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Harriet Hall's Big Big News PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Brandon K. Thorp   

Here's an extremely cool announcement from our friend, Harriet Hall, MD, also known as the SkepDoc. She publishes regularly here, on Science-Based Medicine, and elsewhere. She'll soon add another feather to her authorial cap, the provenance of which is so paradigm-crackingly weird that you'll barely believe it. Read below for Harriet's stunning announcement.

Oprah Winfrey is not a skeptic. She enthusiastically promoted Rhonda Byrne's book, The Secret.  She believes we create our own reality.  She lets the medical misinformation and nonsensical opinions of celebrity guests like Suzanne Somers, Christiane Northrup, and Jenny McCarthy go unchallenged. Her endorsements of potentially dangerous pseudoscientific health advice have been widely criticized. (For instance, in this recent article in Newsweek.)

So imagine my surprise when I was offered a regular column in O, The Oprah Magazine. I was so flabbergasted that my flabber remains gasted as I write. It seems the magazine has a new health and environment editor who reads Skeptic and likes what I write there as The SkepDoc. I had never actually seen Oprah's magazine, but I suspected it was not a reliable source of science-based medical information. I asked for a copy and my prejudice was confirmed by finding an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz that included recommendations for homeopathy and aromatherapy. The magazine has a circulation of 2.4 million - only slightly lower than Playboy and TV Guide and over three times that of Scientific American.

My column will begin with the January issue. It won't amount to much. It is limited to 250 words, under tight editorial control, and restricted to debunking common health myths like the idea that you lose most of your body heat from the head. But at least there will now be a small corner of Oprah-land that will be guaranteed entirely free of woo-woo.

I think of it as lighting a candle in the dark in memory of Carl Sagan. - Harriet Hall, MD, The SkepDoc

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There's no such thing as bad publicity, or, as long as they spell my name right...
written by Gr8wight, December 10, 2009
The tight editorial control is not important. The exposure is. Dr. Hall should make sure she gives them exactly what they want, so she can continue writing for them long term (as long as what they want isn't for her to lie). Consider this column a gateway to her more skeptical writing online. Magazine articles are usually accompanied by a short bio. Dr. Hall's should read something like: Harriet Hall is a medical doctor who writes for Skeptic Magazine, and the Science Based Medicine blog.

If she can get them to included web addresses, all the better.
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written by emactan, December 10, 2009
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" came to mind.

Wonder if this means that you won't be able to critique Oprah as freely in SBM or elsewhere due to the fine print or indebtedness of sorts.
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written by CasaRojo, December 10, 2009
Read the fine print Dr. Harriet. smilies/cool.gif And congratulations, I think.
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written by Skeptigirl, December 10, 2009
Congrats for getting a toe in the door. Seems pretty crummy though like you cannot debunk the bunk that Oprah believes in herself. But just think, suppose you then get to be the SkepDoc on the Oprah show. Oh wait, she has ended her program.

Maybe you can sneak some stuff subtly in under their noses.
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This morning I saw Dr. Oz...
written by Griz, December 10, 2009
...between the time I walked into the room and scrambled for the remote and was able to get the idiot box turned off, I did happen to see him debunking the myth that it's necessary to drink 8 glasses of water a day, which I thought was pretty cool. I don't know much about him but I suspected he'd be in the "eight glasses of water a day makes you lose weight camp."

In other news, the losing most of your body heat from the head myth was one of my favorite things to use to teach people how to sleep warm when camping. I was brokenhearted that I've been living my outdoor life under false pretenses all these years and can only console myself that while wearing a sweater cap to bed in the tent doesn't solve the problem of keeping warm, at least it doesn't hurt smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Squid, December 10, 2009
Since I'm not much up on medical myths... if you don't lose most of your body heat through your head, where do you lose it from?
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written by bjornart, December 10, 2009
@Squid. You loose about the same amount of heat, in watts per skin surface area, through your head as any other part of your body. (You might loose a bit less through arms and legs as you start restricting blood flow to the extremities.)

@Griz. The head might not be the body's main radiator, but if everything else is clothed, or inside a sleeping bag, it will be the point where the most heat radiates away and isn't reflected back. And wearing a cap will help.
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written by rjh02, December 10, 2009
All you need do is say
"For more information on this topic see www.."

