I have no general brief to make for Marianne Williamson, but she’s come under fire from skeptics for remarks she made during a panel discussion about vaccines on Real Time with Bill Maher, and I think this criticism completely misses the point. I see what she was trying to do on Maher She IS pro-vax. She’s speaking to a very specific audience, trying to move non-vaxers to get their kids the MMR to slow the epidemic. She’s using a textbook persuasion strategy for this, exactly the way we teach it in Public Speaking class (which is why I’m so sure of her actual position). However it winds up being ineffective, in part because it’s a weak method for use in a panel discussion, and in this case more so because she’s not assertive or emphatic enough to get over the noise level, emotional loading, and general stupidity of Maher and guest Amy Holmes from the Glen Beck TV network The Blaze. (Oy! They were SO obnoxious!)

From the perspective of rhetorical criticism, you can’t evaluate an argument without knowing who the speaker is, and who they’re trying to address. Williamson is an ‘odd duck’ occupying a unique niche in the domain of “spiritual teachers” in that she combines “The New Spirituality” with an explicit democratic-socialist politics. If this seems out of the mainstream, it is. A lot of “spiritual” types will balk at the politics, and a lot of D-Soc types will balk at the spirituality. But enough people can fit those pieces together that she has a following, and those are the folks she’s trying to reach.

Though she makes delivery mistakes, the rhetorical plan of her opening statement is actually a minor masterpiece of how you set up an argument for an audience you suspect will not welcome your thesis. There are 3 goals for such a set-up:
1) Establish credibility on the listener’s terms (you can trust me!)
2) Establish points of identification and sympathy (look at the beliefs and values we share; we’re more friends than you might think!)
3) Set up terms of discussion — language and logic frames — that will favor your thesis when you get to it. (Well, you’ve already agreed to the basic principles…)

So here’s her opening, annotated:
Maher whines about the media telling the ‘vaccine skeptics’ to STFU, likens it to the “don’t ask questions” approach to the Iraq War, and asks if that bothered anyone else. Wlliamson answers:

“It bothered me because the implication was if you had any skepticism whatsoever, you were anti-science. (ANTI-SCIENCE IS INDEED BAD). And I think there’s a difference between having skepticism about science and having skepticism about the pharmaceutical industry. (YOU CAN BE SKEPTICAL ABOUT CORPORATE CAPITALISM, BUT YOU SHOULDN’T BE SKEPTICAL OF SCIENCE, AND THEY’RE NOT THE SAME THING) I think that even though my child was vaccinated I think there’s public health issue that over-rides individual liberty here. (MY KID IS SAFE, BUT WE NEED TO PROTECT EVERYONE’S KID.) Even though I don’t want the government as a rule telling me what I can do and can’t do with my body for medical purposes, (I’M NOT STUPID ENOUGH TO TRUST JOHN BOEHNER WITH MY HEALTH) at the same time… I think the government has earned our distrust (IRAQ), the pharmaceuticals have (VIOXX)… This is the problem when institutions lose their moral authority. (VACCINATION IS A MORAL ISSUE) We know that the government has suppressed information and withheld information, we know that the medical establishment has suppressed information and withheld information, (this she phrases poorly; she’s not talking about vaccines, or about any kind of medical science really, but that’s not clear enough) where so at this point, even when they say something we should listen to, (See the judo? YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THEM ON THIS, AND VAX YOUR KIDS!) people have a skepticism and that’s the real problem. (BUT IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN THE MESSAGE YET) This is what happens when we don’t believe our government enough and we don’t believe our medical establishment enough. (IT’S NATURAL THAT DISTRUST OF CORRUPT POWER IS BLINDING YOU TO SCIENCE) The answer is not to tell we’re kooks, but for them to get their act together so that they are more trustworthy again. (AND I’LL TELL YOU HOW THEY CAN GET THAT TRUST BACK, IF I HAVE THE TIME.)”

No, YOU may not have interpreted it this way, but then she’s probably not talking to you. She’s talking to people who might attend this upcoming event she’s organized featuring Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Lisa Bloom, and Cenk Uygar.

Hint: Watch this clip from the end of the ‘Overtime’ of the Maher show that appeared on his blog, but not on the air.

That’s her answer to the government and the healthcare system getting their act together so they’re more trustworthy again.

On 2/10/15, Respectful Insolence  commenter Jen Phillips wrote:
“I really don’t get the distinction between ‘skepticism about science v. skepticism about the industry’. If you think the science behind vaccination is sound, but opt out of the vaccine due to distrust of the industries who did the studies, aren’t you expressing skepticism about the validity of their science after all? ”
No, not at all. First, Williamson isn’t necessarily addressing folks who have opted out by getting an exemption. She’s smart enough to know that’s a really steep hill. She’s aiming more at fence sitters — people doing delayed schedules, who haven’t taken the kid in because they’re still waffling, folks with kids on the way trying to sort out stuff they’re just beginning to ay attention to. And, again, her peeps are basically socialists — which, pretty much by definition good things will come from bad companies. They love their iPhones, but hate the way Apple has them manufactured in the 3rd world. Basically, ALL corporations are bad because they extract surplus value from wage slavery, and engage in questionable marketing/promotion strategies. Marxists love scientific progress. They also don’t go in for conspiracy theories. The trouble with pharmaceutical companies isn’t that there’s some ‘Big Pharma’ cabal doing evil with malicious intent. It’s a structural feature of the economic system that can only be addressed by systemic reform (e.g. single-payer full-coverage universal health care… and maybe nationalize the pharmaceutical companies while we’re at it.

