In my last piece I discussed the methods David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe uses to attract followers, and spread his quackery. As I was writing it, I remember feeling overwhelmed with anger and a sense of disbelief thinking about how many people subscribe to his BS and how many people’s life choices are influenced by him – so much so, that I feel I didn’t properly explain why I believe David Wolfe and con-artists like him are so detrimental to society and would now like to take this opportunity to do so.
How his profit-seeking agenda physically inflicts damage
Whilst it might be infuriating thinking about how much money he makes, it is even worse to think about the effect this has on his audience. Actively discouraging parents from vaccinating their children not only puts children at risk of preventable diseases (such as Measles, Hepatitis A and B, Polio …. the list goes on and on) but also puts those individuals at risk that rely on herd immunity to stay healthy. This is why I find the following statement on David Wolfe’s website so problematic:
“If you choose to avoid vaccinating yourself and your family, that is your choice, and it should always remain your choice. To force others to vaccinate themselves and their families is a violation of our basic human right to protect ourselves and our families from danger.”
Here, Wolfe is clearly participating in a debate he knows nothing about which, given his social media following, can be very damaging to many people. This document discusses the conflict of rights between the child’s right to ‘the highest attainable standard of health’ and the parents right to ‘respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or guardians […] to provide […] appropriate direction and guidance’ – making it clear that UK law does not see things as simply as Wolfe does when he gives people legal advice on his website. Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to understand that many innocent people are affected by one’s decision not to vaccinate, demonstrating his narrow mindedness, and selfishness when promoting his controversial opinions. For those readers who believe that vaccines cause autism here is a link to 107 credible scentific studies that show no link between vaccines, and autism.
Beyond vaccines, he also promotes ‘alternative’ cancer treatments by claiming things like “Ginger is 10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy” and similarly unbelievable stuff. By discouraging the use of treatments that have been shown to be effective again and again he is demonstrating a cockish narrow mindedness, by essentially telling people to eat ginger and turmeric instead of getting treatment for a potentially deadly condition. Furthermore he demonstrates a phenomenal misunderstanding of how medical research works by believing that conclusions drawn from studies in laboratory conditions can easily be extrapolated into the real world. This brilliant little article talks about the fallacy that antioxidants help prevent cancer (something Wolfe clearly buys into) but more importantly also talks about the difficulties of drawing conclusions from medical studies – I would strongly recommend taking the time to read it.
I wonder whether he feels even slightly bad? Or whether he has ever considered this at all? I find it appalling, especially when you see things like this; seen on the YADA Facebook page (another quackery promoting page) on Thursday 3rd August 2016:
Since he isn’t directly profiting from his stance on cancer treatments by selling cancer fighting ginger (yet?), the agenda seems purely ideological – going in line with what he presumes many of his followers believe. By advocating against vaccines and conventional cancer treatments he appears trustworthy to people who hold anti vaccination and/or ‘nature has a cure for everything’ beliefs. This trust makes his more advanced quackery such as the ‘David Wolfe Nutrition Certificate’ more marketable, which he then of course profits from.
The main point I’m making here is that David Wolfe & Co. have the potential to seriously harm a lot of people as a result of their immense social media presence advocating for people to use ‘medicines’ which have not been scientifically verified to have any effect.
Wolfe markets himself as a nutritionist who is decorated with honours from prestigious universities (claims I have debunked before), which has a direct impact on the field of food science. Anybody can claim to be a nutritionist since it is not a legally defined profession. Genuine food scientists are called dietitians, and in order to become a dietitian you have to undergo a large amount of actual science based training. Unfortunately these terms are often confused and/or used interchangeably. This not only enables unqualified individuals to pose as genuine scientists, but through that tarnishes the reputation of an entire science based field. As a result many people seek advice and help from people calling themselves nutritionists, whose advice usually includes following a diet unsupported by science and buying homeopathic sugar pills as a remedy for pretty much anything.
For genuine eco-activism:
David Wolfe helps run (or rather, lends his name to) several eco-friendly projects across the globe- such as The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. For him this makes sense as it is a way to further self promote to an audience more inclined to buy into his marketing techniques – it is a way for him to expand his ‘Avocado’ brand which has become so recognisable on the internet. The problem here is that lending this brand name to any legitimate project will generally draw a lot of scepticism (at best) due to association with his anti-science beliefs.
This brings me to a more general issue of why people like David Wolfe are so detrimental to any genuine and evidence based movement. There are many things wrong in the society we live in today – multinational corporations and pharmaceutical companies often hold enough power to influence government policy, or to just write it themselves. This, among other factors, fosters a distrust of government and institutional knowledge – and rightfully so. We have to constantly strive for improvement, which can only be attained by being sceptical of everything and thus by questioning the established norms. But Wolfe & Co are delegitimising any attempts to raise concerns about real issues by plastering their brand all over the internet, resulting in any objections to the norm being associated with quackery and conspiracy theories that have been debunked many times.In this way he is quite literally the boy who cried Wolfe. Through guilt by association, legitimate social and environmental movements which challenge the status quo are dismissed offhand without the political consideration they need to affect society.
I would like to finish by a quote by South Park character Stan Marsh, who is criticising John Edward for pretending to be psychic and giving people false hopes. I find this quote applies quite nicely to David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe and other like him:
“… the big questions in life are tough: Why are we here? Where are we from? Where are we going? But if people believe in asshole douchey liars like you, we’re never gonna find the real answer to those questions. You aren’t just lying, you’re slowing down the progress of all mankind, you douche!”
For people who will inevitably disagree and attack my position because they believe I’m paid off by ‘Big Pharma’ or Monsanto, I would like to include the following credible scientific papers:
This one being on the viability of conspirational beliefs. The investigators use mathematical modeling to show that conspiracy theories often regurgitated – such as vaccines causing autism – are unviable because of the scale, money and effort involved in keeping things secret in today society. It’s incompatible with human psychology.
And finally this article discussing the argument from shill – “the new logical fallacy”. Short, yet powerful, it talks about being accused of being paid in scientific debates – as I, inevitably, will.