Edit 04/07: An addendum for any Mamamia readers. I also added a link to a great AWW article which outlined the MINDD position on vaccines – it is very hard to navigate their website and it is never explained explicitly there in a way that people can really link to.
It has taken quite a while to put this post together. Firstly, I had no idea what kind of approach I wanted to take in terms of tone. Secondly, I was undecided about my desired outcome. I sought advice (thanks, Reasonable Hank, for taking the time to consider my ridiculous questions way back in April and for proofing this article further), but then ultimately decided to take my usual approach, which I like to call ‘doing whatever you feel like doing while inappropriately foraying into humour in places but otherwise making a semi-coherent persuasive appeal’.
A copy of this post will also be sent as email and snail mail – though it is highly doubtful that anything will come of it.
Dear Lorna Jane Clarkson,
You haven’t ever met me, but we have almost nothing in common, apart from the fact that you and I are both women from Brisbane who like to exercise and who have our own websites.
In every way, you are my superior: you look beyond incredible at 51.
In contrast, I look like a Soviet peasant who looks like they could survive a catastrophic and prolonged turnip famine at 30.
You have a multi-national business empire, and I have a blog that is a net financial loss to me. You have extremely attractive graphic design on your site, and you could probably beat me at every sport known to man. Your blog is updated weekly, and mine is updated… er, sporadically. The only way I could ever beat you at something is if we both presented at an audition to play one of the proles in a new movie adaptation of 1984.
Your blog MoveNourishBelieve.com has – apart from a catchy commercial premise and the occasional semi-edible recipe, coconut cabbage smoothies notwithstanding – the potential to reach millions of people. I bet the number crunchers/IT guys who run the site would know how many read your page, and I bet it’s lots more than mine. Admittedly, I do read it – you occasionally feature people I find really inspirational and interesting, like Turia Pitt, and sure, even some of the ‘wellness’ bloggers you link to are moderately tolerable (The Nutrition Guru and the Chef are entirely charming and I am glad your blog introduced me to their witty, sensible stuff). You give advice on standard health screening and taking ownership of one’s health in terms of exercise, diet, social connectedness and stress management, and these are good things which are clinically proven to improve one’s health and quality of life. 90% of the content posted on your blog is totally fine.
However, there is a serious problem in what – or more specifically, who – you choose to endorse and give an audience to in the remaining 10% of the time. I speak specifically of people who promote unproven, dangerous and scientifically debunked information; worse, people who endorse or belong to organisations specifically known to be risks to public health. This content is only about 10% of your blog, but I assert 1) it is still a problem, and 2) that surrounding this questionable content with 90% common sense moderate ideas makes the 10% even more dangerous. But let’s get back to that later.
Let’s start with the obvious: endorsing spokespeople for fraudulent cancer treatments. I don’t believe for a second that Jess Ainscough or Polly Noble set out to defraud people, or to deceive them deliberately.
They certainly didn’t set out to die, furthermore – and yet they did, as a result of rejecting conventional treatment and choosing alternative treatment in the hope it would cure them or offer a better quality of life. They deserve to be alive, because they too are victims to the rapacious, heartless complex of cancer conmen who make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the suffering of innocent people.
When MoveNourishBelieve endorses these women’s self-created narratives, without verifying their treatment or without providing a disclaimer about the real success rates enjoyed by alternative cancer therapies (hint: altmed cancer treatments are total dismal failures which results in the death of thousands of Australians who are thus otherwise prevented financially or medically from then accessing real effective treatment), it presents things such as Gerson therapy, juicing, megavitamin therapy or homeopathy as being legitimate alternatives. They are not.
However, cancer fraud is not the only thing being promoted on MoveNourishBelieve: in choosing some of your ‘Sporty Sisters of the Week’, you have also given an audience and a sense of legitimacy to another group of pseudoscientific promoters: the anti-vaccination campaigners.
Let’s start with a couple of the BNQs:
Cyndi O’Meara – supporter of the Australian Vaccination-Supporters Network and defender of past president Meryl Dorey – regularly presents anti-vaccine screeds in her podcasts and on the Changing Habits FB page.
Nat Kringoudis – Melbourne acupuncturist – is also anti-vaccine, and takes what some might be quite a questionable stance against people in Australia vaccinating their children. (Which does a lot of question-begging, I guess: our “circumstances are so positive” that we don’t need vaccines, yet there are “so many diseases running around” that we should do one of her cleanses. Let me be the first to say ‘yeah nah, mate’ to that one.)
Therese Kerr – owner of Divine body products – is anti-vaccine, and in addition to this associates with known anti-vaccination groups such as the toothless Chiropractic Association of Australia and the notoriously pseudoscientific MINDD foundation – a body which endorses the now-discredited link between vaccines and autism. More can be learned about MINDD here.
Kimberley Snyder – US-based personal trainer – is anti-vaccination, and endorses ideas disproven numerous times about toxins, adverse effects and the community benefits of vaccines.
In addition to this, you have endorsed a number of other practitioners who are not explicitly anti-vaccine, but who have either aligned themselves with organisations with an implicit anti-vaccine focus or who endorse other dangerous and fraudulent ideas:
Pete Evans – do I even have to go there? His endorsement of MINDD, his erroneous and uninformed comments about fluoride, and his recipes that place babies at risk of fatal hyper- vitaminosis and food poisoning make him a particularly poor choice of affiliate. His stock, admittedly, is not trading highly after the disendorsement of his publishing company and numerous sponsors pulling away from him, and I would argue there is something to this. Although, people are loving his lucrative paleo plan sick, in the sense it is making plenty of them feel sick.
Charlotte and Wes Carr are both affiliated with the aforementioned MINDD organisation. Further to this, Charlotte Carr co-developed the now-shelved Bubba Yum Yum cook book for children and babies with the aforementioned Pete Evans.
