Write for Oprah? Wrong for Me

From January through June of 2010 I wrote a column entitled “The Health Inspector” in O, The Oprah Magazine. Now, apparently, I have been fired; although they have not had the common courtesy to tell me so. The whole thing has been a bizarre, frustrating experience. 

It started last fall, when I got an e-mail from Tyler Graham. He introduced himself as the new health editor for O, The Oprah Magazine, saying he had only been on the job for 2 weeks. He had read my work in Skeptic magazine and wanted me to write a column for O. I thought long and hard before accepting. I told Mr. Graham my opinion of Oprah and of her chosen medical expert Dr. Oz and why I was hesitant to associate my name with theirs, and he seemed to understand. Oprah has been widely criticized recently, even in the pages of Newsweek, for endorsing pseudoscientific and non-scientific health advice on her TV show.   As for Dr. Oz, while he mostly gives good medical advice, he has appalling lapses into non-science-based practices like Reiki, and he has even invited energy healers into his OR to assist in open-heart surgery cases by waving their hands over the patients. I foolishly assumed Mr.Graham was trying to improve Oprah’s image by introducing more science and skepticism to the magazine.  I decided to accept, for three reasons:

  1. It was a chance to get my name and a mention of the Science-Based Medicine blog before a large readership (O’s circulation is nearly 3 million).
  2. I could make sure that at least my one little corner of the magazine was scientifically rigorous.
  3. They were going to pay me. Not much, and I didn’t need the money, but you must understand that I had never before been paid a single penny for writing anything. My writing has been entirely pro bono. The idea of my writing finally being recognized as having monetary value was seductive.

 The skeptical community was delighted to learn that the SkepDoc had infiltrated Oprahdom. One young man tweeted, “Dude, Hell just froze over!” I’m afraid the celebration was premature. 

It soon became obvious that I would be working under strict limitations and tight editorial control. Initially the editor specified a 200 word limit. I protested that it was next to impossible to say anything meaningful in 200 words, so he increased it to a whopping 250 words. (For comparison, my SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine usually runs around 1600 words.) I would only be allowed to write about debunking common health myths. I figured that was worthwhile doing, and I foolishly hoped it might eventually develop into opportunities more akin to my interests. 

The editor pretty much dictated what myths I could write about. He consistently shot down every suggestion I made. At one point I received a contract with a short deadline to write about a subject that no one had even mentioned to me yet. When I protested, the editor’s excuse was that his assistant was merely being proactive. 

The one time he accepted a suggestion of mine, it didn’t work out. He said the April issue was to be about relationships, so I suggested the myth that “opposites attract.” He said “Perfect” and I proceeded to write about that. I got back a critique from the editor above him that picked apart my points, asked for references, and asked for “more science” where there really wasn’t any good science. I re-wrote. At about that point (late January), Tyler Graham was let go and I was contacted by his replacement, Jennifer Rainey Marquez. She told me that the editor-in-chief thought the subject was overkill, since the issue already included other relationship-themed stories (I thought that was the reason for picking the subject in the first place!?). The editor-in-chief thought the subject was a poor choice and not one readers were concerned about. She objected that science didn’t support a firm conclusion (I had basically asked “do opposites attract?,” looked at the published studies, and answered probably not but the evidence isn’t 100% conclusive). So they decided not to run that column and they paid me a 25% “kill fee.” 

In January, February and March they ran my columns on the myths that we lose most of our body heat through the head, that eating late at night makes you fat, and that drinking soda causes bone loss. The April column was killed. The May issue was a special issue with no regular columns. I was scheduled to write again for the June issue, and at their request I wrote about “Does our height shrink as we age?” (Yes, some shrinkage is normal, but a loss of more than 2 inches may indicate osteoporosis). My original draft was returned to me with questions: the text of the questions vastly exceeded the size of the draft itself. I tried to answer her questions, but pointed out that explaining everything she wanted explained could not possibly be accomplished in 250 words. She answered that she was only trying to anticipate all the questions the editor above her might possibly ask her and that she would condense as needed. 

I was told they had to hold the “shrinking” article for space in the June issue and I was asked to write about Toxic Shock Syndrome (Why don’t we read about it in the news any more? Does it still exist?).  Notice that they are no longer asking me to write about debunking common health myths; they never discussed the change of focus with me.  I wrote about TSS, and got another detailed list of questions. I got seriously annoyed at the pickiness, because I got the feeling that if I said “Good morning” I would be challenged to define and quantify “good” and give a reference to prove what hours constituted “morning,” and explain why I would want to say “Good morning” in the first place and why such social conventions existed. I answered all the editor’s questions and then she re-wrote my column to where it was no longer recognizable as my work. The editor’s revision was published in the June issue complete with a couple of errors I had pointed out to her and asked her to correct. I was not happy to see it printed under my name. And in that issue, they omitted the tag identifying me as an editor of Science-Based Medicine.

 In essence, the editor had used me to do a bit of research and then had written her own article. I had been demoted from columnist to research assistant. And I don’t understand why one column was held for space yet they found space for the other one. 

In previous columns, several times my words were changed to something that was not exactly correct, and I had to protest and get it corrected. I also had several run-ins with the “Fact Checking” department where they were unable to verify what I had written. I had to point them back to the references I had already provided and show them how to read and interpret them. 

I never received either a check for the contracted $500 or a “kill fee” for the “shrinking” article. I asked if they were planning to use it in July. I got no answer. I was expecting further communications about future topics, but I heard nothing more from them. I e-mailed the editor several more times but got no answer.  Finally I sent an e-mail marked priority and asking for a “read” receipt. She answered that she hadn’t received my e-mails because of issues with her junk mail folder. She said she wasn’t sure what had happened with my column, that her editor has not said anything about it but that my column “never seems to get approved on any of the issue lineups” and that she guesses it is unlikely that her editor wants to move forward with the column. (She doesn’t offer to actually ask the editor.) She apologizes for not keeping me up to speed, but says the magazine is being redesigned and things have been up in the air so it has been difficult to judge. 

I was not impressed by her excuses but I was relieved; a great weight was lifted from my shoulders.  I had gotten to the point that when I saw an e-mail from the magazine I would get a sinking feeling and dread opening it. It has become clear to me that I don’t have what it takes to be a media whore. I’d much rather write independently without pay for a select few readers than be controlled and abused for $2 a word with an audience of millions. 

I’d be willing to bet that Dr. Oz has had a very different experience with the O editors.

Posted in: Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (106) ↓

106 thoughts on “Write for Oprah? Wrong for Me

  1. zeno says:

    I suspect much of the utter chaos exists on many other magazines as well, but I’m glad you’ve opted out of being a media ‘whore’ and will continue to impart your thoughts to your more discerning readers here!

