I just finished up reading the Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert article from the June 8th edition of Newsweek Magazine. It is a critique of the pseudoscience that routinely makes it onto broadcasts of the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The authors go down the list of questionable medical advice that is given out on the show by activists like Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy and proceeds on to criticize "experts" like Dr. Christiane Northrup and dermatologists Karyn Grossman and Brandith Irwin.
Case by case, the Newsweek duo offers real medical findings that contradict what is offered to viewers of the show on a regular basis. Many times, Oprah wholeheartedly endorses unproven and medically risky techniques without giving any time to the opposing viewpoint.
First up in the article is a discussion of Suzanne Somers and her practice of administering hormone treatments and taking 60 supplements a day. She also partakes in some other practices such as:
she also starts each day by giving herself injections of human growth hormone, vitamin B12 and vitamin B complex. In addition, she wears "nanotechnology patches" to help her sleep, lose weight and promote "overall detoxification." If she drinks wine, she goes to her doctor to rejuvenate her liver with an intravenous drip of vitamin C. If she's exposed to cigarette smoke, she has her blood chemically cleaned with chelation therapy. In the time that's left over, she eats right and exercises, and relieves stress by standing on her head. Somers makes astounding claims about the ability of hormones to treat almost anything that ails the female body. She believes they block disease and will double her life span. "I know I look like some kind of freak and fanatic," she said. "But I want to be there until I'm 110, and I'm going to do what I have to do to get there."
The authors go on to say that on the Oprah show that featured Somers, doctors who were critical of her practices were not given a fair chance to debate the validity of her practices. When Newsweek contacted a doctor to address concerns of what Somers and Oprah were advocating for this was the response:
Outside Oprah's world, there isn't a raging debate about replacing hormones. Somers "is simply repackaging the old, discredited idea that menopause is some kind of hormone-deficiency disease, and that restoring them will bring back youth," says Dr. Nanette Santoro, director of reproductive endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and head of the Reproductive Medicine Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center.
Okay one down, now onto Jenny McCarthy. I'm sure most of us are aware of her activism on autism and how she cites the onset of her son's autism after an MMR vaccine he was given as a toddler as her evidence of the causal relationship between the two. She does not specifically blame the vaccine itself, rather she believes that the chemicals used in preserving vaccines are the culprit. McCarthy's story:
McCarthy is certain that her son contracted autism from the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination he received as a baby. She told Oprah that the morning he went in for his checkup, her instincts told her not to allow the doctor to give him the vaccine. "I said to the doctor, I have a very bad feeling about this shot. This is the autism shot, isn't it? And he said no, that is ridiculous; it is a mother's desperate attempt to blame something on autism. And he swore at me." The nurse gave Evan the shot. "And not soon thereafter," McCarthy said, "boom, soul gone from his eyes."
The problem is, of course, the complete lack of scientific evidence that could back up her assertion:
Studies have found some genetic and environmental links that may increase the risk of autism, but its causes are still unknown. The baffling rise in the number of autism cases has loosely coincided with an increase in the number of childhood immunizations. Yet researchers have not found a link between the vaccines and autism.
Now here's where Oprah becomes a part of the problem:
But back on the Oprah show, McCarthy's charges went virtually unchallenged. Oprah praised McCarthy's bravery and plugged her book, but did not invite a physician or scientist to explain to her audience the many studies that contradict the vaccines-autism link. Instead, Oprah read a brief statement from the Centers for Disease Control saying there was no science to prove a connection and that the government was continuing to study the problem. But McCarthy got the last word.
We're starting to see a trend here. Now onto Dr. Christiane Northrup, an ob/gyn who:
stresses alternative therapies and unseen connections between the soul and the body that she believes conventional doctors overlook, but that she can see. She has written about how she has used Tarot cards to help diagnose her own illnesses. (On her Web site, she sells her own "Women's Wisdom Healing Cards.") In other words, she gets right to the center of Oprah's search for hidden mystical meanings. Oprah says she reads Northrup's menopause book "just like it's the Bible. It's the book next to my bed. I read the Bible. I read that book."
