The Gwyneth Paltrow-Approved Doctor Pushing Wacky Coronavirus Conspiracies
Kelly Brogan, a Goop contributor and associate of Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, has been posting videos to her large online following claiming the coronavirus likely doesn’t exist.
Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop announced it was closing stores in the U.S. and U.K. to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. Meanwhile, Paltrow’s psychiatrist-associate Kelly Brogan, a high-profile Goop contributor, has racked up tens of thousands of views on social media spreading discredited pseudoscientific claims that the coronavirus might not even exist, and that symptoms attributed to the virus are likely being caused by widespread fear.
The claims were made in a widely shared video posted on Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), and Vimeo last week by Brogan, a New York State-licensed psychiatrist, New York Times bestselling author, AIDS denialist, anti-vaxxer, and, according to Goop, a “trusted expert” and recent contributor to its site and live events.
It’s just the latest stain on Paltrow’s already controversial brand, which in recent years has become synonymous with such questionable products as the Jade Egg, an egg-shaped gemstone that purportedly “harness[es] the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice” when inserted in the vagina.
In the video, which was originally shared with paid subscribers of Brogan’s “health reclamation” program, Vital Life Project, and has since been viewed over 75,000 times online, Brogan claimed that “there is potentially no such thing as the coronavirus” because “it’s not possible to prove that any given pathogen has induced death,” and that the rising death toll caused by the virus is “likely being accelerated by the fear [of the virus] itself.”
She also professed that she doesn’t believe the widely accepted germ theory of disease, encouraged viewers to seek alternative theories, suggested that the news media is being controlled by an unnamed pro-vaccination group, and speculated that the U.S. government is planning “to link our passports with our vaccination records” and gain “totalitarian governmental control not unlike the divide-and-conquer dehumanization agendas that preceded the Holocaust.”
Facebook quickly removed the video after inquiries from The Daily Beast. “These videos violate our policies and have been removed from both Facebook and Instagram,” a spokesperson said.
Goop declined to comment, stating: “We would suggest reaching out to Dr. Brogan directly as she didn’t make those comments on goop’s platform.” (Vimeo—which is owned by The Daily Beast’s parent company—and Brogan did not return requests for comment.)
Brogan attributed her claims about the coronavirus to the pseudoscientific theories of the late Ryke Geerd Hamer, a ghoulish German doctor who in 1986 had his medical license permanently revoked in Germany after a number of patients in his care died. Hamer’s more recent victims include Susanne Rehklau, a 12-year-old girl who “suffered a painful death” after Hamer gave her the all-clear.
According to Hamer’s German New Medicine, all illness and disease, including pathogenic infections, are caused by psychological trauma, with specific traumatic experiences said to correlate with specific physical symptoms. For example, a child who is forced to live under the conservative—or “inflexible”—rule of an overbearing parent might develop rigid joints. To cure themselves, Hamer claimed, patients must disavow conventional Western medicine (which he claimed was a conspiracy orchestrated by the “Jewish chemo mafia”) and overcome their unresolved trauma using non-pharmacological, or “natural,” treatment methods, including talk therapy.
Experts who spoke to The Daily Beast agreed there is no scientific basis for Brogan’s analogous claims about the coronavirus.
David Colquhoun, a British pharmacologist and noted “scourge of scientific quackery,” called Brogan’s claims “utter nonsense,” and said he had never before heard such an explicit denial of germ theory.
“She’s a very, very dangerous fantasist,” Colquhoun said. “I wonder whether she takes antibiotics if she gets a bacterial infection?”
Benjamin Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer, which publishes investigations debunking paranormal phenomena and fringe science, said Brogan’s video should be viewed in the context of other populist pseudoscientific claims—such as miasma theory and the law of attraction—and questioned whether she was a real doctor.
“There’s always been this sort of populist appeal by people who reject science, and that’s exactly what’s going on here,” Radford said. “Unfortunately, outbreaks like this are exactly the wrong time to bring these things up because [...] they divert people from legitimate evidence-based treatments.”
Brogan’s credentials were also called into question by Peter M. Heimlich, a medical fraud researcher and the son of Dr. Henry Heimlich (of the famous maneuver). [Disclosure: the younger Heimlich is a friend of the author.]
In a March 22 letter shared with The Daily Beast, Heimlich asked the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which is a branch of the New York State Department of Health, to determine whether Brogan misrepresented her board certifications online.
The letter highlights potentially misleading claims on Brogan’s site that she is currently board-certified in the areas of psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine/consultation psychiatry through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), and that according to ABPN’s online database, she is no longer certified in either specialty.
A spokesperson for ABPN said they could not speak directly about Brogan, and that the certification status of its diplomates is clearly stated on its site.
Per Heimlich’s letter, Brogan also claims board certification through the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine (ABIHM), but ABIHM stopped issuing certificates in 2014 and now operates under a different name. (ABIHM’s former executive director did not return a request for comment.)
It remains unclear if she is still treating patients. A note on her site’s contact page says she “is not currently accepting applications for one-on-one consultations and only holds group healing weekends once yearly in her home state of Florida.”
Despite the criticism, she continues to peddle her discredited theories, posting a second video to her social media channels on Friday in which she again appeared to deny the existence of the coronavirus and invited viewers to join her paid subscription program.
UPDATE: After this story was published, Brogan removed all three claimed board certifications from her site.