Anyway, back on Maher, the loud-mouths blab away, and it’s four minutes before Williamson gets to speak again. She begins with a bit of ‘people have had concerns about vaccines for decades, which I understand’ (hailing the non-vaxers, but defusing the autism scare), then gets to her point:

MW: “It’s an upside of the American mind that we don’t buy everything we’re told, necessarily. It’s a downside when we think nothing we’re told could possibly be true. So I think there’s a skepticism which is actually healthy on this issue of vaccinations.”
[Maher tries to interrupt, but this time she cuts him off and plows ahead.]
MW: “But on this one the facts are in about measles. We had eradicated it. We need to get our kids back safe.”

Except the end of that sentence is cut off by Maher, literally drowning out the word “safe”. He realizes Williamson has just stabbed his his anti-vax schtick in the heart, and will keep twisting the knife if he lets her keep talking, so he starts off on a long rant about ‘long-term reduced immunity’ bollocks, then hands off to Blaze-ing Amy for some nonsense about the over-protection of children, and it’s blah, blah, blah for the rest of the segment Williamson doesn’t get to talk about vaccines again. At the very end, she applauds when Maher cracks on Monsanto, and makes sure she gets 30 seconds to extoll the healing power of spirituality:
MW “People who have been diagnosed with life challenging illnesses who attend spiritual support groups live on average twice as long after diagnoses, and that has been established by the most prestigious academ….” [Fade to black before she can finish.]
Yeah, you can find a number of those studies on PubMed, and IDK what the journal reviewers are smoking to miss the lack of proper controls. So it goes.

As I noted above, I wouldn’t say Williamson ‘scored’ here – even her intended audience might not have really ‘heard’ her above the noise, or put the pieces the pieces of the stream of thought together amidst the fragmentation of the ‘debate’, errr dogfight rigged to Maher’s advantage. More importantly, she really only got far enough to state the thesis. That’s not enough. The strategy requires proper supporting material, and a strong restatement of the thesis at the end – so it appears fully rational and properly justified. Basically, the idea is you get the audience to ‘nod their heads’ as you provide the supporting case, which is also giving them time to let the whole thing sink in. Then, at the end, you need to reinforce it, and it’s connection to the ‘on your side themes’ you offered at the beginning… There was no chance for Williamson to do any of that, and of course, I don’t know if she would have. Perhaps she will more to say about the subject at the event with Sanders, Kucinich, Bloom, and Uygar. (?)

But I’m not here to lionize Marainne Williamson. I’m in the group of folks who dig the left-wing politics, but can’t stomach the ‘spiritual teaching’ or ‘age of miracles’ stuff. And the poster cards with the saccharine affirmation statements just make me want to puke. But in the war against a potentially deadly measles outbreak, I’ll take any ally I can get, especially one with a tactic that might work on folks ‘the usual suspects’ aren’t able to reach.

Three, actually:

1) In the center of calling out to her anti-capitalist audience, Williamson said, “I think there’s public health issue that over-rides individual liberty here.”
BOOM. Find me another public figure who has stated the issue to clearly and unequivocally. That’s what we need more people to say, and it’s not going to help anything to slam anyone who says that. (Even if they’re just doing it to sell seminar tickets and books.)

2) Williamson has just demonstrated how you craft an effective appeal to left-leaning fence-sitters. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anyone in the SBM/skeptic circle to come out with the kind of anti-capitalist language she used. But the ‘objective scientist’ can still say ‘I understand why you don’t trust big corporations’ and use the strategy of separating that generic distrust of the profit motive from the specific products produced by capitalism. The problem is not the thing, or the science behind the thing, or (especially) the employees who make the thing (labor); the problem is the system under which the thing is made and the way some things are sold. Establish that common ground (you are not a kook for raising an eyebrow at how Merck does business), and the thesis becomes a much easier sell:
There’s a public health issue that over-rides individual liberty here. The facts are in about measles. We had eradicated it, but socially irresponsible behavior has brought it back. We have a collective moral responsibility to get ALL our kids back to safety.

3) If you have an argument that can flip even 10% of an audience leaning the other way over to your side – or move any significant chunk of the audience from passive agreement to action – you don’t worry AT ALL about feeding the conformation bias of your opponents. Because they’re already against you, 90-10 is a lot better than 100-0, and you can only go one step at a time. (In any real political campaign a 10% flip on leaners is absolutely huge.)

P.S. Just posted to Willimason’s FB page from a self-labelled “long-time follower”:

I was appalled and surprised at Marianne’s endorsement of mandatory measles vaccines on Bill Maher’s Real Time last week.”

But ‘long-time follower’ turns out to be a troll for a far-right-wing “health freedom” group of anti-vax quacks. Maybe Williamson scored some points after all.

