The Five Most Anti-Science Documentaries on Netflix
Netflix brought in $15.8 billion in revenue in 2018 in part because the streaming service floods subscribers with a deluge of binge-worthy content. That's all fine and well when the show is Stranger Things or The Great British Baking Show, but when it's a media production that mangles science and spreads misinformation, it's a problem. Unfortunately, Netflix hosts a variety of documentaries that do just that. Here are the worst offenders:
1. Stink! Filmmaker and father John Whelan spends a lot of time on the phone trying to track down the "toxic" chemicals in his daughter's pajamas, all while asserting that we are guinea pigs of industry bathed in a sea of chemicals. Throughout, he completely ignores the basic principle of toxicology that "the dose makes the poison." This scaremongering documentary can't help but mention the words "toxic" and "chemicals" every other sentence, a tactic of repitition in lieu of scientific evidence to make its ultimate point: "We are quietly becoming genetically modified by toxic chemicals," and the only way to stop it is to get rid of "synthetic" chemicals in favor of "natural" ones.
2. The Magic Pill. Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans loves the ketogenic diet, which encourages eating high amounts of fat and protein and little to no carbohydrates. He loves it so much, in fact, that he made a feature documentary claiming that the diet can treat cancer, autism, and even asthma. Legitimate health experts weren't amused, and the Australian Medical Association even called for the film to be removed from Netflix. This isn't Evans' first run in with woo. In the past, the chef denied the efficacy of fluoride in combating cavities and claimed that sunscreen is toxic.
3. Cowspiracy. Did you know that animal agriculture is the leading contributor to climate change, responsible for more than half of all carbon emissions, more than fossil fuel energy as well as any other factor? No? Good. Because it's completely untrue. This is the lie at the heart of Cowspiracy, which claims that if the world's population "simply" went vegan, we'd save the planet. More nuanced, evidence-based evaluations find that eliminating meat from our collective diet actually wouldn't be as beneficial as claimed. Pesticide production would have to go way up to make up for all the lost fertilizer in the form of manure, and many more people would face nutritional deficiencies.
4. Heal. Any documentary featuring Deepak Chopra (pictured top) you can bet will abuse science and reality. Heal definitely delivers. The basic premise is that meditation, spirituality, and inner peace will not only keep you healthy, but actually cure you of disease. As science journalist Carlos Orsi wrote on behalf of prominent evidence-based medicine proponent Edzard Ernst:
"Heal’s leading claims state that all illnesses are self-inflicted, result from emotional stress (bad emotions create “density” which weakens the immune system and causes cancer), and are as such, self-healing. And of course, we know that because of Quantum Physics, Epigenetics and blah-blah-blah."
5. What the Health. When this anti-meat documentary materialized on Netflix back in 2017, it was vigorously debunked by health officials, scientists, and journalists alike. Nevertheless, almost two years later it remains one of the streaming service's most popular documentaries. That's a pity, because the film, which blames meat for pretty much every health ill in modern society, butchered science and misled viewers. While filmmaker Kip Anderson claims the film is evidence-based, fact-checkers found that "96% of the studies mentioned in the movie do not support the claims being made."