Carrots Cure Cancer (and Dams Will Never Fill)

The neologism “wellness” (preferably in upper case) has assumed enormous significance beyond its eight humble letters, having spawned an enormous and lucrative industry facilitated by those who have the time, income and disposition to mount a concerted attack on the scientific principles of modern medicine. Based on a revulsion against scientism, a disdain for rationalism and an obsession with the mega-narcissistic role of the individual, it comes as no surprise that a house built on such sand should set itself up to be taken down, hook, line and sinker, by an adroit confidence trickster. I speak of Belle Gibson (above), the woman who found much of the world prepared to believe wholesome vegetables can cure cancer.

Gibson has by now been thoroughly exposed, but her lie-strewn career continues to attract attention, with the BBC documentary Bad Influencer reviewing an extraordinary fraud that sucked in many thousands of wellness enthusiasts, to say nothing of the seriously ill.

The story is a testament to the huge power of the internet to perpetuate synthetic memes, regardless of their factual reality. As a sobering lesson on the breadth and depth of gullibility and misplaced faith in ‘experts’ it is worth bearing in mind the next time you hear the world will melt if global warming isn’t stopped.

Gibson claimed to have cured multiple cancers after conventional treatment failed by adopting a healthy diet. Her book The Wholeness Pantry achieved spectacular sales and Apple set up an app to go on its latest phones. As her fame escalated, Gibson rode the well-worn celebrity path of talk show appearances. Those with marketing skills noted the resonance of ‘wholeness’ and ‘wellness’, the buzzwords of the market she was tapping.

And tap it she did; it was like striking an oil field. The hits poured in to her website and she rapidly ascended to online superstar status. There were frequent expressions of admiration for her courage and inspiration she provided to the wellness set. Gibson soon became a superstar “influencer” – that internet phenomenon allowing people with nothing worthwhile to become instant celebrities – her winsome looks and slick jargon oiling the appeal.

In a burst of psychobabble that revealed more than intended, Gibson explained her weltanschauung (for lack of a better term), telling her followers “there’s not enough honesty out there”. It’s human, she said, “to feel sick, ask questions and search for answers”. Having been self-conscious and sheltered, she now embraced “rawness and honesty”. A nice slick line of platitudes.

Gibson, possibly reading the runes, was soon announcing there had been a recurrence of her illness and a difficult time lay ahead. This prognostication was only accurate in the second half of the statement. In March 2015 it emerged that money she raised had not been given to charities as promised and, a rude shock to her disciples, Gibson did not have, and had never had, any kind of cancer or any other serious illness. There was nothing wrong with her. Well, not physically.

Gibson, it turned out, had a history of lying that went all the way back to childhood, frequently claiming to have non-existent illnesses. Her carefully crafted public image crumbling at breakneck speed, it turned out she had lied about, well, just about everything — her age, personal life and history. It was difficult to find any truth at all in her utterances. Her pious mendications for numerous charities notwithstanding, she led an upmarket lifestyle, renting an beach-suburb mansion, driving luxury cars, having cosmetic dentistry, wearing designer clothes and holidaying overseas.

The online rage of the many followers taken in by her story was spectacular. Hell has no fury like that of dupes who realise they have backed the wrong horse. To the wellness set, illness is a personal failing for not having followed the recommended lifestyle precepts. Gibson’s fall was a revelation of their own moral bankruptcy in choosing what they want to believe regardless of evidence, logic and past experience.

Following the revelations, Apple reluctantly accepted the inevitable and deleted the iPhone app. Her publisher, Penguin Australia, also ran for the hills, but the videos the publisher had shot in preparation for her book’s publicity tour raised questions as to why nobody had the wit to rumble her deception much earlier. Gibson, unsurprisingly, focused on immediate damage control. After a blather of obfuscations she went to ground, closed her web sites and complained – oh, the schadenfreude – that people were making unkind comments about her.

Is it not a feature of the age that the carefully orchestrated media presentation is now the confession booth where mea culpas are uttered before thousands or millions? Demonstrating the moral vacuity and insistent psychobabble of her type, Gibson blamed her childhood in an interview with a women’s magazine, saying she was now doing the responsible thing in ‘fessing up, that admission in her eyes presumably erasing the massive fraud she had perpetuated, and further requesting that people understand her humanity – whatever that means. But any kind of apology, or anything resembling an apology, was notably absent.