This post is a response to the thread: “Chris Christie and Rand Paul’s pandering to antivaccinationists: Is the Republican Party becoming the antivaccine party?” on Respectful Insolence, dated 2/3/205.

Regarding recent comments on vaccination as a matter of ‘individual choice’ and freedom by Christie and Pau, respectively, RI host Orac wrote:
I don’t think that Gov. Christie is antivaccine (although I’m not so sure about Rand Paul). What I do know is that the conflation of “choice” with vaccination has led to a powerful incentive for politicians, particularly Republican politicians, to pander to antivaccine views.

In the comments under the OP, Mike #36 objected to the idea that ‘vaccine freedom’ was the same thing as ‘anti-vax’.

    There are really 2 different issues with 4 different policy positions. Pro or anti-vaccine; Pro or anti- government mandated vaccines. I consider myself pro-vaccine. I have all my vaccinations up to date, I always get the quaternary flu vaccine, my kids are up to date on their vaccines and we even enrolled our children in a phase III trial for a new vaccine. I also consider myself anti-government mandated vaccination. I can understand government vaccine mandates for places like public schools where kids will be crammed together as long as public schooling is not compulsory. I think that Orac is lumping these two different issues together under 1 topic. I don’t think that is fair or accurate.

I don’t know if the blinking box is lumping. The point may just be that Christie and Paul’s positions are ideologically consistent with anti-vaxers from Jay Gordon to Age of Autism to Jack Wolfson, and their statements appear as comfort and support to the loonies and opportunists at a time of distress, helping thm keep going. I’m sure that’s true.

But Mike has a point: anti-vaxers may be Libertarians, but that doesn’t mean Libertarians are anti-vaxers. They share a certain philosophy, but have different conclusions about the medical science. Sbm advocates may even find the Libertarian politics more disturbing than the anti-vax politics. At least the anti-vaxers want their PBEs because they truly believe vaccines hurt their children. The Libertarians don’t think that. They mostly know vaccines are safe and prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases that pose a serious public health menace that could kill hundreds of people a year. But they want to let the anti-vaxers have their PBEs anyway.

With vaccines taking the national political stage today, I want to look at the politics of Christie’s and Paul’s in the context of the broader pre-campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, and consider why they may have said these things, and what effects their remarks may have on their political ambitions.

I would say there are six different constituencies listening to Christie and Paul, listed below in my estimate of ascending order of size:

A) ‘Anti-vaxers’ who I’ll define as activists in the Jenny McCarthy vein who just KNOW the MMR causes autism, other vaccines have their own evils, and will never, ever listen to reason and change their minds.

B) ‘Non-vaxers’ or ‘fence-sitters’. These are parents who have either just not vaxed their kids yet, delayed the vax schedule, or are wondering about vaxing for kids they don’t yet have. I’ll define the dominant trait of this group as passivity. They don’t post on blogs, or make other public statements. For the most part they don’t seek PBEs. They just haven’t taken the kids in for the recommended immunizations because they’re “not sure”. There are a lot more of these non-vaxers than there are genuine anti-vaxers, and it’s the non-vaxers that are undermining the herd immunity. A study by Lieu et.al in Pediatrics reported the ‘under-vaccinated’ rate in Marin County at 18.1% (including kids who got no shots at all), but the ‘vaccine refusal’ rate in Marin is just 6.6%.

C) ‘Conservatrolls’ These are the ultra-partisan disciples of Karl Rove and Andrew Breitbart, who will opportunistically take any position that can be used to whip up the base and bash Democrats, whether they believe it or not, or whether their candidates were on the other side of the issue last year. This group is well represented in the audience for Fox and Limbaugh, though the fan base of such media figures no doubt has a healthy number of true believers of the groups below as well.

D) ‘Rights-Firsters’ Mike’s in this group. These folks mostly all vaccinated their own kids on schedule, or don’t have target age kids to worry about. Medical concerns of any kind — either autism or VPDs — are very low on their agenda, if they even make the list of issue concerns at all. As fiscal conservatives, they’re mostly resolutely anti-big-government and hate Obamacare with a passion. They are, for the most part, sincere in these beliefs.

E) ‘Christian Right’ Huckabee and Santorum voters. Unless sincere religious exemptions are threatened, they could care less.

F) ‘Mainliners’ Old-school Republicans: Romney, H.W. fans. Probably concerned about VPD outbreaks, and favor sensible vax policy, but would rather not talk about it.

Now, a) how any of these groups react to what Paul and Christie are saying is one thing, b) why the pols are saying what they say is another, and c) how that will affect their campaigns is a third other thing. Trying to gauge b) or c) for Christie or Paul must be done in the context of the workings of the GOP nomination process. The sorting and winnowing begins with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in January, followed by New York, the Carolinas, Minnesota, Utah, and Nevada in the first part of February. A number of early hopefuls will be knocked out by then, and after a short breather, the survivors will head into a big cluster with Texas, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Vermont all decided by March 1. After that, the game will most likely be over, or down to two at most. With the exception of NY, MA, VT each GOP result will be dominated by voters from the hard-core conservative base.

