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Newsweek vs Oprah & Enabler Chopra

by Yau-Man Chan, Aug 02 2009

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.
Newsweek-OprahOprah 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.

31 Responses to “Newsweek vs Oprah & Enabler Chopra”

  1. Jon says:

    Yau-Man, I would like to point out in the sentence, “No shi*t Sherlock!” that it looks like you’ve missed censoring the swear word.

  2. I’m SO with you on this one, Yau-Man! Oprah used to do such a great job selecting topics, inviting guests who were professionals in their field, and generally promoting science and helping people with her show. I have many Oprah video clips that I share with my Psychology students about Sleep-Related Eating Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Phobias, and the like. These were all from at least 10-15 years ago, however. Since that time, Oprah seems to have given up on spreading truth, and has instead discovered how marketable nonsense can be. She must be very inculcated from the effects of her woo-woo; if she had to witness the children dying from lack of vaccination, or the women who will get sick from Sommers’ bad “medical” advice, she might change her tune.

  3. dan says:

    Oprah have enough money and power…

    sorry about this i know your point is not affected by this but the proper grammar should be Oprah has enough money and power… not Oprah have enough and power…

    i know it makes no difference just thought i should point it out. otherwise great post.

    • Yau-Man Chan says:

      Thanks dan and Jon – my grammar checker (daughter) is on vacation!

    • Max says:

      And Solano is a county, not a “country”.

    • Joe says:

      Well for a start you should capitalise you I and the start of each sentence. For a comment criticising someone’s grammar you could check your own first. Especially since you managed to make more errors than you have sentences…

  4. gor says:

    Im very pleasantly surprised to see that kind of article from Newsweek
    and can’t help but agree with every word you say

  5. Bruce says:

    I don’t think we can say this stuff enough. I recently heard someone (I think it was Chris Mooney, author of “Unscientific America”) say something to the effect of, “Good has to be repeated constantly while Evil only has to be done once”.

    Oprah can do a hell of a lot of damage with just one episode. Thanks for taking her to task in this posting and don’t stop!

  6. Carl says:

    We need to get Yau-Man, Steve, Brian and the rest their own show, so they can counteract Oprah!

    Oh, yeah ….

  7. Chas says:

    I think what we need is a way to find and compile a list of people who have been harmed after following woo on Oprah, so they can figure out an Oprah body count.

    • Bobco says:

      Chas- to draw from your idea, perhaps we should have a running total of all the money people have wasted on pseudoscientific treatments and products shown on Oprah.

      Hmmm, maybe a bad idea, the thought of seeing the actual total scares me!

  8. Todd says:

    I’ve often thought the only effective way to combat somebody like Oprah is to turn her name into a synonym for woo medicine. Much in the same way “Titanic” is synonymous with epic failure. Something like “That’s an Oprahic why to kill your self with a useless medical treatment”. If she realizes that people associate her name with useless stuff it might make an impact.

  9. jdcllns says:

    “reality-based President”? Obama? That’s funny!

    • Beelzebud says:

      Hey at least the guy knows evolution is science, stem cell research is worth funding, and that global climate change isn’t a “hoax”…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Unless mister Obama also happens to be the editor in chief of Newsweek, the first paragraph needs a rewrite.

  11. Tarnished feather says:

    Oh, you poor, delusional soul.

    Have you not heard?

    Keynesian economics, the engine the powers Obamanomics, has no basis in reality.

  12. Trimegistus says:

    I thought being a skeptic meant avoiding simplistic slogans like “reality-based” and examining the facts. This President nearly appointed an anti-vaccination crusader to a Cabinet post (Joe Kennedy), remains opposed to nuclear power, and appears to be literally ignorant of the laws of thermodynamics. He spent twenty years in church listening to Rev. Wright’s version of Louis Farrakhan’s insane racial theories, and has never stated that he doesn’t believe any of it. He’s only “reality-based” in the sense that he is, alas, real.

    • Beelzebud says:

      As if anything you just wrote there is based on reality?

      You lost me when you attempt to slam him for “nearly” appointing someone.

      Critical thinking goes both ways.

      I forgot though. This isn’t a place for skepticism anymore, it’s just another Libertarian circle jerk like Reason magazine.

      • Circle-jerk or not, there are provable facts Trimegistus is pointing out there. I think Obama is a far better choice from a pro-science standpoint than the previous president, but that doesn’t make him infallible.

      • Trimegistus says:

        Huh? Seriously considering a crackpot for an important post with influence over health care isn’t important?

