How Coronavirus is highlighting the flaws in Dr Leaf’s ministry
COVID-19. Insidious. Deadly. Eroding, sculpting the bedrock of our society like the wind and waves change the shoreline, but in a fraction of the time, as if the foundations of our society – our health, our economy, our social connections – were made of soft clay.
As a doctor on the frontline, I’m witnessing first-hand the effects of just what COVID-19 is doing to our collective health. Thankfully as a general practitioner in Australia, my experience is different to those in a hospital in London or New York. I’m seeing the distress in my community as social distancing is slowing the spread of the viral malaise, but is creating an economic one. In London and New York, doctors, nurses and other front-line healthcare workers are dealing with a nightmarish outbreak of COVID-19 with the virus claiming thousands of lives. Still, whatever our experiences, novel coronavirus has changed our lives forever as we all play our part to help flatten the curve, help those who are sick, and stop the spread of this pernicious disease.
How is “Doctor” Leaf responding to COVID? In fairness, she is doing better than some so-called ‘wellness’ experts and other heavily deluded self-proclaimed health gurus … gurus like celebrity chef Pete Evans, who is currently under investigation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia for spruiking a $14,990 device he claims to “replicate light, frequencies, harmonics, pulsed electromagnetic fields and voltage that are found in nature” to cure COVID.
Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. More than 20 years ago, she wrote a PhD on a learning program developed for an educational setting. She’s not a medical doctor. She is not an epidemiologist or a public health physician. She is no more qualified to give advice on COVID than my hairdresser is.
Which is why Dr Leaf has been more subtle in how she has been approaching her COVID coverage. She’s largely been distancing herself from delivering advice, and instead, using other ‘experts’ to sell her message. Having said that, Dr Leaf took it upon herself to tell her audience about how they could protect themselves from COVID in episode 138 of her podcast “Cleaning Up the Mental Mess”. Unfortunately, amongst some very reasonable advice which she’d clearly read direct from the CDC website, she also recommended people to stockpile food, that panicking about COVID would create a toxic state in your body that was worse than the virus itself, and that eating garlic, Echinacea, ginger or going in a sauna would kill the virus and boost your immune system (and there were lots of other clangers, but that’s a whole post all on its own). In short, don’t consult Dr Leaf for medical advice. Talk to a real doctor.
Some of Dr Leaf’s guests appear to have excellent credentials. And some of the information they’re promoting in Dr Leaf’s podcasts hasn’t been totally wrong about COVID. It’s the same information as what every other epidemiologist and public health official has been saying since COVID-19 spread from Wuhan and took hold in other countries. If some of the key messaging in Dr Leaf’s podcasts is directly transcribed from the CDC, and given that it’s a message that everyone needs to hear right now, then it’s a good thing that she’s been able to get such important information to her followers.
However, Dr Leaf has also been capitalising on the COVID crisis. First, Dr Leaf has been slipping her own pseudoscientific messages into the podcasts. For example, in a recent episode of her podcast specifically about COVID-19 (episode 145), Dr Leaf waited until right at the very end to slip in “the importance of gut health for immunity”. Actually, your gut has nothing to do with your immunity. This trope is an old faithful that is constantly trotted out by every pseudoscientist and alternative practitioner for years. Don’t get me wrong, eating well is good for you, but you’re not going to stop yourself from getting COVID-19 just by eating plants.
Dr Leaf has also been using her podcasts as a perverse promotional platform for all manner of products. They include her own products … “Join my Peace During the Pandemic Challenge! All you have to do is download my brain detox app SWITCH and work through the 21 day program in the app! A 3 month subscription is on sale now for less 50%.” You can also get 25% off all of her other books, DVDs, and workbooks.
She also shamelessly promotes unproven treatments from those who sponsor her. These include the books of those who go on her show, like that of Dr Will Bulsiewicz, promoting his plant-fed mantra like other wellness gurus following in the style of the discredited Dean Ornish (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-almost-everything-dean-ornish-says-about-nutrition-is-wrong/).
Then there are those who sponsor Dr Leaf’s podcasts – BLUblox who sell you glasses to “protect” you from exposure to that “harmful blue and green light” which the American Academy of Ophthalmology has confirmed isn’t actually harmful.
Then there’s Ned, Dr Leaf’s “favourite” drug dealers who want to sell you the negligible benefits of “medicinal” marijuana. In later podcasts, Dr Leaf find a new “favourite” drug dealer, “Feals CBD (the best CBD out there!): To get 50% off your Feals CBD order see https://feals.com/drleaf. Have questions about CBD? Feals has a free hotline and text message support to help guide your personal experience!”
Many people have said that COVID is bringing out the best and the worst in people. We’ve seen it played out in all sorts of ways – healthcare workers who heroically turn up for work to care for their patients, often without the Personal Protective Equipment that they so desperately need, and who have paid the ultimate price, while on the opposite end, some people in the community hoard food, medicines and toilet paper, or take the opportunity to price-gouge for essential items (including medical equipment making access to PPE even harder for healthcare workers).
