Celebs Shouldn't Get Away With Spreading Misinformation: It's Time for Health Experts to Speak Out

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


July 05, 2023

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi. I'm Art Caplan. I'm at the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine.

For a long time, I have been complaining bitterly about disinformation, lousy information, and business-driven information appearing all over social media. If you haven't already, take the time to go see what many of your patients are being told by people like Gwyneth Paltrow, who has a company that's worth, I believe, half a billion dollars — Goop, which I think is named exactly appropriately. Goop sells everything from sex serums to all kinds of cuckoo elixirs and remedies.

She gets praised all the time for her success and her beauty by the media and social media. Very few people ever step up and say this woman is a public health menace. She's selling people stuff for problems and diseases that is quackery, not legitimate products, and is not following medical guidelines or what expert physicians would represent.

At one end of the spectrum these days, we have a sea of disinformation from many sources, not just Goop; many companies and people are promoting everything from immune boosters to vitamin treatments for COVID-19 — you name it. And on it goes.

We're all familiar with decisions that keep coming out from public health authorities where somebody fiddles with the numbers. You get to the point where they don't want to see COVID-19 vaccines used on young people because they say the risk of COVID-19 vaccine for young people is too high, whereas all the data from the experts and the studies show that it's much worse to get COVID-19 in terms of heart problems than it is to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

We even have courts stepping in and saying things like, "Here's how you should use drugs like mifepristone, the abortion agent. You can administer it to this person, or you have to use it in this way. It can only be used up to this date." They're sounding like ob/gyn experts, which they're not.

I think it is really time for a much more systematic response on the part of medicine and science to say, "You're out of your lane, judges, politicians, and celebrities." Right now, the public is not being served because they're not hearing the evidence. They're hearing all sorts of messages from people who have power, but ideology or celebrity is a terrible basis to form a public health policy or for talking to your patient in the office.

There are two things I think might help. One, let's get our medical associations — state, local, and national — to form projects in which they start to speak up and protest when somebody with a nonmedical or a nonhealthcare background, with no experience around medicine, begins to practice. It is inappropriate, it's wrong, and it should be called out when people who aren't doctors or nurses or don't work in healthcare in some way start to do that.

The other important thing is to start to think personally, Can I give a talk about my area of expertise or about a medical or scientific subject locally? There is a tendency to say that these battles are fought on the internet in the national media, or in the mainstream media. I don't think that's right. I think the battles about credibility, evidence, and trust in medicine and science are fought locally in a church, in a synagogue, in a mosque, at a high school assembly, at a Kiwanis club, at the Rotary club, at the 4-H club, civic organizations, senior citizen centers, and book groups.

You don't have to spend more time than maybe once a year trying to deliver a talk or presentation about your area, what you do, or something that's in the news that you feel comfortable discussing.

I think that if we do that systematically, if we get ourselves to commit to it, and if we get our students to understand that they should do it, then we can start to make a shift from the ground up in this snowstorm of misinformation, disinformation, and people going way outside their appropriate areas of expertise to tell others what to do to stay healthy or to treat diseases.

It's really time that we stepped up to the plate. I hope you will join me in calling for and trying to do so.

I'm Art Caplan. I'm at the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Thanks for watching.

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