Both Christie and Paul already have very-well-funded shadow campaign organizations doing all sorts of polling and focus-groups to help the candidates tailor their messages to the early states. Here’s the non-medical exemption rates, vax rates, and my guess of the dominant and secondary (if there is one) primary/caucus bloc in each of the those states:
Iowa ……………………1.2…….90.5….E: D
New Hampshire…….2.3…….ND….D
New York……………..0.6…….96.6….F: D
Minnesota…………….1.6…….96.3….E: D
Utah…………………….3.7…….96.3….D: E
South Carolina………ND…….90.9….E: D
North Carolina……….0.7…….97.3….D: E
Michigan……………….5.3…….94.4….E: D
Texas……………………1.2…….97.5….D: E
Tennessee…………….1.1…….94.5….E: F

By these numbers, the only states with even a possibly significant anti-vax or non-vax voting bloc are MI and SC, both of which are likely to be decided by other issues by a long shot.

So, if we assume that Christie’s and Paul’s staffs are competent, they’ve had enough time since Disneyland broke to study the scene and counsel the candidates on message, the first conclusion I draw is that the vax statements have nothing to do with vax per se, and are dog whistles to the Rights-Firsters. This is Paul’s base, of course. But we might imagine Chris Christie is aiming to get enough cred with this group of voters to stay afloat during the early delegate contests.

BUT: there’s a better explanation than candidates jockeying for the early delegate count. And that would be that they’re jockeying for the early money.

Eric Lund #57 notes the Wall St. money doesn’t like Rand Paul, and eight years ago that would have indeed doomed his chances as a serious candidate. But we’re in the post-Citizens-United world now, and a single eccentric multi-billionare like Sheldon Adelson can keep a candidate floating into Super Tuesday. So my best guess is that what we’re seeing this week from the GOP hopefuls are auditions for Charles and David Koch — who are Rights-Firsters more than anything, and have a posse of like-minded lesser billionaire buddies associated with their Heartland Institute that will follow their lead on donations. They’ll be spreading their bets around through New Hampshire at least, not going all-in on one horse. But various contenders are angling for a bigger piece of that pie, while others are positioning themselves to get bigger pay-days from other big donors who don’t run with the Kochs.

The conservatroll pundits seem to be split on the ‘vax is a personal right tactic’, and we might take their messages to be addressed only partly to the candidtes, and even more to the big donors: don’t back the wrong horse! Breitbart.Com seems worried about what Brian Deer suggested in #1: that even having uttering the word “vaccine” could let the Dems tar a candidate with the anti-vax, disease-spreading brush. The Breitbarters are probably imagining Hilary’s attack ads spreading Jack Wolfson all over the U.S. as the 2016 version of Willie Horton. (HRC’s 2008-vintage autism dog-whistle is now deeply buried, and she’s Captain Vaccination! Tweeting last night, “”The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest”.) Limbaugh is probably calculating that pushing the Rights-Firster button will be long forgotten by next November.

Today, in addition to the note on Scott Walker in the NYT Orac mentioned, CBS News noted GOP hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio made pro-vax statements, though (of course) they said nothing about Rand Paul. Rubio may have actually been speaking from the heart as he noted his grandfather had been disabled by polio as a child, and his position was ‘medical exemptions only’! Cruz went the Conservatroll and ChristianRight route by standing by religious exemptions, and using the occasion to bash ‘the liberal media’.

    Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told reporters Tuesday that the vaccination issue “is largely silliness stirred up by the media. Nobody reasonably thinks Chris Christie is opposed to vaccinating kids other than a bunch of reporters who want to write headlines.”

CBS hinted this may pose problems for Cruz with the RightsFirsters, and Paul was already on top of that with this charming take:

    He reminded listeners on Ingraham’s show that another potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, had for a time issued an executive order mandating one vaccine for girls. “I don’t know if you remember when Gov. Perry made it mandatory to get, for a sexually transmitted disease, to have everybody have to take it,” Paul said. “While I think it’s a good idea to take the vaccine, I think that’s a personal decision for individuals to take and when they take it.” While Perry was running for president in 2012, he came under heavy criticism for the executive order, and later called it “a mistake.” Perry has not said anything recently on the topic.

In conclusion, imho this is all very early jockeying for position – mainly for money – and where any of these pols are over the next few months on vax and VPDs will probably depend entirely on how far the measles outbreak spreads and how long it stays in the news. (Do any of the doctors in the house know anything about projections? Does the CDC think they’ll be able to cut this off at some point? Don’t know? Not telling?) If the measles cases continue to increase, even Rand Paul isn’t going to touch vaccines with a 10-foot pole.

Eric may be right about Paul not wanting to risk his Senate Seat in 2016, and he’s young enough he might be positioning himself for 2020. But he’s obviously got a monster ego, so who knows? MOB wrote: “Paul is (hopefully) not considered a serious presidential candidate except by a small vocal group.” Well, Chris Matthews thinks Paul will win the nomination and have a good shot in the general. Being an Old (61), I recall an election year from my youth where a GOP candidate we all thought to be a looney-tunes extremist was getting the level of support Paul has now. We were pulling for this guy to get the nomination, as we were sure 3 or 4 guys in the field would be much stronger candidates in the general. The longer he stayed alive in the primaries, the more we rubbed our hands in glee. Just wait, we said, this guy has such nutty ideas the press will just tear him to shreds, and if he gets the nomination, he’ll be lucky to carry a single state outside the South. The guys name, of course, was Ronald Reagan.

