The other day, noted skeptic Dr. Steve Novella appeared on the Dr. Oz TV show. Steve is a promoter of medicine based on solid science, proven techniques, and reproducible results. Dr. Oz, um, not so much. In fact, on his show Oz has promoted questionable (at best, if not outright dangerous and provably false) things like homeopathy, faith healers, and even talking-to-the-dead guru John Edward. Oz has had such anti-science leanings of late that the James Randi Educational Foundation gave him their 2011 Pigasus Media Award.
Steve did a great job on the show, the best he could, but was hamstrung by the format of the show which gave Oz the last word and allowing him to frame the entire situation. You can read Steve’s synopsis of the episode on his site, and Orac has an excellent summary as well.
As a followup to this, Steve has invited Dr. Oz to appear either on his blog or on Steve’s podcast, the excellent Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. I think this is a fantastic idea, since that would remove Oz’s ability to frame things the way he wants, and would force him to defend his alt-med claims on their actual merits.
I liked this idea so much I tweeted about it:
It’s easy to defend alt-med when you control the venue. But I think it would be interesting indeed to hear Dr. Oz defend it when he’s a) given enough time to fairly and completely make his point, and then 2) have educated, intelligent, well-informed skeptics questioning it.
If you’ve read this blog for more than a few nanoseconds, you may know I am not a huge fan of people promoting "alternative" medicine. Overwhelmingly, these things turn out to fall far, far short of the claims made for them. Homeopathy, acupuncture, supplements, on and on — these tend to rely on anecdotes and not tests. When tested properly, they are almost universally shown to be ineffective*.
That’s why I am also not a big fan of Mehmet Oz, a doctor who has his own TV show where he has been known to promote provably ineffective treatments. My friend Dr. Steve Novella is also not a fan of Oz’s, and has commonly criticized him on his blog Science Based Medicine as well as on his podcast Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.
So I was quite surprised to hear from Steve the other day, letting me know that he will appear as a guest on The Dr. Oz Show this Tuesday! If you click that link you can see a promo for the show… which has my hackles rising. I know that Steve wouldn’t appear on the show unless he thought he would get a fair shake, but I imagine would also still be cautious of, let’s say, judicious editing. The promo does nothing to alleviate my fears. Of course, that promo is designed to draw people in to watch, so it may not represent the show’s actual content.
We’ll see. I plan on recording the show so I can watch it carefully. I also imagine Steve will have something to say after it airs as well.
[I'll note Steve happened to write an excellent, thoughtful piece about pseudoscience and medicine today. I don't say this often, but it's a must-read.]
* This isn’t always the case, of course, and some do turn out to work. Aspirin came from willow bark, and so on. But that doesn’t mean they all work, so please spare me more anecdotes. When you have double-blinded test results that show a clear statistical spike in efficacy above the placebo effect or random chance, then we’ll talk. But even then, you know what we call alternative medicine that works? "Medicine". The alternative to medicine is staying sick, getting worse, or getting better on your own.
The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is one of my favorite podcasts. It’s funny, informative, goofy, but most importantly goes right to the heart of a lot of issues important to the critical thinker.
I’ve done a lot of interviews with them, and sometimes they call me at the last minute when there’s some breaking astronomy news. So a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t too surprised when Steve Novella sent me a note asking if I could record with them that evening for their annual year-end wrapup episode.
What did surprise me is why they wanted me on: the SGU listeners had voted for me as Skeptic of the Year!
Well, wow! I was really floored when they told me this during the interview. It was totally unexpected, and quite an honor. I made some jokes about it in the interview, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I want to reiterate how honored I am. It was a great year for skepticism and skeptics themselves, with Simon Singh publicly defending himself from craven chiropractors who tried to sue him into silence, Amy Wallace writing about antivaxxers in Wired magazine, the Australian Skeptics heroically taking on (and being attacked by) the awful antivax guru Meryl Dorey, Randi publicly fighting his cancer with medical science, and so many more.
In that company, I stand paradoxically humbled and proud. My sincere thanks to everyone who cast their vote my way on the SGU forums.
I always really like the SGU year-end wrapup; it’s fun to listen in on the rogues reminiscing on the past year. This one in particular is a great episode. Here’s a direct link to the MP3 of the show, and if you don’t already subscribe to SGU, then go do it now!
Oh, that Bill Maher. It’s time to change his show’s name to "Antireality Time". Because when he talks vaccines, he wanders into major woowoo territory.
I don’t need to debunk his antivax nonsense, since actual doctors who have facts at their fingertips do it so well, like in this tirade from Orac and in Steve Novella’s more measured (but just as devastating) response.
But there is one thing I want to mention. My favorite part is when Maher says:
I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me — its [sic] just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view.
First off, that’s total baloney. Go watch the news and other talking head shows; they often have people talking up the "alternative" (that is to say, wrong) point of view when it comes to vaccines. And if these people aren’t certified physicians, what does that tell you? Maybe you’ll come to the correct conclusion that the overwhelming majority of physicians think antivaxxers are full of it.
And second, about talk shows not having "alternative" viewpoints — and this is critical — why should they? When the weatherman talks about lightning in your area, should he give equal time to the Zeus theory?
Feh. Maher digs himself deeper every time he talks about this. Some people hold him up as an icon of skepticism, but it’s simply not true. A lot of non-believers love his ideas and attitude when it comes to religion, which is fine, but it doesn’t translate to his other beliefs, especially when it comes to real medicine. What he does isn’t skepticism, it’s dogma, and just as dogmatic as the religions he mocks.