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Oprah Guest Chooses Alternative over Traditional Medicine. The Results are Unfortunate.

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

A few years ago, Oprah had a guest on her show by the name of Kim Tinkham. Ms. Tinkham explained that she had breast cancer, but after reading “The Secret” she decided to forgo conventional treatment and instead pursue “alternative therapies”.

David Gorski has written a post today at Science-Based Medicine about Ms. Tinkham, and the news is quite sad. She pursued a pseudoscientific treatment called “alkalinization” supported by one Robert O. Young, who believes there is “no such thing” as cancer and that this type of illness is caused by “excess acidity” in the body. It goes without saying, but this is totally without scientific merit.

But Ms. Tinkham followed this therapy, and for a few years her health was stable. But unfortunately, she is no longer doing well and is not expected to live through the year.

[Update: I am sad to report that Kim Tinkham passed away on December 7, 2010.]

Why do people seek out these types of therapies? Dr. Gorski explains it quite well:

In fact, Kim Tinkham made it explicit by saying that Young and his wife had told her what causes cancer by saying “there is no such thing as cancer.” Again, remember that Young thinks that cancer is the body’s reaction to cells “poisoned” by too much acid, and he really does say that there is no such thing as cancer. He even goes on and on about how acid being “deposited into the fatty tissues” and thereby causing cancer. From a scientific standpoint, it’s a load of rubbish, pure pseudoscience without any good scientific evidence to back it up. But Young can assert his nonsense about tissue being due to acid “spoiling” tissues with utter sincerity. He looks completely convincing–if you don’t know anything about cancer biology, and most people don’t know much, if anything, about cancer biology. Give him a woman who is afraid, who wants concrete answers, and who has demonstrated that she is fairly clueless about breast cancer, and he can convince her that he has the answer and can cure her. The reason, it appears to me, is that Tinkham (and women like her) just want to believe that someone knows what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Knowing how to fix it isn’t enough; they want an answer to the question, “Why me?”

Quacks are only too happy to provide that answer.

You can and should read the whole sad story at Science-Based Medicine. People wonder why I get upset about alternative medicines, and this is why. Ms. Tinkham’s cancer was treatable, but has now metastasized into other parts of her body.

It is wholly depressing, because she is a victim. A victim of quacks who prey on the vulnerabilities and wishful thinking of sick people.

I’m ashamed to live on the same planet as those people.

One of the Funniest Things I Have Ever Seen!

November 21, 2010 2 comments

I’ve watched it a dozen times. It’s still funny. It’s the crowd reaction at Oprah’s Favourite Things 2010!

They literally had to have medics on hand, just in case.

So how am I going to make this about science? Crowd psychology of course.

Why do these people freak out so spectacularly? If they were watching from home and still told that they would receive all of Oprah’s favourite things, would they still jump up and down crying? Probably not.

There are a few theories about crowd behaviour. The one which describes Oprah’s audience behaviour best is probably contagion theory. It states that

crowds exert a hypnotic influence on their members. The hypnotic influence, combined with the anonymity of belonging to a large group of people, results in irrational, emotionally charged behavior. Or, as the name implies, the frenzy of the crowd is somehow contagious, like a disease, and the contagion feeds upon itself, growing with time. This also implies that the behavior of a crowd is an emergent property of the people coming together and not a property of the people themselves. [Wikipedia]

People do tend to act differently when in groups than by themselves. There are several theories as to why that is, and it’s an interesting field of study.

A similar thing happens when a large group of people gathers to see a Faith Healer. Even though they have been widely discredited as con artists, people still fall over after having the ‘laying of hands’ by the healer. Why? Because they are in a crowd that expects it, and they have seen other people do the same thing.

I’m no psychologist though. I just think its funny.