Forbes goes after The Chopra

November 24, 2013 • 1:52 pm

Perhaps this is a bit self-aggrandizing, but I’ll note it anyway. Steven Salzberg, a professor of Biostatistics and director of the Center for Computational Biology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has written a post for Forbes called “Deepak Chopra gets upset, tries the Harvard gambit.” It’s largely about Deepak’s trying to pwn me by touting his credentials, but Salzberg gets his own licks in.

Chopra’s claim that photons have consciousness, I have to say, is the purest nonsense. Does Chopra even know what a photon is? (Doubtful: he’s been throwing around the term “quantum” for decades with apparently no understanding of what it means.)  Chopra says this sort of stuff all the time; Coyne also gives us this example:

“The gaia hypothesis says nature does have a mind, that the globe is conscious.”

So both photons and the entire planet are conscious. I can see why Coyne called this psychobabble. If Chopra doesn’t want to be ridiculed, he shouldn’t make ridiculous claims. (He also claims that telepathy is a serious research topic. Right.)

Chopra has become very wealthy spouting this kind of nonsense. His website heavily promotes his line of nutritional supplements, books, videos, and seminars (which he calls “meditation experiences”). He’s particularly fond of Ayurvedic supplements, which he claims provide a wide range of vague health benefits. One example: $35 for a 25-ounce bottle of fruit juice called Zrii (or 2 ounces for $4.75). This is little more than modern snake oil.

Visiting Chopra’s website is a deep dive into the world of pseudoscience. Jerry Coyne got this one exactly right – which is not surprising, because he went to Harvard.

I had visited The Chopra’s website only briefly, so I missed all the woo-ish goodies, but, inspired by Salzberg’s post, I made a longer visit to the Chopra Marketplace.  Oh, the goodies that lie within! Here are but a few ways that The Chopra Regimen can improve your life:

Cleanse and detoxify yourself!

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Rejuvinate your nervous system and become more fertile at the same time. It’s also an aphrodisiac!

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Scavenge those nasty free radicals, and improve your digestion at the same time!

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Boost your metabolism and lose weight! (What a crock!)Picture 6

And (I can hardly say this without laughing): GUGGULU!  Clean out those “unhealthy tissues,” raise your white blood cell count, and rejuvinate your skin. (It also helps you lose weight and “cool inflamed joints.”)

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Remember, Chopra flaunts his credentials as an M.D. I wonder how many of these health claims have been tested in double-blind studies?

But wait–there’s more! For only twenty-four bucks you can have your own Deepak-approved double-walled tea tumbler, embellished with a soothing lotus bud and some Tibetan symbols.

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For a man who boasts of his impeccable scientific credentials, he sure pushes some weird remedies.

69 thoughts on “Forbes goes after The Chopra

  1. What does a general sense of ungroundedness feel like? I need to know so I can tell if I should spring for the $18 Ashwagandha that also makes you randy.

    1. It probably feels really vague, not specific enough to consult an actual Doctor about, but something that an expensive placebo would do nicely on.

      From it’s description: “In Sanskrit, the name ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse”…” That’s probably a good thing.

    2. It feels like one of those business/academic post-meeting bacterial chicken, sausage & quiche buffets, where there are no available seats, no places to put down your paper plate or plastic glass & the department bore has cornered you…

      Or it’s like pushing a dodgy-wheeled shopping trolley around a supermarket to quickly buy the absolute essentials, only to discover… the bastards have rearranged the displays, the only bread you like has sold out, the aisles are logjammed with nattering retired folk AND the run-it-up-to-xmas Crosby Christmas muzak tapeloop is in full swing ~ in mid-November

      Hope this helps 🙂

    3. @Diana
      “What does a general sense of ungroundedness feel like?”

      Have you ever had this problem, that on some days, with some shoes, whatever metallic thing you touch, you get an electric shock? That’s ungroundedness for you.

      1. So if I scrub my free radicals with ZRII and boost my metabolism with ACCELL I can go in a radical circle and end up back where I started for only 85 bucks. If dollars are conscious then mine are laughing in MY bank.

    1. And it is gen-u-ine boro-silly-cate so it must be all scien-tificated. Unless you know that borosilicate is just the common name for pyrex.

    2. In all fairness to the woo woo one, it’s the same as Bodum version if not a bit bigger for the same price. Mind you that’s full retail, and you can get them on sale sometimes.
      No idea whether if it helps one cleanse. I use something similar to hold my morning coffee and well, you know can guess happens 20 minutes after that beverage. The same thing happens if the coffee is in an opaque ceramic mug too.

  2. while I am wary of all the benefits claimed.. Most of these things are not something that will cause bad things to happen to you.
    The primary ingredient in the “zrii” stuff is amlaki (or indian gooseberry), which is actually a very common ingredient in Indian cooking and is thoroughly awesome. It can be candied (called a murabba when wet, there is also a dry version). It is also awesome in an awesome tangy raita that my mom makes.

    1. I didn’t say that these things are harmful, although they should be tested to make sure they’re not (and perhaps they are). What I am suggesting is that perhaps Deepak is selling untested “remedies” at exorbitant prices. In other words, he’s a quack separating people from their money.

