More on Oprah and Kim Tinkham

Posted on Updated on

Well it seems that my link to Orac’s article on Kim Tinkham has created a stir, mainly because of the explicit slight on Oprah. Rather than leaving it at a simple one-liner as I did, I now need to go on record with my views.

Firstly, I’m not a doctor. Rather, on this issue I have evaluated the opinions of those I judge to be credible in the relevant field, as well as assessing the influences on people making the comments. On this issue the primary sources I trust are:

  • Orac – surgeon/scientist and blogger who has been out there for 6 years or so beating the drum for science and medicine.
  • David Gorski – surgical oncologist and contributor to Science Based Medicine blog
  • Steve Novella – Neurologica – neurologist and SBM contributor

Now, regardless of the medical intricacies, my position on this issue is:

  1. No matter how intelligent and well-intentioned human beings are, they are susceptible to various influences which may cause them physical, psychological and/or financial damage. This is indisputable.
  2. There are people in positions of power (e.g. media personalities, sportsmen, musicians, cult leaders, politicians, dictators, doctors etc) who have the opportunity to exert influence in a range of areas. This is indisputable.
  3. A percentage of susceptible people are influenced by other people in positions of power to try/trust alternative medicine and pseudo-science. This is indisputable.
  4. The issue at hand is an instance of this chain of reasoning: Oprah peddles The Secret, Kim Tinkham sees this, KT is diagnosed with breast cancer requiring immediate surgery, KT decides to go it alone and heal herself, based on The Secret. She hooks up with a Robert O. Young who peddles pure pseudo-science, believing she now has the power to achieve an alternative outcome to that offered by standard medicine.

Now, the objections to this line of reasoning, put to me recently, and my response:

There is no evidence that KT was directly influenced by Oprah.

Well, read the article by Orac again, and this time watch the video clip 2/3rd of the way down, in which Oprah interviews KT. KT reads her letter out. There is a clear inference that seeing The Secret on Oprah enabled her to make the decision she did. Some may argue that it didn’t, but why would KT write to Oprah in the first place, if not to reinforce her stance?

We are all grown-ups and have a choice. Kim Tinkham was an intelligent woman who made a choice. It wasn’t Oprah’s fault.

Yes, KT was intelligent, but even intelligent people sometimes make bad decisions. We can all make decisions based on poor evidence or logic, or are badly advised by those we trust, especially when ill, or under stress. She trusted Oprah. She trusted The Secret, because Oprah, a person with power and perceived authority, supported it.

Kim would have died anyway; she made a choice to achieve a higher quality of life for her remaining time.

This may well be the case, but we’ll never know. However, the view of those who really are experts in this field is that if prompt action is taken, the prognosis for an extended and good quality of life is good. This is the evidence.

The people who are critical of Oprah all have an axe to grind – such as disgruntled former employees.

This is simply a conspiracy theory. What is the motivation for people to attack an icon like Oprah? Instead of seeing conspiracies and grudges, consider the potential sacrifice this involves for a lot of people as they risk losing their careers. See this piece by Harriet Hall for example.

It’s only one person – how many people has this actually harmed?

How many need to be harmed? One is too many. The greater the following of the influential person, the greater the potential for harm, and in the case of Oprah, she has a reach to millions of people. She featured The Secret on two shows, on the 8th and 15th of February 2007, and in March 2007, the DVD topped the Amazon DVD chart (as at today, 2.2 million units sold), and the booked topped the New York Times bestseller list. Don’t tell me people aren’t influenced by her.

I think that’s all I can say on this subject really. If you aren’t convinced by what you read of Oprah’s culpability in a lot of misery (if not KT’s), then that’s your assessment. So be it.


Some useful links to finish up with, if you want to read a variety of opinions and analysis:

About The Secret:

About Kim Tinkham:

Oprah Commentary:


2 thoughts on “More on Oprah and Kim Tinkham

    Debating the dark side « rationalbrain said:
    April 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    […] editing before the show goes to air. I’ve written about this sort of thing before – see this post for instance, and in particular the bit on Harriet Hall, who was subject to this treatment while […]

    More blood on Oprah’s hands | rationalbrain said:
    December 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    […] seems to have been ages since this post, and this… in which the link between Oprah’s obsession with new age nonsense in ‘the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s