Tarot cards used to diagnose illness. Alas, Oprah has turned to Northrup in the past for advice including when she came down with a thyroid condition. Here's a little exchange from a show with Northrup:
Oprah : So your body ... is only manifesting what's really going on with your spirit?
Northrup: But your intellect doesn't know it. This is the important part. It's not—you're not causing this deliberately ... It's your soul bringing it to your attention.
Oprah: Right. It's your soul trying to speak to you.
Okaaay...(Backing away slowly)
And here's Northrup giving more bad medical advice, which Oprah provides no challenge to:
Northrup advises that in addition to conventional thyroid medication, women should consider taking iodine supplements.
That is just what they shouldn't do, says Dr. David Cooper, a professor of endocrinology at Johns Hopkins medical school who specializes in thyroid disease. "She is mixing truth with fantasy here," he says. First, "thyroid disease has nothing to do with women being downtrodden. She makes it sound like these women brought it on themselves." Cooper agrees that thyroid patients should seek thyroid hormone treatment to bring the symptoms under control.
The last example from the article concerns new plastic surgery techniques which are often hyped on Oprah's show as the next great discovery, even before the medical community has weighed in on them. One example of a procedure that was hyped on Oprah's show was the "thread lift", in which Grossman:
poked multiple holes on each side of Sandy's face near her ears, eyes and cheekbones, then pulled through thin threads under the skin. The threads caught in her flesh, hoisting her tissue up and back. "Threads are tied off," Oprah enthused, "and a one-hour lunch-break lift."
And of course, the medical community has to weigh in and rain on the super-fantastic-happy-fun time parade again:
Yet according to Plastic Surgery Practice, an industry magazine, some doctors reported that "over time, the suture tends to act like a 'cheese wire'," cutting through delicate facial tissue. Some patients who underwent another version of the procedure, which used barbed threads, experienced bunching of the skin, dimples and scars. Others complained the left and right sides of their faces no longer matched up due to "migration of the sutures." One of the most common complaints, though, was that they couldn't see any improvement at all.
The article also points out that after this procedure was discredited, she never bothered to go back and do an update for her viewers or warn them about the risks involved.
The other procedure hyped, then later discredited was Thermage, a way of smoothing "wrinkles by using radio waves to tighten skin". Interesting...of course Oprah failed to mention on her show that Thermage:
hurt, a lot. And it didn't always work. On her own Web site, Irwin acknowledges that in those early days of Thermage, "the treatments were painful without sedation (we sedated everyone in our office), and the results were inconsistent." O magazine recently ranked Thermage as a four on a pain scale of one to five. Five was "agony." There was also no mention on the show about the potential risks, which included burns and scars.
The Newsweek article does give Oprah credit for featuring a few doctors such as Dr. Mehmet Oz, who actually gives great advice on subjects like nutrition and exercise. I give her credit for that as well, but the other cases still stand as a testament of her willingness to push pseudo scientific cures for contemporary medical problems as well as her inability to provide her viewers with the potential downsides of these practices.
What I see as the point of writing this is that whenever we see pseudoscience being taken seriously or offered as the best or only way of treating a disease or medical problem, we must speak up in order to counteract the people pushing this pseudoscience.
I think that if you are someone who is willing to believe that vaccines cause autism or that when you get sick it is just your soul talking to you that you'll be more likely to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old or that humans appeared on the planet in their present form. These views are caustic to the political discourse in this country and should be eradicated. It is our responsibility as progressives to promote a culture and a civil society that values scientific research and intellectual thought.
Oprah has 40 million viewers each week tuning in to watch her. She needs to be taken to task on this and I have provided a link to contact the show in order to express your disapproval of her unwillingness to provide both sides of the story.
I actually filled it out and sent it in. I wrote in the message that Oprah should do a show about how a lot of the medical advice and opinion given out by Suzanne Somers, Christiane Northrup, Jenny McCarthy and others is bogus. It takes a minute and maybe if they get enough of these they'll do a show to expose the bullshite. We can only hope...
Update [2009-6-7 22:53:38 by jtb583]: Holy sh*t, guys! Rec list? Thank you very much.