Snake oil saleswoman

6. The red state Oprah makes the real talk show host's medical advice look reliable

By Salon Staff
December 16, 2009 3:01AM (UTC)
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Suzanne Somers on "The Oprah Winfrey Show"

When it came to medicine and science, crazy spread faster than a pandemic flu in 2009. First we saw some previously healthy individuals get infected, as when Bill Maher told America to avoid the H1N1 vaccine. But then we saw those infected with a slight dose of crazy slide into critical condition.

Salon took a few to task this year: Oprah Winfrey, long a purveyor or dubious medical advice, brought none other than Jenny "Measles" McCarthy under her wing, and is developing a talk show for the face of the anti-vaccine movement. Polio, anyone?


Then there's Arianna Huffington and the Living section of her eponymous media juggernaut. The Huffington Post remains ground zero for pseudoscience: enemas to cure swine flu, and anti-vaccine propaganda by the likes of funnyman (and Measles McCarthy beau) Jim Carrey, David Kirby and others. PBS also gets a shout-out for another odd medical infomercial: Dr. Mark Hyman, the mind behind the dubious "UltraMind Solution" (who gets additional points for being a HuffPuff blogger).

But despite such stiff competition, Suzanne Somers is our winner. The former sitcom actress-cum-thighmaster had a Year in Crazy like no other. First, she appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where she continued her campaign for women to use "bioidentical" hormone replacement therapy as a cure-all or performance-enhancing drug. Never mind that the term "bioidentical" is medically meaningless, and the compounding pharmacies Somers urged her audience to get it from have no quality control. Never mind that many of the experts Somers relied on in her book about hormone therapy had never been near a laboratory (one only has a high school diploma). Despite all of that, Winfrey ate it up, suggesting Somers was a pioneer rather than a quackadoo.

It didn't end there for Somers, however. Last fall, she scored a New York Times bestseller with her latest book, "Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer -- And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place." Somers' thesis -- that chemotherapy doesn't work and doctors and drugmakers want to keep cancer around to make money -- preys on cynicism against the medical establishment and the hopes of people suffering from a serious disease, rather than credible medical research. It's also insincere. When Somers had breast cancer and precancerous changes of her uterus (both possibly the result of her feverish devotion to hormone replacement), she turned to doctors, undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation for breast cancer and a hysterectomy to escape uterine cancer.


Regardless of whether she's a quackadoo, a pioneer or just a plain hypocrite, with her coronation by Oprah and the success of "Knockout," Somers tops our list of medical crazy for 2009.

Salon Staff

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