I realize it's been a long time since I posted anything here, and for that I apologize. Thankfully, Lord Bling has managed to keep something novel up here during the past few months, while I spin further and further into the downward spiral that is my career and PhD program. One particular topic has pissed me off enough that I figured it was time to post again.
We all know Oprah, and the power that she wields over the opinions of soccer moms across the nation. Newsweek recently published one of the first major pieces of criticism about Oprah that's been made by a major media outlet. Oprah gets plenty of criticism, but hardly ever from mainstream media sources. In particular, the Newsweek article criticized Oprah for giving air-time to ideas that have seriously questionable scientific validity and promoting them as though they were viable medical treatments.
Oprah responded in the way that she always does, stating that she tries to give equal time to competing ideas, and has featured the opinions of doctors and researchers on health issues in addition to quacks and celebrities. Katie Wright, who has appeared on Oprah to discuss her experiences as a parent of a child with autism, defended Oprah on Age of Autism using the same "equal time for both sides" rationale and that Oprah doesn't endorse one side or the other, and lets viewers make up their own minds based on the "evidence".
The problem with the idea of "presenting two sides and letting people decide" is that it starts with the faulty premise that different viewpoints are equal in terms of their validity. Using the do routine vaccinations cause autism in children example that Oprah has presented both sides of on her program as an example, the two competing viewpoints are:
1) There has been no established link between autism and vaccines in any of the numerous scientific studies that have looked at this issue. Nearly 20 studies looking at thousands of children have concluded that there is no link between these two things.
2) My child manifested the symptoms of autism within hours of receiving routine vaccinations. Therefore, all of the previous research on thousands of children must be invalid.
The problem with presenting competing viewpoints here is that one of these viewpoints is substantially inferior to the other. Not because one belongs to a parent and the other to a physician or scientist. Rather, the idea that the opinion of a small but very vocal group of parents is anywhere close to on par with blinded, multiple randomized controlled trials is asinine. On Oprah, both viewpoints are presented as though they are equally likely to be true in the interest of fairness, even though there's way more evidence to support one versus the other.
If you're having a political debate, opinions from both sides can be informative when reasonable people disagree on issues. That doesn't also mean that unreasonable and illogical opinions deserve the same amount of attention as those with more data behind them. You'll notice that not even Fox News invites the KKK Grand Wizard to share the stage with Ann Coulter when discussing Obama's job performance, although lately it's not been clear that their opinions would be all that different.