Then watch as the number of people who visit your site go up. On your site (which most people must be able to find from the first link) would be what you really need to say.

The bad news is that once you are established they will try to tell you not to criticize Oprah.
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written by eli54, December 10, 2009
Small hammer strikes bring down the wall!
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written by The SkepDoc, December 10, 2009
They're going to bill me as an editor of sciencebasedmedicine.org, so we may get some readers to check out that website.

I'm already getting inquiries from people wanting me to write about their products. One lady wrote "I understand that you not only write about, but you respect and appreciate alternative medicine." and wanted me to push her probiotic company. I told her she understood wrong. I don't think there is any such thing as alternative medicine, just treatments that have been proven to work and treatments that haven't; and those that have been proven to work are adopted by the scientific mainstream and can no longer be called alternative. I also referred her to Mark Crislip's demolition of probiotics at http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=344
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written by rjh02, December 10, 2009
You could quickly write about their product in your usual way and then send it to the company for comment smilies/grin.gif. Wonder what reaction you will get?

So much you need to write for people who know nothing (or less) about science. So keep it basic. Have fun.
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Fine Print
written by The SkepDoc, December 10, 2009
I read the fine print in the O magazine contract. One sentence says "Assignments to shoot Oprah (if any) will be covered by a separate contract." It almost sounded like they were hiring contract killers, but then I realized they meant photography.

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Hopeful but not expecting a happy outcome
written by Christie, December 10, 2009
Unfortunately but, guaranteed, the moment you write something truly worthwhile with regards to debunking alternative medicine, say goodbye to your contract.

This mag is about selling, so controversy in the form of a skeptic debunking woo woo, will put readers off and sales will drop. Sadly, controversy like the woo woo crowd winging about the great medical conspiracy that give us important things like vaccines and cancer drugs and they will be reading it like rabid dogs.
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Token
written by GusGus, December 10, 2009

I think you're being hired as their token skeptic. You'll have to sit in the back of the office, your column will be in the back of the magazine, etc.
.
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written by Zoroaster, December 10, 2009
Oh you've all got persecution complexes.
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Very Nice, Indeed
written by Sastra, December 10, 2009
Congratulations, Harriet! We may not believe in The Secret, but the Oprah Effect is real.

Even a token skeptic, is better than no skeptic at all.
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Oprah mag
written by Holmstrom, December 10, 2009
At the risk of butchering a famous quip, "Give 'em Hell, Harriet!"
Congratulations, Doctor Hall.
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written by rjh02, December 10, 2009
At the other extreme in opinion, could this be the start of a new direction for Oprah? I think we should wait until a few issues have been done to see what the truth is.
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Oprah isn't a skeptic. But, she's not all bad.
written by abkaiser, December 10, 2009

Oprah's not all bad, remember. She also does some really good things for a lot of people. Yes, she's often cuckoo, but that's due to poor science and critical thinking skills. In other aspects of her life, she does a lot of good, and has done more to help others than any of us will ever do. I just don't get why so many people (particularly skeptics), consider her 100% evil. She's not.

Anyone interested in the detail can read about it here:

http://www.dbskeptic.com/2009/...h-winfrey/

And before anyone accuses me of being, say, Oprah's father, I'll also say I've written criticism about Oprah, too. She had a guest on that talked about "vampire power", and she did nothing - nothing! - to critically examine some really goofy claims. So, I did it for her:

http://www.dbskeptic.com/2008/...urned-off/

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they will use your words
written by joed, December 11, 2009
they will use your own words against you. time and again those people turn the words of reasonable skepticism against itself.
becareful doctor and don't be too flaberghastted when you see a quote from your article used to further some homeopathy nonsense.
they will use you and you will not be able to correct their spintwist.
like christie comments above, "Hopeful but not expecting a happy outcome" sorry doctor, they will not allow reality to interfer with profit and hype.
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Probiotic yoghurt - just as I suspected
written by Blondin, December 11, 2009
I read the article you linked to. Thanks, great info and just as I suspected. For all the good the probiotic yoghurt products do you might as well stick 'em up yer bum. That gives a whole new meaning to 'Fruit on the bottom'.
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Any takers?
written by CasaRojo, December 11, 2009
"Assignments to shoot Oprah (if any) will be covered by a separate contract."

