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“The Oprah-fication of Medicine” in The Toronto Star

I’d just like to take a moment to engage in a little bit of shameless self-promotion and point out that an SBM post has actually seen print. Specifically, my post about the malign influence Oprah Winfrey’s promotion of dubious medical practices on her show (The Oprah-fication of Medicine) has been adapted (with heavy cutting and editing) into an op-ed piece in The Toronto Star, entitled Is Oprah Winfrey Giving Us Bad Medicine?

No one was more shocked than I was when the editor of Sunday Insight section of The Toronto Star contacted me earlier this week to ask if he could adapt my post to a newspaper editorial. Actually, he and his editors did the vast majority of the work in whittling my usual logorrheic prose down to a manageable size and paraphrasing the sections of the NEWSWEEK article on Oprah that I had quoted liberally from. (After all, I didn’t want to be accused of plagiarism.) It was a rather educational experience, actually. Unfortunately, reading the finished version again, I don’t think it quite makes the link between Oprah and the infiltration of pseudoscientific CAM practices into modern medicine as clear as the original post, perhaps because the context of all the other blog posts on the topic by SBM bloggers is missing, which is why I hope that some Star readers will find their way here and be able to read the full length version.

In any case, compare:

The Oprah-fication of medicine (the original, full-length blog post)

Versus:

Is Oprah Winfrey Giving Us Bad Medicine? (the heavily edited op-ed piece)

And see what you think.

Posted in: Science and Medicine, Science and the Media, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (65) ↓

65 thoughts on ““The Oprah-fication of Medicine” in The Toronto Star

  1. daedalus2u says:

    Very good, and very well done. I hope that MSM can get the message that working with science based bloggers can be a win-win strategy for them. They can get copy that is both entertaining to read and is factually accurate.

  2. tariqata says:

    When I saw the story on the front page of the Star’s website today, I decided that newspapers are definitely losing out to blogs, at least when it comes to editorial and opinion pieces.

    And reading through the comments on the piece, it’s clear that a lot of people are at least being challenged to think about the issue – and several commenters are referring people over here to get more information, which is definitely a good thing.

  3. Dave Ruddell says:

    I mentioned the Star article in a comment on the original post. It was funny, when I picked up my paper this morning to see the “Dr Oprah?” head above the banner on the front page. I thought to myself “Hmm, I wonder who wrote the article?” Who knew that I had already read it?

  4. stellarfeller says:

    The Star piece led me to this site, and what a welcome discovery it has been.

  5. testfader says:

    Thank you for sharing this article.
    You slam the anti vaccination movement by stating that: “We’ve all speculated why the anti-scientific emotion-based notion that vaccines somehow must cause autism persists in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary,” However you fail to provide any research to the safety of vaccination. Can you show me the studies that “prove” that vaccinations are safe – where are these studies. Can you also show me a study proving “scientifically that mercury is safe to inject into a new born baby (or any human beings), show me the safety of injecting another persons DNA into a baby.
    Waiting for your Reply,

    Regards,

  6. wetdarkday says:

    I thought your article had some valid points but you were way too tough on Oprah. You came across like you were more concerned with attacking Oprah than with public health. I watch her show all the time and never once do I recall her endorsing any of the controversial medical ideas on her show. Over the years she’s had thousands of hours of air time to fill so of cource not every single guest can be a highly qualified medical expert, but does that mean they can’t express their opinion? However the vast majority of medical advice given on Oprah is by the highly trained Dr. Oz and he’s the one she’s given a show to. Oprah’s audience is very smart and they are sophisticated enough to handle a wide range of information and decide for themselves, in consultation with their doctors, what works best for them. It’s an insult to Oprah’s audience for you to imply they’re not sophisticated enough to be exposed to certain guests.
    And what about all the other shows Jenny McCarthy and Suzanne Somers have appeared on? Why only attack Oprah for hosting these people? It makes you look like you have an agenda. You can argue she has more influence, but all the other shows combined have more influence than Oprah, so for you to try to set up a lynch-mob witch hunt against Oprah and only Oprah really scares me and causes me to question your intentions.

  7. Wayward son says:

    Congrats David and Science Based Medicine! I am ashamed to say that I have never posted before despite reading SBM since the beginning (thanks to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast).

    For those who don’t know the Toronto Star is the highest circulation newspaper in Canada and you got two pages! Page 1 and 2 of the insight section. Sure the piece was edited but it still cuts pretty sharply. I generally only read the Star online, but it is the only newspaper I check everyday. So when I checked this morning and saw the headline combining Oprah and bad medicine I was a little surprised. When I saw that the auther was Gorski I just about fell off my chair. I actually went out a bought a copy – open it up to the Insight section and boom stamped on Oprah’s forehead are the words “BAD MEDICINE” – it’s a keeper.

    I wonder what the chances are of the Star starting a “science based medicine” weekly column? I think it would be as popular as is Goldacre’s column in the Guardian. This one could be even better as Goldacre is only one person.

    I hope you (David), Steven, Harriet, Mark and the other contributors don’t mind, but I am going to send a letter to the editor requesting that they use your brains for a weekly column.

  8. Newcoaster says:

    It’s a good start, David, and I was actually surprised at how long the article was, in spite of the editing.

    Unfortunately, The Toronto Star is considered to be a bit of a rag in Canada, usually known for its lurid headlines about sex scandals or murders. But, I guess it’s a foot in the door, and perhaps will be picked up by other mainstream media outlets.