  2. research says:

    “She answered that she hadn’t received my e-mails because of issues with her junk mail folder”

    It has been my experience that the above statement is an indication of incompetence and/or lying and you are wise to cut either/both out of your life ;)

  3. Yup, from my experience as a graphic designer/art director that’s pretty much how it goes when you create for money.

    Knowing your craft and your facts are only part of the job. You either have to find excellent clients or be a talented and willy salesperson to get quality work published.

    And I’m guessing that you decided against a future freelance writing career, since you just burnt a few bridges. :)

  4. Doesn’t sound like you were a good match, to say the least. It’s O’s loss.

  5. Dr Benway says:

    Sounds like Tyler Graham had an interest in presenting a more “mainstream” medical voice within the magazine and his replacement felt differently. Perhaps that’s a clue as to why he was let go.

  6. bluedevilRA says:

    I wonder if, to some extent, they were going after you *because* of your skepticism. Along the lines of “well you’re so obsessed with science, how come you don’t have more science to support your position? Why can’t you debunk lots of random, almost inconsequential myths? Aren’t you a doctor?”

    The original editor who hired you was most likely sincere in his interest in the column, but then the new editor found it to be unnecessary and irritating. If I had to name it, I would say it is the “you claim to love science so much, how come you don’t know the answer to every single question I ask you?” gambit.

    I just think its funny/sad that in the entire woo-filled O magazine they could not afford one little tiny patch of dedicated science.

  7. jenl1625 says:

    That little bit more evidence that magazines like O aren’t interested in readers like me…

  8. daedalus2u says:

    In the blogosphere, there has been some attention spent on what constitutes soft vs hard science. I think that your experience is part of an even broader continuum. Science is a tool which can be used to examine things and ask and answer questions. The appropriate application of science to a problem is independent of the problem. Using science to answer questions does not make science hard or soft depending on the topic.

    People are trying to apply the labels hard and soft to different fields, so as to make those fields less “worthy” of “scientific” attention, and to denigrate the people who seek science-based answers in those fields as less “worthy” scientists. It is about people trying to rank other people in a social hierarchy based on how “science-y” their field is. A field is not “science-y”, individual scientists are or are not.

    Science has to be done from the bottom-up, from facts larger correlative conceptual structures can be built which tie all the facts together. Scientific correctness does not have a social component. Either the facts fit the hypothesis or the hypothesis is wrong. Social hierarchies are all done from the top-down. The “leader” dictates how it is going to be (explicitly or implicitly) and everyone lower in the hierarchy either agrees and conforms or is booted out.

    The “O” organization is no exception. I think the editors were trying to make what you wrote more “Oprah-y” without really understanding either what you wrote, or what “Oprah-y” actually is. They did not succeed, which is why they didn’t print what you wrote and why they were fired.

    To be successful in the ”O” organization, I suspect that you have to drink the “O” brand of kool-aid and internalize the “O” mindset sufficiently such that you can “channel” the big “O” herself. People participate in the “O” experience to become a part of the “O” social hierarchy, not to learn anything about reality.

    What determines how science-y a scientist really is is when reality conflicts with social norms. The real scientists go with the science, the non-scientists go with the social norms, the pseudoscientist makes up pseudoscience to match the social norms.

  9. windriven says:

    This was a project destined for heartbreak and failure. Ms. Winfrey has built a media empire and amassed a staggering fortune by telling simple-minded people what they want to hear.

    Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

  10. DanCon says:

    Dr. Hall,

    I recently had an experience from the other side of the fence. I am a magazine editor (with no connection to O; I have never even met anyone on their staff; in fact, I’ve never even read a copy). Recently I contacted a highly respected environmental scientist to write a two-part article for me (1500 words in each part) on common environmental hazards. (It was more nuanced than that; but that will do for what I am writing here.) We would ask questions that she would answer (she had our permission to rewrite the questions, drop questions, and add her own).

    The additional conditions she demanded struck me as extreme. We would not change a word or so much as a comma. We replied that she would see and have right of approval on all the edits. She replied that that wasn’t good enough. She also said she would decide if any letters to the editor about her article would be printed, and no letter would be printed without a response from her. “No good scientist,” she told me, “trusts her reputation to an editor.”

    In my opinion, the piece she handed in had problems. In the very first paragraph she seemed to be blaming all cancer, and all autism, including what she called the soaring rate of autism, on environmental pollution. As a faithful reader of SBM I questioned this, and asked whether the scientific evidence really supports such sweeping statements. Is there no nuance at all in the scientific literature? And SBM, and Dr. Novella in particular, has raised intriguing questions about how large the real increase in autism might be. When I responded to her with some EPA and CDC data, she responded that the EPA and CDC were often in the pocket of big business and not to be trusted.

    We went back and forth with her on this and other equally sweeping statements, and to her credit she made some adjustments. But in the end we still had two problems: the finished piece of part 1 was almost 4000 words, and the ending of the article, in my opinion, invited my readers on a guilt trip: it was easy to infer from her language that parents of autistic children were to blame for their children’s autism because they had not done enough to oppose environmental pollution.

    We told her the article was way over our word limit, but that we could run it in two parts. However, we were very uncomfortable with the ending and we asked her change it. We suggested several different wordings that we thought kept her intent of motivating people but without the attendant guilt, and since the ending did not include any science, we hoped she would agree to change it. She refused to cut or break the article into two parts; she refused to change the ending. We tried several times to convince her that the non-scientific ending paragraph was a place where no good editor trusts his magazine to a scientist; we know our readers, and guilt is not going to motivate them. She refused to change it. Up against the deadline wall, I felt I had no choice but to release her from her obligation to us.

    This is my side of the story, of course. I’m sure the scientist sees it differently. In my opinion, this scientist probably has been so badly burned by some editor or editors (as in Dr. Hall’s experience) that it is very difficult for her to establish a good working relationship with any others. I too feel a bit burned, and more than a bit shy right now about approaching other scientists.

    It’s a shame really. Editors and scientists could do a lot of good working more closely together. But my experience, and Doctor Hall’s, shows how tense and difficult it can be to get that relationship to work.

  11. My sense is that many mega-media outlets sell a narrative and a world-view rather than accurate information. Fox news is most often given example of this, but “O” and the entire Oprah media empire fit this mold even better.

    This seems to be more than just a bias, but rather a deliberate attempt to occupy an ideological niche in the market. It perhaps can be seen as selling storytelling over information, which is a successful strategy given human propensities.

  12. David Gorski says:

    Sadly, I’m not at all surprised that The Skepdoc’s stint in the Oprahsphere ended badly. Probably what happened is that the health editor who recruited Harriet did it to try to answer some of the copious criticism that Oprah was receiving last year from the blogosphere and Newsweek for her promotion of quackery and anti-vaccine pseudoscience without actually mounting a serious challenge to the entire “O” worldview. (After all, doing that would tick off Oprah’s readers and risk circulation numbers.) In other words, he wanted to give the appearance of embracing some real science.

