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Belle Gibson’s Fake Cancer Admission the Latest Blow to Homeopathic Quackery

BelleGibson In a mea culpa to be published in Australian Women’s Weekly tomorrow, foodie “wellness” blogger and terminal brain cancer survivor Belle Gibson admits that she made the whole thing up, in an article pungently titled “The Girl Who Conned Us All”.

Asked directly if she had ever had cancer, a narrative gobbled up by a readership eager to credit her avoidance of gluten, dairy and coffee for her cancer’s defeat, Gibson responded, “No. None of it’s true.”

Gibson’s Whole Pantry app was downloaded over 300,000 times and her cookbook, published last year in Australia, was slated for publication in the U.K. and North America this month. She had more than 200,000 followers on Instagram.

In describing the process of interviewing Gibson, who “cried easily and muddled her words” when challenged, Women’s Weekly wondered, “is this young woman really capable of masterminding one of the biggest hoaxes in recent history?”

If by “mastermind” you mean “cheat” or “lie” or “embezzle” or “swindle”, then sure, yes, she is obviously more than capable. Why doubt that she’s at least good at that?

But how did Belle Gibson end up the latest in a long list of “wellness” practitioners and quacks, which now includes “Food Babe” Vani Hari, Oprah’s personal physician Mehmet Oz, and anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy?

Just five months ago, during a publicity blitz for her newly released cookbook, a glowing profile of Gibson announced, “Instagram is full of inspirational quotes, but few ring as true as those posted by Belle Gibson.”

That word “true” has the ring of something else now, and while Instagram is definitely full of something, it is not a place you’d send someone searching for “truth”. Inspiration, sure, if that’s your thing. But truth? Look elsewhere.

Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone. But a recent analysis by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia found that homeopathic remedies are no better than a placebo for any form of treatment in any context.

This case highlights again, for probably the hundred-billionth time in human history, the fact that even while a statement can “ring true”, it can also be an outright lie.

To borrow Mary McCarthy’s fantastic putdown of American playwright Lillian Hellman, “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.” But even Lillian Hellman never stooped so low as to fake cancer.

So the question remains, why do these people do it? And how does one go about starting a career built on lying to vulnerable people and taking their money?

First of all, you need to identify a demographic who are frightened. The fear is what keeps the average person suspicious of authority, instead of using garden-variety critical thinking skills to keep them on the side of healthy skepticism without straying too far into the realm of delusion.

A recent takedown of Vani Hari, aka. the “Food Babe”, outlined her strategy pretty accurately. To begin with, the Food Babe “exploits the scientific ignorance of her followers,” says Kavin Senapathy, contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project.

Next on the con artist’s list is to appeal to what sounds like common sense.

“If a third-grader can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it,” proclaimed Hari.

The rebuttal to which is, in Yvette d’Entremont’s brilliant takedown, “Don’t base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.”

Then, when the inevitable industry shills question your bogus assertions, you can hurl insults at them via social media. Who among your followers is going to believe them, anyway, when they are so obviously in the pocket of Big Whatever? (Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, Big Bird, it doesn’t really matter at this point.)

Then, finally, when you’re eventually caught out as the charlatan that you are, you’ll get a stage from which to tearfully apologize, like Mike Daisey or James Frey or Lance Armstrong on the Oprah Winfrey show.

“No. None of it’s true.” – Belle Gibson

This week, the FDA held a hearing into “homeopathic product regulation”, to which it invited stakeholders to present their cases.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the market and also some emerging safety and quality concerns,” Cynthia Schnedar, director of the Office of Compliance at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “In light of that, we thought it was time to take another look.”

Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone. But a recent analysis by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia found that homeopathic remedies are no better than a placebo for any form of treatment in any context.

Shrugging in front of the FDA committee, homeopathic physician Karl Robinson said, “It’s just a different paradigm, that’s all.”

Indeed, while the FDA does oversee the quality and manufacturing of over-the-counter homeopathic products, the makers of those products can make certain claims without demonstrating efficacy or safety, as long as the conditions are “self-limiting” and not chronic.

The FDA committee is now tasked with determining whether, after more than 25 years of allowing homeopathic remedies to be sold as drugs that can be marketed without FDA approval, all that might change.

To defeat the “wellness” industry and the Belle Gibsons of the world, we may have to invent a new category: Homeopsychopathy.

Belle Gibson’s army of social media followers observed her amazing healing powers, condemned as she was four years earlier by doctors telling her she had only months to live. The fantasy of a lone voice in possession of the truth rebelling against authority only added to her readers’ distrust of “big pharma” and the medical establishment.

As huge as the supply of con artists is, there is by necessity a much larger pool of the easily led, who are drawn to “wellness” practitioners and cult leaders and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs the same way that a fish can’t help itself around a shiny hook.

The mask began to slip from Belle Gibson’s face only last month, when allegations surfaced that money she had vowed to pledge to charity never arrived at its intended destination.

She wrote on social media during one fundraising campaign, “Don’t forget – for every app downloaded until this Sunday, your purchase goes straight to The 2h Project and the Bumi Sehat Foundation to prevent maternal and infant deaths.”

Contacted by Fairfax Media, a spokeswoman for the Bumi Sehat Foundation said, “I can say with confidence that we have never received a donation from Belle Gibson.”

But Gibson’s narrative, fake as it was, was powerful enough to overcome people who should have doubted her from the beginning. “Gibson, a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy, gluten, preservatives, refined sugars or GMO foods, again confounded medical experts,” wrote a journalist. “Having been told she would never have children, in 2010 she gave birth to a healthy son, Olivier, now four. Two years later, she was pregnant again, but she lost the baby at five months. Her sorrow motivated her to share her health journey on social media.”

Inspiring, isn’t it, sharing one’s health journey on social media? I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

Bookstore shelves creak under the weight of glossy books promising to inspire us in various ways, often by freeing us from “toxins” or GMOs or other sinister ingredients that are fed to us by evil scientists and doctors, not to mention by a greedy food processing industry that profits from our inability to read the labels on cans and boxes.

As huge as the supply of con artists is, there is by necessity a much larger pool of the easily led, who are drawn to “wellness” practitioners and cult leaders and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs the same way that a fish can’t help itself around a shiny hook.

Meanwhile, if you were unlucky enough to buy a copy of Belle Gibson’s Whole Pantry cookbook, you can file it under: books that are never to be spoken of again, including Jian Ghomeshi’s autobiography, 1982, or one of Rolf Harris’ children’s books, like “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, or Bill Cosby’s “Fatherhood”.

In her Women’s Weekly interview, Gibson says, “I don’t want forgiveness. I just think [speaking out] was the responsible thing to do. Above anything, I would like people to say, ‘Okay, she’s human.'”

Yep, she’s human, all right.

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  1. I don’t get it. What does Belle Gibson’s admission have to do with homeopathy? It sounds like you are conflating some very different things.

  2. I think it is pretty obvious what Belle Gibson’s admission has to do with homeopathy. This is a woman who claimed that avoiding gluten, dairy and coffee cured her cancer, as stated in the article.

    Now that she has admitted that she is a complete fraud, the article is using her as an example to illustrate that the whole field of homeopathy is a complete fraud aimed at separating gullible people from their money.

    It is truly unfortunate that the Canadian government has given in to political pressure from these gullible people and allowed Health Canada to “certify” these quack products. That is an example of politics at its worst.

  3. “Avoiding gluten, dairy and coffee” may be linked to homeopathy in some fashion in your own mind, but not in fact. So how can she be used as an example of the “fraud” of homeopathy? Might as well use Milli Vanilli as an example.

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