    They did provide a link to SBM, and hopefully the curious can find this site and research a bit more.

  9. Wayward son says:

    “Unfortunately, The Toronto Star is considered to be a bit of a rag in Canada, usually known for its lurid headlines about sex scandals or murders. ”

    I wonder if you are confusing The Toronto Sun Newcoaster?

  10. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    Congratulations, David. I hope that this gets picked up by American news outlets.

    See you at TAM.

    Oh, @Wetdarkday. It is appropriate to use Oprah as the focus of the article. She has the biggest audience of daytime talk. Her fans trust her word over anything that scientists say. I know people that nearly deify her. Sure other TV and news shows are just as credulous (even more so). But they do not have the reach and almost apostle-like following that O has.

    A great philosopher once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

    Oh wait. That was from Spider-man.

  11. Harriet Hall says:

    “the vast majority of medical advice given on Oprah is by the highly trained Dr. Oz”

    Yes, Dr. Oz is highly trained, but he is also highly gullible. I don’t watch Oprah so I don’t know what he says there, but I do know

    (1) He has allowed an “energy healer” into his operating room to perform her mumbo-jumbo during open heart surgery, and he has attributed good results to energy medicine based only on the flimsiest anecdotal evidence.
    (2) When interviewed about the Brazilian quack John of God, he failed to recognize that the forceps-up-the-nose business was a version of an old carnival sideshow trick. And he speculated that the forceps were somehow stimulating the pituitary gland, which seems implausible since there is bone between that gland and anywhere the forceps could reach.

  12. David Gorski says:

    Yeah, the worst part of the NEWSWEEK article is that it let Dr. Oz off the hook and in fact praised him as one of the few experts that Oprah has on her show who gives out sound medical advice. Maybe he does–on Oprah’s show. However, elsewhere he is a relentless promoter of CAM and dubious remedies. He’s also not very skeptical, as Harriet points out.

  13. Bevans says:

    Glad to see your article getting the attention it deserves.

    Also, is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of news organizations have been waiting for a good chance to take Oprah to task for her misinformation? I wonder how far this will go.

    To respond to wetdarkday, he’s not only attacking Oprah. It just happens that THIS article is about Oprah.

    Many of the people who watch Oprah’s show or read her magazine ARE sophisticated enough to figure this stuff out on their own, but there are also some who aren’t. The fact that Oprah is allowing advocates of dangerous or worthless treatments on her show also lends legitimacy to those treatments because Oprah is so well-respected by so many people, and people will inevitably be put in the position of having to choose between two treatments or methods that they think are equal, but aren’t.

  14. wetdarkday says:

    Blind Watchmaker, why do you blame Oprah for what her guests say? Oprah is simply providing her audience with the full spectrum of opinions and ideas, some backed by science and others not backed by science. It’s rare that she explicity endorses anything other than novels for her book club, Dr Oz, Dr. Phil or Obama. I don’t think it’s fair to argue that just because you consider some of the health ideas on her show to be ridiculous, that therefore she’s irresponsible to put them on TV. For every doctor or scientist who dismisses Oprah’s guests as quacks, you can find an equally qualified doctor or scientist who defends them, and historically it’s been those who are in the scientific minority who have been responsible for most of the progress in science.

    And just because an idea has not yet been proven by science, does that mean it’s irresponsible to give it a public forum? Often scientists wont bother researching topics unless there is a public interest in the topic. While much research has been pumped into advances that make men feel youthful and alive, like viagra, there is little research into enhancing the quality of life of middle-aged women.

    If people like Oprah and Suzanne Somers don’t show an interest, the needs of women will continue to be neglected by the male dominated medical profession. Oprah does these topics, I assume, because her audience demands it. Millions of women feel the status quo in medicine is not meeting their needs. People like Suzanne Somers share alternatives that worked for them. Are they safe for everyone? Perhaps not, but how will we ever know unless she’s allowed to contribute to the national debate. And btw, you might be interested to know that Somers claims to have dozens of studies written in academic journals to back her up. Check out her blog:

    http://www.suzannesomers.com/Blog/post/Two-Scariest-Women-on-the-Planet.aspx

  15. Fifi says:

    Actually the Toronto Star is generally considered one of Canada’s best newspapers. It’s Canada’s only remaining independent daily newspaper and is known to break stories that the conglomerates won’t/can’t touch because they’re beholden to their masters and don’t really invest in investigative journalism (thinking people poking about might uncover dirt on their masters, after all).

  16. wetdarkday says:

    Bevans, you’re correct that the media jumps on any opportunity to take Oprah to task, though it’s not because of misinformation (the mainstream media pumps out far more misinformation than Oprah, on far more serious subjects) but rather because they resent how much influence she has. As others have noted, the mainstream media can’t stand that an overweight black woman who entertains soccer moms has brilliantly positioned herself as one of the richest and most influential people in the world, dictating the best seller list, launching hit talk shows (Dr. Phil), and electing a president (Obama). Thus they’ll cherry pick anything to make her look bad. I believe a lot of the media has an elitist resentment towards Oprah that has increased as she’s become more and more influential, and so they jump on any excuse to attack her. I regret that this blog was used as amunition against a woman who overcame every adversity to achieve a historical position in American society.

  17. Dave Ruddell says:

    Dr. Gorski,

    Is the Star sending you a copy (or copies) of the article, or is it available in your part of MI? I would guess if you really wanted one, you could just pop over to Windsor.

