What It Really Means to Be Open-Minded

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Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand Goop claims to be "open-minded," and they want you to be, too, especially when it comes to the blatantly BS products that they sell. Never mind that there's no reputable evidence that Goop's overpriced vitamins, supplements, potions, and gadgets actually work. If you're open to the possibility that they work, then maybe they will...

But Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop completely misunderstand what it means to be open-minded. They seem to think that open-mindedness means being willing to believe that jade eggs will revitalize one's vagina (when inserted, of course), that bottled crystals boost spirituality and healing, that monk oil supports a "sexy inner-knowing," and that essential oil will "rejuvenate and shift energy as it treats the skin." But believing in this sort of magical mumbo jumbo doesn't making you open-minded. It simply makes you gullible.

Yale neurologist and prolific science podcast host Dr. Steven Novella elucidated the true definition of "open-minded" in his recently released book The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

"Being open-minded also means being open to the possibility that a claim is wrong. It doesn't mean assuming every claim is true or refusing to ever conclude that something is simply false. If the evidence leads to the conclusion that a claim is false or a phenomenon does not exist, then a truly open-minded person accepts that conclusion... Open-mindedness works in both ways."

Purveyors of alternative medicine love to paint scientists and critics as buzzkills, closed-minded to awesome and wondrous possibilities. But this strawman argument doesn't hold up, says Novella.

"Scientists, critical thinkers, and skeptics can and should be completely open-minded, which means being open to the evidence and logic whatever it says. If the evidence supports a view, then we will accept that view in proportion to the evidence."

So Gwyneth and her colleagues at Goop can bemoan the critical articles and false-advertising lawsuits all they want in their attempts to play the poor, besieged victims, decrying their detractors as closed-minded resistance. The reality, however, is the opposite.

"Ironically, it's usually those accusing their critics of being closed-minded that tend to be the most closed," Novella writes. "They are closed to the possibility that they are wrong."

This post was inspired by the recently-released book The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, by Steven Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Jay Novella, Bob Novella, and Evan Bernstein. Those uninitiated to scientific and skeptical thinking will find Skeptics' Guide to be an engaging and in-depth introduction, while current practitioners will get their BS detectors honed and feel their love for rationality reinvigorated. Both groups will undoubtedly return to the Guide again and again to help navigate a world increasingly ignorant to fact.

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