23-year-old "wellness" guru Belle Gibson claimed in spring 2013 to have cured her terminal brain cancer using her diet.  She quickly became Australia's version of Vani Hari, "The Food Babe", so popular with the same demographic likely to buy an Apple Watch that they approached her about putting her app in the new device on release, right next to the Play button.

Now, I am generally skeptical of miracle cures but okay, in an infinite universe almost anything is possible. Though I wouldn't personally take one data point as evidence, with 6 billion people on earth it is possible that one could have brain cancer disappear by giving up cheese. And they might attribute it to going GMO-free and dairy-free and gluten-free and sugar-free, you can't really prove them wrong.

Some people call that cargo cult science but Richard Feynman has been dead for a while and no one calls that area Melanesia in today's post-colonial groupthink world so I use an example that is more topical and without the social science trigger warnings - "The Simpsons", and Lisa's magic rock.

Since I don't want to get a cease-and-desist letter from Fox, I will only use a snippet from Season 7, Episode 23: "Much Apu About Nothing"
HOMER: Well, there's not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
LISA: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
HOMER: Thank you, honey.
LISA: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
HOMER: Oh, how does it work?
LISA: It doesn't work. It's a stupid rock.
HOMER: Uh-huh.
LISA: But I don't see any tigers around here, do you?
HOMER: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
Homer is gullible in the way a lot of people who embrace miracle vegetables, nocebos and health halos are. Homer could be convinced giving up gluten would cure brain cancer pretty easily.

Lots of people believed Belle because it was 2013 2014 2015.  In 2012 I had ridiculed the gluten-free fad and been excoriated for it. Modern medicine had not caught up to self-diagnosis, people yelled, and if it worked, who was I to judge? 

In that kind of intellectual mindset, it was only a matter of time before someone cured their brain cancer on a gluten-free diet.  And then came Belle, who did it with lemon and water.

Her app downloads skyrocketed, her book sold. There was just one problem: She never had brain cancer. Like an alarming number of people who claim going gluten-free makes them feel better yet in tests show no physical response, it was in her head. Maybe she felt like she had brain cancer. Like with people claiming to have celiac disease with no diagnosis, she did a real disservice to actual brain cancer patients by diminishing their disease - and she put lives at risk by claiming giving up sugar and bread cured it.

Well, on the Internet and in mainstream media that love to build people up to tear them down (see Dr. Oz, The Food Babe, Gillian McKeith), this is good for pageviews. But Belle is smarter than all of them because she has pulled out a new twist that makes it impossible to be hard on her. She has spun lying into a kind of victimization - she can't tell the truth.

Uh-oh. In our entitlement world you can't criticize anyone who claims victim status. You're not going to demonize a mentally ill person, are you?? A recent paper says that Californians claim a lot of mental health victimization. San Francisco and Los Angeles people in therapy are all assuming everyone else in therapy is looking differently at them. You can't be skeptical about that any more than you can claims of a young woman curing brain cancer with lemon water - it just means you have privileged status by not getting brain cancer due to GMOs so you don't count.

What's most intriguing to me is that The Australian Women's Weekly (shut off javascript before you click or the page will still be loading when Hillary Clinton is president) did the investigative journalism that tripped her up. No one else among her customers or the mainstream media that supported her was skeptical for two solid years.

Not even the smart people at Apple thought to ask the awkward questions we should all be asking about cosmic claims related to health and fitness. Co-founder Steve Jobs might still be alive if he hadn't embraced exactly the anti-science mysticism that Gibson and others promote.

Top image credit: Belle Gibson