    One way to accomplish this was to get a skeptical writer but hamstring her to a mere 250 words. True, Harriet is pretty economical in her language and writing, a trait I definitely wish I had more of, but it’s hard to say much of anything substantive in 250 words (and I don’t just say this because I’m known for my tendency towards 4,000+ word magnum opuses on a weekly basis). Sadly, the failure of this arrangement was a feature, not a bug. It was unstable, and I doubt it would have been sustainable for more than a few more months even if the original health editor hadn’t moved on. Also, there’s a pretty high turnover among editors in the publishing industry, and when one editor leaves, particularly if he’s canned, then frequently the management also looks for ways to get rid of the writers he’s hired.

  13. Shannon says:

    Consider their rejection a negative indicator. :-)

  14. Harriet Hall says:

    David Gorski said, “when one editor leaves, particularly if he’s canned, then frequently the management also looks for ways to get rid of the writers he’s hired.”

    Yes, but there are politer, nicer ways to do that than simply ignoring the writer’s e-mails and then making stupid excuses about what the editor “thinks” the higher editor “might” be thinking.

    It would have been so easy to say something like “The magazine has undergone a reorganization, and we are sorry to have to tell you that under our new editorial plans the Health Inspector column no longer meets our needs and we have decided to drop it. This is not a reflection on the quality of your writing, but simply a matter of the column not being a good fit for our purposes at this time. Thank you for your past contributions and best wishes for your future writing career.”

    In fact, I was really surprised that a people-friendly feel-good organization like Oprah’s didn’t even try to find a diplomatic way to end our relationship.

  15. sirhcton says:

    “. . . I contacted a highly respected environmental scientist to write a two-part article for me . . . conditions she demanded struck me as extreme. . . the piece she handed in had problems. . . blaming all cancer, and all autism, . . . on environmental pollution. . . . she responded that the EPA and CDC were often in the pocket of big business and not to be trusted. . . . ”

    Respected by whom?

    On top of the original editorial demands, I would have thought the views expressed would have raised so many red flags for DanCon that plan B would be triggered. Were there no indications of her views when doing the preliminary search for an author?

  16. David Gorski says:

    Yes, but there are politer, nicer ways to do that than simply ignoring the writer’s e-mails and then making stupid excuses about what the editor “thinks” the higher editor “might” be thinking.

    Perhaps so, but that’s how large organizations often work–passive-aggressively. No one wants to do the direct thing or take responsibility for making the decision to get rid of people; so instead they simply use the “ignore and delay” strategy. It works, and it avoids a direct confrontation of the issue. That’s why people do it.

  17. PaulKilmer says:

    “I had gotten to the point that when I saw an e-mail from the magazine I would get a sinking feeling and dread opening it.”

    Dr. Hall, I’d just like you to know I have exactly the opposite feeling when I see the day’s post at SBM is from you.


  18. Sam Homola says:

    What a shame that The Oprah Magazine did not take full advantage of the encyclopedic, scientific mind of Harriet Hall. Editors not trained in science can rarely justify nit-picking the observations of a science writer who works and writes in a field in which he or she has been trained and tested. Attempting to manipulate the words of such a writer simply to appease the ignorance of readers is a shameful waste of a valuable source of information.

    Failure of The Oprah Magazine to appreciate what Harriet had to offer certainly does not reflect well upon the magazine.

  19. Ian says:

    Yea David is right. Its true for most organizations in any industry. It can be quite hard to make definitive decisions.

    Using you as a research assistant is something else all together. Why not just hire a grad student if they just needed someone to summarize research for their editors?

  20. Chris says:


    Respected by whom?

    I had that question too when I read DanCon’s account. I know a few scientists and engineers (hubby being one) who have submitted papers for publication in science/technical journals. I have heard stories of how they come back with many edits, and suggestions. If the author wants to get it published, then they do the edits (or find another journal).

    DanCon, was that “environmental scientist” related to one of these guys?

    Dr. Hall, you have explained very well why I have no use for any of those “women’s magazines.” I have hated them since high school when I had to struggle through pages of advertisements to find an article (actually just finding the table of contents is hard enough!).

  21. I just looked over a bunch of posts on my blog, and they tend to run around ~600+ words. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to write a meaningful, scientific article in only 250 words.

  22. Draal says:

    Other than email, doesn’t the editor have a telephone? I’m all for communicating by email, but if communication breaks down, I will pick up the phone to directly contact the person of interest.

    I’ve found a sure-fire way of getting a rapid reply back if you’re not interested in being diplomatic anymore. Contact their supervisor and ask him/her why you are unable to get in contact with so-and-so. Unfortunately, the big downside is that the person you’re trying to contact will be super peeved at you for going over their head.

  23. Calli Arcale says:

    The problem, in a nutshell, is that O is a fluff magazine. Fluff magazines want fluff pieces. They have not treated you differently for being a skeptic; they have treated you exactly as they treat all of their freelance writers (except possibly the big name ones like Oz). I’ve read articles written by former freelance writers for women’s magazines, and they all describe this sort of an experience. You’re told what to write. They’re not really looking for creativity. Just words that will fit appropriately on the page and hold the reader’s eye long enough without distracting them from the ads that actually pay for the magazine. Verbal clip-art, almost. It’s a very surreal experience for any writer who actually cares about their art. Some can put up with it; others can’t. I don’t think I could. However, it does explain why the magazines at the check-out lines are so repetitive.

    The 200 word limit (double-drabble!) would be painful, but again, it’s not a column like you might expect. It’s a fluff piece. They are cultivating an audience with short attention spans.

  24. Chris says:

    Calli Arcale:

    The problem, in a nutshell, is that O is a fluff magazine. Fluff magazines want fluff pieces.

    Better if they help bolster the ads in the magazine. Like the ones that describe an optimum night time regime that uses what is advertised next to the article.

  25. Wolfy says:

    Dr Hall

    Do you think that Oprah, master of all things “people-friendly feel-good,” might be interested in personally hearing about your story? Perhaps she might be interested in how one of her employees (if only for a short while) was treated?

  26. Wendy Hughes says:

    I agree that the first editor was probably trying to paper over a criticism of Oprah’s reliance on woo and quackery by allowing one little corner of her magazine to a published and popular genuine doctor who is even a retired military officer. The three stated reasons that Harriet accepted the assignment, and that she was provisionally hopeful for the column made sense. Having written for a small local family-owned newspaper for even six months, I know editorial policies can be frustrating: limitations by the number of words (that must have felt like trying to compose a tweet), being told the subject is the advertiser, having your good ideas for stories shot down… those experiences are, unfortunately, shared by many journalists. It’s much better to be able to negotiate those conditions when you are submitting your stories to publications that you already know are directed at an audience that appreciates your work ie SKEPTIC, Skeptical Inquirer….even if it ends up that you are preaching to the choir.

