Unscientific Scientific American

The Scientific American blog has a shockingly bad – and anti-science – post by Jennifer Block attacking Jen Gunter for disrespecting The Anecdote.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand is annoying, unattainable and overpriced, for sure. But Goop does more than just annoy. It incites an interesting rage among medical professionals in particular, most prominently Jen Gunter. An ob-gyn and the author of The Vagina Bible (also a New York Times contributor, prolific Twitterer, TV show host and soon-to-be podcaster), Gunter wrote an open letter to Paltrow in 2017 and hasn’t stopped harping on her since. Gunter points to Paltrow as emblematic of the “wellness industrial complex” that is not only exploiting gullible women with snake oil but threatening their health. At a recent event in Toronto, Gunter went so far as to call Paltrow “a predator.”

Goop does indeed do more than just annoy: it promotes products and practices that are useless and/or dangerous to gullible people, especially women. It does harm. It’s not just some expensive irritation, it’s a source of harm. Why should Gunter stop “harping” on Goop? It’s fraudulent, profitable, popular, and dangerous – Gunter performs a service by “harping” on it. What Paltrow does is indeed predatory, whether she admits that to herself or not.

Block concedes that Gunter has “considerable feminist cred” but then gets to her real objection.

But as Gunter tours the continent promoting her book and other media ventures, she’s also been calling out Our Bodies, Ourselves for spreading “misinformation,” because it was originally written in the 1970s and not by doctors. In a letter to Gunter, the board of directors (it is now a nonprofit) defended its more current editions, which have been continually updated and vetted by “dozens of physicians and researchers.”

What Block doesn’t say, what we don’t learn unless we read the tiny blurb under her name at the end of the post, is that “she was among dozens of editors of the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.” That should be in that paragraph, right after she mentions the book.

Gunter was a child in the 1970s, but surely she has read some history. A book written for women by women—and not by doctors—was the whole radical point. The feminist health movement challenged what was then an extremely male-dominated, misogynist, paternalistic and not very evidence-based establishment. It disrupted the whole notion of expertise, or what scholars call “authoritative knowledge”…

The point may be “radical” but that doesn’t make it not stupid. Disrupt male-domination and misogyny all day long, but expertise? No. Fake expertise, deluded expertise, mistake-riddled expertise, yes, but expertise as such, fuck no. That kind of thinking is how we end up with Donald Trump squatting in the White House and Gwyneth Paltrow telling women to stick porous rocks up their vaginas.

In attacking the feminist health bible, Gunter tips her hand. What irks her isn’t actually the manipulative capitalism of Goop, but really anything that undermines her authority as a physician: Jade eggs and vaginal steaming and home remedies like yogurt or garlic to balance vaginal flora cannot possibly be beneficial because the medical establishment, the authorities, have not researched or endorsed them as such.

But that’s not why, not by itself. Block’s “because” there is just bullshit. Gunter explains why jade eggs and vaginal steaming and “home remedies like yogurt or garlic to balance vaginal flora” are bad and harmful.

Because if we dismiss everything that isn’t patented or presciption-only, we dismiss people’s lived experiences.

Ah the famous and inviolable “lived experience” – which I suppose means an experience of thinking vaginal eggs are a good idea because that nice Gwyneth Paltrow said so? So much more lived and experiencey than knowledge of chemistry.

Gunter goes so far out of her way to debunk yogurt, in fact, that she misses credible research suggesting that it might be beneficial. No, it hasn’t been rigorously studied in large randomized clinical trials. But in every edition since the 1972 original, Our Bodies, Ourselves has cautiously reported some version of “some of us have had success.” There’s nothing scandalous or unscientific or pseudoscientific about that statement.

Uh……..other than everything? Other than the fact that, as at least one person on Twitter shouted, that’s the definition of unscientific?

On her CBC show (unironically titled Jensplaining), Gunter channels Wonder Woman to wield her lasso of truth to separate “myth from medicine.”

Unironically? Unironically? How could it be anything but ironically? It’s not as if jensplain is a literal verb.

Some Twitter commentary:

  • “I want to stick foreign objects and substances in my vagina without a doctor telling me not to” is a weird hill to die on. Seriously though, as a microbiologist, please don’t mess with your vaginal microbiome by putting yogurt and rocks in your vagina.
  • Ah yes, the classic “anyone who requires evidence is bad” argument. Glad to hear anti-intellectualism is [alive] and well, and the arguments against science are as contrived as ever. @DrJenGunter is better at this writing thing than you are.
  • So, women can’t be experts on women’s health? Even if a woman spends years training and then helping other women she can’t claim her own expertise because that’s “patriarchal”? I’m confused.

I guess it’s unwomanly to get an actual degree in medicine. Real women just consult their lived experiences.

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