Perspective on this week’s news
This week was marked by the gravity of the coronavirus epidemic, the inanity of GOOP’s latest sell-out product, and media sensationalism.
Alternative and spiritual practices taken out of context by media
The World Health Organization named coronavirus a “public health emergency of global concern” that spread at an “unprecedented” rate. As of today, there are 31,481 confirmed cases and 638 deaths (WHO), the high majority of both happening in China. The virus, which is believed to have been transferred from a wild animal to a human at the Wuhan market, may have an antidote as soon as 2021 as scientists around the world are racing to formulate and test a vaccine.
The impact of the epidemic has gone beyond the sphere of public health and strained medical resources to depressing stock markets and shutting down manufacturing plants in China and elsewhere, as they rely on parts from China.
While the WHO advocates seeking professional medical attention to those who could be at risk and, for everyone else, exercising basic hygiene like washing hands and cough etiquette, there have been reports of natural approaches to prevention and coping emotionally with the epidemic.
Unsurprisingly, the media used sensationalist headlines and misrepresented the alternative guidance.
“The Indian Government is advising the public to ward off the coronavirus with herbs, while the Dalai Lama recommends chanting.” –Sub-headline on News.com.au
“Indian officials are actively promoting the use of alternative medicine to prevent the disease and manage symptoms,” News.com.au wrote. “The Ministry of AYUSH, which promotes India’s booming yoga, naturopathy and homoeopathy sectors, released an advisory listing herbal oils to be rubbed into the scalp to purportedly ease the symptoms. India claims to have natural remedies for everything from cancer to the common cold. The Government in recent years has launched a drive to promote traditional remedies as it seeks to cash in on the multibillion-dollar global market for holistic medicine.”
In fact, the Indian government website repeats the advice given by the WHO and states that the Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and Unani practices are useful to boosting the immune system and the respiratory system.
There is no advisory on DalaiLama.com or associated social media accounts other than a report, first published by Phayul.com, that His Holiness “urged praying for the viral epidemic in China to be brought under control.” The Dalai Lama was then quoted as saying, “There is an ongoing outbreak of a viral disease in China. China is historically a Buddhist country and we as followers of Buddhism, either of the Sanskrit or Pali tradition, must pray together for the epidemic to subside.” It is said that he suggested chanting a mantra to focus the intention for stopping the spread of the virus and helping those affected.
This article seems to suggest that the government of India is trying to cash in on the spread of coronavirus, and that the Dalai Lama eschews sound medical advice.
Zimbabwe issues first licence to traditional healer
In a move toward improving the credibility of natural medicines and healing therapies, Zimbabwe’s government has created a licensing process for medicines used by traditional healers. One man, whose product is purported to cure genital warts, has received the first licence, but other healers claim the scheme costs too much and takes too long.
“Traditional healers play an important role in Zimbabwe. They make use of knowledge passed down from generation to generation to treat patients, including making medicine from ingredients found in nature. They are also filling a gap in healthcare for many Zimbabweans, as the country’s deteriorating economy makes the formal medical sector less accessible,” writes Linda Mujuru of Global Press Journal.
There are still barriers to the legal success of natural medicines in Zimbabwe, though, as doctors are not allowed to prescribe complementary medicines there. Thus, pharmacies won’t carry the medicines.
Zimbabwe progress represents a growth trend. Mujuru reports that The Journal of Traditional Medicine & Clinical Naturopathy says natural medicine use is increasing globally, and the WHO estimates that more than 80% of the world’s population uses natural medicine.
Media harangues GOOP while Gwyneth Paltrow keeps smiling
There’s no such thing as bad publicity, it seems, as Paltrow’s lifestyle cult(ure) website explores alt-practices and sells alt-solutions. The GOOP demeanor is adventurous, open, earnest, and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the media is taking its exploits very seriously. Target No. 1 is the Netflix show, The GOOP Lab, which has been hailed as advertainment.
“In The Goop Lab Gwyneth Paltrow and her colleagues at the lifestyle brand famous for flogging vampire repellent and vaginal eggs take a whistle-stop tour through the world of alternative medicine, taking in energy healing, cold therapy and dipping into the world of mediums,” Matt Reynolds of Wired UK writes, “A sprinkling of carefully-chosen studies completes the outward aura of scientific rigour while neatly avoiding any semblance of balance or critique.”
Reynolds condemns GOOP’s methods as not being journalistically driven. The GOOP Lab is not meant to be a journalistic endeavour or a documentary series. It’s a lighthearted adventure into practices regarded with danger, intrigue or taboo in the minds of the mainstream media and public. This Netflix show has caused an avalanche of coverage and prevalence of the word “pseudoscience.”
GOOP’s sell-out products, like this candle, probably don’t help GOOP’s cred story, though they certainly boost the company’s bottom line.
The danger is that responsibility lies on both sides: If Paltrow wants to bring credibility to these practices, she’ll have to approach the coverage in that way; and if the media want to evaluate things in a balanced way, they’ll have to put the resources into their own research and analysis.
Both are unlikely to happen because the cost to those businesses outweighs the win. They’re both media properties that rely on advertising and retail sales. The big win — what’s truly at stake — is the mind-body-spirit industry earning credibility for non-pharmaceutical pathways for wellness. Science is catching up, but it will never be as fast as the hype machine powered by the media and PR agencies.
Trump’s spiritual advisor talks “satanic pregnancy,” “witchcraft” and “spells”
President Trump’s spiritual advisor Paula White delivered a sermon on 5 January in Florida [video] that condemns “satanic pregnancies” and mentions other occult terms. One wonders if she was trying to boost her SEO.
After a right-wing political group posted the video on Twitter — and the Twittersphere erupted in disapproval — the media covered it this week.
“In the name of Jesus, we command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now,” she said in a 5 January sermon, covered on CNN this week. “We declare that anything that’s been conceived in satanic wombs that it’ll miscarry, it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction, any plan of harm.”
White, who leads the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, claims she’s a victim of the media’s sensationalism as the words of a sermon she made were taken literally not figuratively. She said her words were meant to be symbolic of harmful thoughts or actions to people: “Anything that has been conceived by demonic plans, for it to be cancelled and not prevail in your life,” she tweeted.
Jesuit priest James Martin responded to her literal words with this tweet: “No pregnancies are satanic. Every child is a gift from God. No one should ever pray for any woman to miscarry. No one should ever pray for evil or harm to befall another person.”
Bottom line: The credibility of mind-body-spirit therapies and practices is questioned by the media and it’s more important than ever that those who represent the industry act in earnest and with integrity.