Oprah’s anti-science tendencies

By Felix Salmon
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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slow news day felix? Alternatively, if you simply leave something on a busy persons desk, who is inundated with a steady stream of “gifts” by people and companies that are promoting themseleves they might not notice it. But moreover, Humans are dualists, accepting the rational and intuitive simultaneously, even when they seem to be mutually exclusive.

The majority of Americans are self declared spiritual beings and beleive in science. And many other such dualities exist. If anything the article proves that many scientists dont grasp there are boundaries at which point their relevence ceases to be, well, relevent, not because of an anti-science instinct within people, but because most human experience predates scientific reasoning, and is therefore experience life as greater than.

Posted by devolved | Report as abusive

So if you are so preoccupied with the present that you don’t notice all the possessions, relationships, and skills that you already have until the moment you need one or more of them, you then believe you created them, instead of just remembered them. That is an interesting view of our place in the universe, except when perishables are involved.

Posted by Scott | Report as abusive

RE: devolved
Actually, adult humans are not dualists, children are. Most humans grow up and gain the ability to discern reality from fiction.

Posted by mmodine | Report as abusive

Oprah’s magic is just another facet of human’s preference for a world better (or more to my liking) than the one we actually live in.

Isn’t that the essence of Bush Republicanism? Free markets will solve all problems and brute force will make America safe.

Or the real estate bubble: I will get rich just by owning my house, and even richer if I own two. Real estate never goes down in value, they aren’t making any more planet earths…..

Or the dot.com bubble: I will continue to make 25-40% in my portfolio. The internet is so revolutionary, and the era of friction-free commerce is so close at hand, that all rules of fundamental economic analysis are invalid.

The better question is why all of the snake oil peddlers aren’t hooted off the national stage. They cause so much damage.

My hypothesis is the development of pander culture in the media. When media is about selling units based on reinforcing people’s emotional preferences, it is then a cheerleader for snake oil peddlers, whether they be Jim Cramer or Oprah or Bill O’Reilly.

Until media, and particularly news media, re-develop a value for their reputation for accuracy and truth-telling, hte airwaves will be a safe haven for snake oil of all sorts, and wasteful and damaging mass behaviors will continue to plague our society in needless volume.

Posted by DollarEd | Report as abusive

If you can “wish” things in to being then the converse must be true. So, all of the “bad” things that happen to people must have been wished for as well or they didn’t wish hard enough for the good? What a crock!!! A positive outlook is beneficial in the long run. If you focus on the positives, you don’t have time to dwell on the negatives but it doesn’t make good things happen to you. I once had a debate with a fellow member of a Bible study that I was in. She vehemently declared that all illness was punishment from God for something that you had done. I don’t believe that either, especially since one of the best persons that I know has incurable non-Hodgkins lymphoma…I doubt that he ever did anything to bring that scourge on himself! Believe in positive thinking but understand that sh*t happens regardless.

Posted by Tex_gal | Report as abusive