Dr. Drew: $elling Out $cience

June 27, 2012

Flipping through TV channels (June 11, 2012) I happened upon Dr. Drew, just in time to watch the physician uncomfortably hosting the notorious “psychic medium” James Van Praagh. I say uncomfortably because Dr. Drew Pinsky does not for a moment believe Van Praagh can talk to the dead. So why, in the name of Ethics, you ask, does he have the pretender doing readings on his $how? Can we $olve thi$ my$tery?

Van Praagh was making the rounds to promote his new book, which joins his previous ones, including Ghosts Among Us and Unfinished Business, in advancing the life-after-death myth. Growing Up in Heaven: The Eternal Connection Between Parent and Child is supposed to help those who have lost children deal with their grief. (For more on Van Praagh, whom I once debated on a radio program, see my Real-Life X–Files, 2001, 194–199.)

No doubt, as a physician, Pinsky knows that, once the brain is dead, all brain function ceases, and with it the ability to walk, talk, and say “boo!” Never mind the supposed “energy” that Van Praagh and other New Agers blather on about. Any energy given off by the body at death would naturally dissipate. (See my The Science of Ghosts, 2012.) Thus, as an ostensible man of science, Dr. Pinsky certainly tried to keep himself at arm’s length from Van Praagh’s pretend supernaturalism. Pinsky repeatedly referred to Van Praagh as a “self-proclaimed” psychic medium, while describing himself as a skeptic regarding Van Praagh’s purported ability to talk with the dead. “Our methods are completely different,” he insisted. However, he added, “You can be skeptical like I am and still help people.”

What the doctor is really saying—in his most paternalistic manner—is that the end justifies the means, that a little pretense is okay if it is for a good purpose. So he says of the self proclaimer, in the tone one might adopt for a harmless quack, “Though our methods are very different, our objectives are the same.” As he said of one woman’s dwelling on a death, and Van Praagh’s spiritualist message to her, “If that helps her let go of this and move through her grief, I’m all about what James has to say.”

But Van Praagh’s “help” comes at quite a price. That is a betrayal of Pinsky’s own stated conviction that “death is a part of life” and should be accepted as such. Yet here he is, obviously concerned more about his show’s ratings than about science and truth, becoming a party to tricking the grief-stricken, enticing them (ironically, since he is an addiction specialist) into dependence on the opiate of belief. It is a false belief, as Pinsky himself acknowledges, yet he states, “Again, I like working with James because he helps people feel better, and that’s what I’m all about.”

This dose of platitudinous syrup from Dr. Drew is obviously meant to mask the bitter taste of his endorsement of ignorance and superstition—as if spiritualist beliefs were simply a harmless placebo. No wonder the good doctor seemed uncomfortable.


#1 Dorion on Wednesday June 27, 2012 at 8:23am

I saw the program and had the same reaction, particularly to the idea that “hey, if it makes you happy, then good on ya.” As an addiction counselor, Pinsky definitely knows better—what makes us “feel good” often destroys us.

#2 Function13 (Guest) on Wednesday June 27, 2012 at 10:03am

Dr. Drew is hardly a bastion of skepticism and promoter of empiricism. See Suburra.com’s scathing criticisms of Dr. Drew’s work.

#3 Function13 on Wednesday June 27, 2012 at 10:04am

Dr. Drew is hardly a bastion of skepticism and promoter of empiricism. See Suburra.com’s scathing criticisms of Dr. Drew’s work.

#4 Eric (Guest) on Thursday June 28, 2012 at 6:39am

Function - your link is a serious “takedown” of Dr. Drew’s view on drugs…until you read the purpose of said blogger. The site is specifically geared to fight for making it appear that recreational drug use is OK. Of course they are going to challenge anyone who dares say drugs might be bad. Dr. Drew has never said that all drugs or their use are bad, but also has formed his own opinion on what happens to addicts through his thousands of hours of practice and study.

As far as Dr. Drew’s guest…you again have to look at the medium. He is on a CNN network. When they tell him to have a psychic on, he has to…and be as nice as he can. It is the crappy part about TV. Why is there no real skeptic TV show to this day? Because it is not easy to sell our message. We get close with Mythbusters, but it takes a lot of C4 to get there. Listen to Dr. Drew on Adam Corolla’s show and you get a better sense of who he is.

Do I agree with every skeptic all the time? No. But we can’t always stick 100% to our convictions when sometimes getting 85% of what we want is pretty good…far better than 0%

#5 davidwilliambarker on Thursday June 28, 2012 at 11:56am

In a an early episode of Anderson Cooper’s afternoon talk show, he called himself a skeptic, then fawned all over John Edward like he had a big crush on him, partly because AC’s mother was on the same show and was a True Believer in Edward’s crap.

#6 Dorion on Thursday June 28, 2012 at 12:06pm

I saw that episode, @5, and was befuddled. I had some respect for Anderson Cooper, but his foray into “daytime braindead TV” has really damaged that.

#7 joemac53 on Monday July 02, 2012 at 2:21pm

I don’t want to be a wiseguy, but maybe you should suggest that “South Park” have an episode about Dr. Drew.

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