Hollywood celebrities have a reputation for espousing a sort of prepackaged, fast-food version of politically correct “liberal” issues, as if they buy a kit of personal convictions off the shelf at Whole Foods. It includes environmental concerns, usually exaggerated and often wrong; rejection of “all things corporate” including pharmaceuticals and biotech, with a corresponding embrace of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and “empowered individual” philosophies like home birth. Then there are the outliers who go the other way toward full alt-right with an imagined superior insight into world affairs. They tend to reject history and science in favor of conspiracy mongering and alternative science, be it the young Earth, the flat Earth, or calling us all sheeple for believing in the standard model of the universe.
Interestingly, anti-vaccination is found in both camps. Left-leaning antivaxxers tend to reject it because it’s not a natural healing method, and right-leaning antivaxxers think it’s an evil government program of enforced mercury poisoning. It increasingly seems that a rational, level-headed, science-literate Hollywood celebrity is as rare as a truly good movie.
So here my list of top 10 celebrities, 2017 edition, who contribute to the Endarkenment by abusing their notoriety to spread misinformation far and wide:
#10 – Shaq and the NBA Flat Earthers
Former player Shaquille O’Neal and current NBA basketball players Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, and Draymond Green have all expressed their belief that the Earth is flat, but I put them all the way down at #10 because it’s not clear that all four literally believe this. They may just be trolling. But whether they are or not, they do genuinely influence a huge number of young people, including some demographics where education is not necessarily a life priority. Guys, if you want to inspire kids to achieve and succeed, you’re doing it wrong.
#9 – Michael Phelps
I include him as a representative of the many athletes and celebrities who loudly and proudly promote cupping, the overtly pseudoscientific technique of suctioning great round hickeys into the skin by rupturing capillaries. A lot of trainers sell this because it costs nothing to administer, requires no training, and they can charge whatever they want for it; and since it’s unregulated, they make a vast array of claims for whatever workout benefits they say it confers. Usually, it just happens to solve whatever that athlete’s complaint of the day is. Phelps proudly shows off these ugly bruises, as do many other athletes and celebrities, and has even posted pictures of himself getting it done on his Instagram. Sellers have even come up with a sciencey-sounding name for it to impress the scientifically illiterate: “myofascial decompression”.
Today I am going to focus specifically on one essential oil blog which came to my attention through a Facebook post about making your own “dry shampoo.” Why did I click on it? Sigh. Well, I did. I ended up at an essential oil seller making not just bogus claims, but downright dangerous claims. Of course, this seller protects herself with the standard FDA fake medicine disclaimer. Let’s look at a few of the more dangerous suggestions on the site.
Let’s meet Dana. Dana says she is doula and certified by DONA international. A doula is basically a coach for the birthing process. It does not signify any medical training. Yes, before you comment, I know there are nurses and other medical professionals that also serve as doulas. But she does not reveal any medical training. So in essence, she is a coach for the birth. She says:
My mission is to provide women with the information they need to make confident decisions about their labor, the emotional support to motivate them to the next level and the physical comfort to embrace their birth experience.
Based on the information on her website, she isn’t doing a great job of informing.
Let’s look at the information on how to become a “home healer,” which turns out she admits simply means you use lots and lots of the product she is selling. She starts by selling an over $150 “family physician kit.” I find this claim to be dangerous, as well as a bit insulting. Being a physician requires medical education and years of training. To call yourself a physician is a bit like calling myself a professional hockey player because I occasionally shoot the puck around. Here are a few of the claims of the oils in this kit:
You may have already heard me talk about how I only ever use doTERRA’s essential oils, because they are 100% certified pure therapeutic grade. This makes me feel great because I know that what I’m putting in/on my body and my family’s body, is safe and natural. There are no synthetics or fillers in the doTERRA oils and they are highly potent and effective.
What does 100% certified therapeutic grade mean? It turns out the phase is a registered trademark of doTERRA. The great irony is the proponents of these oils claim “big pharma” is shady. I can only imagine how they would feel if “big pharma” reviewed their own science without any FDA or peer review – because that is exactly what doTERRA is doing here. They have no science or any details on what this process means. In other words, it is nonsense.
The next claim is that what you are putting in your body is safe and natural. These are fake (alternative/homeopathic/natural/naturopathic/etc) medicine buzz words. Just because it is natural doesn’t make it safe all the time and in every case. And natural is another weird word. Usually in fake medicine circles as “coming from a plant,” it has no real meaning since the chemicals in the oils are still processed to make them “100% certified therapeutic grade.” So is that natural?
The statement about highly potent and effective is interesting. Because one of my problems with these oils is that because they come from plants, and there is no oversight as to how the oils are processed, the potency is a bit of an unknown.
The essences of certain flowers and herbs produce a pleasing smell, but is it also medicinal?
The popularity of essences of aromatic plants appears to have skyrocketed in recent years. Normally they’re used as simple fragrances, in perfumes, incense, soaps and candles, or even potpourri. But their recent rise may be due in part to stinkier practices: a lot of people are now turning to essential oils for medical purposes. Some believe they promote general wellness, some believe they boost the immune system, and some depend on specific aromatherapies to treat very specific diseases. Are they right to do so?
Let’s look exactly at what an essential oil is. First of all, the word “essential” means that the oil contains the “essence” of whatever plant it’s from; it does not mean that it’s essential (as in necessary for health). Leaves, stems, flowers, or whatever part of the desired plant is placed in a distillation vessel with steam. The heat releases the volatile organic compounds from the plant matter (volatile means they exist as a vapor at room temperature). Volatile organic compounds are what goes into your nose when you smell a flower. These compounds are then distilled into a liquid, which we colloquially call the “essence” of the plant. Finally, to make a nicely packageable product of desired consistency and concentration, the essence is usually mixed with an odorless carrier oil. Then, voilà: we have what’s called an essential oil, strong with the smell of the plant it’s made from.
It can be a massage oil; it can be the scent added to incense; it can be added to bath water, to soaps, or to candles; you can put some in your tea; or you can dab some on your skin for the fragrance. Many such aromas are delightful, even pleasurable. For a thousand years, people have been willing to pay a fair price for essential oils. But in recent years, prices have skyrocketed, especially among allegedly “premium” oils. Why might this be? The plants have not become any more scarce, and the production methods have only become more efficient and cheaper (particularly with our global economy providing the best access ever to bargain-basement oils produced in developing countries).
The answer is a resurgence of aromatherapy in the New Age and alternative medicine communities. But before we talk about its resurgence, let’s see how it first became a thing at all.
The principal anecdote cited by virtually all credulous articles on essential oils comes from the perfume industry.