In using this crisis to promote her own unscientific, unproven treatments, and in continuing to shamelessly promote the baseless false cures of others, Dr Leaf is much less the hero than what she is making herself out to be. She might not be hoarding toilet paper or wasting masks, but using a global pandemic to defraud people in the middle of a global health crisis and economic depression is distinctly distasteful.
But the other thing that COVID-19 is highlighting is the folly of Dr Leaf’s teaching that “75 to 98 percent of mental and physical illness come from our thought life”. To Dr Leaf’s pre-COVID audience, this seemed like an eminently plausible statement at face-value. We’ve all been brought up in western countries with immunisations and strong health systems, and prior to COVID, a rampant viral plague with a huge death toll has been unimaginable. So of course it seems like all of our illnesses, like heart disease and cancer and the like, might possibly be linked with our thinking.
Except that Dr Leaf’s fallacious factoid only seems plausible in the western context. Take away the protection of a first-world health system – general practitioners and other forms of primary care, hospitals, sanitation, public health protection and immunisations – and the illusion that our thoughts make any difference to our health simply vaporises.
For most third-world countries, endemic plagues that carry a high mortality are almost a part of life. Mara et al state, “At any given time close to half of the urban populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America have a disease associated with poor sanitation, hygiene, and water.” Bartram and Cairncross write that, “While rarely discussed alongside the ‘big three’ attention-seekers of the international public health community – HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria – one disease alone kills more young children each year than all three combined. It is diarrhoea, and the key to its control is hygiene, sanitation, and water.” Hunter et al state that, “diarrhoeal disease is the second most common contributor to the disease burden in developing countries (as measured by disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)), and poor-quality drinking water is an important risk factor for diarrhoea.”
Diarrhoeal disease in the developing world – the second most common contributor to disease in these countries, afflicting half of their population – has nothing to do with thought. It’s related to the provision of toilets and clean running water. We live in a society that prevents half of our potential illness because of internal plumbing.
Now with the emergence of COVID-19, we see just how vulnerable we are in the western world to infectious disease for which there is no cure or vaccine. The only thing that is stemming the COVID tide are whole-population public health measures like social distancing and the most basic of all good public health measures, hygiene.
Indoor plumbing, hand washing and remaining one and a half metres from other people has nothing to do with our thought lives. Dr Leaf’s ministry is built on a lie that basic science has long proven false for anyone willing to take notice. COVID is simply shining the spotlight on the egregious error at the foundation of Dr Leaf’s ministry of falsehoods.
I hope that when the COVID crisis is over and the church has a chance to rebuild and move forward into the post-COVID world that they will snap out of their complacency and see the ministry of Dr Leaf for what it is – a regurgitation of a few basic facts mixed in with the rancid bile of factoids and falsehoods whose sole purpose is to market false-hope and fake cures to trusting, vulnerable people.
Until that time, when we’ve stayed the course and are on the other side of this COVID crisis, stay as safe and as well as you can. I don’t need to tell you what to do by now – we’ve all heard it … keep your distance, wash your hands. Follow the directions from public health officials in your local area.
If you’re in Australia – your local GP is there for you, for advice in person or on the phone. Get your influenza vaccine. More information is available from your local state health department or the Australian government.
We can get through this crisis if remain united, armed with the truth, not fake facts and false hope.
Mara, D., et al., Sanitation and health. PLoS Med, 2010. 7(11): e1000363 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000363
Bartram, J. and Cairncross, S., Hygiene, sanitation, and water: forgotten foundations of health. PLoS Med, 2010. 7(11): e1000367 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000367
Hunter, P.R., et al., Water supply and health. PLoS Med, 2010. 7(11): e1000361 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000361
Many of Dr Leaf’s acolytes will say that I’m being a hypocrite – that while I might be criticising Dr Leaf for using the COVID crisis to sell her products, I’m just using that as an excuse to gain some attention for myself. Hey, think whatever you like. I’m not particularly bothered. I’m not here to sell my material or to promote myself. Like always, I’m here to hold Dr Leaf accountable, since no one else in the church is willing to do so. Like always, if you disagree with me, that’s fine. I’m not here to win arguments. I’m here to provide the truth. Believe me or not, that’s entirely up to you.
You have an Advt for a power saver at the bottom of your article which is clearly a scam… are you aware of this??
On Tue, Apr 14, 2020 at 3:56 AM Dr C. Edward Pitt wrote:
> cedwardpitt posted: “How Coronavirus is highlighting the flaws in Dr > Leaf’s ministry COVID-19. Insidious. Deadly. Eroding, sculpting the > bedrock of our society like the wind and waves change the shoreline, but in > a fraction of the time, as if the foundations of our soci” >
Hi Thos, Thanks for pointing that out. Unfortunately it’s an ad put there by WordPress. I have no control over what gets advertised. And if I want the ads gone, I have to pay them more money. I already pay a small annual fee for the domain, and they want more from me to make the site ad-free. It’s extortion but I’m at my limit – I don’t make any money from my critique of Dr Leaf … indeed, it costs me money. Dr Leaf is the only person whose making any money here! So unfortunately without a benefactor, the WordPress ads are there to stay.
