The Dangers of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit

Under the glowing skin of innocuous pseudo-profundity, New Age "thought" can lead to an abscess of anti-modern medicine and pro-alternate medicine content
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Under the glowing skin of innocuous pseudo-profundity, New Age "thought" can lead to an abscess of anti-modern medicine and pro-alternate medicine content
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I recently noticed a trend on my Facebook news feed: uncomfortably cute memes shared from the page of David Wolfe.

“Your eyes are useless when your mind is blind.”

“An easy life has never produced a powerful mind.”

Who is David Wolfe? On casual investigation I was aghast to find he has over 3.5 million followers; more than Stephen Hawking. Wolfe hasn’t been the subject of a biopic Hollywood blockbuster, let alone help piece together the puzzle of black holes or the fabric of the cosmos itself, so why the fuss? Pseudo-profound bullshit click-bait: memes that seem to convey some sort of profound meaning, but is actually a vague collection of buzzwords intended to dazzle rather than to inform.

“We’re all just walking each other home”.

“Open yourself to the majesty of the mystery”.

Though seemingly harmless, there is a sinister element to this digitised Xanax. Under the glowing skin of innocuous pseudo-profundity, they lead to an abscess of anti-modern medicine and pro-alternate medicine content. Wolfe has sold “cosmic” deer antler extract that “makes you younger”, professes GMOs and vaccines are evil, mushrooms are from outer space, chemtrails are real, and chocolate is an octave of sun energy. Wolfe is a self-anointed "rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe”, despite occupying a cavernous intellectual void free of any scientific credentials.

Wolfe and his fellow hoodwinkers have been increasingly pumping out motivational memes with the quite clear motive of generating traffic to their pages. This traffic then results in casual ‘likes’ that falsely elevate their assumed credibility and sale of their products. If one likes and shares relatively benign posts, we should be aware that this is indirectly supporting more bogus pursuits.

Some may argue that they find comfort in the memes and simply ignore the nonsense. Where is the harm in that? Consider by analogy religious moderation. Religious moderates can isolate parts of scripture that align with their worldview, focus on passages they find comforting or inspiring, and discard the rest. Though seemingly private and harmless, the issue is that religious moderates, like ‘pseudo-profound moderates’, provide credence and shelter to all ideas contained within – whether that is a holy book or a Facebook page. Moderates fan the flames of ignorance towards others who may not have the cognitive toolkit to navigate a space speckled with dubious claims. Religious and pseudo-science literalism is bound to ensue.

A study recently looking into the phenomena of pseudo-profound bullshit found that “a bias towards accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity”. In other words, people who believe pseudo-profound bullshit are more likely to believe anything they read. So vacuous quotes used by these frauds are actually combing the web for particularly vulnerable individuals. Liking and sharing these patsy-magnets will only further their reach.

This has dire consequences – consequences we must push back against. On the day of writing this, the most recent article written and posted by Wolfe was titled “How Frankincense Oil is Proven To Work At Reducing Seizures” (spoiler alert: it does not). The next post I click on stated “essential oils are far more efficient in treating illnesses than antibiotics”. One doesn’t need to be a doctor to recognise that this advice can kill someone; the stakes are high. Wolfe spreads specific claims about human physiology, pathology and treatment – software that has the potential to be lethally dangerous if uploaded onto the wrong minds.

Like indulging in crappy fast-food when one is hungover, of course pseudo-profound bullshit can provide that extra bit of comfort after a bad day. But if you think the benefits of reposting from Wolfe and his colleagues’ pages outweigh the costs, I can only urge you look harder at the costs and consider less harmful ways to achieve the gains. As with the modern secular project of separating spirituality from religion, we must prune these memes of their dangerously anti-scientific branches.

This strain of pseudo-profound moderation must be discarded. Thankfully, I have found I am certainly not the only person worrying about this. In late 2015, a group of science advocacy social media pages asked their followers to join them in a boycott of David Wolfe, centred around the Twitter call-to-arms, #DontCryWolfe. I recommend you join them in the fight against this insidious form of pseudoscience.

Follow Steve on Twitter and Facebook.