  18. mckenzievmd says:

    Of course I prefer the longer piece, but I’m just excited to see the mainstream media offering a few tidbits of skepticism recently. Newsweek did the Oprah piece, which led to your essay now carried on into the Toronto Star. And there was an AP piece on the topic of CAM in mainstream medicine today here:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090607/ap_on_he_me/us_med_unproven_remedies_1

    Nice for those of us fighting the good fight in obscurity, as well as the stars of science-based medicine such as yourselves here, to see the message getting a bit wider distribution.

    Brennen McKenzie
    http://www.sketpvet.com/
    http://skeptvet.com/blog

  19. pmoran says:

    It is a pity they cut the bit about the woman who, having heard the book “the Secret” praised by Oprah, was intending to manage her breast cancer according to its fanciful notions.

    This was a clear example of Oprah having influence.

  20. David Gorski says:

    I know. Now that you mention it, in retrospect I realize that should have argued to keep that part somehow. I suspect that they kept the parts about Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy because they’re celebrities. Kim Tinkham, the woman who fell for The Secret to treat her breast cancer, is not. Also, they cut out the part about The Secret because they wanted to focus on the medical advice (at least, that’s my guess). Consequently, leaving Tinkham’s story in would have been hard to justify.

    Mea culpa on that one.

  21. Harriet Hall says:

    “For every doctor or scientist who dismisses Oprah’s guests as quacks, you can find an equally qualified doctor or scientist who defends them”

    No, for every doctor or scientist that defends them, you can find thousands of doctors or scientists that dismiss them.

    “historically it’s been those who are in the scientific minority who have been responsible for most of the progress in science”

    Yes, but. When a new idea comes along, the people who first espouse the new idea are BY DEFINITION going to be in the minority. The majority is quickly convinced if good evidence supports the idea. From the first report of Helicobacter pylori in ulcer patients to the standard treatment of ulcers with antibiotics took less than a decade. For every Semmelweis there have been thousands of doctors whose minority ideas turned out to be wrong.

    Suzanne Somers? Don’t make me laugh! I reviewed one of her books at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-08-15
    and I found that her “dozens of studies” are cherry-picked, misinterpreted, misleading, and examples of poor science. She ignores the many more dozens of studies that contradict her pet ideas. She is recommending things that she THINKS worked for her because she has no concept of the need for testing hypotheses with the scientific method, no concept of placebo response, the natural fluctuating course of symptoms, or the human psychology that leads us to false conclusions. And some of what she recommends is clearly dangerous. Her books fall squarely into the category of “Bad Books” as I described them at http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=382

    As for “jumping on any excuse to attack Oprah,” no one on this blog has attacked her for any reason other than her role in spreading false information and pseudoscience. I respect many of the things she has done, but I deplore her inadequate understanding of science and her lack of critical thinking abilities.

  22. Psyche78 says:

    Dr. Gorski,

    With all due respect, it appears that the links you provided for testfader were related to MMR and thimerosal; none of them addressed the safety of the Hepatitis B vaccine in infants on either a short-term or long-term basis, which he also asked about. Can you post links to these studies? Thank you!

  23. wetdarkday says:

    “She ignores the many more dozens of studies that contradict her pet ideas.”

    But Harriet, in your review of one of her books you did not suggest that her ideas had been empirically contradicted, only that they were as of yet unproven. You wrote:

    “There are hypothetical reasons to think “bioidentical” hormones should be superior to Premarin and Provera. But there are also hypothetical reasons to think that they may be no more effective and no safer. The only way to know for sure is to test them in a properly designed placebo-controlled trial. Until this is done, most of us feel more comfortable with the devil we know than the devil we don’t know… Maybe if we give them estrogen and testosterone, they will stay young. Maybe not.”

    That’s exactly my point. There hasn’t been enough research and the medical community is showing limited interest in researching ways to improve the quality of life of middle-aged women, so what’s wrong with Oprah allowing Somers on her show one time, to generate interest in the topic? What you call a lack of critical thinking skills, I call open-mindedness to new ideas. Oprah did make clear that most doctors disagree with Somers, indeed Oprah’s show was the only show on her recent media tour where there were doctors to challenge her (though this still wasn’t good enough for Newsweek), and Oprah did make clear that she was only trying to give her audience ideas to discuss with their doctor.

    The problem is the current solutions are not working for women and the medical community is showing no interest in generating alternatives, forcing people like Somers to take matters into their own hands.

    “It is a pity they cut the bit about the woman who, having heard the book “the Secret” praised by Oprah, was intending to manage her breast cancer according to its fanciful notions.”

    Pmoran, Oprah made clear in that situation that “the Secret” was not a substitute for modern medicine, proving categorically that Oprah’s not the nut job some are trying to portray her as. Of course when you reach an audience as large as Oprah’s, some will misinterpret what you are trying to say, but that does not mean Oprah was irresponsible to discuss the benefits of positive thinking. Every time there’s a violent movie someone will inevitably try to copy the violence he sees on the screen but that doesn’t make it irresponsible to produce scary films. To advocate that the media should censor certain content because a tiny minority of the audience will respond inappropriately is to advocate tyranny of the minority.

