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We Need to Talk About Oprah's Dubious History With Science

The woman who created Dr. Oz.

SCIENCE AF STAFF
12 JAN 2018
 

On the heels of Oprah's monumental Golden Globe speech, a new hashtag was born: #Oprah2020.

And just like that, everyone and their dog began to talk about whether another celebrity President is a good idea – despite the fact Oprah has so far denied any political ambitions.

 

Everyone seems to have an opinion, but one of the most important and worrisome points that has emerged from this debate is Oprah's questionable record with science.

In a time when basic scientific facts are questioned and evidence-based policymaking is all but ignored, many people in the scientific community are worried an Oprah presidency will do more to undermine science than promote it.

From anti-vaxxers to Dr. Oz, Oprah has repeatedly given a national platform to magical thinking and scientific quackery.

An article published by Slate soon after her speech argued, "Any assessment of her possible presidential bid should consider the irrational, pseudoscientific free for all she helped create."

We firmly agree. So - without further ado - here's some of the most ridiculous pseudoscience Oprah has promoted and championed.

Dr. Oz

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Dr. Mehmet Oz - or as he likes to be called "America's doctor" - was a regular guest on Oprah's show, before her company launched the Dr. Oz show.

While Dr. Oz may have graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's school of medicine, he has been widely criticized for promoting "miracle" cures and inviting self-proclaimed faith healers and psychics onto his show.

 

He has also told his audience vaccines cause autism and other illnesses (But no big deal right? These are just people's lives we're talking about).

His ridiculous claims ultimately led a group of doctors to send a letter to the dean of Columbia's medical school, disputing Dr. Oz's faculty appointment.

"He has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain," the letter read.

Dr. Oz's ridiculous medical claims were deemed so harmful, in 2014 he was asked to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee regarding consumer protection.

The Senator in charge of the committee told Oz, "The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles.'"

Yet none of this seems to faze Oprah. While she ultimately dropped his show from her network, Dr. Oz remains a regular contributor to her magazine, her website and her own show.

Jenny McCarthy

Much of Jenny McCarthy's success can be attributed to Oprah. McCarthy is one of the main leaders of the anti-vaccination campaign in the U.S., and Oprah has supplied her with a national stage from which to spew her medical nonsense.

In 2007, Oprah invited McCarthy onto her show to talk about how vaccines cause autism - despite zero evidence to support the theory.

 

In 2009, McCarthy signed on as a contributor to Oprah's show. The contract allowed McCarthy to blog on Oprah's website, where - among other things - she writes about treating her son's autism with a gluten-free diet and anti-fungal medications.

"Evan started to come out of autism completely after I killed CANDIDA!!!" she wrote.

Her anti vaccination campaign has been so successful, McCarthy's name has been connected to the recent spike in preventable diseases, like whooping cough, in the U.S.

"I think show business crosses the line when they give contracts to people like Jenny McCarthy," said David T. Tayloe, president of the American Academy of Pediatricians.

"If you give her a bully pulpit, McCarthy is going to make people hesitate to vaccinate their children. She has no medical or scientific credentials. It disturbs us that she's given all these opportunities to make her pitch about vaccines on Oprah or Larry King or U.S. News or whatever."

Dr. Phil

Unlike Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil has no medical degree, but that hasn't stopped Oprah from kicking off his career as a 'life coach.' Dr. Phil first appeared on Oprah's show in the 90s, before launching his own show in 2002.

He has since been accused of getting paid to promote diabetes drugs, and it was even reported he is responsible for some pretty immoral actions back-stage, like when he encouraged drug addicts and alcoholics to succumb to their vices - all for the sake of entertainment.

 

"It's a callous and inexcusable exploitation," Dr. Jeff Sugar, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Southern California, told Stat.

"These people are barely hanging on. It's like if one of them was drowning and approaching a lifeboat, and instead of throwing them an inflatable doughnut, you throw them an anchor."

Nevertheless, Dr. Phil still contributes to Oprah's magazine and his show continues to run on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

The Secret

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Oprah is a huge fan of the book The Secret, a self-help system created by author Rhonda Byrne, who believes positive thinking comes from "scientific" phenomena involving "vibrations," "fields of energy," and magnetism.

"There isn't a single thing that you cannot do with this knowledge," the book reads.

"It doesn't matter who you are or where you are, The Secret can give you whatever you want."

Because... science?

Oprah's audience was so enthralled with the book, one viewer even announced she was going to cure her breast cancer with her mind.

"I'm really happy the message, or certainly some of the message, is reaching mass consciousness," Oprah told the woman, before trying to convince her not to eschew all medical treatment.

Suzanne Somers

Somers is an actress who has been on Oprah's show several times to promote her favorite anti-aging remedies, which include smearing estrogen and progesterone creams on her body and even injecting estrogen straight into her vagina (ouch!).

Several physicians have voiced their concern about Somers, saying her promises exceed scientific fact.

"We feel that Suzanne Somers should be commended for bringing the subject of bioidentical hormones center stage, but she offers incorrect information and endorses protocols that are unproven and, in some instances, dangerous. She has gone too far," said Erika Schwartz, a New York doctor who spearheaded the criticism against Somers.

Even still, Oprah has staunchly defended Somers and her baseless remedies.

"Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo," Winfrey said.

"But she just might be a pioneer."

Maybe, but it's far more likely she's just a fraud.