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Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Agrees To Pay $145,000 To Settle False Advertising Lawsuit


Goop, the company owned by actor Gwyneth Paltrow, this week agreed to pay $145,000 to settle a false advertising lawsuit. California officials sued Goop claiming that it made unfounded health claims about three products on its website, including a blend of essential oils the company claims fights depression and two jade and quartz eggs that can supposedly boost women's sexual energy and health. Now to talk more about this, we reached out to Tim Caulfield. He's a law professor and author of a book called "Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?" He joins us now from Alberta, Canada. Hey there, Tim.


CORNISH: So based on the title of the book, we're going to say that you are biased. But we should note that Goop admits no wrongdoing. What do you make of this settlement?

CAULFIELD: I was thrilled to be honest with you. You know, I think that I'm not biased but science-informed. And this was a science-informed decision by an official entity. And so while largely symbolic - you know, it's not a lot of money for a multi-million dollar corporation - it does send a powerful message about how there is a lot of misinformation on websites like Goop - and not just Goop but other entities that are very similar.

CORNISH: Right. Infowars' Alex Jones sells a variety of supplements. Those also have unconfirmed health benefits. Jessica Alba's company, which is called The Honest Company, settled a false advertising lawsuit last year. Who regulates these companies?

CAULFIELD: You know, it's a really interesting question because one of the things that we've pushed for is more aggressive regulation. And, you know, I think we need more truth in advertising action, like we saw with Goop. And that's a complaint-driven mechanism. So, you know, people need to get out there and complain. I do think there's more room for the federal regulators, like the FDA, if entities are making, you know, real strong health claims. And you know what? There's also room for things like action with health care professionals because often health care professionals are involved in these websites. Bottom line, I think we need more clarity about what the science really says.

CORNISH: Now, I didn't realize that. Is it the case that you have medical professionals in the advertising - or working with the companies helping to establish these claims?

CAULFIELD: We've done some research on this ourselves. And often what we find is that on - not just Google. We've looked at a lot of different providers. There is often a health care professional - sometimes an M.D. - involved. And if that's the case, then you have that other regulatory lever that could be pulled - right? - you know, the regulation of health care professionals. So we've got to turn to a wide range of tools, I think, in order to fight pseudoscience. It's going to be an ongoing battle. There's not going to be any one simple answer. But little things like this claim against Goop, it's a little victory for science, I think.

CORNISH: Clearly, there's still a market for these kinds of products. What's the draw?

CAULFIELD: I think one of the things is frustration with modern medicine, to be honest. And I think that that's something that we've got to take seriously. For whatever reason, people are not satisfied with conventional health care. But also look. The marketing is working. These companies are pushing fear often. You know, they're fearmongering. They are pushing pseudoscience that sounds compelling. I call it science-ploitation (ph). You know, they'll often use terminology that sounds very science-y. They'll talk about the micro biome. They'll talk about quantum physics. And research tells us that that can work.

The other thing I think is, hey, just straight-up branding. You know, people like Gwyneth have got a great brand. So even if you don't think that she is a legitimate source of scientific information - and I think most people don't - she has a brand that people might relate to, right? And research tells us that can also have a profound impact on all of us. So, you know, it's a complex phenomenon. This isn't going away. But there's definitely a market there.

CORNISH: Tim Caulfield, he is a professor of health law and science policy at the University of Alberta. Thanks for speaking with us. Thanks for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEA LEAF GREEN'S "ASPHALT FUNK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.