Conspiracy Theory Logic

Using a New York Times op-ed by Elisa Albert and Jennifer Block as his foil, Steven Novella of Science-Based Medicine recently wrote a piece critical of the pseudoscience underpinning Gwyneth Paltrow’s “wellness” brand Goop, and Netflix’s recent documentary series “Goop Lab.” The brand and series are steeped in an aura of female empowerment, so it’s ironic, as Novella notes, “that Paltrow, and by extension Albert and Block, are exploiting women, making them more vulnerable, and depriving them of true empowerment – which is knowledge.”

While the entire article is worth reading–typical of just about everything I’ve ever read at SBM–I especially loved Novella’s point regarding the asininity of the backlash against scientific critiques of Goop. Albert, Block, and Paltrow all dismiss critical arguments and evidence by appealing to historical abuses of science and injustices against women. Writes Novella,

Of course, history is full of examples of actual patriarchal abuse, sexism, marginalizing women, and horrible exploitation and abuse of women. Absolutely. I don’t know of any of the modern critics of medical pseudoscience who would deny that for even a moment. But that doesn’t mean that any current criticism of Goop, or the wellness industry, is akin to or based on that historical abuse. That is their narrative, not ours. This is the branding and the deception. You can, for example, take any pseudoscience and proclaim it an African American treatment, and promote it with African American spokespeople, and then tie any criticism of it to historical racism.

Better yet – take an actual historical belief of any oppressed people, and then declare the belief valid because of that oppression, and tie any facts, evidence, or logic brought to bear to argue that the belief is not entirely valid to that historical oppression.

Designating all potential objections as mere justifications of historical oppression is a convenient way to dismiss them a priori and without critical evaluation. Of course, as Novella points out, such an approach just dresses in vogue the same logic that allows Anti-Vaxxers to maintain that Big Pharma is covering up a causal link between vaccines and autism, and that allows anti-capitalists to justify their deep and abiding belief that scarcity is a cruel myth perpetrated by the greedy capitalist class on the unwitting masses. In reality, changing its wardrobe does nothing to make such illogic coherent. Instead, it serves as an obnoxious, blinking sign of an unserious mind.

Novella concludes with a sentiment I’ve long shared:

All that matters to whether or not a claim is true is the facts and evidence, logical consistency, and scientific plausibility.

Frankly, any other considerations are epistemic irrelevancies that unduly bias the otherwise fair-minded assessor.