Thursday, June 11, 2009

Oprah Crazy, Womenomics Women Say That's Crazy: The Conflict Between Science and Media Rears It's Crazy Head

Oprah's gone crazy on the cover of Newsweek.

She's spreading bad health advice according to the June 8th cover story "Crazy Talk: Oprah, Wacky Cures and You." Oprah's hands are outstretched, eyes teary, mouth ajar on the cover photo.

Yes, I agree. The talk show potentate is not portraying the science behind autism accurately - I don't know a thing about bioidentical hormones - and I've worried about it earlier this month in a post about Jenny McCarthy's ascension in the Oprah universe.

But that Newsweek cover was a little too crazy. Maybe it's the new Newsweek design (change is hard, I know) - but I found it all too tabloid - not to mention the photo of Oprah in the backseat of the limo with big fat curlers in her hair. And that in a story that attempted to bring Oprah up on charges of fraud, as in fraudulent science.

Too bad even when journalists attempt to question inaccurate health information in the media - they just don't get it right. It's disappointing. Maybe you'll get it right next time, Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert.

What if they hadn't portrayed Oprah as a blubbering, ranting mess on the cover? What if they'd dropped the crazy talk? What if they'd simply addressed the health claims her guests had made?

Ahhh - but that exposes the all too familiar conflict between science and the media. Empiricism meets sensationalism.

You can bet other journalists were spitting mad at the dissing of the big O. Fine. The women behind the recently released Womenomics, journalists Katty Kat (of the BBC) and Claire Shipman (of Good Morning America), commented on the crazy talk about Oprah in an interview on NPR with Brian Lehrer at WNYC. Mind you, their segment was not about Oprah, or science in the media, but about their book focusing on how women bring up the profits (tangible and intangible) in the workplace.

Which was all well and good. Until they ventured into the science behind autism. One of the authors (Shipman?) reported ABC killed a story she'd worked on about using brain imaging to diagnose autism. Fine. But then she revealed it was too bad we didn't know for sure whether vaccines cause autism. And that it's still possible that vaccines could trigger autism in some children and that we just haven't disproved that yet.

Hmmm.

Thank you, Brian Lehrer for pointing out that science has largely rejected the vaccines-cause-autism claim.

So, here we have another respected journalist dispersing faulty health info.

Could it be that a very small percentage of autism cases were triggered by vaccines? Yes. We don't have large enough studies to get at this issue. Do we have studies that would have found a link if vaccines were responsible for most cases of autism. Yes and they did not find a link. Shipman's comments display the lack of scientific savvy that plagues the public discourse of health and well-being.

If only she'd stopped at crazy Oprah and not segued into bad science.

And shame on NPR. Brian Lehrer knew she was going to speak on autism. I stayed tuned because his teaser promised she'd talk on it later in the show. And even though I knew my blood pressure might rise, I did stayed tuned and she confirmed all my fears.

1 comment:

therextras said...

Thanks for showing this, Polly. News media make news out of 'not news' and distort for their own agenda. Barbara