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.