Dear Oprah,

Last year, it was revealed that author James Frey made up his memoir and passed it off as truth. Since he had been a guest on your show previously and it was primarily your influence that caused his book to rocket up the best seller list, you immediately leapt to his defense. Soon, though, you had a chance to examine all the facts. Instead of clinging to the false hope that the whole ordeal was just a big misunderstanding, you accepted the incontravertible evidence you saw and came to the conclusion that you had been wrong. You decided to set things right by inviting Frey back on your show and beating the ever loving snot out of him. Boy, that was something to see.

Recently, you’ve used your stage to promote the work of self-professed psychics John Edward and Allison DuBois, as well as Dean Radin, who believes that we can physically alter reality simply by wishing hard enough. If James Frey had written a memoir about his life as a hermaphroditic fur trader living in 17th century Quebec, the absurdity of his lies and self-delusion would pale in comparison to that of these charlatans you are parading before a national audience. John Edward alone could out-lie James Frey with a gallon of sodium pentathal coursing through his veins and a magical lie-detecting electro-shock machine hooked up to his genitals.

Whoops, sorry about that — my fantasies briefly influenced my illustrative hypothetical scenario. I’ll assume you get my point: you’ve been conned.

Edward appeared on the TV show Dateline back in 2002. He claimed spirits were telling him to say the name “Anthony,” and when the camera man acknowledged that he knew an Anthony, Edward seemed surprised and asked, “That’s you? Really?” Edward then confirmed the spirit present was the camera man’s father. This all seemed very impressive, until the camera man revealed that he and Edward had chatted earlier, during which time the camera man told Edward all about his dead father. Ta-da! It’s magic! Psychics are not using paranormal abilities — they are using the perfectly normal well-honed observational skills available to us all.

Allison Dubois, inspiration for the television show Medium, claims to have helped police solve a number of murder mysteries. Well that’s odd, because she has yet to provide a shred of proof for this claim. I’m going to write to NBC and tell them I can divine the future by reading the swirls in caramel fudge sundaes. Think they’ll give me my own TV show, too?

And then there’s Dean Radin and The Secret. Oprah, you promoted a “documentary” that claims to show proof that you can literally alter reality by wishing. We’re not talking about the power of positive thinking; we’re talking about the ability to create a pony that farts rainbows by merely thinking about it. Anything is possible, they say. They use a poor muddling of quantum physics to try to confuse people into believing their nonsense. That’s like me claiming that I have a scientific theory to back up my ability to read the future in caramel fudge sundaes: it’s called stratigraphic succession. This proven scientific theory, first developed in the early 19th century, deals with the careful study of layers, and how we can use layers to obtain a deeper understanding of time. Following in the footsteps of the revolutionary researchers who discovered this amazing theory, I simply take it to the next logical level and apply stratigraphic succession principles to the world around me, allowing me to “see” ahead into time.

Did you understand any of that? No? That’s okay, I’ll publish a whole book of that complete and utter nonsense and then come on your show and explain it to you and your audience of millions, going very slowly using the exact same words. Then you can cut me a big check and I’ll buy myself a god damned swimming pool full of caramel fudge sundae. Every year or so I’ll put out another book with the same words rearranged in a different order, and as the money rolls in I’ll laugh at all the suckers who keep me swimming in ice cream for the rest of my diabetes-ridden days.

Oprah, according to an informal poll on your web site, 84.7% of your audience believes that psychics can talk to the dead. A cynic would say that you’ll continue to play to that overwhelming majority, spoon feeding them the nonsense they crave. But I am not a cynic — I am a skeptic. That means that I doubt the veracity of the claims of your guests, but I hold out hope that your own passion to expose the truth will win the day. If there had been a poll on your site following the first appearance of James Frey on your show, what percentage of your audience would have believed that his stories were true? 84%? 99%? 100%? You set them all straight. You can do it again, if you want.

If you don’t want, then please contact me immediately. I have a scientifically supported paranormal ability that’s going to knock your socks off.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Watson
[email protected]

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And to all the readers who would like to express their opinion to Ms. Winfrey: click here.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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35 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Buck Fuddy
    February 16, 2007 at 8:14 am —

    …Dean Radin, who believes that we can physically alter reality simply by wishing hard enough.

    Actually, this used to be possible, until some jerk got a wild hair and wished we couldn't.

  2. Profile photo of Niobe
    February 16, 2007 at 8:37 am —

    Don't forget she was also promoting that "white noise" movie as truth, not to mention the big list of scientology actors she supports.

  3. Profile photo of PopeTom
    February 16, 2007 at 8:55 am —

    How many caramel fudge sundaes do you need to eat before you start to see the future?

