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 a recent article in Newsweekhttp://www.newsweek.com/id/200025/page/2
Imagine my surprise when I was offered a regular column in O, The Oprah Magazine. I was so flabbergasted that my flabber still remains seriously gasted as I write. It seems the magazine has a new health and environment editor who reads Skeptic magazine 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.
This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.