You’d think Covid-19 would’ve put clear white water between medicine and the wellness movement. But in many ways, the gurus of “alternative health” are having a good pandemic, informational chaos and legitimacy crises bolstering their positions. YouTube brims with them: thin, tanned, toothy juicers who mix boring, sensible advice like “get enough sleep”, with sexily counterintuitive emerging wisdom like “fat doesn’t make you fat”, then each throw in their own twist: normally something involving curcumin, infra-red light, and the healing power of beef tallow. Within that world sits Joseph Mercola, M.D.
Mercola has that joyless, overly primped look that wealthy Floridians often develop, and for which there is no known cure. He believes in the power of exercise, in getting enough Vitamin D, and intermittent fasting. Nice things. He also believes that Covid-19 can be cured in its early stages by inhaling nebulised hydrogen peroxide — oh, and that the so-called pandemic has been little more than a casus belli for a broader system of global control that aims to create a common international identification system, to puppet ordinary folk towards the vague ends of Klaus Schwab, Bill Gates and various other plutocrats. A theory often known as The Great Reset.
Mercola is a transitional figure in the world of “alternative health”. In certain circles, he’s a star. He is the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, including Effortless Healing, Upgrade Your Immunity With Herbs and The Great Bird Flu Hoax. A piece in the Washington Post pegged his lifetime earnings at around $100 million. And despite a taste for quackery that resulted in him being sued for $5 million for marketing his own sunbeds as “anti-ageing devices,” he still turns up in vaguely respectable circles. Mikhaila, daughter of Jordan, Peterson recently invited him on her show to unpack some of his “ideas”, including many that feature in his new book: The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing The Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and The New Normal.
It’s a meeting that illustrates the way the online alternative health community has evolved. Mercola and Mikhaila don’t think alike, but both are united by a basic skepticism towards the medical establishment. Peterson Jr. is a YouTube no-carb guru, known for her trademarked “lion diet” (a hard-to-monetise formula that boils down to: “eat nothing but steak; repeat”). She is primed for dissidence, because she, like everyone in the zero-carb world, has already had to reject an idea we’ve had drilled into us since childhood: the food pyramid, with its starchy base of eight servings of grains and pastas per day.
One story often recycled in the mythology of the low-carb world is that of Ancel Keys. Keys was the man who drew the straight line in the graph, between societies with high fat consumption and those with many heart attacks. But Keys had cherry-picked his data. Once you inserted several other countries he had excluded, the straight line disappeared. But by then the juggernaut of global health policy had been set in motion: low-fat, high-carb was default wisdom. Anyone who questioned it became low-status, outsiders.
The first time you hear the story of Ancel Keys, it’s a startling demonstration as addictive as any cauliflower pizza. It also feeds a deeper truth bomb: the sense that the world has conspired to suppress this knowledge. So what else are they conspiring over?
When individuals gain great results doing something mainstream science considered extreme and dangerous only two decades ago, their dials naturally begin to flicker. It’s no coincidence that another prominent lockdown dissident, Ivor Cummins, populariser of the “casedemic” — the notion that the case rate was being wildly overstated because of massive numbers of false positives — also began as a popular YouTube low-carb guru, under the nom de guerre The Fat Emperor. Before that, he was a systems engineer, a professional problem-solver, and one way of thinking about these people is as startups. There are a range of questions that medicine, with its careful studies, cannot yet answer. Outsiders, in informal structures, can make the links quicker, and offer rules of thumb without worrying about clear cause and effect.
The fact that the medical establishment doesn’t do this is generally to its credit. Knowledge accretes; it’s an oil tanker turning around. To reverse course means trowelling on more evidence in the opposite direction — and that will always take time. But how nobly our institutions perform that role is becoming increasingly crucial to how well our trust in them can survive. Just as the IRA used to boast that “we only need to get lucky once”, so too in a world of distributed knowledge, a rival power structure being right about something a mainstream institution gets visibly wrong can be a body blow.
There are many points in our present crisis at which, whether in the fog of war, or through bureaucratic cynicism, the citadels of medical power called it wrong. Witness the reverse-ferret on masks. A year ago, everyone — from Tony Fauci to Matt Hancock to Chris Whitty — was claiming they were unnecessary. Vox ran explainers saying: “Oh, and facemasks? You can pass on them.” Then, official doctrine changed overnight, and the recent past got memory-holed.
Today, if you want to see footage of Hancock and the rest proclaiming masks to be useless, you’ll have to — it has been purged from YouTube. A dental researcher, who performed a review of key studies, came to the same conclusion that pandemic researchers had for years: there’s no good evidence for masks. You can no longer read that review, though: instead, you can read a note saying the study is “.” The list of such instances goes on and on. What the purgers forget is that, as with everything from Watergate to Curtaingate, it’s not the mistake that ultimately takes you down: it’s the cover-up.
It’s precisely because government is in a bind about admitting its mistakes that even a figure like Joseph Mercola can continue to sit outside the tent throwing rocks until he scores a hit.
In The Truth About Covid-19, he has thrown together just about every tendentious claim to spill out of the pandemic — from “Event 201” to the Gates-funded alleged “trial run” six weeks before the start of the crisis. Take the lab leak hypothesis — the idea that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese bioweapons research unit — which Mercola goes hard on. Right now, official doctrine is that this is bunk for loons. Yet as , that is not yet settled fact. And if that fact changes, it’s the dissidents who will hold all the ticket stubs. What if they’re the ones with the Fact Check energy?
And then there’s hydroxychloroquine, the molecule that had the unfortunate fate of becoming associated with Donald Trump. Two studies “proved” it was ineffective. But they were both retracted last year, when it turned out that the data at their core was part of a deliberate fraud — a fact of which Mercola makes much.
In a culture war over medicine, it’s uncomfortably easy to predict whose positions will land where. In 2014, pioneering sports scientist Dr Tim Noakes was hauled before his local medical authorities for claiming that a low carb diet was safe for those breastfeeding. In that moment, he became his own Galileo, taking on the Church. And yet it moves: he won his case, then another one; in the popular mind, and increasingly in the medical world, his views began to triumph.
So, in May 2020, when he backed hydroxychloroquine, he had a ready-made audience for a brand of wisdom that flew in the face of an established order that had already persecuted him, and been found wanting. Even though he was a sports doctor — not a virologist.
Noakes went on to argue that a low-carb diet could be .
It’s the sort of contention very typical of the dissident set, in that it starts from a kernel of truth that we have indeed forgotten — that having a BMI of 20 is far better prophylaxis than any hand gels — and extrapolates out — forgetting about the chronic cases, the exponential nature of infection, hospital capacity, and so on. Mercola’s book pulls together many disparate threads that any one individual might buy into; it is heavily-footnoted, densely-researched hogwash, mostly 162 pages of excellent kindling.
Yet for his own purposes, his stopped clock only has to be right twice a day.