Chris Christie? Fuhgedaboutit

This post is meant as a ‘supplement’ to Orac’s 1/28/15 post on Respectful Insolence, Dr. Oz’s “green coffee bean extract” scammer guest must repay $9 million.

IMHO this is an excellent post! Orac does due journalistic diligence by sticking mainly to the facts, and offering speculation on motives etc. in either/or form that give the players proper benefit of the doubt — especially apt here because as a physician, Orac has limited knowledge of how the sausage of a TV talk show actually gets ground and stuffed into its casing.

However, as I’m in the ‘educated guess’ business and have a more ‘insider’ take on TV sausage-making, I’ll offer some even more critical hypotheses. Beyond that, and i hope more importantly, I’ll then follow these to some broader thoughts on the wider appeal of medi-woo in general. I’ve posted slightly condensed versions of the first three sections on RI as a ‘teaser’, so if you’ve read that you can skip down to The FTC without missing much. I have bracketed the deleted bits with bullets nevertheless.

Oz himself
Amiable empty scrubs who just shows up and reads whatever lines are given him on the cue cards, thus showing utter contempt for the Hippocratic Oath he took as an MD. Probably minimally involved in creation of any individual segment of his show. That’s what the producers get paid for — spending time on stuff so Oz doesn’t have to. Mehmet Oz is likely only minimally and passively involved in the construction of “Dr. Oz.” This is actually more disturbing than it would be if he was running the show and guiding it toward stuff he personally believed in, rather than just showing up and asking, ‘OK, what do we beard for today? Is the script in the teleprompter?’

• There are exceptions, of course, but if you ever get to see a TV ‘public affairs/talk’ thing being produced you’d most likely be shocked to discover that this is the standard routine – the staff does all the prep work, the ‘star’ shows up at the last minute, only dimly aware of what’s going on, gets a quick briefing from the senior producer, sits down — and sounds like an expert when the camera light goes on. That’s basically what makes them TV stars. They have the camera presence and such a thorough mastery of the schtick of being an on-camera authority, that with 5 minutes of prep they come off on screen as more knowledgable than any of us would after 5 months of prep. I’ve seen this on set a couple times (and not really in the ‘big time’ either) and it’s kind of surreal. •

“The Dr. Oz Show” producers
Undoubtedly complicit, with wink-wink, nudge-nudge plausible deniability. They have risen to a high level in an ultra-competitive dog-eat-dog business. There are at least 10 lower-level producers within shouting distance angling to move up the ladder, and if any production staff member at any level were actually gullible or incompetent in any way related to the show, the pack one rung down bring out their inner piranhas, and that’s that. The producers don’t have an inkling guests are selling what they’re promoting; they know guests are selling something. It’s not so much “don’t ask, don’t tell” as just such an obvious condition it doesn’t need to be discussed.

Where this would cross-the-line in TV biz terms would be if the Oz show or Oz himself were getting any kind of kick-back from the sales. Dr. Phil got himself in deep doo-doo by hawking his own supplements on his show. That’s excessive greed by TV standards. The standard quid pro quo is different.

• All non-premium-channel TV is produced in accordance with the bottom line of how TV shows make money: selling audiences to advertisers. Everything you see on a show is bait for some desirable demographic’s attention, placed there to build a higher Neilson rating in the next book, on which ad sales rates are based. Guests are booked because the producers think viewers want to see them; while seeing them they will continue watching rather than changing the channel; and after seeing them they will tune into the show again for more of the same. •

The quid pro quo is ratings for pitch time. The producers know:
1) Telegenic guests will be far more likely to come on the show if they have something to sell. Well, that’s probably an understatement. It’s more like telegenic guests only come on the show when they have something to sell.
2) Having something to sell gives the guests the motivation to be engaged and entertaining on air, making them good guests.
• If guests receive payment for appearances on talk show, it’s always guild minimum. •
Thus, the first question any booker for a talk show asks in seeking guests for upcoming segments is ‘who has something to sell?’ When do A-list guests show up on The Late Show, or The Tonight Show? When they have new movies, or albums, or tours to plug.

The recruitment of Lindsey Duncan:
Given the travails of Dr. Phil and others in the TV-supplement-feature thing, there does seem to be more nudge-nudge-wink-wink here than would be involved in booking guests on other shows and/or for other topics.
“I was hoping that Lindsey Duncan might be available to be our expert. Has he studied green coffee bean at all?”
Translation: Lindsey’s been a great guest before. The audience loves him and he pulls good numbers. Does he sell green coffee bean?
“Is there a GCBE brand or site that Lindsey recommends?”
Translation: Just making sure Lindsey knows he’ll get a chance to plug his product and site by name on the show
To get a bit farther out into not-implausible speculative possibilities, the producers could have done enough research into GCBE to know:
1) None of the folks currently involved in making GCBE would make good guests on the show, or were at least risky unknowns.
2) Duncan was not currently involved in making GCBE, but his company could gear up for it quickly.
Thus, PERHAPS “I was hoping that Lindsey Duncan might be available to be our expert. Has he studied green coffee bean at all? Is there a GCBE brand or site that Lindsey recommends?”
Translates as: If you guys want to start making GCBE, we’ll give you the primo slot as the go-to GCBE pluggers on “The Dr. Oz Show” because we think Lindsey is such an awesome guest.

