Fitbit has announced a new tie-up called ‘Deepak Chopra’s Mindful Method for Fitbit’, with the controversial “pioneer of integrative medicine” himself. The company described it as an “exclusive wellness collection” for its premium members comprising ten initial sessions featuring content about mindfulness, stress management, mental wellness, sleep, and “the mind-body connection”.
This new, exclusive wellness collection from @DeepakChopra is gonna blow your mind, but don’t worry, it’ll relax you too 🙌 Explore sessions for mindfulness, stress, mind-body connection and more in #FitbitPremium https://t.co/gIu2MM5svA pic.twitter.com/Mhz9i4JyeI
— fitbit (@fitbit) February 23, 2021
Their announcement on social media was immediately met with a barrage of critical reactions from members who announced they would cancel their membership in response to the company signing on Chopra, who has on multiple occasions been accused of peddling pseudoscience.
A salad of bad ideas
Chopra, who graduated from Delhi’s All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 1968, is known for preaching Eastern mysticism, spirituality, and has been accused of pushing pseudoscience, including his ideas of “quantum healing”, which he claims can cure diseases like cancer based on the principles of quantum mechanics. He has also claimed that cataract can be reversed by brushing your teeth and using the residue to wash your eyes, that ageing can be controlled by learning to “direct the way our bodies metabolise time”, that our biological clocks stop during transcendental meditation, that there “has to be a way for matter to learn to think”, that he can levitate with meditation, and that healing visualisations can cure cancer. He has denied Darwinian ideas of evolution, saying that the human mind regulates flow of energy and information, and that “consciousness is the key to evolution and we will soon prove that”.
Chopra’s statements have attracted the ire of the scientific community. There was a 2015 study on the detection of “pseudo-profound bullshit”, which used his tweets as an example to recognise “vacuous” word salad that sounds scientific and meaningful. He has attracted criticism for misrepresenting medical studies, including ones on genotype expressions, saying that meditation will change the entire expression of the human genome.There is even a random quote generator called Wisdom of Chopra that generates “a set of profound sounding words put together in a random order”, which uses words from his own Twitter stream.
Chopra also published, with two others, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) titled “Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Modern Insights Into Ancient Medicine,” which spoke about the Ayurvedic system. The article was soon retracted, and JAMA then published a detailed investigation about how the authors misled the publication and declared no conflict of interest, whereas they were “intimately involved with the complex network of organisations that promote and sell the products and services about which they wrote.”
The authors had misrepresented Maharishi Ayurveda as the ancient system of Indian medicine, but it was in fact a line of products that were marketed since 1985 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, with help from Chopra, including treatments that costed multiple thousand dollars.
Chopra has also resorted to suing those critical of his methods, including JAMA, for large sums running into the millions, in vain.
Questionable science, great business
Chopra’s metaphysical statements and ideas about quantum theory sound more like the storylines and character developments of super-powered beings in the Marvel comics universe than anything based on science, reality, or fact.
But Chopra has benefited greatly from his ideas.
According to the late Robert Carroll, he “charges “$25,000 per lecture performance, where he spouts a few platitudes and gives spiritual advice while warning against the ill effects of materialism”.
After appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1993, Chopra has sold millions of copies of his 80+ books, and is said to be worth $150 million today.
He lives in a $26 million Manhattan condo that has Vitamin-C filtered showers and serves on the board for Delos Living, the company that claims to elevate health and well-being in living spaces. He sells products such as glasses that can emit light and sound and generate “beneficial states of consciousness”. The Chopra Foundation has allegedly received regular funds from Jeffrey Epstein’s secret charity as well.
In his statement in the FitBit announcement, Chopra claims that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the financial crisis, and “all this ideological conflict”, stress is a given — and those who claim they aren’t stressed are lying.
The FitBit-Chopra partnership follows several recent instances of tech companies tapping into pseudoscientific beliefs, such as astrology, when social media is already primed to amplify health misinformation. Tech billionaires, like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, have been closely following in the footsteps of Hollywood actress and CEO of Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow, whose successful lifestyle empire is based on pseudoscientific products and ideas.
These enterprising entrepreneurs, who can easily afford the most expensive medical treatments should they ever need any, seem to have tapped into an emerging market of gullible people looking for easy, fancy solutions to health and lifestyle problems. Their empires today are aided greatly by social media platforms that are yet to strictly regulate medical misinformation in the face of a pandemic.
It is unclear if a beloved company like FitBit takes its consumers and their feedback seriously, at least on social media. This ambiguity is visible blatantly even in FitBit’s own announcement tweet. The company’s Twitter official account made several replies from consumers calling out Chopra’s pseudoscience and their intentions to cancel their membership ‘hidden’ under the original tweet, effectively barring Twitter users from seeing existing consumers asking for accountability.
Meanwhile, despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary, Chopra, and many other proponents of balderdash science, regularly enter into highly lucrative collaborations with brands that further their own monetary well-being, while diminishing those of their followers.
In Chopra’s own words: “I don’t take myself or what I am doing seriously.”
Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.