    It’s too bad that readers of O Magazine will not benefit by learning about the history of TSS, or the uselessness of Power Balance bracelets…. I can’t begin to explain the sense of relief that I felt when I read Avrum Bluming & Carol Tavris’ explanation that HRT is less likely to cause breast cancer than French fries that appeared in Skeptical Inquirer. Will this make it into O magazine? I doubt it. But should it? Yes! All of this information, the uselessness of Power Balance bracelets, the safety of hormone replacement therapy, the history of Toxic Shock Syndrome and the dangerous tampons, should not be exclusively in the heads of nerds and skeptics. Here I am preaching to the choir.

    My grassroots skepticism group, the Independent Investigations Group, IIG, has a facebook page. It’s a public page; anyone can read it. We post stories on it that we think are relevant… one recently by Harriet Hall. That probably increased circulation a little.

  27. Harriet Hall says:

    Oprah might indeed like to know about this, but I don’t have any confidence that I could get word to her personally. Do you have any ideas how that could be done?

  28. bluedevilRA says:

    Maybe Oprah would give you a show like she gave one to Jenny McCarthy! I would normally suggest demanding reparations (brutal reparations, maybe even the Rhineland), but I think the best way to appeal to Oprah is play the victim card. “They were so mean to me! I developed an eating disorder as a result.” Something along the usual programming lines.

    Here is a link to her contact website:

    It is not a direct line of communication, but its possible she will get the message. I recommend all three routes (email her, suggest a show idea about job termintation, and also contact the magazine’s PR department to let them know). I will certainly be doing the latter to complain about the lack of science content in the magazine.

  29. Xplodyncow says:

    So where can I find a copy of this blog post that’s been referenced, reverse-referenced, and annotated? My fact-checkers in the reality-based department will want to know the basis for all your sentences. Every. Single. One. ;-)

    I laughed out loud at this:

    I got seriously annoyed at the pickiness, because I got the feeling that if I said “Good morning” I would be challenged to define and quantify “good” and give a reference to prove what hours constituted “morning,” and explain why I would want to say “Good morning” in the first place and why such social conventions existed.

  30. Draal says:

    How to contact Oprah…

  31. LMA says:

    Hey, so what ever *did* happen with Toxic Shock Syndrome? Was it really all due to the presence or absence of rayon in tampon? Or do we now call it “MRSA?”

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re being personally dissed by O Magazine — over a decade ago, I sold a detailed how-to article to a hobbyist magazine. I received and cashed a check, then eagerly watched the news stand every month to see if my article had been printed. After about six months of this, I emailed them and found out that there was a new editor in chief who wasn’t interested in publishing anything about the sub-genre my article covered. It also didn’t occur to him that I might want to know that! To this day, I wish they’d never paid me, because so many people contacted me via the internet for tips but I felt I couldn’t morally/legally share them since technically the magazine owned my ideas.

  32. Harriet Hall says:

    @LMA, The re-written and uncorrected column on TSS was published in the June issue and is available online at

    In my research, I found a lot of interesting information that could not be covered in 250 words. Maybe I should put it into a blog post.

  33. MKirschMD says:

    Harriet, what else would you expect? The Oprah empire isn’t about to let any truthteller tarnish its image. All points of view are welcome, so long as they shine the brand. I wish someone would pull back the curtain on the Wizard of Mehmet Oz.

  34. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    They were criticizing you (!) for lack of references??? Now there is irony for you.

  35. Samantha says:

    I dunno, but writing science for “O” seems like writing science for HuffPo. A nice idea… but likely to be edited out of existance.

    It’s too bad, though: the garbage they feed people – especially women – has the potential to be damaging when they forgo getting honest-to-bob real information from other sources.

    Their loss.

  36. Wolfy says:

    Dr. Hall

    Ahhh, if I only had a direct line to the great Oprah! How amazingly powerful would I be?!!?

    I would agree with bluedevilRA, contact her though as many routes as possible. Flood the Oprah organization in-baskets with emails, akin to Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption.

    If I ever get the direct line, I’ll let you know :)

    Good luck.

  37. tcw says:

    Thanks for the insight into your experience, this was possibly the juiciest blog on SBM yet! I’ll bet Oprah doesnt even read the mag and has little to do with it, just gets her picture in it and ghost writers do the rest. The fact that the shallowness of it all bothered Dr Hall speaks to her character.

  38. Dr Benway says:

    Oprah’s loss.

    Harriet Hall kicks ass. And she knows how to fly a B-52.

  39. soyamilk says:

    I’ve read Oprah’s magazine and was pleasently surprised by the quality of science discussed in its pages and even more impressed that they reached out to you. I think you need to take some responsibility for the failure of things to work out too. You should have used your intelligence to adapt to Oprah’s magazine instead of expecting the magazine to adapt to you. If they didn’t find your references acceptable, then change them. You’re working for them, they’re not working for you. And 250 words is more than generous for a first time writer who has yet to build a readership at the magazine. I see no reason why a smart person like yourself can’t figure out away to say something meaningful with that many words. Those who craved a more indepth analysis could have followed you to other forums. I think you blew an excellent opportunity.

  40. Sastra says:

    I thought long and hard before accepting. I told Mr. Graham my opinion of Oprah and of her chosen medical expert Dr. Oz and why I was hesitant to associate my name with theirs, and he seemed to understand.

    AHA! Well, there’s your problem then, isn’t it? You were expecting to have difficulties working for a magazine known for its woo, and thus sent that negative energy out into the universe — which simply gave you what you had ordered. Everything is Consciousness. If you’d only had a positive attitude, with no underlying concerns or reservations, you’d probably be up there with Dr. Oz by now. Haven’t you read The Secret?

    Seriously, the irony of the Skepdoc having her columns gone over with a fine tooth scientific comb when Oz, Sommers, and McCarthy are apparently free to babble pseudoscience off the tops of their heads does not escape anyone here.

  41. reallyordinary says:

    So what you’re saying is… Skeptic magazine doesn’t pay its writers?

    Or they do in general, but you do your column for them pro bono?

  42. David Gorski says:

    I’ve read Oprah’s magazine and was pleasently surprised by the quality of science discussed in its pages and even more impressed that they reached out to you. I think you need to take some responsibility for the failure of things to work out too. You should have used your intelligence to adapt to Oprah’s magazine instead of expecting the magazine to adapt to you.

    Ah, yes. Blame the victim begins! Did you come over here from Gawker? I note that you’ve never commented here on SBM before.

    In any case, this is what the Oprah empire promotes as far as medical science goes:

  43. Chris says:


    And 250 words is more than generous for a first time writer who has yet to build a readership at the magazine.

    Do try working on your reading comprehension. What gave you the impression she was a first time writer?

    Also, can you give us and example of “good science” promoted by Oprah? Would it be “The Secret”? Or perhaps Sommers self medicating with hormones? Or the blatherings of Jenny McCarthy?

    Please, do reference those incidences of good science by Oprah. We’d really love to see them.