I might just stop here for a moment to point out that the Institute for Integrative Nutrition – which Jess Ainscough, Charlotte Carr and Evans ‘attended’, is a notoriously disreputable training institute which doesn’t really accredit anyone for real professional licensure in nutrition or dietetics. Also, it looks kinda culty.
Alexx Stuart – Sydney-based ‘wellness’ practitioner who spoke at the MINDD conference with Therese Kerr. (The overlap is starting to become noticeable, is it not?).
Now, it could be that all these people are genuinely nice people who are well-intentioned, who help ducklings cross busy highways, and who want everyone to be happy and healthy. I don’t doubt that they are.
But I don’t care. Their intentions mean nothing if what they are promoting can lead to deaths – and it can and it does.
In writing this post I have had to make a couple of assumptions – chief of these being about the authorship and oversight of your blog. I get it, you’re a busy lady (obviously busier than me) and a corporate tie-in blog and social media campaigns are no longer on your level. It could be anyone making these entries, and endorsing these people, for any reason: it could be your marketing manager, it could be the work experience kid, who would know. Maybe they were completely unaware of the other, less savoury claims these gurus are making – after all, some of this stuff was admittedly time-consuming to dig up, even for someone like me with a built-in woo detector. Maybe they were aware and were fine with endorsing anti-vaccination espousers, and you didn’t know.
Or maybe you do endorse it all – and we have reason to start asking some really hard questions.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter why it’s linked: the fact that a blog owned by you – a respected, credible name in the Australian fitness landscape – endorses these ideas lends them this credibility. It broadens their audience and their reach by a factor of thousands – meaning that it increases the risk exponentially of a person being harmed by giving up chemo, skipping a vaccine, or feeding their baby potentially toxic food. It bestows upon the fraud a halo of legitimacy and reputability. It is literally taking the turd that could not be polished and rolling it in a tray of glitter.
And I have real problems with that.
In putting these ideas on the same level as going for a run, or taking up yoga, or drinking the odd smoothie, you are making them seem sane and legitimate alternatives, when there is not a single qualified or reputable institution that will back them as such.
And whether you personally choose these ‘Sporty Sisters of the Week’ or not, you are responsible for the outcomes, because endorsing anti-vaccination or alternative cancer fraud is corporate irresponsibility.
It is ultimately the same sort of corporate irresponsibility that Michael Gerson wrote about in the Washington Post recently:
(Companies endorsing pseudoscientific ideas are) doing real social harm. They are polluting public discourse on scientific matters. They are legitimizing an approach to science that elevates Internet medical diagnosis, social media technological consensus and discredited studies in obscure journals. They are contributing to a political atmosphere in which people pick their scientific views to fit their ideologies, predispositions and obsessions. And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority, which undermines the possibility of rational public policy on a range of issues.
As an identity in the Australian health and fitness scene, you have a real ability to effect meaningful societal attitude changes towards evidence-based health. I think the tide of opinion is already starting to swing away from the charlatans. Following Ainscough’s death, the revelation of Belle Gibson as being a Fraudy McFraudster and the public smackdown of Vani ‘The Food Babe’ Hari, people are now starting to be less willing to buy into pseudoscience and healthcare hoaxes. People are becoming aware of the morally dubious affiliate marketing and business practices of the unholy rat-king of Australian bloggers, and are starting to look for moderation and an evidence basis to their health and fitness choices.
This is where you come in. You – as captain at the helm – can make a captain’s call far better than any that Tony Abbott has ever made.
You can choose to take down the endorsements, and aim in future to only endorse people who do not hold anti-vaccine or anti-chemo/radiation beliefs, safe in the knowledge that you are supporting parents of young children and cancer patients by not muddying the waters with false balance. There are plenty of dieticians, personal trainers, chefs, massage therapists and influential members of the community who use and publicly endorse ethical evidence-based care, and they deserve your patronage. Some of them probably even look good in lycra.
You can choose to ensure that more of those great posts about evidence-based care are published – after all, many young Australians are ambivalent or apathetic about sun safety, the need for sleep, the benefits of pap smears and what vaccines have to offer them in terms of preventative medicine and enjoying real wellness, unmarked by acute illness or permanent damage caused by these diseases. Skin checks, colonoscopies and the flu shot can be just as sexy and photogenic as kale smoothies or doing yoga on paddleboards. (Well, maybe not colonoscopies.)
You can keep posting your recipes – sometimes, when they don’t involve mixing coconut and cabbage, they are pretty delicious, and I make and eat and enjoy them. Keep doing that for sure.
Or, you can choose to do none of these things and keep endorsing knowing, wilful proponents of dangerous lies. DILLIGAF. At least I will have raised the question – and if one of your fans finds this account and becomes slightly more critical and discerning as a reader and decides not to be frightened of chemotherapy or the Gardasil shot, then it has totally been worth my while.
In the event that someone I named stumbles onto this post and disagrees with how they’ve been characterised as ‘anti-vaccine’, you have right of reply. I will remove the names of people who I have named as being anti-vaccine and donate $20 to Oxfam in the event that you link me to an unqualifiedly pro-vaccine post you have made in the past, which can be verified either by a screenshot showing the publication date (if on Twitter or FB) or a Wayback Machine link showing that the post was genuinely made prior to the date of publication of my post.
(I don’t want “pro safe vaccines”, I want “check this cool vaccine innovation shit out” or “so glad I got that flu shot!” or “glad I live in a time where I don’t have to have 12 kids just to guarantee that six will survive”. I want erotic fanfiction about Jonas Salk-level admiration. You show me you’ve posted the other side about vaccination – not just the vague injury/thiomersal/aluminium/autism anti-stuff – and I will even ensure the receipt for the donation is forwarded to you from the page.)