Duncan said, ““This is either a set up or manna from the heavens.” See, if he didn’t understand TV at all, he’d have just said ‘manna from the heavens’ and not even considered the Oz show was offering him a set-up. He might not have sure, but he might have read the signs to have a pretty good idea it was a set-up, and just felt it too openly gauche to phrase it that way.


    Duncan did not disclose to the Dr. Oz Show producer his relationship to Pure Health. Over the ensuing months, Defendants continued to attempt to hide Duncan’s relationship to Pure Health from the Dr. Oz Show and the public.

Now that’s disingenuous. Either the FTC is gullible and incompetent to the point they don’t know how this game works, or they’re politically savvy enough to know that although the producers of The Dr. Oz Show should be on the hook to pay back the duped, that will never happen. Because even the senior producers of The Dr. Oz Show are relative paeans. The big bosses are Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures Television. The FTC doesn’t have a hook they can get into Harpo and Sony, and their mandate is more directed at the scammers themselves than their TV shills.

Yeah, Hanlon’s razor cuts everywhere, and we could posit that the FTC’s representation of the Oz show as dupes falls as ‘never attribute to dereliction of duty that which is adequately explained by gullibility or incompetence.’ And I wouldn’t argue those qualities aren’t in evidence to some degree at the FTC. But, again, you don’t rise to the position of FTC enforcer with the power to go after Lindsey Duncan for $5mil if you’re gullible and incompetent in general. My guess: Duncan didn’t attempt to hide his relationship to Pure Health from the Dr. Oz Show. The show knew, and they knew without asking. And the FTC knows they knew. But the effort of proving that for an attempt to get at Harpo and Sony – which would be like shooting a beebee at Iron Man – would just be a waste of their time. So The Oz Show gets a pass.

Bottom line
Again, nothing I’ve suggested above is meant to critique Orac’s post in any way. From where Orac sits, going beyond what he wrote would be both irresponsible, and damaging to his credibility. I sit somewhere else, both knowing more about the TV biz and having far more freedom to speculate about what MIGHT be at work here (and these are indeed just hypotheses, not accusations). As such, I’ll venture to remove the “in essence” from the last paragraph of Orac’s post and state flatly: The Dr. Oz Show IS a marketing arm of the supplement industry.

But I do think the “why” matters, and it’s important to note the Oz/supplement relationship is conditional. I’m confident The Oz Show is offering free marketing services to the supplement industry in general and Duncan in particular because that draws more viewers than they can get with something else. Supplement use gets a big cultural boost and social reinforcement by being featured on the Oz show, but it wouldn’t be there in the first place without a sizable public interest. And IMHO, it would be short-sighted to imagine this as an interest in supplements per se, but rather what supplements promise, and a reflection of why that promise appeals to people.

Back to ‘reality TV’ producers as advertising agents for a sec, for some additional possibly disturbing notes. The career path for producers looking to move up the ladder will offer as many or more opportunities in different genres than in similar. Some of the Oz staff may be looking to be lifers at Harpo, and thus be ‘true believers’ in the sort of woo-magic supplements represent. But the next better open gig might be on ‘Judge Judy’ ‘Live with Kelly and Michael’ or ‘The View’.  So like most ad folks, the producers just have boxes to sell and don’t really care what’s in the box. A fair number of them probably know full well that supplements are BS, and Duncan is running a scam. But then, what TV advertising ISN’T a scam? It all promises more than the products can ever deliver. Caveat emptor. It’s the rules of the game. If the producers were going to lose sleep over it, they’d be in a different line of work.

Which is to say that advertisers/marketers/makers of the kinds of goods and services advertised on national TV are all about the box because consumer choice on those purchases is mainly about the promise on the box. GCBE is the supplement du jour, bit it’s disposable. For that matter supplements as a category are disposable. The market will always offer something that promises you’ll lose weight, feel healthier, be more more attractive — all for three easy payments, satisfaction guaranteed. If it’s not a supplement it’s a fad diet or an Ab-Roller, or a ‘toxin cleanse’… Even if all of those go down, they’ll come up with something else.

As a general category though, supplements have been around since the birth of advertising, and I doubt they’ll go away any time soon. They’re too easy to legitimate via the limited degree the masses understand legitimate medicine:

    Vitamins are good. The doctor prescribes them if I have deficiencies as shown in my blood work. Then surely more vitamins are better, or at least couldn’t hurt. When I have med issues, my doctor usually wants me to swallow some pills. Pills fix things, so supplement pills fix things. They’re on the shelf at Wal-Mart in the same aisle with the OTC meds my doctor prescribes for headaches, allergies, cold symptoms yada yada yada. A big pharmacy isn’t going to market a completely invalid category. But everybody knows the best stuff of anything isn’t at Wal-Mart. If you want the good stuff, you go to a specialty dealer and pay more. So, of course, there are premium products out there for the more discriminating in-the-know consumer, not mass advertised, and an expert like Dr. Oz is just the guy to point out The Best, and separate the wheat from the chaff.

