Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

ChOPRAH

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RANDI.ORG”

Sigh. This is ugly. Really really ugly. The Huffington Post has been getting bashed by skeptics lately for being credulous at best and downright silly at worst. And now I can see why.

Most of you know that Oprah was called to task in Newsweek recently. I was going to mention it in Swift, but I  stopped myself for two reasons: 1) everyone else mentioned it, and 2) it lauded Dr. Mehmet Oz as a voice of reason on Oprah’s show. He’s not, and it doesn’t take much research to see that.

Anyway, today, Deepak ChOPRAH weighed in on Oprah’s side. Yes, I’m going to spell his name like that. Deal with it.

So here’s the article. Please read it if you can. I won’t blame you if you can’t. I’m going to go through it here anyway.

ChOPRAH says:

The (Newsweek) story failed to gain traction for obvious reasons. Oprah has aired innumerable shows on health, of which the controversial ones are a tiny minority. Her intention to improve women’s lives on all fronts is so obvious as to be almost above criticism. The credibility for women’s well-being and welfare she has earned day after day over the past two decades will not be undone with a story that cherry-picks the guests who can be made easy targets of ridicule by the medical establishment. And the fact that she has celebrity guests who have causes and crusades in the area of health, such as Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers, is not the same as Oprah herself endorsing what they say.

Ok, please. Deepak, spare us your manipulative rhetoric. The piece failed to gain traction? I don’t see it stuck in the snow anywhere… it was all over the place, and got enough “traction” for you to respond to it. As for her intention to “improve women’s lives,” consider that she’s a billionaire. She earned it, I have no qualms about that, but she earned it the old fashioned way: her intention was to make as much money as possible.  And to say that Oprah doesn’t endorse Jenny McCarthy is simply dishonest. She gave her a show!

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RANDI.ORG”

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Oprah: Shame on you.

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on June 8, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

So last week, Newsweek printed a heroic front-page article detailing the antiscientific medical swill Oprah Winfrey has been routinely doling out to her audiences. This nonsense includes, of course, Jenny McCarthy, as well as dangerous quackery by Suzanne Somers and others. The article really slams Oprah hard, as well it should.

Unsurprisingly, Oprah has released a statement about this, and it’s full to the brim of fail. I wouldn’t call it a lie, but it’s spinning like a newborn pulsar:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

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On the status of science in society

Posted in Shirley Who by Skepdude on May 29, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “SHIRLEY WHO”

As the daughter of two scientists, it never occurred to me growing up that science as a profession or a method of inquiry could be controversial. How else were we to discover life-saving treatments, develop better technologies, or advance our understanding of the natural world? I took for granted the fact that science is the foundation of modern civilization and makes improved standards of living for more people possible.

My recent forays into blogging, however, have shown me that nearly everything is debated, even things that should not even seem debatable. Evolution is one of them, and, apparently, so is vaccination. My open letter to Oprah sparked an unexpected flurry of responses from many scientists, parents, and concerned citizens, giving me a taste of the kind of “discussions” people have on issues near and dear to them. I realized that people on both sides genuinely care about improving health, but also that productive conversation is elusive when the assumptions and objects of trust are different.

Needless to say, I trust those who use the scientific method to probe and learn about the world. Science is an iterative cycle in which we observe phenomena, make testable hypotheses concerning the phenomena, devise experiments to test these hypotheses, evaluate and draw conclusions from the results using rigorous statistical analysis, and form new hypotheses based on our improved understanding. The experiments, including controls, should be devised to help ensure that 1) the procedures we’re using to gather data are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and 2) other hypotheses or explanations aren’t responsible for the outcome we observe.

