Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oprah - Queen of Pseudoscience?

Is Oprah really the Queen of Pseudoscience? It is a tough call. Here at the "Boys Book of" offices, we asked the question. The mailman wasn't going to talk, but the rest cozied up to the big screen in the break rook to watch a few Tivo'd Oprahs.

The Secret is a good one. It isn't about any 'secret' per say, but the weird stuff you wouldn't think about in a million years. That make The Secret more fantasy or science fiction than science or even pseudoscience.

Indeed, there are things in The Secret that have a of real science. Try not to think of an Elephant.... I'll wait... See, that is all the secret is about. It is placebo and nocebo. It is attention of the mind on a goal. Nothing rocket science. The hoopla around The Secret is the wacky pseudoscience around how it works. Some guys are out there saying you are fiddling with the quantum foam of the universe and that's way out there. 

The Secret is all rather harmless pseudoscience. If you are trailer trash when you watch that episode, you are still trailer trash. If you have good ambition, ability to focus, and brave enough to grab opportunities when they appear, The Secret is just a good motivational self-help book that gets the juice flowing.

But is Oprah the queen of The Secret pseudoscience? You bet! She can bring in the stars! As we all know, scientists are nothing compared to movie stars. It isn't good pseudoscience unless you have good hollywood backing it up.
Ok, what about the antivaxers? Jenny McCarthy is the spokeswoman and recently appeared on the O show. Vaccinations cause autism, that's the cry anyway. 

Well, I have been vaccinated. I don't have autism as far as I can tell. But there are other things vaccination is linked with. For example, egg allergies because most vaccines are grown in chicken eggs. But vaccinations are always with a little danger but it is one in a very large number. Do we really understand the risks? Not sure, but the fact is that death by polio, measles, mumps, and other nasty stuff is a pretty good incentive for vaxination.

Poor Jenny does not have a lot to stand on if she is trying to link vaccinations to autism. There just isn't any evidence. Worse if you are pushing a boycott that has far greater danger.

Is anti-vaccination pseudoscience? I don't see it, sorry. It is just bad math. If Jenny was pushing magnets instead of vaccinations, well, you have my attention then. But no, the crystals and therapy candles are missing.

Is Oprah putting a notch in her pseudoscience belt by putting Jenny on TV? Well, there I go the other way. If you classify pseudoscience as believing in what ever is pushed by a former Playboy model, well... I must admit that you are definitely in crazyville if you think that this is a public service. It reeks of pseudoscience because real science doesn't have women that are that good looking and pose naked for Playboy.

But I don't think this goes all the way. Oprah even posted a response from the American Academy of Pediatrics that poo poos a bit of the show. I am so sorry, but disclaimers on your hokum are ok, unless they are quoted from real scientists. That's not proper pseudoscience and never will be.

So, two examples. You can guess that I am not putting Oprah on the top of the list for best talk show hokum. 

I must admit some bias though. I want to be an Oprah Book of the Month selection. I'm not going to suck up to Oprah and make her Queen of Pseudoscience just to get top billing. I want the book to speak for itself. Maybe then she gets the crown, no sooner. 

What is your opinion? Who is the Queen or King of pseudoscience?