  24. tmac57 says:

    wetdarkday- Your complaints here amount to “you have no right to criticize Oprah just because she wants to give Somers and McCarthy a forum”. Uh …yeah he kinda does, if he has legitimate grounds for doing so (hint:he does) Any person who can draw an audience of 7.4 million people daily has an enormous responsibility to be careful of what information that they are purveying. Oprah herself was taken aback when an audience viewer wanted to ignore her Dr’s recommendations for treatment of her breast cancer:
    “The message got through. In March 2007, the month after the first two shows on The Secret, Oprah invited a woman named Kim Tinkham on the program. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her doctors were urging surgery and chemotherapy. But Tinkham wrote Oprah to say that she had decided to forgo this treatment and instead use The Secret to cure herself. On the show, Oprah seemed genuinely alarmed that Tinkham had taken her endorsement of The Secret so seriously. “When my staff brought this letter to me, I wanted to talk to her,” Oprah told the audience. “I said, get her in here, OK?” On air, Oprah urged the woman to listen to her doctors. “I don’t think that you should ignore all of the advantages of medical science and try to, through your own mind now because you saw a Secret tape, heal yourself,” she said. A few weeks earlier, Oprah could not say enough in praise of The Secret as the guiding philosophy of her life. Now she said that people had somehow gotten the wrong idea.”

    So you see, Oprah has a tremendous amount of influence, and she cannot excuse herself with a trivial disclaimer of “hey , I was just sayin , don’t look at me, it was them that said it!”

  25. David Gorski says:

    That’s exactly my point. There hasn’t been enough research and the medical community is showing limited interest in researching ways to improve the quality of life of middle-aged women, so what’s wrong with Oprah allowing Somers on her show one time, to generate interest in the topic?

    This is of course a straw man argument, at least when it comes to discussions of Suzanne Somers. The reason is that she is advocating far more than hormone replacement therapy with “bioidentical”hormones. She is advocating a variation of the Wiley Protocol, which recommends boosting a postmenopausal woman’s hormone levels to those of a 20 year old, claiming that doing so is a veritable fountain of youth. Indeed, Somers herself claims that her use of hormones and other “antiaging” woo will lead her to live to be 110 or more. Worse, she is a survivor of estrogen positive breast cancer (I dug a bit more and found the information). Given that estrogens stimulate ER(+) breast cancers to grow, it is at the very least highly unwise of her and at the very worst very stupid of her to be pumping herself up with estrogens, “bioidentical” or not. Again, remember, she is not just replacing estrogens in order to alleviate hot flashes and other uncomfortable postmenopausal symptoms. She is pumping herself full of large amounts of these synthetic estrogens (they’re hardly natural; many of them are synthesized in a laboratory by the very big pharma she castigates). She also claims that saliva tests allow her to determine how much she needs of each to “balance” her hormones, a claim that is utter poppycock.

    Either way, it’s incredibly irresponsible of Somers to be promoting these as a fountain of youth and equally irresponsible of Oprah to have given Somers such a widely viewed platform. True, Somers frequently gives the disclaimer that she “doesn’t recommend this course for everyone,” but, after she keeps going on about how great bioidentical hormones are and even gets Oprah to recommend them to her audience, what do you think the effect will be on women watching who don’t have the background knowledge to see the holes in her claims? They’ll want to try them.

  26. Harriet Hall says:

    In Somers’ book she does actually recommend bioidentical hormones for everyone, including men and children.

  27. mckenzievmd says:

    I’m happy to see some signs that the mainstream media is looking even just a little bit skeptically at CAM boosters. The Newsweek article and the follow-on in the Toronto Star, and then an AP story today on the degree to which CAM has penetrated the mainstream medical establishment depsite the lack of adequate evidence of safety and efficacy are all unusual, and welcome bits of skeptical thinking for mainstream media outlets.

    And I have seen some evidence that the “silent majority” in favor of scientific medicine is able to make use of the same kind of unfortunate celebrity adulation the CAM folks take advantage of, as int eh Vaccinate Your Baby website. Granted, we’d all prefer people follow the guidance of informed experts rather than celebrities, but we can ‘t minimze the harm CAM does effectively without making use of the tools the media provides even if they aren’t always to our taste.

    Brennen McKenzie
    http://www.skeptvet.com
    http://skeptvet.com/blog

  28. David Gorski says:

    In Somers’ book she does actually recommend bioidentical hormones for everyone, including men and children.

    Does she recommend bioidentical testosterone for men?

  29. Eric Jackson says:

    Psyche78-

    Testfader mentioned two topics, mercury – presumably thiomersal which was addressed in the links, and injecting DNA into newborns – I presume he’s referring to DNA vaccination. This is somewhat odd, as I at least am unaware of any DNA based vaccine in use in humans. Most DNA vaccinations are still in clinical trials, though the West Nile vaccine used in animals is DNA based.

    Hepatitis B wasn’t mentioned anywhere – and it’s certainly not a DNA vaccine, it’s a standard virus like protein. I don’t have access to my university’s VPN at the moment, so I can’t call up journals, but it’s been use for more than 25 years. Never heard or read anything negative about it other than its tendency to fade after about a decade in some individuals.

    Not worth much, but I can’t dig up references from where I am, so perhaps someone else will.

  30. Harriet Hall says:

    “Does she recommend bioidentical testosterone for men?”

    I don’t have the book to look it up, but I think I remember her recommending female hormones for everyone. Someone please correct me if I’m remembering wrong.

  31. speedy0314 says:

    nice job, dr. gorski.

    oprah’s also the current ‘yahoo’ cover girl (and not in a good way) in the wake of the recent newsweek article that lambasted her.

    if torquemada were alive today, he’d be a talk TV smash.

    speedy

  32. weing says:

    “Can you show me the studies that “prove” that vaccinations are safe – where are these studies.”

