Tag Archives: Oz

Brain Scans and Psychics

steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

In a trifecta of pseudoscience, Dr. Oz calls upon Dr. Amen to demonstrate (live on TV) how the Long Island Medium is real.

Where do I begin?

Dr. Oz has long ago abandoned any scientific legitimacy, not to mention self-respect. He has gone from giving basic medical advice, to promoting alternative quackery, and now he is just another daytime TV sellout, gushing over psychics. With Dr. Oz, however, it is all done with a patina of science.

The Medium

LongIslandMedium_250pxTheresa Caputo is just another fake psychic doing bad cold readings before audiences that have more of a desire to believe than apparent critical thinking skills. Her performance on Dr. Oz is fairly typical – she fishes with vague and high probability guesses, working multiple people at once, who then struggle to find some connection to what she is saying.

For example, she tells one mark who is trying to connect with her father, “Your father wants to talk about  the coin collection?” This is a great vague statement. First, it is one of those statements that seems very specific, but in actuality is a high probability vague statement. Anything to do with coins can seem to be a hit, and in the fairly good chance that an older gentleman had a literal coin collection it will seem like a fantastic hit.

In this case, however, the target found a nice face-saving hit. Apparently another psychic told the same person that her father sends her “pennies from heaven.” There you go.

psychic 856_250pxIn another segment with Caputo she demonstrates almost a parody of terrible cold reading. She senses a father figure and a daughter figure. She says to an entire audience that someone lost a father and someone lost a daughter. She also goes out on a limb and says – something to do with the chest. Shockingly, someone from the audience steps forward. Caputo then makes two clear misses. She says that she senses the person was lost suddenly. The target clearly indicates this was not the case, at which time Caputo tries to recover by saying that – even when someone is ill, we did not expect to lose them at that exact moment. Right. She then goes for the daughter, which is also a clear miss, leading to that awkward moment when an alleged psychic so thoroughly fails that they struggle to find an escape hatch.

I also found it interesting that when asked about the brain scan test she was about to have, Caputo responded by saying that no matter what the tests show, she just wants to help people. She was seemingly pre-rationalizing for possible failure. Infer from that what you will.

Dr. Daniel Amen

Dr. Amen as made millions of dollars proving SPECT scans for a long list of diagnoses.  SPECT scans use a radioisotope to track blood flow in the brain, which can be used to infer brain activity. The problem with SPECT scan is that there is a tremendous amount of noise in brain activity so you need to be very careful about interpreting the results. There is some utility in looking for dead areas of the brain following a stroke, for example. SPECT has also been used to localize seizures (increased activity during a seizure and then decreased activity following the seizure).

SPECT Imaging

SPECT Imaging

Clinical use of SPECT, however, has been very limited because it is just too noisy. The test often does not have good specificity. Amen is using SPECT for a wide range of indications for which it has not been validated – we do not have data to show that the results of the test can be used to predict confirming diagnostic tests or response to treatment. But SPECT is very useful for generating pretty pictures that seem scientific and can be used to imagine any result you wish.

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Dr. Oz: A Hazard To America’s Health

Is Dr. Oz a fraud or a fool? I can’t know for sure, and I don’t care.

red-palm-oil-dr-oz
by Jamy Ian Swiss via randi.org

I do know this: He sure doesn’t seem like much of a scientist to me.

And I am also pretty damned sure that he is a hazard to America’s health. And probably the greatest hazard on network television today. And that’s saying something.

When was the last time that a revolutionary, historic, scientific breakthrough was first demonstrated and announced on an afternoon television talk show?

The correct answer: NEVER.

One of the signature signs of “pathological science” is when scientists operate outside of their areas of special expertise. Another is when they skirt peer review and go directly to the media or the public. One textbook example is the pseudoscientific claims of cold fusion made in 1989 by the chemists Pons and Fleischman, and quickly discarded by the legitimate scientific community, following repeated failures to replicate their claims and results.

These attributes apply to this past Thursday’s episode of “The Dr. Oz Show” – all the more so, in fact, since Dr. Mehmet Oz is not a scientist. He’s a heart surgeon.

Oz seems to be an accomplished surgeon, which means he’s good with scalpels and sutures. But beyond that, I wouldn’t let him near me or any loved one I know. Dr. Mehmet Oz is a truly dangerous man.

LongIslandMedium_250px_200pxOn Thursday’s show (May 9, 2013), Dr. Oz presented Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium, in a repeat appearance on his program. He also brought on the best-selling author and psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Amen, who operates the Amen Clinics. Dr. Amen has made a name for himself in books and frequent television appearances, particularly for his promotion of SPECT brain imaging as a supposed tool in psychiatric diagnosis for conditions ranging from ADHD to depression. The scientific evidence for such claims appears to border between questionable and nonexistent. (For a skeptical look at some of Dr. Amen’s claims, see this article by Dr. Harriet Hall: and more here.

Dr. Oz, insisting that the events presented on Thursday’s show were “historic” and “ground-breaking,” then had Dr. Amen hook up Ms. Caputo to a SPECT scanner, and then give a reading to a studio audience member.