Her protestations came too late. Gibson became a non-person to her followers. Her web presence vanished except for one blog under her alternate nom de maladie of “Harry Gibson” on the Master Fast System website, which espouses New Age fasting and cleansing. But old habits die habit, so Gibson was soon gushing about a marvellous diet that had led her to evacuate two tapeworms, one of them said to be more than half a metre,  in the course of losing 4 kilos. For good measure, she also insisted her new health regime had filled two dental cavities and changed her eye colour. One imagines the hapless nematodes she expelled considered this to be a lucky escape. To add to the humiliation, the crank site promptly removed her entry.

The incident showed that, despite a precipitous fall from grace, Gibson was still driven to plunge into the festering pool of dubious and dangerous health “remedies”, driven by an unrelenting need for attention.

More recently, Gibson showed that, if nothing else, there is no end to the ingenuity she will apply to continue her path of deception. Announcing that she had converted to Islam, she donned traditional garments and attached herself to the local migrant Ethiopian community, adopting the Afaan Oromo name of Sobantu. The bemused community, as if they did not have enough to deal with already, was not pleased to learn of her past and her involvement with them came to an end. Her days as the heroine of the wellness community now well behind her, it can only be wondered what shape her next incarnation will take.

While Gibson considers her next role, she is not without heirs and it will only be a matter of time before another epigone fills the large gap she has left. Many have theories to explain the behaviour of Gibson and this will continue in future; her personality is a matter to be dealt with elsewhere.


REGARDLESS of what Gibson hoped to gain, every fantasist of this magnitude needs a mark to gull. In the age of the internet, a manipulative self-promoter enjoys access to a vast audience, and the wellness set, told what they want to hear, were waiting for her. Smug, hypocritical and utterly judgemental, adhering to a shallow intellectualism and profound anti-scientism, they have the luxury of pursuing fantasies denied with an unswerving belief in their own rectitude.

The pursuit of wellness, as opposed to illness, is an activity done by those who have the income to support it; the poor, unfortunately, have other priorities. It is a cult of shallow individualism combined with near-mindless belief that a good lifestyle can cure anything. Lifestyle, it seems, means thinking positively, eating a healthy organic diet and exercising regularly (if possible, wearing a fashionable gym outfit and a device to measure your vital functions). More than anything, it means ignoring the dry and depressing statistics from doctors that lifestyle factors (with the exception of smoking and alcoholism) play a negligible role in illnesses.

The wellness industry, like any cult, requires its leaders, priests and mystics. Thus the emergence of that twentieth-first-century phenomenon, the “lifestyle coach” –  the movement’s field soldiers, so to say –  who convert self-obsessive narcissism into a career. Anyone can put themselves forward without even a basic knowledge of psychology and the disastrous results are already evident.

The wellness phenomenon into which Gibson tapped so successfully has a tendentious alliance with the prevailing victim culture in our society. Being a victim – provided it is the right kind of victim – has a special cachet. And in the hierarchy of victimology, what better to have than cancer? After all, you don’t suffer from it the way you do, say, impacted haemorrhoids or halitosis: you battle it, the now-universal term to indicate the cancer sufferer’s heroism.

The founding dogma of the wellness set is intensely puritanical, if not savagely judgemental. Tolerance for human weakness or frailty, a feature of the Judeo-Christian ethic for two millennia, is out the window. If you don’t follow a healthy lifestyle, then you only have one person to blame when you fall ill or don’t get better – yourself. So much for the Hippocratic ethos of not blaming the patient for falling ill. But then, to the intense narcissism of the committed wellness initiate, if you don’t come up to expectations, you deserve what you get – you are truly sick.

With a slight adjustment of the group in question, Scott Fitzgerald had it right:

They were careless people – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made

Robert M Kaplan is writing about Helen Flanders Dunbar, the founder of psychosomatic medicine.



11 thoughts on “Carrots Cure Cancer (and Dams Will Never Fill)

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘theres a sucker born every day’.

  • rosross says:

    The greatest human fears revolve around disease and death so it is hardly surprising that these two fears have drawn many charlatans to the cause throughout human history, including many medical professionals past and present.

    It does not seem fair to take such an individual and hold her as an example of what you call the Wellness industry, anymore than it would be fair to take the qualified charlatans as a universal representation of modern medicine.

    While the internet disseminates information faster, there is no doubt that, as the histories of science and medicine reveal, that such exploitation of the sick and fearful has always been with us. And will always be with us given human nature and greed.

    Another factor is that despite truly impressive skills in surgery and crisis/trauma, modern medicine, Allopathic medicine, fails on many counts and mostly in terms of creating or maintaining health. We know that because the data shows higher and rising rates of serious and chronic illness and worse in children. We have gone from Cancer rates in 1900 of one in ten to one in two today, so, whatever modern medicine might do, it has not improved Cancer incidence or found any true cures. Remission for five years has been counted as cure in recent decades to make the outcomes look better.

