Shame on PBS!

I used to have a high opinion of PBS. They ran excellent programs like Nova and Masterpiece Theatre and I felt I could count on finding good programming when I tuned into my local PBS channel. No more.

It was bad enough when they started featuring Deepak Chopra, self-help programs, and “create your own reality” New Age philosophy, but at least it was obvious what those programs were about. What is really frightening is that now they are running programs for fringe medical claims and they are allowing viewers to believe that they are hearing cutting edge science.

Neurologist Robert Burton has written excellent articles for salon.com pointing out the questionable science presented by doctors Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman in their PBS programs. Please click on the links and read what he wrote. These programs are being shown during fundraising drives as if they were examples of the best PBS has to offer.

Several people (myself included) protested to our local stations and to the PBS ombudsman. The ombudsman basically said those are not PBS programs and the local stations choose whether to run them. PBS doesn’t take any responsibility for their content – but how are viewers to know that? There is no disclaimer, and the PBS logo has sometimes appeared on the screen during these programs.

PBS is providing airtime to fringe practitioners for what amounts to infomercials. They are lending their cachet to ideas that are not accepted by mainstream science, and they are not giving their viewers any clue that these ideas are not generally accepted.

One commenter on the salon.com website said, “I worked at a PBS station in Tampa for several years and I can tell you the reason they run that crap – it’s because it pays the bills. Unlike every other show on the station (like Nova and American Experience) the station gets a check when the show airs instead of having to pay to air it.” If this is true, it is reprehensible.

If PBS really wanted to support good science, it would not air these infomercials. If it insists on airing them, it should at least provide a disclaimer and make it clear that the programs are not endorsed by PBS.

Burton says,

Apparently PBS’s mission is to raise money by exploiting viewers’ gullibility at the expense of trustworthy programming. If so, it has achieved its goal — and undermined the central reason for having educational TV in the first place

Shame on you, PBS!

If you want to join the letter writing campaign, you can write your local station, citing Dr. Burton’s articles, and contact the PBS ombudsman.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.