        Take off your “O”-logo blinders. Obama is a disaster for science in this country, in part precisely because he is trying to wrap himself in its mantle and politicize it.

      • Beelzebud says:

        My “O”-logo blinders? What right-wing blog thought of that one for you?

  13. Raj says:

    Dude you so clueless, and gullible or on the payroll of pharma. Most alternate medicine work for better than antibiotics for common disease. I have travelled the world and used them on nasty diarrhea, colds, flues, and fevers.

    Human body has a natural ability to heal just need to be helped. But as Pharma bi*ch you don’t want readers to know. As does the Saudi controlled Newsweek.

    Let me guess you are spending the summer helping pharma and insurance companies “manufacture facts” to derail health care reform. What a noob.

  14. William Mook says:

    Here is what Deepak Chopra said (in part) to Mike Schermer re ‘afterlife';

    1. Paradise: Your soul finds itself in a perfected world surrounding God. You go to Paradise as a reward and never leave.

    My comment: The idea of paradise certainly exists and summarizes a collection of ideas that help organize sensations into reasonable structures.

    2. The Godhead: Your soul returns to God, but not in any particular place. You discover the location of God as a timeless state infused with his presence

    My comment: The idea of Godhead exists and is useful in some contexts.

    3. The Spirit World: Your soul rests in a realm of departed spirits. You are drawn back to those you loved in this life. Or you rejoin your ancestors, who are gathered with the great Spirit.

    My comment: We certainly can treat all ideas that help organize subjective experience as a single class of things – a realm if you will. We also have memories of everything that happened to us and memories of those whom we’ve met as part of this this realm. Again, as ideas all this certainly exists and make sense.

    4. Transcendence: Your soul performs a vanishing act in which a person dissolves, either quickly or gradually. The pure soul rejoins the sea of consciousness from which it was born.

    My comment: Yes, anyone who has been broken by overwhelming loss. Loss of their life, loss of a loved one, loss of fortunes – there is a surrender and an inner strength that gives peace that surpasses understanding. In order to make sense of this impulse toward life in the face of overhelming adversity, the idea of transcendence is useful.

    5. Transmigration (or Metempsychosis): Your soul is caught in the cycle of rebirth. Depending on one’s karma, each soul rises or falls from lower to higher life forms — and even may be reborn in objects. The cycle continues eternally until your soul escapes through higher realization.

    My comment: We identify with ideas we have about others, whether they exist or not in mundane reality.

    6. Awakening: Your soul arrives in the light. You see with complete clarity for the first time, realizing the truth of existence that was masked by being in a physical body.

    My comment: This idea is a useful way to describe connecting with and releasing knowledge that is rejected by one’s conception of oneself. Our personalities are just ideas we have about ourselves. Change that idea and we change. These concepts are powerful change agents tapping into knowledge placed within us by evolutionary processes.

    7. Dissolution: Eternity is nothingness. As the chemical components of your body return to basic atoms and molecules, the consciousness created by the brain disappears completely. You are no more.

    There is no common denominator here except one: consciousness itself. We have to shift our notion of the afterlife from being a place to being a state of awareness. Once we do that, life after death becomes much more plausible. Instead of arguing over religious beliefs, we can ask rational questions:

    * Can consciousness survive the body’s death?

    My comment: No, but it doesn’t have to. Obviously we only get reports from those that have not died. Plainly consciousness can onl deal with subjective reality. The subjective passage of time between someone who is going through the throes of death and someone in total health can be quite different. Anyone familiar with the concept of limits and mapping of infinite series in a finite space understands that an infinite number of things can happen in a finite time. What is passage of time except the firing of neurons? Anyone who has been around when someone dies has observed the ‘throes of death’ very unpleasant – but one thing is certain. Lots of neural activity. One hypothesis that is consistent with out of body experience reported by NDE survivors is that brain activity increases to a point where everything fires off in a flash! What is this like as a subjective experience? One possibility is that it would be organized and reported as a long passage of time – perhaps an infinite passage of time! Even though for those watching, only a few seconds had passed.

    Here we don’t need quantum physics, or Lorentz contraction and so forth – we only need to understand how the mind interprets events happening in the brain during death.

    Now, people have a subconscious mental activity that is largely repressed by the conscious mind. If during death that subconscious mind is let loose, it could result in beatific feelings and hallucinations or hellish feelings and hallucinations. Those images could operate at a subjective level quite a long time.

    If for example 1% of the neurons are firing at a rate of 5 Hz during normal waking consciousness – and during a heart attack 20% of the neurons are firing at 150 Hz – every 10 minutes of the experience might be subjectively felt as 100 hours or more. Those who survive such an experience may easily conceptualize what happened as several days or weeks or lifetimes have passed.

