used in conventional farming, when highly concentrated, “there is nothing safe about the chemicals used in organic agriculture.”

I asked Kavin Senapathy, mother and science journalist with Forbes, for her take.

“I breastfed both of my babies for around a year each, but if I were to have another I wouldn’t hesitate to feed him or her any formula on the market,” she said. “The U.S. government strictly regulates infant formula to be safe, nutritious, and contain very specific amounts of necessary nutrients formulated to nourish a growing baby. There is no reason to spend a premium on Honest Company formula.”

Don’t let a friendly looking label convince you to pay 30% more for baby formula or anything. Life is expensive enough already.

As for the fancy diapers, they’re not worth it either. BabyGearLab tested them against several other diapers and they couldn’t beat the competition (even though BabyGearLab does advertise Honest Company on their website… because money). If you think “well I’m not buying them to stop diaper explosions, I’m buying them because my baby’s tuchus is worth saving from chemicals,” think again. Though it’s true that baby’s skin can be irritated by certain materials, the danger of being exposed to ‘scary’ cancer causing chemicals in their wearable shit bags is nil. Dioxins are one cited fear, and a 2002 study of multiple diaper brands showed that babies experience up to 2.2million times the level of dioxin from their food than they do from their diapers.

And do we all remember being scared witless earlier this summer by articles about toxic sunscreen? You should promptly forget it, because your sunscreen is just fine, as long as it’s not from The Honest Company. Last year reports surfaced that their SPF 30 formulation left people burned… literally.

The Honest Company may want to reconsider its name. And Alba may want to stick to acting instead of the baby guru business.

Deepak Chopra

Quantum.

There, I’m a guru now, right?

That’s the story of Deepak Chopra. Get an MD, appear on Oprah, say ‘quantum’ in a context that no self respecting person who actually understands the definition of the word would say it, and voila, you get to make quotes condemning greed while wearing diamond encrusted designer glasses and your legions of followers don’t seem to mind.

(You’re getting used to the rhythm of this by now, right?)

Deepak Chopra, much like Mercola, started off his career as a doctor. He specialized in endocrinology and was even the chief of staff at a real deal hospital in 1980. Then he picked up a book about meditation and it helped him quit smoking. And then he did more reading on meditation. And consciousness.

F*ck, here we go again.

Today, Chopra preaches a combination of Ayurvedic medicine and ‘quantum healing.’ He claims quantum healing is based on the principles of quantum mechanics. That makes it really easy to bullsh*t people because really, how many people who believe in alternative medicine also understand quantum mechanics? For that matter, how many people in the world really understand quantum mechanics?

Wear a lab coat, wave a crystal at someone, say you’re doing quantum medicine, send them away with a few bottles of Ayurvedic treatments. Then through the power of meditation, platitudes, and positive thoughts they feel better, right? How much harm could that possibly do?

For starters, ailments in Ayurvedic medicine are diagnosed merely by examining one’s pulse. Examining the pulse is good for precisely that, finding out heart rate (which can be indicative of a handful of things), but the Chopras of the world claim it can diagnose almost everything, including spiritual inclination, menstrual problems, blood disorders, and constipation. This has never been replicated in a laboratory setting. Furthermore, some Ayurvedic treatments have been shown to contain lead and mercury. I’m not sure how that affects one’s quantum state, but as far as your health, it’s not f*cking good. If they don’t contain lead, they tend to just not do much of anything at all.

And as for all of that quantum healing idiocy, Chopra has claimed that “If you have happy thoughts, then you make happy molecules.” In science, this is defined as ‘not even wrong,’ a statement so wrong it can’t be debunked by scientific means. The question ‘how do you measure the emotions of a molecule,’ sounds like a rejected verse for the song Blowin’ In The Wind, not the question for a scientific experiment. It’s akin to ‘what color is sadness?’ If it’s not something you’d accept from Pfizer for a scientific explanation of why a new antibiotic works, then it shouldn’t be good enough for this platitudinous f*ck either.

And speaking of platitudes, he’s full of them. So much so that the internet has launched multiple Deepak Chopra random quote generators, in which they randomly piece together something that resembles his usual word vomit. Try to identify which of the following are real quotes and which are from the generator:

  • “True identity transcends cosmic genes.”
  • “Wholeness gives rise to the light of truth.”
  • “The human nervous system arises and subsides in new external reality.”
  • “Meditation makes the entire nervous system go into a field of coherence.”
  • “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”
  • “The more boundless your vision, the more real you are.”

The first three are random quote generator. The last three are real quotes. For being this deep, know-all guru, it’s a little sad that a random generator could mimic his quotes.