The point being, none of this dynamic would work without the broad desire for an answer for the ‘problems’ supplements and other ‘health’ products promise to fix. And if we unpack that desire, I think we find two consistent things:
1) A belief in secular magic, bolstered by the mythos of modern science and technology being able to fix anything. A faith in the ingenuity of the plucky inventor/entrepreneur to defy all the conventional wisdom and produce a world-changing breakthrough. Because that’s what America does.
2) A frustration and disappointment with conventional medicine to deliver the ‘goods’ promised by advertising. This would mainly be the advertising for ‘legit’ OTC remedies, but on a wider plane all advertising in general, and on a narrower plane advertising for ‘legit’ medical services by ‘legit’ hospitals and clinics. You don’t see much of the later on TV, but I always have sports talk on the radio when I’m in the car, and I’d say the majority of ads are health related — a mix of sketchy-sounding supplements and cremes and what not, Lasik centers, hair restoration procedures, and heart/cancer/etc. clinics at major hospitals. All these ads have the same basic appeal: our magic is better than theirs.

This is the discursive soup American patients swim in every day. And on most of their visits to their PCPs, the message meets no contradiction. ‘Take these and it will go away.’ ‘It will go away by itself, but take these and you’ll feel a lot better while it runs it’s course.’ ‘It won’t ever really go away, but take these and it will barely bother you.’ But then there are exceptions, things for which the doctor has no good answer, or an answer that calls for way more action and/or way more discomfort than taking something, or even going in for an outpatient procedure: ‘You need to lose weight and eat better. You’ll have to start a serious exercise regime, overhaul your diet, and give up all that tasty junk food.’ ‘Sorry, no more booze.’ ‘You need chemo, so you’re going to feel as sick as a dog for a long time, and lose all your hair.’

    That’s not magic! Everyone has promised me magic! I want the magic! Sorry, doc. I know the magic is out there. It has to be. I’m off to hunt for it. I’ll be back for the scrip the next time the athletes foot rears up, or I need a refill on the metformin. See ya then!

The following is a response to the thread “A tale of two unnecessarily doomed aboriginal girls with leukemia‘ on Respectful Insolence. I have posted it here due to its length. If you wish to respond, please do so on RI. This post is incomplete. I post it now to address issues raised in the thread about my intent, and about Orac’s positions and character, as I feel these should not wait until I can complete the post with the full material about the cases of Makayla Sault and J. J.

Orac is not a liar. He is an honorable man. He has dedicated his life to doing his best to save people from a horrible disease. His hospital work alone would drain the energies of most human beings. Somehow Orac finds the time and energy to be a outspoken champion for the sick and vulnerable, and an enemy of the scum who prey on them on two well read blogs. Further, he is working with other scientists and doctors to create an organization – SfSBM – that hopefully can have real policy effect in cutting back on quackery. SfSBM has targeted its first political effort as opposing the licensing of naturopaths as primary care providers in Maryland. IMHO, naturopathy is by far the most dangerous form of quackery to the broad public health exactly because it has a possibility to acquire PCP status. The SfSBM initiative could not be more well chosen, and I am willing to do whatever I can to support it. I live in a trailer park on a fixed income. I don’t have money. I do (quite obviously) have time.

In terms of stopping Brian Clement, perhaps someone would argue Orac could do a bit more. I will not. It is absurd to fault him. Perhaps we all could do a bit more, eh?. Orac IS doing more than most of us. I’m with Orac. Don’t even think of throwing stones at him until you can show you’ve done more to stop Clement than he has. (Comment not just to the Col., but to all.) A useful suggestion is not a stone. If there’s been one in the thread, I’ve missed it (not sarcasm, I haven’t re-read all the posts).

I disagree with Orac fairly often. Mostly these disagreements are about analysis, strategy, broader philosophical issues. Also, we seem to have very different thought processes. Orac appears not to like my web persona. He (a web persona, also) is sometimes rude and insulting to ‘sadmar’. He sometimes mis-characterizes what I have written. Or he simply fails to ‘get it.’ I sometimes write jagged replies when this happens. I am not angry at Orac when I write them. I am expressing my ideas theatrically. Before I went into media studies, I was trained as an actor, director, and playwright. I have done guerrilla theater satire at political rallies, and worked on multi-media projects with some modestly well-known professional comedians. I am not literal minded. I exaggerate. I perform.

This is Orac’s blog. He can ban me. He doesn’t. He lets me post. I can leave if I want to. I don’t. I’d guess at least 95% of the time, Orac and I want the same things in terms of changes in the real world regarding medicine and pseudo-science. We have our arguments about how best to achieve those goals. That is all. If anyone finds that not a legitimate topic for discussion here, feel free to lobby Orac to urge a change in policy. He makes the rule, here. If he decides to rule that out, so be it.