  44. Maz says:

    The billie goat says:

    “Please don’t feed the troll!”

    Unless soyamilk is serious, in which case:
    You’ve obviously never had to deal with the faceless bureaucracy of a corporation before. It’s lots of fun!

  45. TheBlackCat says:

    @ soyamilk: What part of “the editor had used me to do a bit of research and then had written her own article” didn’t you understand?

  46. vicki says:


    Have you ever actually done a word count? By your standards, your one-paragraph comment here is between 3/5 and 3/4 of what someone should accept as an upper limit for the length of an article.

  47. nrord says:

    Harriet Hall, MD is one of the best medical writers and knowledgeable Physicians I have ever come across. Oprah’s loss!! You made the right decision!!
    Nancy Ortiz, MS, RD

  48. I’m with Maz. A company hires a writer, doctor, designer, architect to do a job that requires certain training and credentials. I’m not aware of anyone with any talent who’s willing to just “be a tool” and create exactly what the editor or client tells them to line for line. There’s no reason that Harriet Hall should be expected to.

    That said, I must admit that I have a hard time feeling more than mild sympathy for Dr. Hall. It’s not that I don’t think that she was treated badly. It’s just that I think it was probably an inevitable learning experience. I think that she made the mistake that I and many others have made, being a bit over eager and agreeing to a contract that she wasn’t going to be happy with.

    In terms of lost of revenue and benefits, her experience is actually quite mild compared to some contractors, employees and freelancer I have known. (Sorry, I don’t mean this personally.)

    To bad for O. So many company have good talent and just don’t know what the heck to do with it. They end up producing the same old dreck out of lack of imagination and fear.

    In general I don’t read women’ magazines. But I do like the decorating pictures and recipes. Also, I rather like the Vital Signs column in Discover Magazine. Is that a women’s mag?

  49. maus says:

    So, they wanted to abuse you BECAUSE of your credentials, to use it to validate the rest of their woo. No thanks for your pocketbook, but thankfully you haven’t been fully coopted to that end.

    I can’t wait for the Huffington Post to pick you up and try to do the same thing ;)

  50. maus says:

    @soyamilk- “I’ve read Oprah’s magazine and was pleasently surprised by the quality of science discussed in its pages and even more impressed that they reached out to you. I think you need to take some responsibility for the failure of things to work out too. You should have used your intelligence to adapt to Oprah’s magazine ”

    I thought of a good deal of things to say in reply to this, but I’ll just sum it up with-

    Nice shill. Concern trolling to save face?

    Classy, Oprah employee.

  51. Alexie says:

    I don’t want to suggest that you haven’t been treated badly, but… as editor-in-chief of a magazine myself, I know that word counts are extremely tight and can’t be expanded, for reasons of design and layout. Also that $2 a word is pretty much as good as payment gets, anywhere in the world, for a magazine writer who isn’t a Big Household Name. The people at O would also know that being published regularly in a magazine like theirs can catapult a writer to national or even international fame, so would see that as a side benefit to the gig.

    Actually, I’m quite impressed at the level of fact checking you’re describing, because that has disappeared in most places. It’s extremely annoying for an author when they’re questioned relentlessly, but it’s better to hassle the author than discover you’re facing down a major lawsuit, or you have torpedoed the magazine’s credibility by printing something that wasn’t thoroughly checked.

    The things I find unforgivable in what you’re saying is not the fact that you were hassled for references or for rewrites. That goes with the territory. It’s that having done all of that, there were inaccuracies under your name, that your payments were screwed up, and that you were dropped without being told that you’d been dropped. That someone then lied on top of that adds insult to injury.

  52. jennilaidman says:

    I’m sure this was a frustrating experience for you, but I’m not sure you were asked to be a whore. No one asked you to change facts or lie or soft-sell the truth. Writing for quality publications is tough work. As a person who makes my living writing, I’d take the grief in a pico-second.

  53. Harriet Hall says:


    I tried answering your question earlier, but something went wrong and my answer seems to have disappeared into cyberspace. No, Skeptic magazine does not pay its writers. Neither do Skeptical Inquirer, Quackwatch or SBM.

  54. Harriet Hall says:

    soyamilk said
    “You should have used your intelligence to adapt to Oprah’s magazine instead of expecting the magazine to adapt to you.”

    I tried, desperately. Believe me, I tried. I produced 250 word articles for every subject I was given. I complied with every request, re-wrote, provided additional references, answered all questions matter-of-factly even when I thought they were stupid. I was even willing to try again after the last fiasco. It was the editor who stopped working with me. What more could I have done?

  55. Carl Zimmer says:

    As a long-time magazine writer, I feel your pain. This sort of treatment is far too common in journalism; I doubt that it has anything in particular to do with how people at O magazine feel about skepticism. Fortunately, there are sensible editors out there. You just have to find them and hold on tight to them.

  56. squirrelelite says:

    @Dr Hall,

    It may have been too much of a learning experience and not enough of a success, but thank you for making the effort.

  57. Chris says:

    Carl Zimmer:

    Fortunately, there are sensible editors out there. You just have to find them and hold on tight to them.

    The question is: Are there any in what are considered traditional women’s magazines?

    My problem with these is that they are driven by advertisers. If a journalist writes anything that could undercut an ad client, it was dumped. I know that this is not just a problem just with “women’s magazines” (I did read one journalist experience with SEED magazine), but they seem to cover more “topics that will not be discussed”!

    Being that I am old, those topics were vast. Among them was smoking. Over thirty years ago I decided not to pay for any publication that advertised tobacco products, which at that time included many women’s magazines. This may have changed, and I am willing to change my mind if given further evidence. (my magazine subscriptions only included “Sunset”, a western lifestyle magazine and “Thread”, a sewing magazine).

    I will note that the one of last times I picked up a “women’s magazine” was a copy of something my mother-in-law had in her house. There was an article on “incredible women” which mostly focused on actors, with one small bit about a woman mayor of a town that got flooded. Due to my involvement with the Society of Women Engineers I have met many remarkable women, including an astronaut, the first woman to do research in Antarctica, the woman who coined the term “computer bug” (it was a moth), and several others… and then because of issues with my disabled son more remarkable women (teachers, therapists, nurses, doctors and aides), and finally at a local skeptic event Dr. Harriet Hall herself: let me just say I was not impressed with that magazine’s selection of “Remarkable Women.”

  58. Chris says:

    “incredible” versus “remarkable”… I can’t remember. I only remember that I was annoyed.

  59. @ soyamilk

    Your comment on 08 Sep 2010 at 1:04 pm consisted of 148 words, roughly 60% of the max Harriet was allowed in her articles for O mag.

    250 words is not more than generous; it’s not even two full tweets.

