I am a friend of Yvette d’Entremont, A.K.A. Science Babe, and I am proud of her. She’s done a great thing with her now viral exposé of “Food Babe” Vani Hari for Gawker, which is why I wanted to interview Yvette about it.
Some praised the piece; others defended Vani. And then there are those on the high horse, saying we should stop talking about this quack or that fraud, because by doing so you’re giving them oxygen, like if we just shut up about them they would magically go away.
There are those in health and fitness that think the only thing we should do is dole out good information, and ignore those giving terrible advice. Stop giving them exposure, they say. Ignore them, they say. No press is bad press, so stop giving them press.
They’re wrong, and Yvette’s article proves it.
Many people have written pieces exposing the bullshit spread by the Food Babe (including me), and it didn’t stop her from growing her fan base, expanding her influence, getting a major book deal, and spreading harmful information about chemicals, vaccines and GMOs.
I would argue that Yvette (who admits that she had lots of help) did a better job at truly damaging the Food Babe’s position as “health expert” than anyone who has come before. The media storm and aftermath proves it. So does the fact that Food Babe lost thousands of Facebook followers in the ensuing few days. People began to think more clearly about her and started to abandon the ship, because it’s taking on water. More important is that it finally woke certain segments of the media up about Vani’s bullshit. I expect the days of favorable press for the Food Babe are over.
When you tell people to stop going after the quacks: the Food Babes and the Bulletproof Executives and Oz and Mercola and Chopra and Perlmutter and Gwyneth … what you’re really trying to do is stop the free press from doing its job. You’re trying to give the unethical and the criminal carte blanche to operate unhindered.
Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I’d add “and women” to that. And Charles Darwin: “To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.”
Dr. Oz has been taken down many times, and he keeps on coming back with more and more bullshit, so should we just stop trying? Hell no! We keep fighting, just like this recent piece did exposing Oz’s fear mongering about arctic apples. And the tide could be turning against the anti-vax crowd, because when those fuckers ruined Disneyland people went apocalyptic.
But you say there are many who didn’t know about Food Babe until we started giving her airtime.
Is it not a good thing that the first exposure someone has to a charlatan be the exposing of him or her as a charlatan? Should police forces not warn people when a dangerous criminal is loose in their neighborhood? Should park wardens not warn hikers about a cougar that was seen in the area?
If you don’t want to “lower” yourself to doing the work of exposing charlatans, no one is trying to make you. So why do you care that others take this work on? And speaking of those others, it’s not just some slimy opportunistic “journalist.” Many respected and credentialed experts work to expose quackery, like Kevin Folta, Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Steven Novella, Dr. David Gorski, Michael Shermer, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Phil Plait, Dr. Harriet Hall and Dr. Stephen Barrett. And don’t forget John Oliver with his hilarious takedown of Dr. Oz.
It’s not easy work. It opens one up to much criticism, having your life exposed, being called a shill and threats of legal repercussions and even violence. Yes, it does come with enhanced exposure. My takedown of Jillian Michaels did a lot to further my career.
But overall, such pieces make up only a fraction of my work. The rest of the time I’m writing those “here is good information you should follow” pieces. And the followers I gain by writing those popular takedown pieces are one of the things that allow that good information to reach more people.
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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com.