    Nothing is safe. Not crossing the street, not even staying at home. What are your criteria for proof?

    “show me the safety of injecting another persons DNA into a baby.”

    It happens occasionally in utero and whenever a baby gets a transfusion or transplant. Some foreign DNA in white cells gets in. Sometimes it’s safe, sometimes it’s not, but it’s not due to the DNA but tissue compatibility. What’s your point?

  33. wetdarkday says:

    “The reason is that she is advocating far more than hormone replacement therapy with “bioidentical”hormones. She is advocating a variation of the Wiley Protocol, which recommends boosting a postmenopausal woman’s hormone levels to those of a 20 year old, claiming that doing so is a veritable fountain of youth. Indeed, Somers herself claims that her use of hormones and other “antiaging” woo will lead her to live to be 110 or more. Worse, she is a survivor of estrogen positive breast cancer (I dug a bit more and found the information).”

    Did she advocate all this on Oprah? It’s not fair to blame Oprah for things her guests have said in other forums. That’s guilt by association. Over the last quarter century Oprah’s probably had over 10,000 guests. She can’t possibly vet every single comment they make on her show, let alone all the comments they made in other forums, and if she tried to eliminate everyone who has ever made a nutty comment, she’d have no guests at all.

  34. daedalus2u says:

    wetdarkday, I disagree. Oprah has the resources to do exactly that.

    What would it take for her staff to vet every single comment made on her show? A couple of staff could vet an entire show in a day after the fact, write it up and post it online. That would cost a few hundred $k per year. Chump-change next to what she makes.

    She doesn’t do it because she chooses not to do it, not because she can’t do it, or because she doesn’t have the resources to do it.

    I am pretty sure they spend a lot more than that prepping for each show. She could spend a little in quality control afterward.

  35. tmac57 says:

    wetdarkday-”Did she advocate all this on Oprah? It’s not fair to blame Oprah for things her guests have said in other forums. That’s guilt by association.”
    Oprah’s ‘association” with Somer’s woo is a bit stronger that what you imply:

    “She told her audience that she found Somers’s bestselling books on bioidentical hormones “fascinating” and said “every woman should read” what she has to say. She didn’t stop there. Oprah said that although she has never had a hot flash, after reading Somers she decided to go on bioidenticals herself. “After one day on bioidentical estrogen, I felt the veil lift,” she wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine. “After three days, the sky was bluer, my brain was no longer fuzzy, my memory was sharper. I was literally singing and had a skip in my step.”
    That’s and endorsement my friend, no matter how you try to spin it. If the content in Somer’s book is quackery, then by her own statement , Oprah clearly and carelessly gave her stamp of ‘Opproval’ on it.

  36. wales says:

    Does giddiness know no bounds? Congratulations, you’ve proven there is more than one way to win a seat at the celebrity feeding trough. Oink. Don’t forget to send Oprah a thank you note for rocketing you to stardom.

  37. weing says:

    I only saw Oprah once, and only briefly on “The Love Guru”. If she has CAM artists on her show, she should give equal time to mainstream science for rebuttal, not a token statement or quote from science based medicine.

  38. Fifi says:

    Actually Big Pharma, some members of the medical community AND Big sCAM are all playing on the boomers’ fear of aging and death (and it’s a popular topic because the boomers tend to dominate in terms of number and affluence so marketers and media reach out to them). It’s the same old same old making a natural part of being a woman into a disease (there’s the same thing going on around the pathologizing of female sexuality, which goes on around menopause as well as “sexual dysfunction”). Of course, men are also targeted in this way but not to the extent or with the historical frequency that women have been).

    The bio-identical hormone thing really picked up speed after the dangers of HRT became known – and HRT really did get touted by the medical community as a “cure” for the disease of menopause so they’ve played their part in creating the idea that women “need” hormones to “fix” menopause. There’s plenty of responsibility from all quarters here, demonizing a talk show host ignores the real roots of the idea that older women need to be taking hormones to function and/or thrive. It’s not surprising that Oprah – an older woman whose main audience is women – would have come to believe that HRT (“bio-identical” or not) is needed for older women to live satisfying lives and function. America is a land filled with people trying to escape biology.

  39. wales says:

    Good points Fifi, especially that last line. I presume you mean trying to escape the realities of biological aging via Viagra, HRT, cosmetic surgery, etc. etc. Perhaps if our culture valued the wisdom and experience of more mature people (as some other cultures do) there wouldn’t be such an obsession with youthful physical vigor.

  40. skeptologic says:

    In response to wetdarkday’s comment “the vast majority of medical advice given on Oprah is by the highly trained Dr. Oz”

    Dr. Oz may be highly trained and generally not a quack himself, but he has promoted quackery on the Oprah show many many times. That makes him even worse than a quack for a couple of reasons. First, he probably knows that this stuff is baloney. Second, when he is presenting nutty unscientific ideas next to real medical advice, it makes it even more difficult for a layperson to distinguish between the two. I blogged about Dr. Oz’s nuttiness on the Oprah show here: http://skeptologic.com/2008/05/15/the-not-so-wonderful-wizard-of-oz/
    Dr. Oz should not get a free pass.

    Congrats to Dr. Gorski on the article!

  41. Flossie says:

    As a stay at home Mom, I have been a regular Oprah watcher, although I no longer watch due to her endorsement of Jenny McCarthy. At this point in Oprah’s career endorsement of guest’s on her show is implied unless she specifically says otherwise.