I have written before, and I repeat:  while understandable in some respects under the specifics of the case and under the applicable law, Judge Edward Gethin’s ruling sets a disastrous precedent that must be overturned by court appeal or (preferably) legislative action. If the Canadian Parliament is sitting on their hands now, that is moral bankruptcy.

Orac’s question to Colonel Tom is spot on. Makayla Sault is dead. It is EVERYONE’s responsibility to attempt to spare J. J.  from the same fate. It is EVERYONE’s responsibility to keep vctims away from Brain Clement. It is especially incumbent on the Six Nations and New Credit communities to prevent Clement from preying on their children.  Like Orac, I would hate to learn that no old blood warriors are stepping up for J. J. and all the future possible Makaylas.

I will go further, I believe every warrior of every blood age should not only be standing between Clement and their communities, I believe THEY should tell J. J.’s Mom that if she doesn’t get that kid’s butt in chemo right now, she out of the band and off the rez. They want autonomy. They deserve autonomy. So they should act like it, and do something autonomous to save the dying kid from her loony-tunes Mother who is lying through her teeth about wheatgrass being Native medicine.

Additionally, it the responsibility of the First Nations communities in Canada and the Native American communities in the U.S. within shouting distance of Ontario to put pressure on the Six Nations to find a way, any way, to get J. J. back into the hospital. (I will exempt from this responsibility the deeply impoverished Ojibwe and Lakota of Northern Minnesota and the Dakotas, as they have more than enough problems of their won to deal with).

And it is the responsibility of every First Nations communities in Canada to come together and work for a political solution that can prevent any future Makaylas or J.J.s while still protecting their children from forced apprehension and relocation by Canadian authorities. Yes, indigenous peoples engage in politics. At the moment, their politics stink. The answer is not for them to abdicate to Canada. The answer is for them to take the political bull by the horns and do the right thing for their own people.

Orac wrote:
Whenever I hear some of these arguments I seriously start to wonder whether the real subtext behind this is that if the price for asserting the independence of the First Nations against the Canadian government in this issue is unnecessary and preventable deaths of two aboriginal girls at the hands of a white quack from Florida who isn’t even using traditional aboriginal medicine, then that’s a price the girls’ elders are willing to pay.
I shall assume Orac meant to include in “willing” ‘the girls elders are justified in paying’. I can only speak to my own subtext. The life of Makayla Sault was not a price. She was a human being, not a commodity. No one had justification to sacrifice her life for any cause. Adult human beings having chosen to pay the price of their lives for independence and autonomy for centuries, and they will continue to do so. Makayla Sault was 11. That is not a choice 11 year olds get to make for themselves, and no one else gets to make for them.

To any extent that Makayla life was used as a pawn in a political chess match, that would be abhorent beyond words. I have searched the web for every document I can find about this case, and on the basis of that information, I have concluded that the tribal politics of the First Nations bands were not immediate highly significant factors in Makayla’s death. J.J.’s case is another matter. My concerns about the role of the tribes are questions of fact. Of evidence.

Here in the U.S. we have had cases where parents have been allowed to let their minor children die by refusing to have them undergo proper medical treatment. If Makayla had been an American citizen and not a member of any recognized tribe, her parent’s fundamentalist beliefs would have doomed her in many jurisdictions. Here Jerry Coyne has it absolutely right IMHO:
The problem exists in the U.S. as well. According to the National District Attorney Association, 38 of our 50 states have religious exemptions for child abuse, and five have exemptions for manslaughter or murder. If you kill or injure your child by withholding medical care on religious grounds, it’s difficult to prosecute you. And even when prosecutions of religious parents occur, judges and juries are reluctant to convict, or they impose only light sentences. This is part of the unconscionable and unwarranted respect for faith that permeates our nation, and it’s caused the death of thousands of children.
If anyone can provide me with additional factual material to clearly establish that something beyond this was at work in Makayla’s death, I shall reconsider my position.

I shall elaborate on the factual issues, and add my comments on Andrew Koster of the Brant CAS, America’s role in this tragedy, and whatever else comes up in a subsequent post.


For mere entertainment purposes (tongue firmly in cheek), I shall offer a parody of The Python’s parody:

The Skeptics Song, as sung by the Philosphy faculty of the University of South Bayonne:

Slavo Zizek writes nothing but dreck, and swears an oath to Stalin
Pull the shards of glass out of Derrida’s ass, deconstruction’s just appallin’
Iragary’s Loose in her mental caboose, ’cause Physics has no gender
I just go snoozer at Gilles DeLoser, who throws words in a blender

And what could be more pure, than the bullshit of Latour?
(Well maybe Judith Butler’s spouted even more manure!)

Sokal knows Lyotard’s got no clothes, and naked’s his condition.
Jean Baudrillard is just a ‘tard, devoid of all cognition.
We won’t get drawn into Jacque’s LaCON, take your mirror stage out of town.
Michel Foucoult? Unh-uh Hell No! He’s just a poofter clown!

And then there’s Judith Butler who’s the pomo rage du jour
A perky little tomboy, but a poser to be sure!