    So, as people lose faith in conventional or Allopathic medicine they are going to look elsewhere and that is no bad thing. In a century of more medical intervention than ever before in human history, we have more disease, not less and poorer health, not better. Partly that is because the Pharma industry dictates and drives modern medicine and that means drugs and scalpels are the only treatments allowed in the main. Because that is where the money is. No medication or vaccination is going to create robust health. The only source of that will be those factors with which and for which humans have evolved over millennia.

    Doctors have forgotten, or been encouraged to ignore, that how we live does make a difference. Statements such as this:

    More than anything, it means ignoring the dry and depressing statistics from doctors that lifestyle factors (with the exception of smoking and alcoholism) play a negligible role in illnesses.

    Reflect the voice of Pharma and not human biology or physiology. Disease is individual and it manifests individually and you are correct, ‘doing all the right things’or what is believed to be right, will not guarantee a long life or one free of disease. Some people smoke and remain healthy. Some never smoke and end up with Lung Cancer. Some alcoholics die young while others live to a great age.

    However, plenty of fresh air, sound sleep and a diet as natural as possible and the least contaminated with synthetic chemicals is going to improve the health of many. Doctors once knew that these three things were critical to health and to healing. Now they turn to more pills and more needles and those few doctors who think about it, wonder why so little is achieved.

    We have seen over the past half century and more, the abuse of antibiotics, an invaluable treatment which has saved many lives, but, when handed out like lollies only contributes to poor health. Understanding of the microbiome in recent decades has made it clear that not only do antibiotics damage gut function, they also damage immune and brain function because these are related to the health of the gut. Do we see fewer antibiotics handed out prophylactically? No.

    Disease is sourced in many factors including genetic, with the robust nature, physically and genetically, of sperm and egg critical; biological, where the foundation for good health is laid in utero; environmental, where children have optimal living conditions and nutrient rich food; circumstantial, where family trauma impacts immune function which impacts health, as well as mental factors, and one could add spiritual. The latter is of course totally ignored by modern medicine despite the fact that research shows those with religious/spiritual beliefs tend to have better health and longevity.

    And research into the placebo effect makes it very clear that the mind plays a major part in what happens to the body. This does not mean it is your fault if you get sick, but it does mean that symptoms may well be more than simply physical. Physician, John Sarno, bravely tackled this in terms of back pain. Yes, the pain is very real but yes the mind is playing a part in this pain. Sarno did not say it was the same for everyone. Sarno was Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center. Despite his qualifications, success with patients and decades of experience, his link to the psychosomatic factor was generally ignored if not ridiculed.

    And Sarno is not alone. There have been many books written by highly qualified physicians making the same links between mind and body. Unfortunately, there is no money to be made in using the mind for health and cure.

    So, no, it is not simple! But striving for wellness is a very sensible approach and understanding that the food we eat creates our body and our health, and the mind plays a part, is a wise course.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “The story is a testament to the huge power of the internet to perpetuate synthetic memes, regardless of their factual reality. As a sobering lesson on the breadth and depth of gullibility and misplaced faith in ‘experts’ it is worth bearing in mind the next time you hear the world will melt if global warming isn’t stopped.”
    The above does not sit well with the later par: “The neologism “wellness” (preferably in upper case) has assumed enormous significance beyond its eight humble letters, having spawned an enormous and lucrative industry facilitated by those who have the time, income and disposition to mount a concerted attack on the scientific principles of modern medicine. ”

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    Great post, Ros.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    There is much in this essay to which I concur, however the final appraisal of a purported dogma that reads ‘If you don’t follow a healthy lifestyle, then you only have one person to blame when you fall ill or don’t get better – yourself.’ – is in my view fundamentally flawed. I find the reality to be about 180 degrees from what would actually be an admirable tilt towards personal responsibility eluded to here. Instead the wellness and victim class so ably represented by the left will almost without fail resort to laying blame on the ‘system’ and by extension the ‘state’ for whatever their personal malaise, blaming everyone and anyone other than themselves. Witness Gibson’s own attempt to catch her own parents in her dragnet of blame for her deeply flawed adult self. That is emblematic of the blame shifting that more accurately reflects the sub culture the author seeks to address.

  • pmprociv says:

    You speak much truth, Robert — and thanks for your entertaining article. While individual behaviour certainly can influence one’s health, maintaining good health doesn’t require extreme introspection, obsession or narcissism, merely commonsense, and a modicum of practical knowledge, about things like nutrition, hygiene and sobriety. Of course, that won’t guarantee protection against a broad range of diseases, which can hit innocent people without apparent rhyme or reason. It’s still true that the most important thing you can do to ensure good health and longevity is to choose your parents carefully.