    For instance, I saw a show a couple (few?) years ago, where the cast of a movie was the guest. At the beginning of the show, she made the declaration that she only did shows about movies that she personally liked and recommended. She didn’t “have to” do shows about movies she didn’t like. The same goes for the authors of books, she doesn’t have them on her show unless she recommends reading the book.

    She definitely does endorse alternative medicines on her show. I saw the show with Dr. Phil’s wife where they talked about bioidentical hormones and I heard her endorse that treatment.

  42. overshoot says:

    For every Semmelweis there have been thousands of doctors whose minority ideas turned out to be wrong.

    Bear in mind that Semmelweis went out of his way to make other physicians hate him. Oliver Wendell Holmes, with (if anything) a harsher version of the same message, was at least given respectful attention.

    It’s interesting to speculate how different medical history might have been were Holmes in Austria or France instead of the “backwoods” of Massachusetts.

  43. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    This blog post on the Daily Kos covers the Newsweek article too and provides a link to Oprah’s website for comments about the show.

    Here is the link to the other blog and at the bottom is the link to the show’s comment page.

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/6/7/739891/-Newsweeks-stinging-critique-of-Oprahs-pseudoscience-and-poor-medical-advice

  44. wetdarkday says:

    Flossie it’s absurd to say that anyone who appears on Oprah is being endorsed by Oprah. If Oprah only limited her show to guests she endorses, she would run out of guests in one month. In order to run a talk show you have to give a platform to THOUSANDS of guests and ideas. When you give a platform to THOUSANDS of people, you by definition can not limit yourself to only the best, because the best by definition are rare.

    And Jenny McCarthy has now made clear that she is not anti-vaccine; rather she just wants tests to make sure that all babies have an immune system that can handle vaccination at the current pace. Most of the time however, McCarthy simply shares her expereince in nutrition that she feels have helped her son. If she honestly believes that better nutrition has helped her son with his symptoms, should she simply shut up about it simply because it has yet to be validated by the scientific method. Obviously the scientific method (when correctly applied) trumps personal anecdotes, but to suggest that people should not share personal anecdotes simply because they are not (yet) embraced by mainstream science seems a bit extreme.

  45. Chris says:

    wetdarkday:

    And Jenny McCarthy has now made clear that she is not anti-vaccine; rather she just wants tests to make sure that all babies have an immune system that can handle vaccination at the current pace.

    So what is that test? Where is it documentation? Who sells it? How well does it work? Where is the research being done on it?

    Also, can you tell me why Jenny McCarthy claims the MMR her son got at 15 months caused his seizures when he was over two years old… more than a year later?

  46. Michelle B says:

    Congrats, David.

    There is a growing groundswell against what Oprah is doing with her sacrificing evidential based information for promoting feel goodness.

    Her endorsing Jenny McCarthy is showing just how deaf, dumb, and blind she is to the damage that she is causing and will continue to cause. Whatever remaining shred of respect I had for Oprah is now gone.

    As herd immunity lessens and children die, Oprah will need to take a stand, the right stand and reject McCarthy yellow-bellied nonsense that there is any significant problem WITH THE SAFE VACCINES currently in use. Untile that time, Oprah is a fool, and a dangerous one. It seems that her avid listeners are addicted to her game, the one where they give up their critical thinking skills to be a bunch of buffoons craving coddling and easy and false answers to their problems.

  47. Joe says:

    Michelle B on 09 Jun 2009 at 11:53 am wrote “Oprah is a fool, and a dangerous one.”

    Truer words were never written. I know Ms. B. lives for validation by me. There it is.

  48. David Gorski says:

    And Jenny McCarthy has now made clear that she is not anti-vaccine; rather she just wants tests to make sure that all babies have an immune system that can handle vaccination at the current pace. Most of the time however, McCarthy simply shares her expereince in nutrition that she feels have helped her son. If she honestly believes that better nutrition has helped her son with his symptoms, should she simply shut up about it simply because it has yet to be validated by the scientific method. Obviously the scientific method (when correctly applied) trumps personal anecdotes, but to suggest that people should not share personal anecdotes simply because they are not (yet) embraced by mainstream science seems a bit extreme.

    I call B.S.

    Jenny McCarthy quoted on Oprah:

    Oprah told viewers that McCarthy would be available to answer questions and give guidance later that day on Oprah.com. One viewer went online to ask McCarthy what she would do if she could do it all over again. “If I had another child,” McCarthy answered, “I would not vaccinate.” A mother wrote in to say that she had decided not to give her child the MMR vaccine because of fears of autism. McCarthy was delighted. “I’m so proud you followed your mommy instinct,” she wrote.

    She’s also been quoted elsewhere as saying that she would not vaccinate, “not ever.”

    Note that Jenny McCarthy can never say anything good about vaccines. Her whole “green our vaccines” slogan is nothing more than brilliantly Orwellian. For instance, just ask her what, specifically, it would take to convince her that vaccines are safe. She can’t. She, like the antivaccine movement, constantly shifts the goalposts. If it’s not mercury, it’s the “toxins.” If it’s not the “toxins,” it’s the aluminum. If it’s not the aluminum, it’s “too many too soon.” Whatever it is, though, it’s always about the vaccines. Always. Vaccines are always the cause of autism. Always.

    No, Jenny McCarthy is about as anti-vaccine as they come. In fact, she’s the celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement.