Thanks for reading, and for the comment. It’s important for others to know why those ads are there.
All the best.
Dr Leaf’s advice is shocking. Thank you for providing real and evidence-based medical advice. I too have noticed a trend where she is using ‘experts’ to promote and add credibility because she is losing hers. People are starting to ‘switch on’ to her.
Thanks for the comment Kate. You raise a very interesting point … perhaps Dr Leaf is using ‘experts’ to promote and add credibility because she is losing hers. It’d be really interesting to know just how much credibility she truly has in the church at this present moment.
She’s certainly going hell-for-leather in promoting whatever products are willing to pay her. I’m utterly amazed at how heavily she has promoted marijuana through her podcasts. Has the church in the US really become so accepting of a drug which they have been so against for so many years? Whatever the cultural context, her endorsement is so blatantly transparent, it’s almost embarrassing. Anyway, Dr Leaf’s followers can vote with their feet if they’re not so keen to support marijuana in sheep’s clothing …
All the best to you.
She is losing credibility in the church. I am aware of some that have disconnected from her and will no longer promote her work. Some of this has come from her pro-pornography views and so it was more the moral line that was crossed, as opposed to the medical/health one. I remain flabbergasted as to how she continues to push her agenda and get buy-in from the public.
I agree, she has zero integrity and is promoting whatever brings her $$$.
I have also asked about her ‘research’ as I cannot find anything that is peer-reviewed published. She refers to research with n=1 or at most 7, which I would be personally embarrassed by. The conflict of interest is blatantly obvious, which is to sell her neurocycle method, as opposed to public good.
Keep up your efforts Dr Pitt. They are appreciated!
Thanks for the comment. I haven’t heard about her pro-pornography views … is this something she has written about or only spoken about? If you have links to the pro-pornography views you’ve referred to, please send them through. I’d be very interested to see it for myself. As for peer-reviewed published research, she wrote a total of three articles for the South African Journal of Communication Disorders, but given that the editor of that journal was also the supervisor for her doctoral thesis, it wasn’t exactly independent. None of her other ‘research’ is of adequate quality for an actual scientific journal. Her most recent foray with fMRI etc was, as you rightly say, a clear conflict of interest. I haven’t seen it formally published but if it is, I would love to write a letter of reply to the journal!
Again, thanks for your comment. All the best.
Mr. Pitt 🙂
I’m very thankful to the Lord someone has discernment. Thank you for taking the time to post all this information and for having the courage as well. We should pray for her. She doesn’t know what she’s doing… I hope she doesn’t follow her own advices since the sauna will not save her.
Just a friendly reminder:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
Hi Beti, I tend to think Caroline knows exactly what she is doing. Her methods seem to be quite strategic and intentional. She has created a profitable business out of deliberately portraying herself as a mental health “expert”. I have also caught her out plagiarising content from the work of actual experts and giving credit to herself. She would not be naive to this.
It’s unpleasant to play the role of critic, but Dr Pitt feels a conviction to keep the public safe.
Hi Dr. Pitt,
I saw Dr. Leaf speak at my parent’s church in 2017. I am not religious but my parents were excited that their church was having a ‘cognitive neuroscientist’ speak at their church. At that time I was a 3rd PhD student in a cognitive psychology program, so I was interested in seeing what her presentation had in store.
I was somewhat surprised she presented herself as a cognitive neuroscientist given that a quick Google search revealed that her degree is in communication pathology and her dissertation was closer to educational psychology than neuroscience. Throughout her talk she made at least 13 errors describing what we know about memory and neuroscience. She made several claims like “My model proved the connection between our minds and God.” and “Science is catching up with what religion already knows is true.”. It still bothers me that she is calling herself a cognitive neuroscientist. She did not have a basic understanding of how memory is stored in the brain or how the brain processes information. It was unnerving to say the least.
As a professor now, I take great care in recommending books to students and describing the methodology of studies. My hope is that my students can discern between pseudoscientific self-help that she peddles and actual research.
Hi Prof Christian,
Many thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more, but I guess you’re ‘preaching to the converted’.
I maintain this site so that all who are willing to listen can discern between the pseudoscientific self-help that she peddles and actual research. Unfortunately, I’m pretty much a lone voice in the Christian church with most people either unable or (unfortunately, more often) unwilling to offer a rebuttal to Dr Leaf and her teaching.
If you’re ever in the mood and are willing to write an up-to-date rebuttal of some of Dr Leaf’s central tenants, I would be more than happy to publish it here. It might not be something which you would prefer to do and I respect that, but as a humble general practitioner in Australia, I don’t have the same level of credibility that a Professor of (?)Psychology would have in terms of current research and in terms of perceived stature. So, if you’re willing, your words would certainly go a long way in further debunking Dr Leaf’s pseudoscientific teaching which, unfortunately, is still given credence by a significant proportion of the untrained and non-scientific Christian church who take her word as gospel.
Again, many thanks for the comment, and all the very best to you.