The Rise of Conspirituality: How Anti-Science Wellness Influencers are Spreading Dangerous Misinformation

29 November 2023

The alliance between New Age spirituality and extreme right-wing anti-science activists is fueling the spread of conspirituality, a dangerous trend that is impacting public health.

Conspiracy theories have gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic, but their influence is extending beyond the realm of the virus. From vaccines to sunscreen, conspiracies about various topics are going global, fueled by the alliance between New Age spirituality and extreme right-wing anti-science activists. This merging of interests, known as conspirituality, is not only spreading misinformation but also posing a significant risk to public health. With the rise of anti-science wellness influencers, the spread of dangerous beliefs and the promotion of unproven products are putting people’s well-being at stake.

The Alliance of Conspirituality:

The convergence of New Age spirituality and extreme right-wing anti-science activists, known as conspirituality, is a surprising union that has gained momentum. This alliance is driven by a shared suspicion of mainstream institutions, including medicine and media. However, profit is also a significant factor in this collaboration, as both movements align with the capitalist virtues of individualism, entrepreneurship, and self-promotion.

The Spread of Conspiracy Entrepreneurialism:

Anti-sunscreen “activism” serves as an illuminating example of conspiracy entrepreneurialism. Influencers like Dr. Joseph Mercola in the U.S. and Pete Evans in Australia have spread misinformation about the dangers of medically-approved sunscreens, while simultaneously promoting their own “natural” sunscreen products. This misinformation puts individuals at risk by downplaying the harmful effects of UV rays and undermining the importance of sun protection.

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Exploiting Fear and Misinformation:

In South Africa, figures like Dr. Naseeba Kathrada and Zandré Botha have capitalized on fear and misinformation to promote harmful practices. Kathrada, who shifted from selling beauty and weight loss products to spreading vaccine skepticism, joined a cohort of doctors and lawyers advocating for ineffective COVID-19 treatments like ivermectin. Botha falsely claimed to have found “nanoparticles” in the blood of vaccine recipients, while selling unproven post-COVID injection protocols. These examples highlight how wellness influencers exploit public anxieties for personal gain.

The Durability of Misinformation:

Once misinformation takes hold, it becomes challenging to correct. Studies have shown that exposure to false information can significantly impact behavior, as seen in the case of sunscreen usage. Efforts to correct misinformation through real-time comments often fail to change people’s beliefs. This underscores the need for innovative strategies to combat misinformation effectively.

The Influence of Big Wellness:

The wellness industry, valued at billions of dollars annually, is increasingly adopting anti-regulation tactics similar to those used by Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Tobacco. Lobbying efforts and opposition to regulation are common among industry players, as they seek to protect their profits and maintain a lack of scrutiny. Legislation aimed at tightening regulation of natural products has faced fierce opposition, with the industry framing such measures as an assault on their business.

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Fighting Back Against Conspirituality:

To combat the spread of conspirituality, scientists must employ a range of strategies. Inoculating the public against misinformation through social media warnings and providing scientific counter-arguments can help individuals discern real information from falsehoods. Improving health literacy, particularly in regions with language barriers, is crucial in empowering individuals to identify and reject misinformation. Additionally, further research into the effectiveness of strategies to counter misinformation is essential for developing evidence-based interventions.

Conclusion:

The rise of conspirituality, fueled by the alliance between New Age spirituality and extreme right-wing anti-science activists, poses a significant threat to public health. Anti-science wellness influencers, driven by profit and a disregard for evidence-based medicine, are spreading dangerous misinformation and promoting unproven products. To combat this trend, scientists must employ innovative strategies to inoculate the public against misinformation, expose the profit motives behind disinformation, and improve health literacy. The urgency to push back against conspirituality has never been greater, as the well-being of individuals and communities hangs in the balance.

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