    -PT

  4. Profile photo of Blake Stacey
    February 16, 2007 at 9:10 am —

    It's too bad wishes can't shape reality, other than through the tried-and-true method of making us pick up a shovel and start digging. If wishes had mystic power over matter, then surely screams of "I don't want to die" would have stopped planes from crashing into the World Trade Center. If there were a single drop of truth in all the psychic chicanery, there would have been no 9/11, and therefore quite possibly no wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Or are terrorists just able to wish harder than the rest of us?

    I'm also willing to put money on the bet that no newspaper published within New York City in the twenty-four hours prior to the 9/11 attack contained a horoscope with the words, "Avoid tall buildings."

  5. Profile photo of Dan
    February 16, 2007 at 9:21 am —

    I wish to see rebecca tomorrow night at the Peel Pub in Montreal.

    See you there tomorrow Rebecca!! Feel free to thank me for that magical trip to Montreal!!

  6. Profile photo of Dan
    February 16, 2007 at 9:24 am —

    To Buck Fuddy:

    Now, that's a good one!!

    Can I wish that creationists would suddenly disappear from the face of the Earth.

  7. Profile photo of Expatria
    February 16, 2007 at 9:29 am —

    Whenever someone touts that BS from 'The Secret' and their 'law of attraction' as being real, it calls to mind the old cartoon trope where characters can walk off of a cliff and not fall, as long as they don't look down. The stuff they say about how 'anticipating' traffic makes traffic uses precisely the same logic. If I don't worry about/acknowledge the possibility of traffic, it won't happen! And if I'm unaware that people can get diseases I'll never have one, because 'like attracts like' and if I can't THINK about being sick, I never will be!! How perfectly pollyanna.

  8. Profile photo of Beren
    February 16, 2007 at 9:33 am —

    How many caramel fudge sundaes do you need to eat before you start to see the future?

    Only one way to find out! :D

  9. Profile photo of thad
    February 16, 2007 at 9:42 am —

    "I’m going to write to NBC and tell them I can divine the future by reading the swirls in caramel fudge sundaes. Think they’ll give me my own TV show, too?"

    Yes. Yes they would.

    Even more so if part of the show was showing you swimming in your caramel fudge sundae pool…

    (Although you could just go with that last part and have even more networks wanting the show!)

  10. Profile photo of thad
    February 16, 2007 at 9:43 am —

    Question: how is The Secret different to What the &*$# Do We Know? (Perhaps The Secret doesn't have Ramtha on their side?)

  11. Profile photo of jope
    February 16, 2007 at 9:46 am —

    I don't know about you, but I regularly wish very hard and thereby produce a pony that farts rainbows.

    Well, the flatulence portion, at least. I expect that given enough practice, the ponies and rainbows will come in time.

  12. Profile photo of Anthony
    February 16, 2007 at 11:48 am —

    It's times like this I wish that I had about twice the writing skill that I do so that I could shoot off an email to Oprah that properly formulated my seething rage towards these morons. Sadly, it takes me so long to form a proper sentence that most of these hucksters will have fallen out of favor by the time I get through with one witty paragraph.

    Also, the lack of sexually driven, extremely buxom, video game playing women should speak volumes about peoples abilities to create things with the power of our mind.

    How many Laura Croft look alikes would the world be populated with if we could dream things into reality?

  13. Profile photo of Joshua
    February 16, 2007 at 12:34 pm —

    Sounds like Buck Fuddy's been re-reading Sphere lately. ;)

  14. Profile photo of KC
    February 16, 2007 at 2:14 pm —

    Great letter. I especially liked the visual of Edwards having "a magical lie-detecting electro-shock machine" attached to his genitals. :)

  15. Profile photo of jbrader
    February 16, 2007 at 2:46 pm —

    Since this is a three day weekend I'm traveling home to visit my family. The trip involves driving all the way across Washington and over some very snowy mountains with my dog in the truck. We're leaving tomorrow morning. Until then I'm going to wish very hard that I'll simply be transported into my mother's living room. I'll get my wife and dog to do the same.

    I'll let everybody know how it turns out.

  16. Profile photo of JackPT
    February 16, 2007 at 5:04 pm —

    You'd be better off writing to Gary and her minge.

  17. Profile photo of gopher65
    February 16, 2007 at 5:32 pm —

    At first I thought the sundae pool thing was a great idea, but then it occurred to me that swimming in that carmael fudge sundae pool would probably give you a yeast infection. And probably hypothermia and frostbite. After that it didn't seem nearly as attractive. I guess we'll have to stick to nude mud wrestling for now. Mud has swirls too you know.

  18. Profile photo of khaney
    February 16, 2007 at 5:43 pm —

    daddy, I want a rainbow farting pony, NOW!

  19. Profile photo of jch3nyc
    February 16, 2007 at 5:51 pm —

    Exellent piece!!!!! Fantastic writing. I sent it to some Oprah fans I know.