    Just a minor quibble (sorry, it’s my old job): nematodes are roundworms; tapeworms are cestodes. Regardless, I’d suggest Belle’s claim was BS, unless she’d been eating raw beef (less likely pork, or even fish) from an undeveloped country.

  • rosross says:

    @Ian MacDougall,

    You said: facilitated by those who have the time, income and disposition to mount a concerted attack on the scientific principles of modern medicine.

    You appear to be unaware that many of those mounting a concerted attack on modern medicine are science-medical professionals. In addition, good science and safe medicine DEMAND dissent, questions and attacks for that is how good science works and that is how we ensure medicine is as safe as possible,.

    The attacks are not on principles of science or medicine for the problem with much of modern medicine is that it is devoid of principles of biology, physiology and common sense. Doctors once knew that nutritious food, fresh air, sunshine and hygiene were critical to maintaining and restoring health.

    We now live in an age when those in hospital are fed over-processed, chemical-filled, muck, masquerading as food and are dosed up with more synthetic medications than they need, trapped in rooms and buildings which are designed to keep out fresh air and where sunshine has no chance.

    The main principles at work in modern science-money are those sourced in power and profit and that is why more and more people, rightly challenge science and medicine. They want science-medicine to be sourced in principles not greed and power. The ‘snake oil’ factor has always been a part of medicine because people are so vulnerable in the face of disease and death, but, in the past this represented a danger to the individual and not to society as a whole, or to the planet.

    Any study of the subject also makes it clear that science and medicine, captive as they are to the Pharma industry and the demand for profit, can no longer be trusted. The levels of corruption and lack of standards in science-medicine have been revealed by some highly respected doctors and scientists. Mostly ignored of course, but revealed all the same.

    Science-medicine has in fact become the most dangerous force at work in the world today given the amount of toxic synthetic chemicals it pours into people and planet, and very often, for no scientific or medical reason. Profit is the name of the game.

    And yes, we can remain impressed and grateful for the skills found in surgery and crisis/trauma. However, those are areas which do not, in a healthy world, affect the majority of people. Medicine is about treating illness certainly, but a good doctor must also understand what promotes and undermines health. In the past half a century, as the needle/knife/pill approach has dominated, doctors no longer understand such things and that is unhealthy for people, planet and the science-medical industries.

    We cannot have good science and safe medicine without radical changes in both industries, for they are now industries and not professions.

  • rosross says:

    Correction but an apt Freudian slip.

    The main principles at work in modern science-money should be,

    The main principles at work in modern science-medicine….

  • Michael says:

    RosRoss, I feel a lot could be said in response to your narratives, but I think I’ll just recommend you read Hans Rosling’s 2019 best seller Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

  • whitelaughter says:

    if she is a compulsive lair, she should be locked up; but she’ll be replaced. Would be interesting to hear the opinions of a pshrink on how to identity and respond to these crazies.
    Possibly all interviews should include a baited question to reveal these types? Something like “Is it true that [recently dead celebrity] spoke to you about this?” that can be easily disproved?

  • rosross says:


    This medium is cryptic and hence guarantees misunderstandings. You seem to imply I am exaggerating a problem. I am not.

    Any best-seller titled Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World, is not going to negate the ever increasing data showing science-medicine is greatly corrupted and cannot be trusted on many counts – the recent Covid madness being a classic example- and that allopathic medicine, despite its remarkable skills in many areas, is not a force for good or health.

    There is nothing I have said which has not been said by highly qualified medical professionals like Dr Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet and Dr Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, as well as Professor John Ioannadis, of Stanford University, one of the most respected physician scientists in the world, who wrote – Why Most Published Research Findings are False.

    All have spoken about the increasingly corrupted and unreliable nature of science-medical data.

    The Crisis in Scientific Publishing:

    Big Pharma, Bad Medicine:

    I happen to believe that good science is invaluable and safe medicine is a human right, while bearing in mind that NO medical treatment can ever be deemed 100% safe.

    Perhaps you could drop a note to Doctors Horton, Angell and Ioannadis recommending they read the book you have suggested to me. Although they have probably seen the following, which I would qualify by saying no doubt fits into much of the Woke approach to the world, BUT, also demonstrates what is wrong with science and why it is increasingly dangerous.

    Quote: Unfortunately, Factfulness presents a highly biased sample of statistics as the true perspective on global development, avoids analysis of negative trends, and refrains from discussing difficult issues, such as the ecological consequences of the current type of growth and the risks related to the continued global population growth.

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