    * Is there mind outside the brain?

    My comment: Mind or sense of self is an idea in the brain survives changes in brain function as we age. So, mind certainly exists independently of the brain – but there is no evidence that mind exists independently of the brain. But mind is an idea. The mind is an idea within a brain, an idea that it can support even while it changes. Ideas can be communicated, learned, remembered, replicated, etc. So, minds certainly can exist outside a particular brain – but minds obviously cannot exist outside ALL brains. That is, Uncle George can suffer a massive heart attack, and recover nearly all of his mental function afterward. Uncle George can die and we can recall him fondly. Someone who is close to Uncle George can have an hallucination that they see Uncle George that is quite accurate after his passing. Someone who knows Uncle George can even ‘channel’ the memory of Uncle George so accurately that others all agree that Uncle George would say or do things just that way. By ‘channel’ all I mean is that a person gives up their own personal identity and identifies with what they think they know about Uncle George and be so good at it that others who know the guy, say, yeah George would say exactly that, exactly that way. So, to this extent the idea of George can be accurately replicated.

    * Can we know the states of consciousness that belong to the afterlife without dying?

    My comment: Of course, since consciousness is merely an idea and all states that occur during death are all within the same biology as we have during life – there is absolutely no reason we cannot ‘die before we die’ so to speak. In fact, entering these states of consciousness before death prepares us for the real thing – and helps us exorcise subconscious demons – and likely helps us spend eternity more to our liking. After all, if 10^21 neural firings occur for a human during 83 years of life (2.6 billion seconds) to create a human lifetime – and 10^42 neural firings occur in the last minutes before death – that lead to a subjective experience 10^21 times longer – obviously, that experience dominates our subjective life. How we prepare for it determines how we experience it.

    * Does consciousness have a basis outside time and space?

    My comment: Yes, subjective experience occurs outside of time and space. Change the biology of the brain – as in death throes – and subjective time changes.

    To me these are rational questions, and we can devise experiments to answer them.

    My comment: These are rational questions, they require rational answers. I have attempted to give a few here.

    But before going into that, the issue most people want to settle is “What happens after we die?”

    My comment: That question ignores what happens AS we die? This is the important point. NDE survivors do not come back after they die, they come back from near death. Obviously subjective time changes and lots of hallucinations occur that are conceived of in ways that make sense to that person. In this context, religious ideas – often long buried – sometimes arise in ways that make sense of this experience for the person going through this.

    Imagine two people. One dies, the other lives. The one who dies goes through death throes – which lets say produces an infinity of subjective experiences in a finite amount of time for the person who doesn’t die. For the person who doesn’t die – the person who dies is gone. For the person who does die – he takes all the ideas and sensations and experiences and imagined dreams longings etc, with him into an infinity of time and imagined space. So too will the person who lives when its his turn to die. How each prepares for death determines how they experience this infinity of time.

    Since this remains such a pressing question,

    My comment: What is pressing about it? If the hypothesis is correct, each person has an infinity of subjective time to work through everything. No matter how its worked through the dead and dying have little to impact the living – except through their memories which are already established before death.

    let me offer the evidence that surfaced when I looked at cultures East and West. Leaving aside the place a person might go to (my position is that there is no “where” after death; everything is projected in consciousness, including heaven and hell), the afterlife appears to unfold in the following stages:

    1. The physical body stops functioning. The dying person may not be aware of this but eventually knows that it has occurred.

    My comment: Subjective reality and subjective experience are slippery concepts. Subjective time can vary with body temperature. I have been startled gotten a shot of adrenaline and what seemed like hours went by in a matter of seconds. Obviously the process of death has the potential to produce all manner of subjective experiences of the type reported during NDE. It may even be that the process of death gives each of us an infinity of time within a virtual reality in our heads as we die. This may be useful to induce in the living – but it is only a hypothesis as yet – but one consistent with reports that do not require anything more complicated than treating the mind as an idea.

    2. The physical world vanishes. This can happen by degrees; there can be a sense of floating upward or of looking down on familiar places as they recede.

    My comment: We can certainly imagine walking around our childhood homes in great detail even though we are long departed from it. It is quite reasonable to believe that as we go through the process of death, we might do the same thing about our environments.

    3. The dying person feels lighter, suddenly freed of limitation.

    My comment: Anyone who has faced a judge in a court case and found not guilty – feels the same way as does a lover when they hear the object of their affection feels the same way. A person who surrenders to what is obviously feels this same way for much the same reason – putting aside troubling ideas.