  60. mmoyer says:

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. I’ve written for Jennifer Rainey Marquez too, and I’ve always thought she’s been a pleasure to work with. I don’t know if you’ve written for other women’s mags, but I find them all to be demanding, and quite different from the likes of science magazines like Scientific American, Popular Science, and Nature Medicine (for whom I also write). The editing process is longer and more involved, but I have typically found, especially with O, that their questions are valid—they call me out for being too vague or for not explaining scientific concepts clearly enough, for instance. Yes, to some extent you have to deal with the editors’ whims and conflicting opinions as the piece makes its way around the office, which makes it a lot of work for a short piece, but I think this is how most women’s magazines are (I write for others as well), and I still find the work worthwhile. It does sound like you had a particularly bad experience at O, though, and I’m very sorry to hear that. Perhaps things have fallen apart since I last wrote for them this spring.

  61. TheBlackCat says:

    @ Alexie: The fact-checking thing would be more understandable if it was from a group that actually cared about the facts, but considering the sort of stuff normally pushed by Oprah it sounds more like intentional harassment. Oprah has never been particularly concerned with the facts, nor with the harm the stuff she pushes is causing people (and the lawsuits that could potentially result).

  62. “250 words is not more than generous; it’s not even two full tweets.”

    Tweets are 140 characters, not 140 words.

  63. @Alison Cummins

    Duh, dumb mistake. Thanks for the correction.

  64. Ab_Normal says:

    (so far off topic I’m in the next county): Chris, you met Admiral Hopper? *fangirl squee*

  65. Chris says:

    Yes. At a convention, which also included a talk by Ray Bradbury (who looked out at the room full women engineers and told us we were all science fiction!)

  66. reallyordinary says:

    Harriet said:

    “No, Skeptic magazine does not pay its writers. Neither do Skeptical Inquirer, Quackwatch or SBM.”

    I can sort of understand blogs that don’t run ads or have any apparent revenue streams not paying regular writers… but magazines?

    Does Skeptic magazine pay its art director? Graphic designer(s)? Do they pay the printers?

    Most of the people involved in the production of a magazine aren’t going to be willing to work without pay. I find it odd that Skeptic feels they can/should get the reason for the existence of their magazine – the articles – for free.

  67. Harriet Hall says:


    Skeptic magazine is admittedly a bit unusual. It is not a commercial magazine for profit, but a forum for furthering the goals of the Skeptics Society, a non-profit educational organization that supports science and critical thinking. It can be considered analogous to the official journals of medical and scientific associations. They pay only those who must be paid to get the magazine out, like the printers. Pat Linse, co-founder of the Skeptics Society with Michael Shermer, is the very busy co-publisher and art director, and I assume she pays herself a salary so she can eat. Skeptic has no need to pay to get quality articles. Writers consider it an honor and a privilege to appear in its pages. Not everyone is motivated by money.

  68. Chris says:

    There is a thread about this at Pharyngula, and the comments have become very entertaining. It seems that an Oprah fan assumed that everyone who comments there is male (because everyone told her The Secret was ridiculous) and, the women have reacted with good spirits. I need to get more popcorn.

  69. E says:

    Is any of this supposed to be a surprise? Harriet Hall is known for lending her name to junk publishing.

    Take the ever-crazy Mary Shomon’s latest book, “The menopause solution.” That’s a book that pretty much, erroneously, implies that the occurrence of menopause is automatically a symptom of thyroid disease. With that, anyone experiencing menopause should make an effort to go get diagnosed and treated for thyroid disease. (What relief information has come out allaying any concerns this misleading information might have caused.)

    Harriet Hall is included in this book, alongside several well-known fraud doctors.

  70. Harriet Hall says:

    I was not aware that I was included in that book. I have never said anything about menopause being associated with thyroid disease. I was not aware that my name was ever “lent to junk publishing” or associated with fraud. Please explain.

  71. Chris says:

    Using the search feature of that book on Amazon, I see that Dr. Hall’s writings were quoted. She seems to to include Dr. Hall in the acknowledgments (though it is not clear if she actually communicated directly to her).

    She quotes this Skeptic article:

    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.

    But then there are some added words to that quote, which (and I had to hand type these since the search option does not allow copying, so only the first and last sentence is included):

    Women on Premarin and Provera were more likely to have heart attacks and breast cancer…. Think of how many years we used Premarin and Provera before we recognized the risks.

    E Dude, being used as a reference does not mean that Dr. Hall endorses what is in the book. Especially when the author goes and adds stuff that Dr. Hall never said!

  72. squirrelelite says:

    I agree, Chris.

    Mostly because it gave me an excuse to check out a new burger place that recently opened next door, I went down to a local bookstore to look for the book.

    Evidently, Mary J Shomon is such a popular author that none of her books were in stock. And, on the ones I looked up, she is the only one listed as a contributor.

    E needs to come up with something more definitive than guilt by being quoted or they may get moved on to the next letter in the alphabet.

  73. E says:

    Harriet Hall,

    What?! You are not aware you’re included in that book? I once even read something from Mary Shomon where she described you as a “good friend.”

    Why, your name has come up on the list of disappointments amongst those of us who simultaneously deal with thyroid disease and who are sickened by the amount of fraud that surrounds it.

    You know what? To tell you the truth…given her track record…it’s no surprise that Mary Shomon would be making up yet another exaggeration – yet again!

    Click on the book icon to look inside the book then type your own name into the search box. There you’ll read about the gratitude for your time, etc., etc.

    Check out the list of experts featured (yes, featured) in the book – you’re there.

  74. Chris says:

    E, idiot, did you miss where I found the book and the quote? And I found where the quote came from? And that Shomon changed the quote?

    Shomon took something Dr. Hall wrote and added words to it. That is not in any way or form evidence that Dr. Hall endorses what the author said.

    It does, however, show that Shomon is a liar. If Shomon claims to be a good friend of Harriet Hall, you should not believe it.

  75. Chris says:

    Plus, E, you owe Dr. Hall an apology.

  76. Harriet Hall says:


    I was not aware of the book itself, much less of being mentioned in it! I am not a good friend of Mary Shomon. I am not a friend or even an acquaintance. She never communicated with me. I had never even heard of her.

    I sent her an e-mail making it clear that I do not endorse her ideas and requesting that she remove my name from her list of experts.

    Apparently she has transmogrified my comments about bioidentical hormones not having been demonstrated to be superior to conventional hormones into some kind of imagined attack on hormones in general. And I certainly have never written anything connecting menopause to the thyroid.

  77. E says:

    Harriet Hall,

    Wow! But, again, I shouldn’t be all that surprised. Only wish I’d brought this directly to your attention before now. But, honestly, I had no other information to go by.

    Good job on sending the e-mail!

    Pssst: There’s, as always, a new book in the works. Let’s hope you’re not in that one too.

  78. E says:


    Just never you mind Harriet Hall, and all. What I want to ask is this: Will you please come and work for me? Your turn around time on getting things done is kick-ass impressive! I’ll get you a job as my assistant. Sure would be a vast improvement over the lazy asses I deal with now. All they do is show up stoned, text strippers all day, and figure out when’s lunch. Heck, you can even put words in my mouth and call me “idiot.”

