Now there’s something you don’t see on TV every day…

I rather like Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, I seldom get to watch, mainly because I usually show up at work sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 AM, and I don’t like watching more than a few minutes of video on my computer.

However, Hugh Laurie, star of House, was interviewed by Conan and revealed himself to be not unlike me in that he’s definitely a booster of reason and science in medicine over irrationality and dubious “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) therapies. In fact, his attitude towards CAM appears to be not at all unlike that of the character he plays on House. Check out the interview. (If you want to watch, the relevant part of the interview begins at about 23:50 into the show.)

For those who might have problems playing Internet video, I’ve found a transcript:

From Late Night with Conan O’Brien Tuesday, December 9, 2008

CONAN O’BRIEN: We have something in common, which is… I believe your father is a doctor and my father is a doctor.  And so you’re playing a doctor now, and I’m curious.  Did you learn anything from your father?  Is there anything from growing up with a doctor in the family that helped you with the role?

HUGH LAURIE:  In a way, yes.  I mean, not, not…Not to do with the character, but to do with my attitude toward medicine.  Because I admired my father so much, I grew up with this immense reverence for Western Medicine. I think it’s about the noblest calling there is.

I don’t know about you, but I have no patience with the sort of bog-sucking crystals and the herbs and all that sort of stuff.  I’m a great believer in antibiotics and anesthetics.  These are great things that have saved millions of lives.


You know half the people who are here wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for antibiotics.

CONAN:  I am the same way.  Whenever something is wrong with me, and someone says, “There’s a tree root that you can hold against your head and then think good thoughts,”

HUGH:  Right.

CONAN: I push them aside and go to a pharmacy.


HUGH:  Right, me too!

CONAN: I want actual medicine.

HUGH: I want actual medicine, little white pills.  Yeah. Because when people try to persuade you of this alternative course because its an ancient medicine, its an ancient therapy.  “It’s two thousand years old.” But two thousand years ago people died at twenty!


HUGH: It’s no recommendation!


CONAN: If they made it to twenty, it was, “Hey old man!  Hey old timer!”

HUGH: Absolutely.


HUGH: Let’s have some more of that tree bark!  But, no.

Yes, I definitely grew up with that.  And that made me (I suppose) sympathize with the — Is it left brain or right brain? I don’t know which side it is — But that sort of logical, scientific side of the character, which I do greatly admire.  For all his cynicism, sarcasm, etc. etc., I love his belief in reason. It is his religion.  I definitely got that from my father.

I knew there was a reason that I liked Hugh Laurie. I haven’t really watched House much during the last couple of seasons (it seemed to be getting too formulaic), but maybe I should give it another try.

In any case, it’s great to see two major stars being straight up skeptical about unscientific medical claims. You don’t see that very often. Unfortunately, what you do see far more often are stars like Oprah Winfrey, whose appetite for woo has become legendary and made her arguably the most influential promoter of unscientific medical practices in the media. I wonder if Hugh Laurie’s ever been on her show, and if he has would his contact with Oprah result in the credulous heads of every audience member exploding?

Posted in: Health Fraud, Humor, Science and Medicine, Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (7) ↓

7 thoughts on “Now there’s something you don’t see on TV every day…

  1. caoimh says:

    I was enjoying Hugh’s comments until I read the “Is it left brain or right brain?” line.

    I was under the impression that this left brain/right brain dichotomy was a myth. I know it’s not your area of expertise David but would you care to comment on it?

  2. David Gorski says:

    I defer to my neurologist colleague Steve Novella on this one.

  3. ama says:

    If it is in the left brain, then it is right. :-)

  4. mjranum says:

    I was enjoying Hugh’s comments until I read the “Is it left brain or right brain?” line.

    Is he a doctor, or just someone who plays a doctor on TV? He’s probably been working on his acting skills, not his neuropsychology. :D

  5. MKandefer says:

    The left-brain, right-brain distinction can be a myth, or it could be science, it depends on how it is stated. In circumstances where people allege that an individual only uses one hemisphere based on their abilities, this is a myth, we all use both hemispheres. This phrasing is akin to the 10% myth. However, if an individual is describing localization of function, such as language functionality being local to the left hemisphere in 95% of the population, then this is based on scientific investigation. Brain imaging can help correlate these functions to their respective hemispheres, but I find the various split brain studies using binocular rivalry to be most compelling when it comes to localization of function.

  6. Trevor Prinn says:

    I think you’ll enjoy this. It also includes one of Stephen Fry’s best ever put downs.

  7. pc says:

    I would expect nothing less from a Eton/Cambridge educated man
    with a degree in archaeology and anthrpology and whose best friend since college is the immensely smart Stephen Fry


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