    As for her “diet,” this is what she says about it:

    You know, I could in two months turn Evan completely autistic again. I could do it completely through diet. And maybe getting some vaccine boosters. Through diet, I could load him up again with all the things that will aggravate the damage that was done. Right now, what happened now was that I healed him to the point where he got everything back to this baseline level and it stays there like this. But I mess with it at all–boom!

    No, Jenny is completely unrealistic, pushes biomedical autism quackery, and is thoroughly anti-vaccine.

  49. wetdarkday says:

    “Oprah is a fool, and a dangerous one.”

    No she’s not. Just because Jenny McCarthy, one of the 10,000 guests Oprah’s had over the years has some unproven ideas, is no reason to attack Oprah. Oprah had Jenny McCarthy on because she’s wildly popular with millions of mothers (Oprah’s audience) and they begged Oprah to have her on. When she was on Jenny only briefly mentioned her views on vaccines and Oprah quickly read a statement contradicting Jenny’s views so Oprah in no way endorses Jenny’s views on vaccines.

  50. Flossie says:

    @wetdarkday

    Other talk show hosts may need to give a platform to anyone and everyone, but Oprah doesn’t, that’s my point. She doesn’t have to have actors on her show from movies she doesn’t like, she doesn’t have to have authors of books she doesn’t like on her show, and she doesn’t have to have singers/musicians on her show to perform music that she doesn’t like. She doesn’t even have to have politicians on her show that she doesn’t like, Sarah Palin for example.

    Oprah herself said that she doesn’t have to do her show, she does it because she wants to help others “live their best life”. She wants to use her influence to help others improve their lives, that is her mission.

  51. Chris says:

    wetdarkday, are you going to answer my many questions about this test that Ms. McCarthy was talking about?

    What is the name of this test? Which company makes and markets this test? What research has done on this test? How did Ms. McCarthy learn about this test? Is this test safer than the MMR (which as been around since 1971, and more than likely if she or you are less than 40 years old had this vaccine at least once!).

    And why does she blame a vaccine given more than a year before her son’s seizures for his seizures?

    What would she had done if the seizures occurred at the same time as my son, as a newborn before he had any vaccines? (he is too old to have had the HepB at birth).

  52. wetdarkday says:

    Chris, Jenny McCarthy simply said “wouldn’t it be great if there was a test to make sure babies immune system could handle all these vaccine so quickly” She is advocating for more research. Jenny McCarthy honestly believes her baby was harmed by vaccines. Nothing in life is 100% safe, and with all the genetic variation in our species, odds are there must be some babies who have a bad reaction to some vaccines. So if you were a celebrity with a megaphone, and you believed a vaccine harmed your child, would you not have an ethical obligation to speak out? But I agree that McCarthy has gone too far in some public forums, but when she appeared on Oprah, Oprah was very clear to read a statement saying mainstream science rejects what McCarthy is saying.

  53. David Gorski says:

    Jenny McCarthy honestly believes her baby was harmed by vaccines.

    There are many people who “honestly believe” they were abducted by aliens and subjected to various medical tests. That doesn’t mean they were. There are many people who “honestly believe” in ghosts. That doesn’t mean that ghosts exist. There are many people who “honestly believe” that the earth was created 6,000 years ago in a period of 6 days. Science says otherwise.

    Belief does not equal fact or science.

  54. Scott says:

    “Chris, Jenny McCarthy simply said wouldn’t it be great if there was a test to make sure babies immune system could handle all these vaccine so quickly. She is advocating for more research.”

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a test to make sure people can handle going out in the rain without breaking out in purple spots? More research is needed!

    More seriously, the research HAS been done. Despite mountains of safety studies, there’s no evidence even suggesting that babies’ immune systems can’t handle vaccination. And plenty of excellent reasons to consider the proposition ludicrous (if babies’ immune systems can’t handle vaccination, then they can’t handle breathing air or touching anything).

    Certainly, there are known risks and some people have adverse reactions. Research aimed at pinpointing who might be at risk for rare complications (that we actually have cause to believe exist) is very reasonable. In fact, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t ongoing. But research into the details of a purported phenomenon where the overwhelming evidence is that it doesn’t exist is Tooth Fairy science.

    Research funding is a scarce resource. It’s very important that it be spent on research that actually has a chance to be beneficial. What you’re advocating would necessarily REDUCE the safety of vaccines and IMPEDE understanding and treatment of autism – since that’s where the money would otherwise be going.

  55. Scott says:

    “So if you were a celebrity with a megaphone, and you believed a vaccine harmed your child, would you not have an ethical obligation to speak out?”

    Absolutely not. You would have an ethical obligation to make sure you were right, and that your advice would not be harmful, before speaking out.

    “But I agree that McCarthy has gone too far in some public forums, but when she appeared on Oprah, Oprah was very clear to read a statement saying mainstream science rejects what McCarthy is saying.”

    She has also made it very clear that she agrees with Jenny and not science. The approval and endorsement are crystal-clear, particularly now that she’s giving Jenny her own show to spout baby-killing nonsense.

  56. wetdarkday says:

    Scott, Oprah has never once stated that she agrees with Jenny McCarthy’s views on vaccines. She had her on her show (as have several other shows) because there was a grass roots movement in Oprah’s soccer mom audience to have Jenny on. Oprah has not given Jenny a talk show. There was an unconfirmed report in People magazine that they had a development deal which might one day lead to a talk show, but nothing appears to be set in stone, and there’s no evidence that McCarthy’s views on vaccines will be discussed on her talk show if she does get one.

