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No Surprise, Really: Oprah Backs Bad Medicine

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Description: Queen of Daytime TV Totally Ignores Evidence-based Thinking
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Mefiante
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« on: June 08, 2009, 18:50:38 PM »

Like others in a long string of celebrities who lend their support to some woo-woo cause, Oprah Winfrey is a formidable mouthpiece for a wide range of quack notions.  The major trouble is that one Oprah Winfrey on the wrong side is worth ten thousand carefully conducted and written-up scientific studies.  Though they no doubt mean well, the damage these people do is not much short of criminal.

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Wandapec
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« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2009, 21:32:46 PM »

I read the article. It is great that a high profit magazine takes on something like this.
Though they no doubt mean well, the damage these people do is not much short of criminal.

I see that she has made a statement that absolves her of all blame -
"For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors' medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and their health care providers," Winfrey said in the statement. "I trust the viewers, and I know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them."
She mentions the name of a book that she read while on loo during the week and bookstores can't keep up. However, punting the rubbish presented by Suzanne Somers or Jenny McCarthy and she expects that her audience is going to go out and to more research before following their advice. That sounds likely!
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Mefiante
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« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2009, 09:10:35 AM »

She mentions the name of a book that she read while on loo during the week and bookstores can't keep up.
She uses a loo!?  Wink



However, punting the rubbish presented by Suzanne Somers or Jenny McCarthy and she expects that her audience is going to go out and to more research before following their advice. That sounds likely!
Quite.  And it is just those who need it most who are actually least likely to do more research.  McCarthy’s voluble anti-vaccine pronouncements – which are entirely without any scientific merit – have played a considerable role in increased incidences of polio and measles, and Oprah’s support has only aggravated the situation.  Mind you, as far as I can tell, McCarthy appears to be deeply bitter that her son is autistic rather than a “crystal child,” denying her the position of “indigo adult.”  Now she needs something to blame for her misfortune.  While one empathises, it does not excuse her totally ignoring demonstrable facts, and neither does her celebrity status.  This problem will persist as long as people continue to conflate celebrity with expertise and authority.

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scienceteacheragain
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« Reply #3 on: June 13, 2009, 08:01:42 AM »

I have been coming out of exile.  I am interviewing for science teaching positions, and I have sometimes used Oprah's show as an example.  If asked about what I want to accomplish as a teacher, one of the things I say is that I want my students to think critically and reflectively. I have said things like "so they will think about and research things before they listen to some nonsense because they heard it on Oprah".  Not sure if it is helping me any, but it is accurate. 
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Mefiante
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« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2009, 13:57:13 PM »

Good luck with all of that, scienceteacherinexile.  There are two shortish essays that I have found very informative and helpful in such endeavours because, instead of merely running off a list of woo-woo notions and why they are nonsense, they focus on the tools and how to apply them for sorting the good stuff from the bogus.  They are James W. Lett’s A Field Guide to Critical Thinking and WA Skeptics’ Crash Course in Critical Thinking.

Elsewhere, University of Oregon psychology professor Ray Hyman in a short essay titled Assessing Arguments and Evidence (which I can’t find on the ’Net) makes the interesting point that current practices in the teaching of critical thinking skills are somewhat deficient.  Generally, the concentration is on rules and procedures involving elementary logic and scientific reasoning to decide whether a given argument holds water.  This wrongly assumes that the argument has already been carefully specified – in other words, for critical thinking skills to work properly, the terms of reference of the thing in question must be clear and unambiguous.  This is rarely, if ever, the case with woo-woo, and where such clarity is at hand, there is also usually little disagreement over its truth or falsity.

Hyman proposes a way through this which entails also emphasising the importance of being able to recognise the type of argument that is raised so that the problem can be properly formulated.  His proposal towards clarifying the topic under discussion involves a set of questions that need to be asked before proceeding to assess the merits of what is being claimed:
  • What specific area of knowledge is/are under discussion?
  • What are the relevant explicit and/or implicit claims that are being put forward?
  • What sorts of evidence and arguments are being used to justify the claims?
  • How well do the evidence and arguments justify the claims?
  • What sorts of evidence and arguments would be required to justify the claims?
  • What alternative reasons can be hypothesised to account for beliefs in the claims even if they are invalid?

In evaluating the evidence being offered for a claim, Hyman stresses the importance of the evidence’s quality.  While there is no hard-and-fast set of governing rules to categorise evidence, he again resorts to a set of questions that one should ask in this context:
  • How reliable is the source?
  • How recent is the research on which the claim is based?
  • Has the original investigator been able successfully to replicate the findings?
  • Have the phenomena been replicated by an independent investigator in another setting?
  • Does the original report conform to the standards that are required in the field of study to which it belongs?

Hyman concludes that the vast majority of paranormal claims, if rigorously subjected to his tiered criteria, would fail simply because of a lack of clarity about what is actually being discussed and also because the evidence is too untrustworthy to warrant even considering the underlying arguments.

'Luthon64
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Wandapec
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« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2009, 14:00:50 PM »

They are James W. Lett’s A Field Guide to Critical Thinking and WA Skeptics’ Crash Course in Critical Thinking.

Thanks for these links. It is alway to read through stuff like this to remind yourself. This is also a good read from Haskins - A practical quide to critical thinking. Also Teaching Critical Thinking by Robert Carroll.
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2009, 20:20:27 PM »

Thanks for the resources - great exposition on tools for everyday use.

Oprah may be intellectually dishonest (more likely misguided in my opinion) but she seems to be socially intelligent in the sense that her audience, the people who watch her show and buy the cr@p her advertisers are selling, are not scientists and are unlikely to be advanced and experienced critical thinkers - with this in mind, she is catering to their level and their needs / wants.

In no way am I suggesting that we be Oprah apologists - her show is what it is - and I think the incredulity shown about her audience stopping to evaluate her specific push for a product or position on an issue by doing their own research is quite justified. Her show represents the comfort and intellectual laziness that comes from following the method of authority process of determining your own choices - harmless, I think not

http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com
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Mefiante
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« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2009, 10:29:05 AM »

MMR vaccine cleared again.

'Luthon64
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