The takeaway here isn’t that meditation, Chopra’s gateway drug, is bad. There’s even emerging science out there that it’s pretty good for you. But if someone claims that ‘ancient wisdom’ that hasn’t been proven to work is better than proven science and you’re someone with a serious medical ailment, get to an MD’s office first.

And please, don’t waste your money on the books full of platitudes from some guy who abuses the word ‘quantum’ to keep him stocked up on expensive glasses. Might I suggest the quote generator instead?

David Avocado Wolfe

And now, for the biggest asshole on the internet, we’ve arrived here, where Dunning and Kruger have produced the unholy love child that we call David Avocado Wolfe.

You might have seen a meme or two floating around facebook watermarked with Wolfe’s name at the bottom. They generally have a pretty picture and an inspiring, funny, or occasionally pro-nature quote scrawled across them.

Wolfe has a following of over 7 million people at this point. Branding himself as the “rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe,” this should tell you everything you need to know about the man’s ego, if nothing else. He based most of his career on the promotion of superfoods, claiming that longevity is based on cramming as many of these into your cakehole as possible. Then he got a job pushing the Nutribullet, a fancy little blender system, and claimed that it could turn any food into a superfood because hey, rock-star-Indiana-Jones gotta make money.

First, superfoods aren’t a thing. There’s no regulation on the term, and anybody can just brand any food that they’ve arbitrarily decided has the right components a ‘superfood.’ The foods that get the label seem to be healthy enough, but there’s almost an attitude that there’s something beyond their caloric components, beyond their vitamins and minerals, just in their intrinsic goodness that vaguely promotes ‘wellness.’

Of course, he promotes the usual suspects. But buyer beware, goji berries have the nutritional composition of a starburst. Chia seeds have caused a guy to land in the ER. Kale can cause hypothyroidism.

So why would you want to trade in your blender to pad his wallet with Nutribullet commissions to make foods ‘super’ if they seem to just be… food?

Unfortunately, this all pales in comparison to the much nuttier things that Wolfe has said. Now remember, he has seven million followers on Facebook. Last year, I spent some time researching and debunking Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe. The things she says seem almost rational compared to this, and she had a fraction of the followers.

Wolfe’s greatest hits include:

“Chocolate lines up planetarily with the sun. Chocolate is an octave of sun energy.”

“Chocolate is the same octave as a smile. It’s on the same octave as gold.”

“If you become loaded with ormus, all the cosmic energies comes into you because it wants to mate with you.”

“Mushrooms are in fact not from [this planet]. They rode in on the cosmic wind.”

“Deer eaters have a different consciousness than a cow eater.”

“The reason the oceans are salty is to hold the water onto the Earth. If that didn’t happen, the water would levitate right off the Earth and that would be the end of it.”

And my personal favorite:

“Gravity is not intrinsic to matter. That Carl Sagan idea that was sold to us on Cosmos on PBS, was sold to us deliberately to actually confuse us just so you know that. There’s people who have known that gravity is a force that can be displaced. There’s people that have known that since the 50s or even earlier than that. But by screwing up, confusing our mind about things, and giving us incorrect theories we were brain washed into a totally different belief system. That gravity is intrinsic to all matter, we’re fighting gravity, we have to push our way through gravity to launch a craft up into outer space, all this nonsense.”

To the last quote, I issued a small challenge: prove it.

And let’s not forget…

He’s anti-vax.

He’s a flat-Earther.

He’s a moon landing denier.

He promotes unproven cancer cures.

And daily, seven million people are not just tuning into his insanity, but they’re sharing it to their timelines. And the cancer spreads.

Go look at his Facebook page and see how many of your friends are following him. And weep a little for humanity. Because I get it, his memes are pretty sometimes. However, I hope after reading his more ridiculous statements, you re-think your internet time wasters.

There’s always funny pictures of cats and porn instead of this sad excuse for a guru.

What’s Not Bullsh*t?

Anytime somebody shows up in health or science claiming to know everything and have revolutionized an entire field with self-taught knowledge, something is afoot. They’re not backed by science. They’re not as revolutionary as they claim. Their work only really does anything via the placebo effect. Or, at best, they’re just plain old bullshit.

There are reasons we fall for this. Sometimes it’s simple vulnerability; someone who presents themselves as having all the answers shows up, anecdotes support them, and we don’t ask too many questions because we’re afraid for our health or the health of our family. We fall for bad answers when we go looking for good ones and we accidentally land at bad information. And we’ll do anything out of desperation to safeguard our health.

It’s a dangerous combination. But the answer is not a guru.

Learn to recognize the signs of reputable proof.

Ask questions, and demand evidence.

And if they tell you to give up sugar coated gluten, tell them to f*ck themselves. And namaste.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. njål

    July 23, 2016 at 10:43 pm

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