Debating the dark side

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The war against the ‘dark side’ – by this I mean pseudo-science and quackery in general – continues unabated. In fact, pseudo-science is said to be an ‘unsinkable rubber duck’.

No sooner have we seen the back of Oprah (and those of you who read my earlier posts regarding Oprah, and in particular her contribution to the promotion of pseudo-science and quackery, will understand my upbeat tone here), but one of her proteges takes the baton.

One of her occasional guests was one Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is a real physician as they call them over there. As I understand it, he was initially just giving general health advice, but as his notoriety grew, he increasingly moved towards the dark side. Now he has a very successful spin-off show, which is just choc-a-bloc with pseudo-science and nonsense in general.

Our Dr. Oz seems to have embraced EVERY known form of unscientific mumbo-jumbo he can get his hands on, including faith healing. Suffice to say he is on the loony fringe in this regard, and one wonders how he could actually believe what he is saying, given the studies which he apparently did in university.

Well, this past week Dr. Oz invited one of the luminaries of the skeptic movement, Dr. Steve Novella, to speak on the program.  Before the show, the blogosphere was abuzz with anticipation, and it was somewhat pessimistic regarding Steve’s chances of getting the message across, given the past history of debating people who argue from a position based on belief rather than evidence. Not only that, such people generally stack the audience and structure of the session with accolytes, as well as perform some judicious 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 actually being a paid employee of Oprah. See also my earlier post on debating the irrational.

The upshot is that Steve actually got a chance to make his points, albeit in a very constrained structure, but with Dr. Oz always having the final word. It’s worth a look: here are the links to the video.

Let me know what you think. In my opinion, Steve did as well as could be expected, given the circumstances – especially given the fact that Dr. Oz had surrounded himself with a bunch of ‘yes-men’. Notice in particular the smarmy expression on the woman next to Steve. Notice also the typical tactics employed when trying to justify modalities for which there is no real evidence -references to ‘millions of people’ and ‘thousands of years’, and general put-downs of anything ‘western’.

You can read Steve’s own account of the experience here.

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