    Your only competition might be squirrelelite. That person actually went outside.

  79. Chris says:

    E, you said “But, honestly, I had no other information to go by.”

    So you never bothered to double check the reference? It was in the bibliography, and since it is a web page a simple text search showed that the second part of the paragraph did not exist.

    I am sorry I called you an idiot, it was a quick reaction with the tone of your comment that repeated my post. You came here calling Dr. Hall names (and you should have included the Amazon link to the offending book in your first comment), and set the tone of my reply. If that is how you typically work, I can see the problem you have with your assistants. (by the way, I have walked to two bookstores today, one of them involved buying textbooks for son, and a library)

    It took me all of five minutes to check both the book and counter check the referenced web page (see the links included the post I made before you). It was a simple thing to do, and something I usually try to do before judging a written work.

    I will double-check information before accusing someone online. I will check the website and cite the words. Sometimes I find that I mis-interpreted on first reading and change my mind, and delete what I have written. If I do make a mistake and it is pointed out, I will apologize.

    You should still apologize to Dr. Hall.

  80. Harriet Hall says:

    Mary Shomon answered my e-mail, saying “You are listed as an expert because you were interviewed for and quoted in my book, but I have removed you from the website as you requested.”

    Maybe I’m getting senile, but I sure don’t remember any such interview…

  81. Chris says:

    Except she added her own words to your quote. Obviously one does not directly quote the online article, and then add words from an oral interview (plus the added words just don’t seem like Dr. Hall).

    In real books, the interview is often listed in the bibliography with the date and time it occurred.

    I don’t think you are going senile, Dr. Hall. I suspect that Ms. Shomon is either not telling the truth, or the interview actually took place in her head (and she cannot tell fantasy from reality).

  82. Harriet Hall says:

    Ms. Shomon e-mailed me again and refreshed my memory. She did indeed “interview” me by e-mail and the quotation she uses in her book is accurate and I am happy to stand by it. It only referred to claims for bioidentical hormones. I never discussed the thyroid connection with her, and I don’t want it to appear that I support those speculations in any way. Unfortunately, most of the other experts she consulted are not of the rigorous science-based-medicine type, and I don’t want my name associated with theirs. She has been very polite to me and has promised to keep my name off her website. I am happy with that.

  83. Chris says:

    Okay, I will change my mind. Thank you.

    I just think that the quote is a bit odd.

  84. Chris says:

    I am glad to say I was wrong about Ms. Shomon, and for that I deeply apologize.

  85. I’ve had a few opportunities to align myself with the her new network, OWN. I’m glad they have passed me by. The price for the audience, in the hopes of persuading them toward science, seems too great. Thanks for sharing your story!

  86. E says:

    Harriet Hall,

    I guess my first comment was valid after all.

    Did Mary Shomon pay you for your contribution to her book?

    That Mary Shomon removed you from the website page she set up to advertise her book still doesn’t remove you from her book, “The menopause solution.” You’re still included in that book – the same one she still makes money off of (yesterday she was on a wacky radio program apparently getting interviewed about this book: ).

    Also, does mentioning that Mary Shomon has been very polite to you really make a difference?

    You appear to be into studying. Perhaps I could suggest you go read the book you’re in, plus all Mary Shomon’s other books, plus her website(s) too. Maybe then you’ll learn about one source for where a lot of people, particularly women, get misguided medical information. And believe me…all that politeness stuff…it gets stripped away.

    An aside: I’m not part of any skeptical community, but have observed it from the sidelines. One thing I’ve heard people like The Amazing Randi speak about is how when people associated with fraud get backed into a corner they tend to conveniently proclaim they’re getting senile.

    Between this and the Oprah affair, hope you’ve learned a lesson here.

  87. E says:


    Since you value apologizes so strongly are you planning on apologizing to me further? You did apologize for calling me an “idiot.” But what about when you accused me of coming here “…calling Dr. Hall names…;” or when you accused me of not having my facts straight; or when you accused me of just being downright off-base about this whole thing?

    I see you apologized about Mary Shomon. Should I expect the same? Or does your apology meter suddenly poop-out at the times it could be used to show you to be the cultured person you apparently want everyone to believe you are?

  88. E says:


    The only thing I like in everything you’ve said so far is when you compared Mary Shomon’s book to “real books.” That’s priceless!

  89. E says:

    Oops! Fixing one spotted typo, meant to say:


    Since you value apologies…”

    [Better fix that, you know, or the ever-qualified Chris will be all over me with a litany of things I should have done.]

  90. Harriet Hall says:

    @E: Mary Shomon asked me questions by e-mail about bioidentical hormones: I answered them and she quoted my accurate information in her book. At least that part of her book constitutes valid information, regardless of what the rest of it says. I don’t regret that, and I don’t see that there are any lessons to be learned. She did not quote me inaccurately or imply that I supported her beliefs about the thyroid. Listing me on her list of experts on the website did seem to imply that I agreed with her, but she took my name off the list.

    No, of course she did not pay me! Why would you even suggest that? I made it clear in my post that I have never been paid for anything I wrote except for the columns in Oprah.

    What she quoted from me addressed only bioidentical hormones, not the thyroid connection. I am on your side: like you I am sickened by the amount of pseudoscience, misinformation and fraud surrounding thyroid disease.

    I strongly protest your characterization of me as being “known for lending my name to junk publishing.” I think I am known for just the opposite.

    What would you have me do? When someone comes to me for information and asks me a legitimate question, should I grill them about all their beliefs and then refuse to answer if I disagree with their ideas on unrelated subjects? I don’t think so.

  91. David Gorski says:

    Harriet, E’s just trolling, as usual. He’s not worth taking seriously on this.

  92. E says:

    Harriet Hall,

    “When someone comes to me for information and asks me a legitimate question, should I grill them about all their beliefs and then refuse to answer if I disagree with their ideas on unrelated subjects?”

    Yes, of course you should! Especially when the purpose of getting your words is to work them into book that’s about to be published and sold. Didn’t it occur to you to ask before responding what this was all about?

    “I am on your side: like you I am sickened by the amount of pseudoscience, misinformation and fraud surrounding thyroid disease.”

    Yes, I do note this. But can you see, as a patient, where I’d be coming from on all this? If you think it’s difficult being a doctor observing all the pseudoscience; well, try being a patient – especially one admittedly not very schooled in either the sciences, or fraud!

  93. E says:

    David Gorski,

    I’ve commented several times over a period of time on this website and on your own personal blog, “Respectful insolence.” Why would you characterize me as a “troll?” You’ve never responded to me that way in the past and I think you know quite well that characterization is untrue. Also, what is making you describe me as a “he?”

