Sunday, June 07, 2009

Oprah Responds To Newsweek Article

Recall that I asked if Oprah Winfrey is a crackpot based on the report I read in the Newsweek article. It appears that Winfrey has responded to the Newsweek article:

"For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors' medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and their health care providers," Winfrey said in a statement. "I trust the viewers, and I know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them."


Er... what?

You gave these things a highly one-sided coverage, and THEN, expect your audience to decide for themselves? This is the same audience that prefer to read some heart-wrenching novel that you peddle rather than scientific research and reading about scientific method? This is the same audience that fall into the general population that cannot tell the difference between anecdotal and scientific evidence? The SAME general population that failed miserably in the National Research Council survey on science literacy and understanding? You think they can seek out AND evaluation medical opinions AFTER you've skewered it through your show?

Yeah, right!

Zz.

7 comments:

bbbl67 said...

Everyone has their own biases, physicists aren't any different. In the physics community you see this sort of jealous guarding of entrenched views. Just take for example the debate about Superstring theory vs. the alternative world. Or Dark Matter vs. alternatives like MOND. Do you think one of those "versus" views gets just a little bit more publicity than the others?

ZapperZ said...

This has nothing to do with "biases". If there is, then physics would NOT have progressed, nothing would have changed, and our boundary of knowledge would not expand.

It has everything to do with proper scrutiny of anything anyone is pushing. These alternative medicine do NOT have to pass the same clinical studies as those govern by the FDA. That in itself should ring plenty of bells. If all they rely on are these anecdotal evidence, then there validity of it is nowhere near those that have to go through such clinical studies. It is not even close. It is NOT an alternative when they can't even come up to the same level of validity.

This has nothing to do with having a bias. It has everything to do with how something is considered to be valid.

Zz.

R said...

The SAME general population that failed miserably in the National Research Council survey on science literacy and understanding?

And whose fault is that?
Oprah's? No, it's probably ours. Scientists, not just physicists, should learn something from her. We as a community do not know how to connect with the average Joe, to get our point across. All we always do is maintain that we, scientists, have done many studies and we know the real deal but we failed to explain in it ways a non-scientist can understand. Some are better than others, but ask non-scientists what they've taken from discussions/chats with scientists and on average they will say that not much. I've surveyed liberal arts students taking science (or more specifically physics) classes (not taught by me to avoid biases or fears of retribution) and the overall opinion is that we can't get our points across. We "teach everything way over their heads". I was pretty surprised that even the top students in the class shared the idea that the physics class they took sucked.

On another note, people should be able to hold the media accountable for what they say. One way of doing this is through civil lawsuits. Imagine if a person dies because they follow Oprah's medical advice and the family successfully sues Oprah or the company for millions and millions of dollars. Either the shows will stop reporting/promoting stupid ideas or they will get sued so much that eventually they will disappear. I don't particularly like lawsuits, but in some cases I see them as the most viable option to ensure accountability.

This has nothing to do with "biases". If there is, then physics would NOT have progressed

There are biases among physicists. It is just overly competitive that eventually whoever is right has prevailed. There has been progress, just not as fast as it would've happened without the bias.

R said...

This might be of interest given the recent topics you've blogged on.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31083316

Now it might not just be Oprah, but also medical doctors at renowned institutions.

Also, I read your responses to the previous post (http://physicsandphysicists.blogspot.com/2009/06/is-oprah-winfrey-crackpot.html) on global warming. What would you say about Freeman Dyson and his opinion on AGW? Sounds to me he isn't really too different from Oprah in the sense that he is giving advice that most evidence contradicts and if he is wrong it could have serious consequences.

ZapperZ said...

"There are biases among physicists. It is just overly competitive that eventually whoever is right has prevailed. There has been progress, just not as fast as it would've happened without the bias."

So you'd rather physics be like... say, the study of nutrition where things change almost EVERYDAY and opinions on what is "valid" comes and goes on a whim?

I don't think so!

It requires A LOT of convincing for something to be valid. In fact, that is the only criteria - valid experimental evidence. When those are there, physicists can adopt it VERY fast. Look at how quickly high-Tc superconductors went from discovery to the Nobel Prize! It shows in CLEAR terms that convincing, valid, empirical evidence is paramount to acceptance. It has nothing to do with speed or length of time, or even biases. When convincing evidence is there, scientists will accept it.

It is when it is still a difficult subject, where there's too much complexities, and when it still can't produce an unambiguous conclusion is when it takes MORE time to sort it out. And that's how it should be! I do not want someone to jump up to a premature conclusion on something in which I might depend my life on! Do you? Would you rather we rush into approving some of the principles that your electronics are based upon, that you depend on each time you fly in a commercial airline?

Physics can move fast when it has all the evidence it needs. Period.

Zz.

R said...

In fact, that is the only criteria - valid experimental evidence. When those are there, physicists can adopt it VERY fast.

That's the way it should be. But things are not always as clear cut. For example in my field, an area of biophysics, there is extensive experimental data (by several different and independent labs) on a particular thing. However, one very famous physicist who is the director of a big research center keeps publishing models which supposedly explain the whole behavior but the main assumption on all of his papers is completely opposite to that the experiments show. It seems both the author and the reviewers (yes, they are peer-reviewed papers) have an agenda of their own.

Now I am not saying that there will never be agreement on this particular topic, but that the agreement will take much longer to take place. Of course not everything is that way, there are certain experiments that are very very very hard to go against. High-Tc superconductors might fall in that category, I don't know enough to say anything about them but I believe you. But you can't say all the areas in physics or science are like that.

What about Einstein and his opposition to the probabilistic nature of QM? If you say he was not biased by his own beliefs then I don't know what your definition of bias is. True, QM is not fully accepted by physicists at least but I wonder if at the time of its discovery it would've been much faster if someone as important for physics as Einstein hadn't gone against it.

It is still possible that Oprah's viewers will realize that that advice is wrong. Who knows.

ZapperZ said...

You are confusing objection on the actual formalism of something versus the objection on the INTERPRETATION of something. Einstein, in all of his years, had NEVER, EVER, considered QM to be wrong. Maybe incomplete, or may require further refinement, but NEVER considered what was already developed to be wrong. He had misgivings about what the theory was actually saying, based on the Copenhagen Interpretation, but this should NOT be interpreted as an objection on the formalism of QM itself. This, you should not confuse on.

One cannot challenge physics simply based on a matter of TASTES and COMFORT! That's not a valid challenge to ANY science. Just because Einstein wasn't comfortable with it, it doesn't mean that type of a challenge is valid. That's why people argue about EPR paradox for the longest time, because until Bell came up with his scheme to test it out, every single argument were based on TASTES, not on valid observation. Bell's test removed it from the realm of philosophy and into physics. But UNTIl it gets moved into physics AND has collected a wealth of empirical evidence, then no one in their right mind would consider this as an accepted part of physics.

The question here is not about bias. The question is, at what point do you consider something to be valid, or have the degree of certainty good enough to be considered to be valid. Oprah was pushing for things that are nowhere close to being considered as valid. If your comfort level in accepting something to be valid is lower than that science requires, then knock yourself out (and in fact, chances are, you WILL). But don't complain about science being 'slow' just because it requires meticulous studies before accepting something.

Zz.