Category Archives: Woo and Food Quackery

Woo Spotting Two: Who’s selling you a line about your food?

Who’s selling you a line about your food?

Recap: There are a lot of unprincipled pseudo-scientists whose business is lying to you about food and your health for profit.

The pseudo-science they pedal is called “woo”. Woo is generally fueled by exploiting anxiety, hope and concerns about health.

“Woo” sites have much in common including ample low hanging signs of disingenuous claims. We don’t need to discuss the values of their message to recognize the genre.

Woo Spotting Rule Number Two: Any person or site Claiming to Know the Cause or Cure for Multiple Disorders is a charlatan.

Bad News charlatans warn that one thing – wheat, a herbicide, artificial sweetener, GMO corn, milk – causes a wide array of ailments.

Remember William Davis, the publisher of the Wheat Belly series? The Canadian Broadcast Company aired a fascinating study of Davis’ claims and practices  in The War on Wheat in the news program The Fifth Estate.  Davis claims that alterations in wheat during the “Green Revolution” are responsible for most of the feared diseases of our age.  In this screen shot you can see some of the ailments Davis claims are Caused by gluten.

Predatory quack William Davis.

William Davis preaches Wheat Belly. CDC: The Fifth Estate.

One food component, gluten, causes all that? Do you really think that possible. Remember the last rule? If it doesn’t make sense it’s probably bogus? Does this really make sense? .

Consider  Kevin Trudeau, the author of The Natural Cures Book  doing ten years in prison for fraud in his diet book. The book promises cures for cancer, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome and every other grand 21st century affliction. Trudeau does not focus on one “natural” ingredient but provides a compendium which will save you from modern medicine.

The good news charlatans, Davis’ counterparts, claim on a myriad of web sites that a natural product like Vinegar or Garlic is a better cure than traditional medication for a catalog of ills. This is a little more sinister. People can die and have died from these claims. Steve Jobs did.

Some compounds in some foods and plants do, of course, have impact on disease or metabolic function, but legitimate research deals with these one component and one ailment at a time in disciplined detail.  Science and accurate medicine is not based on instant insight – for instance Davis’ appendicitis revelation – but on years of painstaking experiments. If you believe that the Virgin Mary appeared on a piece of toast, that’s fine, but you should not believe that a scientific truth about a dread disease would reveal itself to someone who then monetizes it.

Science is complicatedWoo is simple.  Legitimate research deals with one aspect of a food at a time, with one disease at a time. Pseudo scientists intuit panaceas.

Woo Spotting Rule Number Two:

Frauds promise easy answers and “natural’ cures for the great puzzles of medicine: Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, The Common Cold or Crohn Disease. They exploit the scariest and most dramatic bogey men of health to separate you from your wallet. Parkinson’s is sexier than piles of ingrown toenails.

They dish up misinformation suggesting that conditions which have puzzled legitimate science for years can be conquered with simple ingredients or their own supplements, but, Garlic does not kill cancer .Safeway does not sell Miracle cures. Juice cures cannot replace the tools standard medicine has thus far developed, as incomplete as they are. It’s sad, but it’s true. Nor will a single ingredient prevent cancer or heart disease.

Legitimate researchers need years to determine which components of foods  impact a condition – metabolism, weight gain, tumor growth, dementia, for instance –  positively or negatively, and they never (ever) market their findings themselves. They publish them in scientific journals. Science Daily is a site where you can check for published studies. Charlatans use their observations for which they seek out corroborating anecdotes to create alarm or hope.

Scientists do research. Pseudo scientists feign enlightenment. Scientists publish peer reviewed studies in journals. Pseudo-scientists self promote.

Summary so far: If a web site or a person suggests that a food or food trait causes or a cures multiple ailments or that a food can cause or cure dramatic, feared diseases for which no trained and dedicated teams of researchers have been able to find an answer, they are predators and you are prey. They are messing with you, exploiting your fears and hopes. You have nothing to gain.


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Late Breaking News. Food Babe Smack Down.

Talk about Timing.