    4. The mind and sometimes the senses continue to operate. Gradually, however, what is perceived is non-physical.

    My comment: The mind is an idea that processes ideas. By the time any sensation reaches the mind it too is an idea. Obviously ideas that masquerade as sensations can be viewed by the mind AS sensations. These are generally called hallucinations. Hallucinations have a bad rap. That’s because they can contain important information that a person needs to grow or become more capable or face difficulties – including their ongoing death. Just as certain bacteria stay in check throughout life, but erupt and dissolve a body hours after death, so too it might be that ideas deep inside our brain structure kept in check through life – are released to give us these NDEs. Obviously if they already exist in us, they might be tapped and analyzed before death. Clearly if they are useful in bringing about desired changes in personality – a science and technique will be developed around them. Plainly if they are harmful, these techniques will be prohibited.

    5. A presence grows that is felt to be divine. This presence can be clothed in a light or in the body of angels or gods. The presence can communicate to the dying person.

    My comment: Our bodies are similar to one another, so too our organs, including our brains. Their function is similar, including brain function. Why wouldn’t we have shared hallucinations when going through the process of death? Especially if we’re primed to experience death a certain way by our society?

    6. Personality and memory begin to fade, but the sense of “I” remains.

    My comment: Yes, and this sense of ‘I’ has a subjective experience of time – which is quite different when the body is ill, intoxicated, or dying.

    7. This “I” has an overwhelming sense of moving on to another phase of existence.

    My comment: Yes, and an inner ear problem can leave one with a profound subjective sense of spinning. Nothing is spinning, but I cannot stand up. One can imagine tapping into information contained in our biology only if the information is presented in some sensible way to this subjective reality. We then act on this information as seems appropriate to us.

  15. Marianne says:

    I’ll agree that Oprah has promoted many fakes in her time, among them Dr. Phil, James Arthur Ray and the authors who lied that they experienced the Jewish Holocaust. Still you have no reason to denounce people like Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers simply because they oppose the status quo in matters of medicine, or lack medical credentials.

    Let me remind you that the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, July 2000) reported that doctors (the ones with M.D. beside their names) were the 3rd leading cause of death (approximately 250,000 people per year) in the U.S; largely due to prescribed drugs, failed surgeries and medical errors. You could hardly call that “good science”.

    Where are the dead bodies as a result of alternative medical treatments and procedures? If complimentary care is unscientific and dangerous, why do so many many seek out and find benefit with holistic providers?

    If vaccines are so safe, why do reports keep surfacing of children and teens suffering debilitating neurological disorders, brain swelling, seizures and even death following flu or HPV vaccines? Why are doctors the least vaccinated of all professions and who gains by promoting mass vaccination programs?

    Where are all the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies (the gold standard of the medical industry for testing a drug) that prove safety and efficacy in vaccines? Where is the so-called “science” backing the idea that flu vaccines work at all? I’ll save the the trouble of searching because there isn’t any. Plenty to the contrary though.

    McCarthy and Somers should be hailed as heroes for having the courage to expose the real quacks in medicine today. Like the ones who believe that injecting mercury, aluminum, squalene, mutated viruses, rotting animal tissue, aborted fetus cells and a host of other harmful chemicals into the bloodstream of new-born babies is somehow beneficial to their health.

    You would serve your readers better by exposing the quacks who inject botox, one of the most poisonous substances on the planet, into the bodies of patients who hopelessly attempt to fool Mother Nature. Or the quacks who would have women believe that bombarding sensitive breast tissue with radiation protects them from the very thing it’s scientifically known to cause. Or the quacks who mutilate women by implanting plastic body parts in place of their God-given flesh. Unsuspecting women are being told the procedure is safe now that soy or saline is used to fill the implant. What these highly paid butchers fail to mention is that the shell of the implant is still made from toxic silicone, and the odds are that in a few years they will leak and infect.

    Do your homework Mr. Skeptic and you’ll find you’re vilifying the wrong people. The vaccine industry is a cult rather than a science because it’s based on a mythology that assumes all vaccines work and no vaccines can be scientifically questioned. Anyone who dares question the safety or effectiveness of vaccines is immediately branded a danger to public health and marginalized in the scientific community. If someone is not willing to debate on a subject, or can only provide skewed statistics, it tells me they’ve got something to hide.

    Certainly there’s charlatans in alternative medicine as well, but they’re not bringing down the equivalent of six jumbo jets filled with passengers every day like allopathy is guilty of.