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Oprah Winfrey may have spread more fake science than anyone, ever

Oprah Winfrey fake

Oprah Winfrey fakeOprah Winfrey. Fake Science. The two seem to go hand in hand.

A growing number of American doctors have a beef with Mehmet Cengiz Öz, better known as TV’s “Dr. Oz”, the host of the highly rated syndicated talk show, which is now in its sixth season.

A current poll on SERMO, a social network for physicians, has found that 78% of 2,029 doctors polled said Öz should resign from his faculty position at Columbia University.

Many of the doctors on SERMO point out that Öz was once a respected heart surgeon, but think he now uses his considerable platform to undermine the scientific community.

“Freedom of speech does allow snake oil salesmen to practice but it should not allow a trusted physician to do the same thing while being a physician or supported by a great medical school,” said one doctor. “Mehmet- if you really want to promote unproven therapies then resign from Columbia and use the small remaining medical capital. If you want to continue to be a trusted doc, then promote RESEARCH that proves these pills work and tell the truth about these products.”

Oprah Winfrey Fake Science Example 1: “Dr. Oz”

The flare up over Dr. Oz follows on the heels of his flustered appearance last year on Capitol Hill, where he faced criticism over his promotion of unproven diet products he had described as “miracle cures”. In May of 2014, the the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against a company called Pure Green Coffee, a green coffee bean extract whose sales had soared after being promoted on The Dr. Oz Show.

On an April, 2012 episode of The Dr. Oz Show, Öz described the product as a “miracle pill can burn fat fast, for anyone who wants to lose weight.” But the “staggering” study Öz was basing this miracle on was thin at best, with just 16 participants and no placebo group.

One recent study co-authored by Christina Korownyk, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s medical school found that half the information on the Dr. Oz show lacked proof or was outrightly contradicted by medical science.

Senator Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, had harsh words for Öz.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true,” she said. “When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show? … With power comes a great deal of responsibility.”

One recent study co-authored by Christina Korownyk, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s medical school found that half the information on the Dr. Oz show lacked proof or was outrightly contradicted by medical science.

“The research supporting any of these recommendations is frequently absent, contradictory or of poor quality,” said Korownyk.

Oprah Winfrey Fake Science Example 2: “Dr. Phil”.

The furor over Dr. Oz calls to mind the backlash over another celebrity with “Dr” in his title: “Dr. Phil”

Phil McGraw is the host of Dr. Phil, which debuted September 16, 2002. McGraw has a Ph.D. in Psychology, but he allowed his license to lapse in Texas, and was never licensed in California, where his TV show is filmed.

McGraw has been at odds with the psychiatric community almost since the day his show began, many of whom criticize his form of pop psychology for oversimplification.

In a letter to the American Psychological Association, Medical University of South Carolina PhD Russell A. Barkley, took umbrage with a Dr. Phil show segment on ADHD, from 2006.

“Dr. Phil claims to provide useful advice to people who are suffering in silence and that his research team conducts “exhaustive literature searches to make sure the content is cutting edge and sound” but this was far from the case in his program on ADHD,” said Barkley. “That program was a travesty of [accurate] information and likely set the public view of ADHD back decades….The advice included testing for food allergies that he believes contribute significantly to causing ADHD and using EEGs as part of both diagnosis and treatment (EEG biofeedback). Dr. Phil went on to blame some of [a guest’s]…ADHD symptoms on bad mothering.”

As most of America will be able to tell you, the country’s two most famous doctors have something common. They both got their break on the “Oprah Winfrey Show”. What is clear about a look into Oprah’s history is that Oz and McGraw were the continuation, not the beginning or end, of a running theme of dubious science.

In 2002, the California Board of Psychology determined that McGraw did not need his license for the purposes of his show because he was “doing more entertainment than psychology.”

Like Öz, McGraw, couldn’t resist the lure of big diet money. In 2006, a $10.5 million settlement agreement was reached following a 2004 class action suit claimed Dr.Phil defrauded customers and made false claims about his diet supplements. Faced with a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the claims of his line of products, McGraw pulled his diet supplements off the market in March of 2004, and the FTC dropped its probe.

As most of America will be able to tell you, the country’s two most famous doctors have something in common. They both got their break on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. Before meeting Oprah, both McGraw and Öz were almost complete unknowns. McGraw met Oprah when she hired him to help with her defense in a defamation case against the beef industry. Öz was host of a Discovery Channel medical series called Second Opinion.

What is clear about a look into Oprah’s history is that Oz and McGraw were the continuation, not the beginning or end, of a running theme of dubious science on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

“Oprah has about as close to no critical thinking skills when it comes to science and medicine as I’ve ever seen, and she uses the vast power and influence her TV show and media empire give her in order to subject the world to her special brand of mystical New Age thinking and belief in various forms of what can only be characterized as dubious medical therapies at best and quackery at worst,” writes David Gorski in the blog Science Based Medicine.

Perhaps Oprah’s most egregious use of her platform was with regards to the anti-vaccination movement, a dangerous and scantly informed craze that is best known for semi-celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who claimed her son’s autism was caused by a vaccine.

She has featured a more than questionable breast cancer cure called “The Secret” and surgery performing faith healers, but perhaps Oprah’s most egregious use of her platform was with regards to the anti-vaccination movement, a dangerous and scantly informed craze that is best known for semi-celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who claimed her son’s autism was caused by a vaccine.

On September 18, 2007, one day after her book Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism was released, McCarthy appeared as a guest on Oprah, claiming that a wheat and dairy-free diet had cured her son of autism.