Summarizing the last post, there are people who manage to convince others that what they eat and drink is bad for them, motivating them to purchase books, supplements and a load of wrongness. The most influential of them is Vani Hari, who calls herself Food Babe, exploits her readers’ lack of scientific sophistication and bullies companies with bad science.

Hari is probably more low life cunning than smart; she lacks the foresight to check her information before launching a campaign, leading her to make pronouncements that the airlines insert nitrogen into the air and food should not contain chemicals, but she’s pretty and with a background in marketing she’s hoisted her star to celebrity status. Time Magazine counts her among the 30 most influential people in America. That’s about to change.

Food Babe has pissed off a lot of people, some who mock her with names like Food Chick and Science Chick on web sites and social media. One of them, Science Babe, a blogging chemist whose real name is Yvette D’Entremont, has had Hari in her cross hairs for some time. Yesterday she blind sided her in a Gawker article titled “The Food Babe Blogger is full of Shit”.  Ouch, Food Babe shot back with a nasty bit of Ad hominem, stating that she was “full of Love”,  but D’Entremont is “probably pro chemical..” which, considering that D’Entremont is a chemist might be the first accurate statement Food Babe has made. Science Babe won the round and possibly the war in an unfair fight, as chemist D’Entremont actually knows what she is talking about.

This is not the first time the media has focused on Food Babe. Last month the New York Times published a measured piece and NPR aired a critical segment in December, but both remained without fallout. (It seems logical that the NYT piece may have moved Gawker to ask D’Entremont for an article). D’Entremont’s hilarious rant, however, hit home.

Her dead eye accurate shots from the hip on Gawker’s more popular platform unleashed what promises an avalanche of Food Babe bashing. Goody. Science seems to  have kicked Hari smack in the Hubris.

Food Babe is full of Shit hit a chord. Popular print media began responding in a sort of Let’s Pile on Food Babe rush within twenty four hours of the article. Scores of social media pages and the Internet sites, always looking for something titillating and surely delighted by a chick fight, picked up the thread and ran with it. (Disclaimer: Food Babe is a chick. Science Babe is a whip smart, funny chemist who happens to be one and knows how to use it.)

By a couple of hours ago Cosmopolitan, Elle, Charlotte’s WBTV (Hari is a native daughter), Boing Boing, The Washington Post, Bostinno (D’Entremonte is native daughter), the Times Picayune / Nola , Vox, the NRA (rifles, not restaurant) had run with the story. Expect at least that many pick ups by tomorrow.

Science blogs are eating  it up, but they are mostly preaching to the choir. It’s the general media whose criticism of  the Food Babe enterprise promise to harm or destroy it.

There is a noticeable effect. A growing number of individual blogs like this one are picking up the story as it trickles through to them. Science Babe’s Twitter account looks like a one armed bandit spitting out quarters with several new Tweets every minute.

Score: real science: 1, charlatanry: 0.

You will be hearing a lot more about D’Entremont. She looks to be the next It Girl in the weird on-line nutrition world, there are more dragons to slay, and she waves a wicked sword / pen / keyboard. For one thing, she has a book in the works, “Science Babe’s Guide to BS Detection.

That is, in fact, what I set out to do in the current series of posts, but Science Babe will do it better.

I predict that this is the beginning of the end for Food Babe, whose disciples will support her faithfully until they have an opportunity to laugh at her and take outrage. It’s too early to say “good riddance”, but let’s hope.

As I said, talk about timing. Thanks Science Babe.

Update: Three days after Science Babe’s thrown gauntlet more official sites have reported on the argument and thus on Food Babe, and the list of independent blogs in which the conflict is mentioned has exploded. (To see some of them go to and type in the search criteria +”science babe” +”Food Babe”.

The most desirable outcome of Science Babe’s blog, besides her book becoming a block buster, would be for Food Babe to be so weakened that she disappears somewhat like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. This could never be achieved by logic. Logic rarely converts. But ridicule works wonders.

Suddenly (as of Today) #Foodbabefacts is trending. The additions appear to be coming at the rate of about six a second. If this is not a blip, Vani Hari, who conned thousands via social media may just have been  hoist by her own petard.

Pile on:


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