This morning I was treated to a confluence of stories that intertwine in interesting ways -- something that always prompts me to point out the links between seemingly disparate sources of information.
I read the first story in the June 8, 2009, issue of Newsweek during breakfast this morning: "Crazy Talk. Oprah, Wacky Cures & You."
Wow Oh Wow! A critique of Oprah Winfrey! On the front cover of a national news magazine! Can you get any more cheeky than that? And I thought I got hate mail when I was critical of Sally Field for being a mouthpiece for Boniva (see "Web 2.0 Hates Sally").
"Wish Away Cancer! Get A Lunchtime Face-Lift! Eradicate Autism! Turn Back The Clock! Thin Your Thighs! Cure Menopause! Harness Positive Energy! Erase Wrinkles! Banish Obesity! Live Your Best Life Ever!" proclaims the subtitle of the Newsweek article. These are all claims made by Oprah and/or her TV guests like wacky Suzanne Somers who injects estrogen directly into her vagina (yech!) and claims her unregulated "bioidentical" hormones are risk free!
"Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," says Oprah. Not Oprah. "But she just might be a pioneer." Yeah, pioneer like Jebediah Springfield in an episode of The Simpsons!
The Newsweek article goes on to recount many instances where Oprah seems to endorse wacky ideas on her show and gives the last word to individuals who have a different sense of what is and what is not science.
For example, Jenny McCarthy -- like Suzanne Somers, another erstwhile Playboy model -- was a guest in 2007. McCarthy blames the MMR vaccination for her son's autism, a claim often disputed by the CDC. While a doctor from the audience pointed out the lack of scientific evidence connecting vaccination with autism, Oprah gave McCarthy the last word, which was "My science is named Evan, and he's home. That's my science!"
Anecdotal evidence and personal experience -- especially of celebs -- is Oprah's forte. It's also the forte of celebrity endorsements paid for by the pharmaceutical industry (see, for example, "Will Latisse Turn Brooke Shields' Blue Eyes Brown?").
The other story I cam across this morning concerned Mehmet Oz MD (Dr. Oz) who makes frequent appearances on Oprah and has the line of best selling books You A User’s Manual, says J Douglas Bremner on his Before Your Take That Pill Blog (see "America’s Doctor Back Peddling More Goods: Have Some Resveratrol").
Bremner's beef with Dr. Oz is that he is a shill for the pharmaceutical industry (see "Online Age Quiz Is a Window for Drug Makers"). I have commented on this previously (see here). RealAge was also featured in a recent post by Jonathan Richman on his Dose of Digital Blog (see "RealAge, Wii Fit, and Pharma Marketing").
"It is bad enough when he [Oz] is cheering for drugs that might work sometimes, in some people," says Bremner. "But now he is blowing his bully horn for complete rubbish. Namely, resveratrol. A supplement that originally came from wine skins that is now being touted as the cause of the 'French paradox' and which can cure cancer and extend your life... America’s quack now tells us that taking resveratrol can prolong your life based on studies in animals that it extends life by 35%. 'Don’t you want to live to be 125?' he croons."
At least Somers is less grandiose in her aspirations for long life. "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." Hasn't she tried resveratrol yet? Why settle to live to just 110 when you can go all the way to 125?!
Newsweek's Oprah story also featured Dr. Oz, but mostly in a favorable light. While other Oprah guests "gush nonsense," say the authors, "Some of the many experts who cross her stage offer interesting and useful information (props to you, Dr. Oz). Oz, fit and handsome, is particularly good at connecting with Oprah's audience. He is a cardiac surgeon at Columbia University and generally sticks to the facts."
Dr. Oz, however, does not always to stand up for science and use "facts" to dispute the questionable claims made by other "experts."
"Oz isn't without his faults," say the Newsweek authors. "He sometimes keeps quiet on the show when Oprah's out-there experts are spouting their questionable theories. There seems to be an unwritten rule that one Oprah expert may not criticize or correct another, and Oz has an interest in keeping Oprah happy. She has turned his books into mega-bestsellers, and features him on her Web site and in her magazine."
So who's the biggest quackadoo? Oprah or Oz? You tell me.