    I just wished that my cat would fart a rainbow, and wait, he just farted something! Oh, well certainly NOT a rainbow :-)

    John

  20. Profile photo of bug_girl
    February 16, 2007 at 6:21 pm —

    Nicely done, Rebecca! I will try to compose something for Oprah and send it.

    (It won't mention body hair, I promise!)

  21. Profile photo of Briareos
    February 17, 2007 at 2:39 am —

    Lies, all lies! You can't see the future in carmel sundaes!

    Only chocolate works. It's ground up unicorn hooves.

    Dean Radin had better hope that his "secret" is all bullplop otherwise he will shortly drown in the toilet after writing a will naming me as his sole heir.

  22. Profile photo of Buck Fuddy
    February 17, 2007 at 5:48 am —

    To Buck Fuddy:

    Now, that’s a good one!!

    Thank you. That's called a reductio ad absurdum. I'm glad you enjoyed it. In this case it works particularly well, because it just takes one incident to break it permanently because, once broken, it cannot be restored by the same method because it doesn't work anymore.

    Can I wish that creationists would suddenly disappear from the face of the Earth.

    Sure. You can wish all you want. :-)

  23. Profile photo of Cethis
    February 17, 2007 at 6:21 am —

    I just left my comment with Oprah. Hopefully it will help convince her to get a skeptic like James Randi, or Rebecca on the show.

  24. Profile photo of davehodg
    February 17, 2007 at 7:16 am —

    Oprah took a beating in the book "SHAM!" for her uncritical peddling of crap. Dr Phil got a fair kicking too.

    Lovely stuff. Keep it up.

  25. Profile photo of Mariner
    February 17, 2007 at 9:13 am —

    A show on the USA network called "Psych" pulls the whole charade off perfectly. Parading around as a "psychic" and using his "psychic abilities" (otherwise known as the power of observation) he's able to con everyone, except his father who taught it to him, that he is a psychic. An excellent show that exposes these frauds for what they are: frauds.

  26. Profile photo of exarch
    February 18, 2007 at 7:32 am —

    February 16, 2007 at 1:24 pm, Dan wrote:

    "Can I wish that creationists would suddenly disappear from the face of the Earth."

    Isn't that what "the rapture" is all about?

  27. Profile photo of exarch
    February 18, 2007 at 7:38 am —

    Also, would't swimming in sundae be likely to have a rather similmar ending as swimming in quicksand?

  28. Profile photo of Buck Fuddy
    February 18, 2007 at 8:23 am —

    Also, would’t swimming in sundae be likely to have a rather similmar ending as swimming in quicksand?

    Similar, but much sweeter.

    Why does it take longer to drown in beer than water?

    Because you have to keep getting out to go to the bathroom.

  29. Profile photo of gopher65
    February 18, 2007 at 11:06 am —

    I don't think it would sundaes are denser than water, and not porous like quicksand. So you'd have a heck of a time doing anything other than laying on top of the sundae, partially submerged.

  30. Profile photo of Buck Fuddy
    February 18, 2007 at 11:20 am —

    …laying on top of the sundae, partially submerged.

    Mmmmm. What a nice thought.

    But I don't think sundaes are denser than water. I haven't tried it, but I'm betting if you dropped one in your bathtub, it'd float.

  31. Profile photo of bug_girl
    February 18, 2007 at 2:21 pm —

    You guys are SO not making it easy to stick to my diet…

    Also, my experience is that the more ice cream you eat, the more buoyant you become. If I ride any higher in the water, people will start thinking I'm Jesus.

  32. Profile photo of exarch
    February 18, 2007 at 3:28 pm —

    Sundae's are lots of tiny frozen milk crystals with air inbetween. Of course, when it's fresh out of the freezer, it's still pretty solid, but when it starts to melt, it becomes soft. So while you might be able to float on top, once you started moving, or trying to get out, you'd probably sink deeper, and like quicksand, unable to get back out because of suction.

    Also, IIRC, things like rootbeer floats are made by floating a ball of ice cream in a glas of rootbeer? So that means it floats, or they wouldn't call it a "float", right?

  33. Profile photo of Expatria
    February 18, 2007 at 4:44 pm —

    markgreyam has just demonstrated to me the way in which chicken patties can be expelled nasally due to laughter. Good show, sir, very good show.

  34. Profile photo of exarch
    February 18, 2007 at 5:27 pm —

    He'll be here all week.

  35. Profile photo of markgreyam
    February 18, 2007 at 7:26 pm —

    This reminds me of the original draft of that John Lennon song :

    Imagine there’s no Heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there’s a pony
    It isn’t hard to do
    It’s flatulence is rainbows
    Pots of gold in it’s poo
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    Personally I think he was right on the money before he changed it.

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