With a newly elected reality-based President in the White House, I was optimistic that our descend into an age of “endarkenment” would be slowed down and halted. This optimistic outlook was further reinforced by last June 8 issue of Newsweek magazine. The cover story took the very popular daytime TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey to task for promoting New Age stuff and “alternative” medicine for the masses uncritically.
Oprah is a power to be reckoned with in the media and it’s no trivial matter to take her to task for promoting nonsense and ignorance to the public. I applaud the editors of Newsweek for their courage – Oprah has enough money and power to buy that magazine, lock stock and barrel and fire everyone on that editorial board. Her respond to the Newsweek criticism of her promotion of quackery is this lame “my-viewers-are-smart-and-I-am-giving-them-a-choice platitude”:
“For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors’ medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and their health care providers. I trust the viewers, and I know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them.”
Sorry, Oprah – wrong. She may indeed trust her viewers to be smart but her celebrity status, amplified by her frequent celebrity guests, blinds many of them from making rational decisions about their health and well-being. Our celebrity-obsessed culture influences many to accept all the medical quackery she promotes on her show, aided and abetted by way-past-their-prime celebrities and New Age cultist physicians. From ex-Playboy Centerfold Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccination campaign to 1970′s blonde bombshell Suzanne Somer’s promotion of “bioidenticals hormone” therapy and the regular appearance of “quantum fantasist” Deepak Chopra, Oprah has done more to misinform our fellow citizens about science, damage respect for science and science-based knowledge than all the Young Earth Creationist propagandists combined. Does Oprah not know how much damage she can do and hurt she can bring when she let someone so completely ignorant of chemistry and physiology as Suzanne Somers to come on to her show to promote her nonsense and exploit the scientific ignorance of her viewers. Ms Somers claims that in addition to taking over 60 vitamin pills a day she also injects her vagina herself with “natural” estrogen synthesized from plants. Ms Somers harped on the claim that estrogen synthesized from plants is natural (because it’s sold by “alternative” medicine websites?) but estrogen prescribed by board certified M.D.’s are not (because it’s sold by Big-Pharma?) So, female readers, – please do not inject anything into your vagina unless it’s done by a board certified gynecologist! And more importantly, please, please do not take medical advice about your reproductive system from anyone (including Oprah) who cannot even use the correct terminology to describe one of your most important reproductive organs. (It’s called the vagina – it’s not a bad word and it’s not V-jayjay! Pul-leeeez! Adult women sitting around giggling about their reproductive organs using made-up baby-talk or middle-school slang is not funny and promotes and celebrates ignorance.)
After Newsweek’s take down of the woo-mistress, who did you expect would come to her defense? No other lesser woo-miester than Dr Deepak Chopra who is a frequent guest on Oprah’s show. In a Huffingpost column, Dr. Chopra wrote in her defense: “And the fact that she has celebrity guests who have causes and crusades in the area of health, such as Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers, is not the same as Oprah herself endorsing what they say.” No sh*t Sherlock! What kind of logic is that? For an audience of science-phobic and scientifically ignorant but celebrity-obsessed TV addicts who don’t know their vagina from their vulva; who think that “chi” is real; and who take Jenny McCarthy’s “keep toxins away from my child, don’t vaccinate” mantra to heart, (but ignore the fact that she injects herself at frequent intervals with botulism toxin!) having celebrity guests on her show to push ignorant superstitious nonsense is dangerous and detrimental to the general health and well-being of our population. Is it a wonder at all that areas with the lowest childhood vaccination rates are in suburbs where upper middle-class stay-at-home moms have the luxury to spend time watching the Oprah Show and have their minds poisoned by Ms McCarthy’s anti-vaccination message? (The most recent California Department of Health statistics listed Marin County – one of the richest counties in the country – with kindergartners non-medical immunization exemption rate at 6.3% while neighboring Solano county with blue-collar towns like Vallejo has an exemption rate of only 0.9%)
While the likes of Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy, due to their lack of formal science education may be just ignorant blabber mouths, Dr. Deepak Chopra does not have that excuse. He has a real medical degree from a highly respectable university but yet he chose to ignore everything he learned in medical school and instead makes his millions giving medical advice conspicuous by the absence of science. Dr Chopra endorses, promotes and defends every form of alternative medicine as long as it is based on some ancient Eastern-Mystical tradition. (When he writes or talks, he sprinkles words like “quantum” and “energy field” liberally in meaningless context just to add an air of scientific authority.) Consider this defense of acupuncture where Dr. Chopra writes in Huffington Post citing this latest study of acupuncture as “evidence” that the modality works: “In Seattle a recent study of 638 patients with chronic lower back pain were given either some sort of acupuncture or standard treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs and massage. On average, the acupuncture patients received twice as much benefit as those on standard treatment. The kicker is that some of the patients received fake acupuncture — they were pricked superficially with toothpicks — and received the same relief.” No, Deepak, are you really so dense as to not understand what the study showed about acupuncture? The study clearly demonstrated that “fake” or “sham” acupuncture, done with toothpicks or needles poked randomly without regards to locations of the mystical “chi” meridian lines works just as well as “real” acupuncture. Goofy charade with sharp objects (toothpicks?) poked randomly at body parts is not acupuncture by even the most lax definition of what acupuncture is and if it works just as well as acupuncture with real needles inserted at proper “chi” meridian line locations, can we not learn something – that perhaps “real” and “sham” acupuncture are the same thing? If there is no difference between “real” acupuncture and sham/fake acupuncture, where is the evidence that there is anything to support acupuncture other than the fact that it’s just a placebo? The awful truth about this acupuncture study is that it’s either the first nor the only, but one of many such studies done, which confirmed the same placebo effect outcome. There is no shame, and it’s not a crime to be ignorant, but it is stupid to continue to be ignorant when information and knowledge is handed to you or shoved in your face. It is highly irresponsible for someone with credentialed authority (like an M.D. and with license to practice medicine) to knowingly and deliberately disseminate wrong information about proven ineffective treatments and to actively promote ignorance and stupidity. Dr. Deepak Chopra seem to have an endless supply of drivel and never miss an opportunity to preach his nonsense when given an audience – which lately seem to be provided by Oprah and PBS pledge weeks.