    2. I hope your mother isn’t paying $35 for less than a liter of gooseberry juice.

      That’s high even compared to what some Americans are willing to pay for pomegranate juice.

      1. Ha ha no..she’ll get it fresh from the market, I don’t think it will be more than a few dollars per kg. (this is in rupees)

        1. Your mom should import it to the US, reduce by 90% with water and sell it as a “treatment” for toe fungus & headaches….whatever ails you. Deepak just took PT Barnum seriously when it came to making money.

    3. Chopra does cause very real harm to those people, who having limited time and money to research and pursue a therapy for their afflictions, waste both when they purchase and use his quack nostrums.

      For many diseases, for example cancer, there is a limited amount of time where an evidence based medical approach is most effective, and Chopra is putting these people in harms way by his actions.

      This man is a criminal who preys on those who are most vulnerable.

  3. I very much doubt that Chopra believes anything he says. He does in fact seem relatively well educated. I am fairly certain that he is an atheist, but that he pretends to follow the “new age” movement just so that he can make money.

    1. The more I observe his behaviour, the more convinced I am that he is narcissist*. He has such a thin skin and when he’s criticized, he flips out. I can’t believe he believes his own crap and selling this stuff well how low in empathy do you have to be to do this?

      I call narcissism.

      *I’m not a psychiatric professional, but I have come into contact with many narcissists in the corporate world so I’m familiar with the breed.

  4. Also, while I agree with the argument that he is throwing around unsubstantiated claims for a lot of these things, making fun of the traditional name for a plant kind of lessens the impact of the argument.

    1. Not really.

      There are many, many words which don’t translate into English without sounding hilarious.

      A Thai restaurant in a small town where I used to hike opened with the name “Fuk Luck”, with the name painted on the front window. With some imagination, you can probably estimate what the common reaction to the name was, and how quickly the name was changed.

      Can’t we just enjoy the accidental humor of language issues like these without being considered insensitive?

      1. There’s a serious history of “Those people talk really funny over there”, cf. “ching chong wing wong”.

        So, yeah, I think it makes sense to steer clear of that kind of stuff.

      2. It is a question of context. is the funny sound of a plants name in any way relevant to its medical efficacy or lack thereof.

  5. Thank you for helping to expose this charlatan. He is preying on the ignorant under the pretense of helping them.

  6. Guggulu,Ashwagandha,Ayurna…What next? Quadrotriticale? No doubt, Deepak was able to utilize the quantum singularly of the flibbitergibit of ineffability of the universal Godhead to obtain this super-food directly from Sherman’s Planet. Just be sure to keep it away from your pet tribble.

      1. I think perhaps you mean to highlight that people in Afganistan are deprived of many choices, but I read it as actually trying, by force of choice, to be born somewhere other than where you were. That sounded fun so I tried, just a moment ago, to be born in New Zealand (I’m not stupid enough to try to be born in Afganistan). It didn’t take.

  7. It’s always fascinating to me to see the word games played by these ad writers, being sure that they don’t claim to “prevent or cure any disease or disorder”: “Helps; helps improve; is useful; supports; was recommended (thousands of years ago, which means it MUST work, right?); people use it for……” and on, and on- I wonder if they can really PROVE that Guggulu “increases white blood cell count”?

  8. “bit self-aggrandizing,”

    Nope. You’re doing good work here and publicity in places like Forbes means that your ideas will carry even more weight in the future. This is a good thing for all of us.

  9. Deepak offends me on just so many levels, and I’m glad that the warriors are taking him on. The people who have something to say, write a book, give workshops, however don’t sell stufffff. The snake oil (whoever coined it), is just so banal for any of us with an ounce of science, or ability to read Cochrane.

      1. I feel bad for Chopra if that happens to him and the people around him enough times he needs to sell a remedy for it.

  10. Many of the same people who fall for Chopra’s magic elixirs will castigate modern medicine for caring about nothing but profit. Apparently you only need to sling around a lot of spiritual bafflegab and suddenly your online store has the taint of capitalism completely removed.

  11. I’ve actually paid $80 (Canadian pffft) to see this clown. The sound bites that commercial tv give him make him sound much more intelligent than if you give him 90 minutes to chew on his own shoes.

    He didn’t even have a powerpoint slide show, just stood there and spouted off woo-bullshit like that’s all it takes to be convincing in this modern world. I bet it works a treat in the backwoods of India or anywhere that there are people who have no idea what his big words mean.

    1. Chopra doesn’t operate in the backwoods of India- backwoods Indians don’t have that kind of money to spend.

      And from all the disclaimers up front about “not treating any specific disease” and “don’t discontinue whatever medical treatment you’re taking” while pushing people to do exactly that, he’s got some pretty expensive lawyers on retainer.

  12. “Mixed with warm milk and taken before bed ashwaganda is useful for people with insomnia…”

    So what’s the difference between that, and just a glass of warm milk…

    18 bucks.

    1. Actually, a physiological psychologist I took a class with pointed out that at least at the time (2001) the resarch showed that simply a stomach of warm water would work, too.

  13. Why is “borosilicate” in quotes? Are the tea tumblers not actually made from borosilicate? Or does that word sound too much like an evil, chakra-blocking chemical and the uncertainty implied by the use of quotes is meant to put the potential customer’s “mind” at ease?

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