LOL! I suppose that means that it certainly wouldn't be an inside job. Besides, everyone knows that the big O is bullet proof.

smilies/cool.gif
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written by LuigiNovi, December 11, 2009
Dr. Hall, do they know that you've criticized Oprah? By "tight editorial control", are you prohibited from speaking critically about her and her guests in your column?
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written by Alan3354, December 11, 2009
loose is not the same as lose.
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written by The SkepDoc, December 11, 2009
They know I have been critical of Oprah. I was very frank with the editor when I initially spoke with him on the phone. I told him I deplored the promotion of pseudoscience and misinformation on Oprah's show and thought it could seriously hurt people. He did not disagree. He reads Skeptic magazine. He understands science. He said there were a lot of new people on staff at the magazine, so I'm hoping there will be a change for the better. As for speaking critically about her in my column, that would not be appropriate and is not even possible: I am limited to debunking common health myths. I doubt if they would let me write about the myths presented on Oprah's show.
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@The SkepDoc
written by CasaRojo, December 11, 2009
"I doubt if they would let me write about the myths presented on Oprah's show. "

Would that be something that you'd be comfortable asking the editor about? If you could honestly comment on specific shows/myths, it could be done in a very diplomatic manner that may foster informed debate. IOW, it could maybe be a win-win situation.... maybe. I suppose it depends on what's important to them.
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written by The SkepDoc, December 11, 2009
"Would that be something that you'd be comfortable asking the editor about?"

Not at this point. I want to cooperate and establish some credibility before I try to rock the boat.
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written by CasaRojo, December 11, 2009
"Not at this point. I want to cooperate and establish some credibility before I try to rock the boat. "

Probably a good strategy.
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Squid
written by Griz, December 11, 2009
The myth was that you lose some huge percentage (I've heard 40% to 80%) of your body heat from your head because the there are a lot of blood vessels and they're close to the surface.

The truth is, proportionally you don't lose more body heat from your head than anywhere else all things being equal. In reality, when a person bundles up, the head simply tends to be the part left the most uncovered. Wearing a sweater cap while sleeping does help you keep warm, just as much as covering any bare skin would, but it's not the silver bullet I once thought it was.
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written by Walk, December 11, 2009
Harriet, Congrats!

Oprah's promotion of woo has always been troubling. I was amazed when she had to backtrack a bit when one of her fans said she planned to stop her chemo treatments in favor of "The Secret" methods. For all the good O does, her embrace of pseudoscience can be dangerous.

I also think it's courageous of you to openly criticize her on this forum while preparing to write for her mag. Kudos!

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Congrats...
written by skepticnj, December 11, 2009
Could be the start of our own Wedge campaign. Go Doc!
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written by Willy K, December 12, 2009
Yes, Harriet, I too am pessimistic about the long term effects of your upcoming column.

However, wouldn't it be cool if Oprah invited Rhonda Byrne back to the show and did a "A Million Little Pieces - James Frey" number on her and her inane book "The Secrect?"
How satisfying would it be to see the Big "O" rip Ms. Byrne a new butt-hole? smilies/wink.gif
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written by Ellen B, December 12, 2009
totally cool, Harriett.
There is potential to bring some reason to the crowd which worships Oprah and all the woo she endorses. But you have to believe there are already some skeptics there wishing she weren't so gullible.
Being carried by its boomer audience into dangerous falling-circulation waters...the magazine is probably looking to appeal to a younger and more open-minded crowd. If you're in it, I might buy one for the first time.
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Oprah Rules The World
written by Potty Training, February 26, 2010
I swear she must wipe her but with $100 bills. The about of power her words have is crazy. Mentions a book on her show and its a NY Times best seller by the next day. I bet ellen is pumped she will be leaving TV LOL
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Oprah marked an era in TV
written by NYC Limousine, March 09, 2010
No doubt that ophra has contributed a grain inour lives. Due to the impact in so many people's lives. her magazine is a great tool that contribute to that porpuse and the fact to start wtting in there it should be a really honor. Good way to go smilies/smiley.gif
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good
written by i-tunes download, February 24, 2011
I would like to comment to show my appreciation for your post as it is very challenging to do, and many bloggers do not get appreciation they deserve. I am sure I'll drop by again and will send some of my friends.
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