According to the Mayo Clinic website:

A single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) scan lets your doctor analyze the function of some of your internal organs. A SPECT scan is a type of nuclear imaging test, which means it uses a radioactive substance and a special camera to create 3-D pictures.

While imaging tests such as X-rays can show what the structures inside your body look like, a SPECT scan produces images that show how your organs work. For instance, a SPECT scan can show how blood flows to your heart or what areas of your brain are more active or less active.

Notice that last part – it tells you what parts of your brain are “active.” There is no evidence it can tell you if that brain is psychic. Before it could do that, you would need to determine, it seems to me, that such a thing as “psychic” exists. Parapsychology has been working on that for about 150 years. Results to date: zip, zilch, zero.

This SPECT scan of Theresa Caputo’s brain, taken during her psychic reading of a Dr. Oz audience member, clearly shows the area of her brain responsible for spouting bullcrap is very active.

Ms. Caputo, the self-styled psychic, was asked to “remain very still,” but to hold up one finger to indicate when she was receiving the voice “of spirit,” while Dr. Amen observed the brain scan activity.

I’m not a scientist, but it doesn’t take a PhD to notice that this demonstration – regardless of whether a SPECT scan can tell us anything remotely relevant about what is going on in a psychic’s brain – is not only not double-blinded, it’s not even single-blinded. The subject indicates when she claims something is happening, and the observer looks to find a match. This isn’t science. It’s non-science and nonsense.

Not to mention that nagging little question about what a SPECT scan can actually tell you about the brain.

Not to mention that if you want to test a psychic, one should probably start with testing what a psychic claims to be able to do.

Not to mention that the JREF has a million dollars for any psychic who can demonstrate their abilities under test conditions.

BullShit_200pxAs for that, Ms. Caputo – although she seems to have impressed the hell out of Dr. Oz, albeit based on his record this doesn’t seem to take much – didn’t seem to be able to do much of anything. She began her first reading (a demonstration prior to the “experiment”) by looking for something from a “father or a daughter.” She managed to find someone in the audience who had lost their father, but as soon as she asked who the daughter was – who was the “female spirit” – the subject drew a dead blank.

Ms. Caputo had to extend out to the studio audience, fishing for a “hit.” Finally she found one. Sort of.

But she had a bucket of bullshit to cover her tracks . . .

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The Great and Powerful Oz versus science and research ethics

via Science-Based Medicine

That Dr. Mehmet Oz uses his show to promote quackery of the vilest sort is no longer in any doubt. I was reminded yet again of this last week when I caught a rerun of one of his shows from earlier this season, when he gazed in wonder at the tired old cold reading schtick used by all “psychic mediums” from time immemorial, long before the current crop of celebrity psychic mediums, such as John Edward, Sylvia Browne, and the “Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo, discovered how much fame and fortune they could accrue by scamming the current generation of the credulous. LongIslandMedium_250pxSpeaking of Theresa Caputo, that’s exactly who was on The Dr. Oz Show last week (in reruns), and, instead of being presented as the scammer that she is, never was heard even a hint of a skeptical word from our erstwhile “America’s doctor,” who cheerily suggested that seeing a psychic medium scammer is a perfectly fine way to treat crippling anxiety because, well, Caputo claims that it is. Even worse, apparently it wasn’t even the first time that Dr. Oz had Caputo on his show, and Caputo wasn’t even the first psychic whose schtick he represented as somehow being a useful therapeutic modality for various psychological issues. “Crossing Over” psychic John Edward was there first in a segment Oz entitled Are Psychics the New Therapists? I could have saved him the embarrassment and simply told him no, but apparently Oz is too easily impressed. As I said before, if he’s impressed by clumsy cold readers like Browne, Caputo, and Edward, it doesn’t take much to impress him. Also, apparently his producers aren’t above editing science-based voices beyond recognition to support their quackery.

I was further reminded how Dr. Oz promotes quackery by an article in Slate yesterday entitled Dr. Oz’s Miraculous Medical Advice: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I suppose it would be mildly hypocritical of me to snark at the rather obvious “Wizard of Oz” jokes aimed at Dr. Oz. After all, I’ve used the same joke myself at one time or another and, in light of the Slate.com article, couldn’t resist using it in the title of my post. However, I wasn’t about to let that distract me from the article itself, which is very good. The reason is that there are two aspects to Dr. Oz’s offenses against medical science. psychic-john-edward-2012-events_02There is the pure quackery that he features and promotes, such as psychic scammers like John Edward and Theresa Caputo, faith healing scammers like Dr. Issam Nemeh, and “alternative health” scammers like reiki masters, practitioners of ayruveda, Dr. Joe Mercola, who was promoted as a “pioneer” that your doctor doesn’t want you to know about. Never was it mentioned that there are very good reasons why a competent science-based physician would prefer that his patients have nothing to do with Dr. Mercola, who runs what is arguably the most popular and lucrative alternative medicine website currently in existence and manages to present himself as reasonable simply because he is not as utterly loony as his main competition, Mike Adams if NaturalNews.com (who has of late let his New World Order, anti-government, “Obama’s coming to take away your guns” conspiracy theory freak flag fly) and Gary Null.

The second aspect is that Dr. Oz also does give some sensible medical advice.

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