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Is Oprah Winfrey Bad For Your Health?

I didn't exactly wake up this morning thinking, "what I need to read is a brutal, almost overwhelming, takedown of the pseudoscience and snake oil that has come to define a large chunk of Oprah Winfrey's show and brand." But I'm sure glad I did.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 1, 2009; 3:30 PM ET
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i wonder to myself, each month on the grocery line, what sort of woman would choose to put a joyful, airbrushed, picture of herself on the cover of her own magazine each and every month?
with access to the best photographers and artists, i wonder why she doesnt use the cover of her magazine to advance anything except herself.
the qualities of humility, earthiness and "realness" that seemed to make oprah so accessible and connected to everywoman, seems now replaced with a spiritual disingenuousness and boredom in her soul. she seems "absent."
ever see suzanne somers on the home shopping network?
oprah winfrey and suzanne somers appear like joyfully airbrushed facsimiles of their former "real" selves.
are they doppelgangers?

Posted by: jkaren | June 1, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I thought that was a great article. It really is speaking truth to power. Even though Oprah is outside of the traditional power structure, she sure does have a lot of it.

Posted by: Chris_O | June 1, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

On the one hand I'm agreeing with you--some of this stuff is fluffy at best, and the anti-vaccination stuff has been pretty thoroughly debunked and can have real impacts on health.

But beyond that I think there's a serious unfairness to this takedown.

There's a lot we don't understand about medicine, and frankly the response to the profession in the face of a lot of these clear uncertainties has been an arrogance that has shut down important areas of research.

Take placebos, for instance. It's unambiguous that they have a genuine health effect--it's quantifiable and it's real. But the profession's response to this day has been overwhelmingly to deride placebos as "fake." The prevailing approach is to set up experiments that correct for this obvious "error" instead of saying "wow, here is a phenomena that is completely not predicted by any existing model yet which is undeniably real. We should invest a lot of time and money into this and figure out how it works, because if something has this big an impact we are remiss in our duties as practitioners if we just write it off instead of trying to understand it."

Frankly, there is a lot that is "unscientific" to the practice of medicine, and it's cheap to slam Oprah for being unscientific when the professionals in this field themselves are so frequently unwilling to even see, much less address the limitations of their practice, preconception, and models.

In addition, I think Oprah is really respecting her audience here. Beyond "stuff we don't know and which the profession seems blind to," there is also a long history of women having their health needs dismissed by the prevalent standards of care--everything from "atypical" heart attacks to being told clinical depression is not real to being routinely marginalized and unjustifiably overruled during childbirth.

In that context, it's not surprising that women would suspect health providers were holding out on them when it came to HRT. Remember, this is the same profession that for decades thought it wasn't worth wondering if there might be a biological cause if a woman's libido just up and disappeared.

So, I think it's cheap to hit Oprah when the medical profession itself is responsible for much more greivous departures from the curious, rigorous, and open spirit of scientific inquiry. If for no other reason than it's not actually the job of a woman who hosts a talk show to provide medical information.

Posted by: theorajones1 | June 1, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Umm ... Yeah I know !
When I was younger in the mid fifties , 1850 that is , we used to go to therapeutic seances . Like everyone was doing it , and yet there were still these unhappy folks who tried so hard to prove it was all a hoax . Sigh ...

Posted by: gadzooks1 | June 2, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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