    Now if you’re going to attack Oprah for being one of many people to interview McCarthy (where vaccines were only very briefly discussed and a disclaimer read), what is your response to this very recent article by CBS News:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/12/cbsnews_investigates/main4086809.shtml

    A news source should be held to a higher standard than an entertainment show like Oprah, and this source is claiming, using a very credible doctor that the autism vaccine link is worth looking into.

    Just to be clear, I’m not endorsing this article. I’m just interested in knowing what you guys think of it. Please read the whole thing before commenting.

  57. Scott says:

    One does not need to explicitly state agreement to make it clear that one does in fact agree and endorse a position. Oprah has quite effectively managed that.

    “There was an unconfirmed report in People magazine that they had a development deal which might one day lead to a talk show, but nothing appears to be set in stone, and there’s no evidence that McCarthy’s views on vaccines will be discussed on her talk show if she does get one.”

    First, far more than an unconfirmed report of a possibility. To quote Reuters:

    “McCarthy has inked a multi-year deal with Winfrey’s Harpo Prods. to develop projects on different platforms, including a syndicated talk show that the actress/author would host.”

    Second, what in the world else do you think she’ll be talking about, given that she really doesn’t do anything else these days?

    “Now if you’re going to attack Oprah for being one of many people to interview McCarthy (where vaccines were only very briefly discussed and a disclaimer read),”

    Not complaining about interviews per se, but rather active promotion of killing babies (which, when it comes right down to it, is exactly what she’s doing). Reading a disclaimer means absolutely nothing.

    As to the CBS News article, it’s beyond garbage. Healy is not, by the way, a “very credible doctor.” She’s an administrator without any qualifications particularly relevant to the question. Compared to the collective opinion of those who spend their entire careers studying vaccines or autism, her unsupported speculation is completely meaningless.

  58. wetdarkday says:

    “One does not need to explicitly state agreement to make it clear that one does in fact agree and endorse a position. Oprah has quite effectively managed that.”

    That’s nonsense. The discussion about vaccines on the Oprah show lasted all of 30 seconds, half of which was Oprah reading a disclaimer. Oprah’s show does not focus on scientific debates, instead the show was focused on what it’s like to be a mother of a child with autism. McCarthy has discussed vaccines with Larry King far more extensively, a long with her husband Jim Carrey, and a journalist who agrees with McCarthy. Does that mean Larry King is endorsing her view? Of course not. In the 1980s, Oprah had skin heads and satanic worshippers on her show. Does that mean she’s endorsing them? Think about it.

    And Oprah has been involved in development deals with others, and they have gone no where. And there are a wide range of topics Jenny McCarthy could discuss as she is a former comic.

    “As to the CBS News article, it’s beyond garbage.”

    I was hoping for a response that was a little more analytical.

  59. wetdarkday says:

    Here’s a recent video of Jenny McCarthy on Larry King making clear that she is not anti-vaccine. She’s also joined by a journalist who says the debate is over & vaccines do contribute to autism, though it’s important to note that he’s not a scientist so be skeptical:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnrYEQjoIfo

  60. Harriet Hall says:

    The CBS article is little more than gossip. It passes on the unsupported opinions of an individual.

    The one grain of truth is that science can never really prove 100% that vaccines never cause autism. That’s not the way science works. What science can tell us is that there is no evidence to support that hypothesis, and there is enough negative evidence for us to make practical decisions based on the provisional conclusion that vaccines don’t cause autism. We can never prove 100% that there isn’t a Tooth Fairy; but it doesn’t seem reasonable to invest in TF research.

    As for a minority of children being affected, epidemiologic studies would have detected that. They were able to show that the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome from the Swine flu vaccine of 1976 was 5 per million. We can provisionally conclude that if some children have idiosyncratic reactions to vaccines, the rate must be very, very low.

  61. Harriet Hall says:

    Jenny McCarthy SAYS she is not anti-vaccine. But she sure acts like she is. She has made it clear that if she had another child, she would not vaccinate. And she has implied that she would only be pro-vaccine if science could prove that a vaccine was 100% effective and 100% safe, even for the rare susceptible individual. Since this is impossible, that means that she is anti- any vaccine that will ever be created in this universe.

  62. David Gorski says:

    Jenny McCarthy is either self-deluded or lying when she claims that she is not anti-vaccine. Everything she says about vaccines is cribbed straight from the anti-vaccine playbook, and, as has been copiously documented, she has said time and time again that, if she were ever to have another child, she would not vaccinate–ever.

    If you want an example of Jenny McCarthy spewing antivaccine nonsense (including the “toxins” gambit and the lie that there are fetal parts in vaccines), check this out:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/05/jenny_mccarthy_shows_off_her_knowledge_o.php

    I would so love to ask Jenny exactly what it would take to convince her that vaccines are safe and that she should vaccinate, that they do not cause autism. No doubt she’d start spewing the same nonsense about “antifreeze” and “ether” in vaccines, but I’d keep pushing until I got her to give up some specific criteria. I’d probably fail, but that failure would be instructive in that it would show that there is no science, no alterations in vaccines that would ever make McCarthy believe they are safe.

    That’s because she is a hard core antivaccinationist, her denials notwithstanding.

  63. tmac57 says:

    It seem that the new gambit is “we want vaccines that are %100 safe!” Well yeah, that would be nice, so would %100 safe food , automobiles, air travel, water supply, air, etc etc. Try going without those things until they are %100 safe. We try to minimize risks in life, but we always have to weigh the risks in regard to benefits.

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