There is inherent uncertainty built into this process – for one thing, we can’t definitively rule out all other possibilities because there are, in theory, infinitely many possibilities (but only a few that are reasonable). Then there is the fact that science can never disprove anything, it can only collect evidence supporting a hypothesis or not. If twenty independent and methodologically sound studies all produce the same finding and no other studies show the opposite, we are confident that the finding is accurate. But all it would take is a few studies (again, independent and sound) showing the opposite to make us modify our confidence. As more studies accumulate, the weight of the evidence usually tilts definitively towards one side or the other, and this – the accumulation of evidence – is what should form the basis for technology development, policy, and future science.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “SHIRLEY WHO”

An open letter to Oprah

Posted in Shirley Who by Skepdude on May 18, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “SHIRLEY WHO”

But I couldn’t leave the stadium wholly inspired by you, as I’m sure many others did. To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.

Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.

We have come close to eradicating life-threatening and crippling illnesses because of vaccines, but are now struggling to prevent outbreaks because of parents’ philosophical beliefs that vaccines are harmful. Realize this: when someone chooses not to vaccinate their child, they aren’t just putting their own child at risk, they are putting everyone else around them at risk. Diseases with vaccines should normally be of little concern even to unprotected individuals due to herd immunity – with the majority of the population immune, unprotected individuals are less likely to come into contact with the pathogen. Unfortunately, herd immunity disintegrates as fewer people are vaccinated, putting everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated at greater risk for infection. Now, the rates of infection by diseases for which we have safe and effective vaccines are climbing, thanks to anti-vaccination activists like Jenny McCarthy.

You reach millions of people everyday and your words and endorsements carry an incredible amount of weight. If you say to buy a certain book, people will buy it. If you do a segment on a certain charity, people will contribute. And if you say that what Jenny McCarthy is saying has merit, people will believe you.


READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “SHIRLEY WHO”

Uh, O!

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 10, 2009

Why medical experts were shocked by Oprah Winfrey’s take on hormone replacement and Suzanne Somers’s controversial theories on aging.

When Dr. Lauren Streicher, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school in Chicago, got a call from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” inviting her to discuss menopausal hormones with actress Suzanne Somers, she figured she’d better read Somers’s best-selling books on the subject. As Streicher worked her way through the first chapter, she started underlining every sentence she felt was inaccurate. “But pretty soon, I had to stop,” Streicher says, “because I was underlining almost everything.”The taping of the show, which aired Jan. 29, proved equally disconcerting. Somers, a self-styled hormone and anti-aging expert whose controversial books promise midlife women that they will feel young and sexy if they take unregulated hormone therapy (HT) in much higher doses and for much longer time periods than most experts recommend, was literally given center stage. She was seated next to Winfrey, the newly proclaimed convert to the so-called bio-identical hormones promoted by the 62-year-old Somers. (Bio-identical generally refers to products that are chemically identical to hormones produced by a woman’s body.) While Winfrey, 55, encouraged “every woman” to read Somers’s book, the guests with actual medical degrees were relegated to seats in the audience, where they had to sit quietly unless called upon. Interspersed were taped segments of Somers smearing her arms with hormone cream, standing on her head and lining up the 40 dietary supplements she takes with her morning smoothie. The whole setup seemed to give the drugs that Somers uses the same enthusiastic endorsement that turns everything Winfrey promotes into a blockbuster.

The resulting spectacle disappointed many doctors who thought Winfrey had higher standards for the quality of medical information she dispersed—or, at least, more of a commitment to balance. Some said they were particularly upset because doctors had complained to Winfrey’s production company about what they saw as misinformation disseminated during the show she did on hormone therapy two weeks before that featured Dr. Phil McGraw’s wife, Robin.

Some experts are far more than disappointed: “I found the program to be quite shocking, and full of audacious claims, not substantiated by evidence,” says Dr. Wulf Utian, a gynecologist and consultant at the Cleveland Clinic and founder of the North American Menopause Society, who has also worked as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. “Oprah is the most influential woman in the world, and I don’t think she comprehends the amount of damage she has done to women’s health. I came away feeling like Oprah really didn’t understand the issue. Personally, I feel like she has set us back 100 years.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “NEWSWEEK”