Oprah Winfrey and misusing entertainment (and large) platforms

In my latest for Big Think, I use the whole “Oprah denies atheism” affair as a jump off point to examine her larger and damaging approach to thinking.

I don’t view all celebrity as bad. What I worry about is the uncritical or unthinking engagement so many have toward things they adore: From people to video games, nothing is sacred. That doesn’t mean we can’t be sensitive in how we criticise, of course, but neither does it mean our silence for fear of offence.

Celebrities can do good, of course. But we shouldn’t be afraid of calling them out just because their platform is larger than ours or just because they’ve, perhaps, done good in the world. As I indicate, doing good in one area doesn’t absolve you of wrong done elsewhere.

(PS: Please try refer to her as Oprah Winfrey or Winfrey. I have a small annoyance at referring to strangers by first name, who actually have a surname. [Hence, Madonna is fine and is after all her stage name])

Harvard’s Oprah endorsement is a blow to reason

At TIME, Erika Christakis and Nicholas A. Christakis have penned an article criticising Harvard’s endorsement of Oprah Winfrey, with the awarding of an honourary doctorate and as commencement speaker. As their title indicates, “Oprah as Harvard’s Commencement Speaker Is an Endorsement of Phony Science”.

Oprah’s particular brand of celebrity is not a good fit for the values of a university whose motto, Veritas, means truth. Oprah’s passionate advocacy extends, unfortunately, to a hearty embrace of phony science. Critics have taken Oprah to task for years for her energetic shilling on behalf of peddlers of quack medicine. Most notoriously, Oprah’s validation of Jenny McCarthy’s discredited claim that vaccines cause autism has no doubt contributed to much harm through the foolish avoidance of vaccines.

Ms Winfrey does tend to endorse a lot of pseudoscientific nonsense: Rhonda Byrne (who “wrote” The Secret and The Power), Dr Oz, and similar promoters of nonscience and nonsense.

It’s good to see that those working in Harvard, as both writers do, are heavily critical of this decision. [Read more...]