Oprah’s anti-science tendencies

June 3, 2009

Lance Knobel is right: Newsweek’s monster 6,000-word fisking of Oprah Winfrey is exactly the kind of thing which can and should make the magazine relevant again. A taster:

On one of the Secret shows, Oprah gave an example of the scientific power of the concept. She said that once, while she was hosting an episode about a man who could blow really big soap bubbles, she was thinking to herself, “Gee, that looks fun. I would like to blow some bubbles.” When she returned to her office after the show, there, on her desk, was a silver Tiffany bubble blower. “So I call my assistant,” Oprah told the audience. “I say, ‘Did you just run out and get me some bubbles? ‘Cause I got bubbles by my desk.’ And she says, ‘No, the bubbles were always there. I bought you bubbles for your birthday and you didn’t notice them until today’.”

There are many lessons that might be drawn from this anecdote. One is that if you give Oprah a thoughtful gift, she may not bother to notice it or thank you for it. This is not the lesson Oprah took away from her story. Because the way she sees it, her assistant hadn’t really given her the gift at all. She gave it to herself. Using the power of The Secret, she said, “I had called in some bubbles.”

Given the space available, I would have liked to see the authors, Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert, spend a bit of time examining whether Oprah’s anti-science tendencies actually contribute to her success. There does seem to be a common thread to much of Oprah’s most egregious content: don’t take the scientific patriarchy at its word, and trust instead in your womanly intuition. It’s an attractive idea to much of Oprah’s audience. If she toed the scientific line, might she lose part of her audience and her influence?


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