Oprah Winfrey Fake Science Example 3: Jenny McCarthy

McCarthy told Winfrey her “mom instinct told her something was wrong with the vaccine her child was set to take”.

“And, you know, what I have to say is this: What number does it have to be? What number will it take for people just to start listening to what the mothers of children who have autism have been saying for years?” she asked. “Which is that we vaccinated our baby and something happened. . . . Right before his MMR shot, 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. . . . And not soon thereafter, I noticed that change in the pictures: Boom! Soul, gone from his eyes.”

McCarthy, likes millions of others, was taking her cues from a fraudulent 1998 research paper written by the discredited former surgeon Andrew Wakefield, a charlatan who had planned to launch a venture that would line his pockets on the back of bad science.

Oprah fawned over the dubious health routine of actress Suzanne Somers. Somers told Oprah she uses a syringe to inject estrogen directly into her vagina, wears nanotechnology patches, and has her blood chemically cleaned with chelation therapy.

Today, due to the lack of herd immunity, we are seeing outbreaks of diseases once thought to be near eradication, such as Measles, The Mumps, and even Polio.

Two years after McCarthy’s controversial appearance, a Newsweek piece detailed how Oprah fawned over the dubious health routine of actress Suzanne Somers. Somers told Oprah she uses a syringe to inject estrogen directly into her vagina, wears nanotechnology patches, and has her blood chemically cleaned with chelation therapy.

Oprah Winfrey Fake Science Example 4: Suzanne Somers

“Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo,” said Oprah. “But she just might be a pioneer.”

The Oprah Winfrey Show aired nationally for from 1986 to 2011 and remains the highest-rated talk show in American television history. The show is rightly credited with championing lesbian and gay rights, giving voice to victims of sexual abuse, encouraging philanthropy, and educating its audience on America’s less than stellar record on race relations.

Oprah Winfrey, in building the show, pioneered a style that, more than any other talk show host in history, made its viewers feel like they knew her. They knew her best friend Gayle, her longtime partner Stedman, and they knew about her “Favorite Things”, from key lime pie to UGG boots to Le Creuset cookware.

Today, the prevalence and immediacy of social media mean many demand the same connection from celebrities. It also means they are placing their trust in them for guidance on issues they aren’t qualified to speak on.

“There’s a growing distrust because of all the traditional sources people are worried about big pharma and big food,” says Tim Caulfield, a professor at the Faculty of Law & School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, who is the author of a book called “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash”. “There’s some justification of that. I think that growing distrust creates a space for people like Gwyneth.”

Oprah Winfrey Fake Science Example 5: Gwyneth Paltrow

On her blog, Goop, Paltrow often recommends treatments of suspicious scientific benefit. She recently espoused the wonders of a Mugwort V-Steam, the experience of which she described in detail.

“You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release — not just a steam douche — that balances female hormone levels. If you’re in L.A., you have to do it.”

Writing for The Guardian, Dr. Ann Robinson said the idea is just bunk.

“The claim that the steam clean could balance hormones is irrational. Hormones are produced by organs such as the brain and ovaries, travel in the bloodstream and have specific effects on their target organs,” said Robinson. “Steaming the vagina cannot possibly impact on hormone levels. I urge you to put the kettle away, throw the mugwort in some soup and consciously uncouple from this website.”

But Caulfield says embarrassing notices like this and the public ridicule against the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Oz may actually be achieving the desired result.

“I get a sense that there’s a pushback starting,” he said.

The Oprah Winfrey Show has been off the for nearly four years, but Oprah’s power in the time since has only grown. She is worth an estimated three-billion dollars, and owns her own eponymous cable network (OWN Network) and magazine. Her success is, perhaps, the most remarkably against the grain achievement for an African-American woman since Bessie Coleman. It could be argued that her stance on science is the single blight on her record. If this is true, she certainly has the means to correct these errors and place an accomplishment in science alongside the good she has done for literacy, sexual equality and race relations.

“Think like a queen,” reads a quote from Oprah that has been shared millions of times by her legions of fans and admirers across the Etsys and Pinterests of the internet. “A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”

Below: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Dr. Oz and Nutritional Supplements (HBO)

 

File under: Oprah Winfrey Fake, Oprah Winfrey Fake Science

About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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  1. Oprah’s done tens of thousands of shows. You could take any major media that’s been on the air that long & cherry pick examples of pseudoscience. Jenny McCarthy has been on almost every major show. The View even made her a co-host.

    For an article that opposes pseudoscience, you’re analysis was not very scientific.

  2. And how is Jenny McCarthy any worse than Hillary Clinton, who also wanted to know whether vaccines and autism are linked:

    http://dailycaller.com/2015/02/02/hillary-clinton-wanted-to-investigate-link-between-autism-and-vaccinations/

    Yes Hillary was more measured in her tone, but that’s actually more dangerous, but unlike Jenny McCarthy, Hillary is taken seriously & gets light years more media attentions.

    At least Jenny McCarthy actually believed what she was saying. Hillary was pandering in my opinion.

  3. Early in Oprah’s career she interviewed a “doctor” that had a book out that I bought. It was about healthy eating/diet. I read the book, it made logical sense but I am not a doctor or scientist so I can’t say if it was good or not. What I do recall is at some point after that show, the doctor or his book were declared fraud or invalid. This must have been back in the 80’s. I have been unable to find the name of the doctor or the book. The concept of the first part of the book was related to buying foods during their seasonal peak. I think the doctor’s first name was David, but not positive. I’ve searched the internet to find this book or the author. I threw the book out after it was announced that he’d deceived the big O and she was not happy. Have you or anyone else have any clue the book title or the author’s name?
    Thanks.

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