    Here’s something I can say…

    Mary Shomon is known for privately contacting editors and owners of blogs when she reads criticism of herself. One strategy she uses is to portray anyone who’s criticized her as being this one particular male endocrinologist in California. This is a man who apparently has had no qualms in the past with publicly criticizing Mary Shomon. She’s even made up stories that she has some sort of legal action pending against this doctor for harassment, and threatens anyone not siding with her as aiding and abetting in it.

    Did any of that occur here? This female, post-surgery thyroid/parathyroid disease patient wonders (?).

    In case you or anyone is interested, read the following time-stamped comments in the following link:

    Wednesday 05 May 2010 at 5:35 PM; Wednesday 05 May 2010 at 5:50 PM; Friday 07 May 2010 at 1:04 PM; Monday 10 May 2010 at 3:55 PM; Monday 10 May 2010 at 5:00 PM; Tuesday 11 May 2010 at 11:37 PM [*]; Monday 17 May 2010 at 3:06 AM; Monday 17 May 2010 at 10:31 AM.

    [*] Time-stamped comment in the following link further illustrates:

    Tue May 11, 2010 11:02 pm.

  94. Dr Benway says:

    Hi E,

    I think this statement in your first post comes across as trolling (insulting, provocative): “Harriet Hall is known for lending her name to junk publishing.”

    I took the trouble to skim the links you provided and see that Ms. Shomon sent you a threatening letter at one point. No doubt that has made you touchy and reactive regarding all things Shomon or perhaps pro-Shoman by association. Ergo, your attack upon Dr. Hall.

    If someone were to email me questions related to my area of expertise, I would likely answer them. *shrugs*

  95. Dr Benway says:

    My previous comment is in moderation.

  96. Prometheus says:


    As noted previously, your comment was 148 words, not counting your “byline”. Do you honestly think that a scientific topic could be meaningfully discussed in 250 words, let alone 200? I could easily write a 200-word puff-pastry piece about how eating raw foods saved me from certain death, but it would take me thousands of words to scientifically rebut that same piece.

    That’s the problem – it takes very little time and effort (and very few column-inches) to make things up and spread nonsense, but it takes a great deal of time (and effort, column-inches, etc.) to refute it.

    RealOrdinary states:

    “I find it odd that Skeptic feels they can/should get the reason for the existence of their magazine – the articles – for free.”

    Check out Nature, Science, etc. – they also get their articles for free. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences even charges the authors for publication (although they will waive the fee if you don’t have external funding for publication). I’ve published a small handful of articles that each took me several hundred hours of writing, fact-checking and re-writing to produce and I’ve yet to be paid a cent for them.

    That’s the difference between scientific writing and commercial writing.

    I don’t think Dr. Hall is complaining about the pay – I suspect she would have accepted half the per-word pay in exchange for twice the space.

    The issue – and I’ve run up against this in my own endeavours – is that a group, show or publication that is under fire for being too accepting of pseudoscientific nonsense and magical claptrap (The Secret, anyone?) will often try to get someone “respectable” to give them the appearance of being “balanced”.

    All too often, they don’t like the way that turns out and the relationship ends – as it did with Dr. Hall.

    Dr. Hall,

    Bravo for trying to bring a little light and reason to O! Although it didn’t work (and was probably doomed to failure), you have at least shown that they have no real interest in reality.


  97. Harriet Hall says:

    Prometheus said, “I suspect she would have accepted half the per-word pay in exchange for twice the space.”

    I would gladly have written for them without ANY pay if they had let me choose my own topics and write about things that interested me.

    I would have PAID THEM to let me write about Dr. Oz or about Oprah’s promotion of pseudoscience and woo. Or about how science works and why it is important. Or about acupuncture, energy medicine, chiropractic, or homeopathy or why there’s really no such thing as “alternative” medicine. Of course, I knew better than to suggest anything like that.

  98. Dr Benway says:

    I would pay money to read a book by Prometheus. Just sayin’.

  99. Fifi says:

    “The things I find unforgivable in what you’re saying is not the fact that you were hassled for references or for rewrites. That goes with the territory. It’s that having done all of that, there were inaccuracies under your name, that your payments were screwed up, and that you were dropped without being told that you’d been dropped. That someone then lied on top of that adds insult to injury.”

    True and I’m sure pretty much every professional writer has experienced this many times (that’s in no way condoning it, it’s just taking reality into consideration). It’s really not that uncommon to be treated this way, most particularly by glossy magazines, particularly with what’s going on in the publishing industry at the moment. And you’re very right, $2 a word is extremely good pay for a writer – which is worth mentioning because it speaks to the actual reality of being a writer as opposed to the idealized expectations that people have about writing and journalism, which often ignore the reality of the profession both today and historically. A very good analogy is how people expect medicine and doctors to be perfect – to always live up to the idealized, and inaccurate, movie/tv version of medicine and being a doctor. And then blame medicine and doctors because reality is different than they’d like it to be.

    For future reference for any SBM writers who try to go professional, there is a way to protect yourself and your writing. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply negotiating a contract that protects you or your writing. The likelihood of actually being able to negotiate it is slim if there’s not a very real desire to have you contribute but it will let you know up front if there’s no intent to respect the integrity of your writing. And, of course, they have to be reasonable demands within the context of the reality of writing for a particular magazine.
    It’s simply reality that Oprah’s magazine (or the vast majority of other magazines or newspapers) would privilege the publication’s influence peddling over a writers desire to influence the magazine’s readership – it’s always been like that. Writers that have established a high profile and their own readership that they bring to the magazine by writing for it, and this increases circulation and revenue, are in entirely a different position and generally negotiate editorial terms as part of their contract. It’s a simple matter of who has the most to offer – as in any negotiation.

    I’d add, if you want to shame Oprah making a big deal about how Dr Hall was treated isn’t the way to go – mainly because then it’s all very self centred, about hurt egos and claiming victimhood (because it really isn’t dealing with the reality of being a professional writer). If you really want to shame Oprah, I’d suggest shaming her for putting women in harm’s way because this is what promoting woo and excluding real science does. You probably won’t get that far even with this tactic but it’s putting the actual reader and their well being into the spotlight – which is what both Dr Hall and Oprah claim to do.

  100. Fifi says:

    Dr Hall – “I would gladly have written for them without ANY pay if they had let me choose my own topics and write about things that interested me.”

    And many professional writers do this for magazines or sites that don’t have the budget to pay but that the writer believes is worth supporting, but you still don’t get to dominate the editorial policy or direction of a magazine. And you still have to answer to an editor. That’s just not how things work in the real world. There are many places you can write for free, here is obviously one. It starts to sound like the main motivation for writing for Oprah was because you wanted access to a readership her and her staff have built up and that there’s a lack of understanding of what being a professional writer entails. But, hey, now you’ve had a tiny taste of what professional writers do have to deal with (even though you didn’t actually need the money, and most writers do) and just how different it is from writing a blog.

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