The Vile Drew Pinsky

The Vile Drew Pinsky July 2, 2012

Joe Nickell has a blistering article on the CFI blog about Dr. Drew Pinsky, who appears to be willing to do almost anything as long as it keeps him on TV, makes him money and lets him hang out with D-list “stars” whose agent didn’t even have enough pull to get them on Celebrity Apprentice.

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? …

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.”

But Van Praagh isn’t helping people, he’s fleecing them. 40 years ago, Tom Lehrer introduced a song by referring to a friend of his who was a physician who “specialized in diseases of the rich.” That’s essentially what Pinsky is doing.

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  • Daniel Kolle

    Doug Stanhope, who has since basically become an angry guy instead of an angry comedian, has an excellent take on Dr. Drew:

  • jba55

    I’m glad you mentioned Tom Lehrer, every time I hear/see Dr Drew* I think of that line. It’s so prophetic.

    @1 I really like Stanhope, but sometimes he pisses me off wicked bad. Like the whole denial of addictions reality, to take an example from the posted bit. Still head and shoulders above Maher though.

    *BTW, I really think that as a non-pediatric doctor you should lose… I dunno, something, when you want to be referred to by Dr. (first name). Unprofessional.

  • d cwilson

    This is really just like Dr. Oz and the steady stream of charlatans he parades on his show day after day. It’s really sad. Once someone has earned the MD credential, any health advice, mental or physical that they endorse carries extra weight. I guess everyone has their price.

    To me, Doctors Drew, Oz, and Phil are worse that Oprah. She at least can make the excuse that she hasn’t had the education and training to separate legitimate medical advice from the quackery she regularly promotes. These guys with medical degrees can’t make that claim.

  • Speaking as someone who did his graduate and post-doctoral work at medical universities, and who has had lots of physician friends, the reverence that society bestows upon MD holders is puzzling to me. That’s not to suggest that most MDs are anything other than extremely bright and good at their chosen profession, but you’d be amazed at just how many complete and total idiots manage to get into med school and somehow graduate, and just how many of them do so for all the wrong reasons. I place exactly zero cachet in a “Dr.” on TV dispensing advice, as I’m pretty sure that it’s trivial to find at least one MD who will advocate for any given dangerous, pointless, and unscientific remedy out there if you pay him enough.

  • This is the least of Pinksy’s problems. I’m not sure how Pinsky has been able to keep his license using patients as entertainment, notwithstanding the thin disguise of doing it for educational purposes. We’re supposed to be as close to immaculate as possible when it comes to compromises of patient privacy. The patient’s consent is not sufficient in itself to justify exposure. Privacy compromise, with patient consent, for the education of other professionals can be acceptable as long as the exposure isn’t indiscriminate, which is not possible on television. Television viewers aren’t selected by the doc or the patient. TV viewers are self-selected gawkers. Claiming it’s educational totally ignores the fact that a large segment of the audience is watching for amusement and titillation. In many cases, they’re watching for no other reason than to laugh at the patients. Can psychiatry be entertaining and educational when it compromises patient privacy? Absolutely not. Patients are done a disservice when they are used for entertainment.

  • The sad thing is that Dr. Drew used to constantly express contempt for TV doctors, right up until he became one.

  • Happiestsadist

    Dr. Drew is also notably, embarrassingly ignorant about pretty much everything related to sex that isn’t straight, married, PIV vanilla. Good thing he didn’t dispense sex advice professionally or anything- oh shit.

  • dysomniak, darwinian socialist

    When asked how to make anal sex more comfortable he replied “That part of the body wasn’t made for doing that, and I dread to see what will happen to these women down the line… it won’t be pretty.”

  • jba55

    @4 I’d like to pile on with you against the phd=smarter than you, thing. I used to work in a hospital; a major, world class hospital. We were actually very highly ranked in the *world* for several types of care, liver care springs right to mind (I worked for CT scan, that’s why that jumps to mind).

    And yet there were many people with doctorates that were, frankly, dumb. To get a PHD you need to be able to memorize things. That’s the minimum. The quality students do more than that, of course. Most doctors are very, very smart. Smarter than me, probably smarter than a lot of the commentors around here. (no offense intended) But there is still a minority of people who can regurgitate the info and pass, get their PHD, be doctors, despite not, really, deserving it. And then they can say “But I’m a *Dr*! My opinion is right!”.

    And whew. *pant*.

    Sorry, needed to vent that. My main point is, I think, obvious. Being a doctor doesn’t make you infallible. You’re still a person, you can be wrong. And Dr “Drew” is often, very, very wrong.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    I pretty much decided anything Pinksy had to say wasn’t worth listening to when, on an episode of Loveline, he declared that any body piercing other than a woman getting her ears pierced was an unconditonal sign of anti- social problems.

  • Eh, I like Dr. Drew.

    Don’t always agree with him, sometimes he’s dead wrong, but hey, I still like him.

  • Suido


    I think you’re confusing MD and PHD during your vent. I fully agree with that final paragraph though.

  • carolw

    Pinsky is full of it. I remember when he hosted “Love Lines,” any time a young lady with a high-pitched voice called in, he was like, ah-ha, sexual abuse as a child. Maybe consider that small-framed people have higher voices?

    Pfft. “Dr.” Phil doesn’t even have a real medical degree. And in Mary Roach’s book “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” she asks Oz about hearts that have been removed for transplant that keep beating.

    “So animated are these freestanding hearts that surgeons have been known to drop them. ‘We wash them off and they do just fine,’ replied New York transplant surgeon Mehmet Oz when I asked him about it. I imagined the heart slipping across the linoleum, the looks exchanged, the rush to retrieve it and clean it off, like a bratwurst that’s rolled off the plate in a restaurant kitchen.”

  • Suido

    While double checking my knowledge for the above post, I happened upon this little gem: catholic universities award STDs. Sproing goes the irony meter.

  • dontpanic

    Late to the game, but I want to reiterate and expand on Suido’s point about PhD vs. MD. Generally a requirement for a PhD is that the candidate perform original academic research and present it in the form of a thesis or dissertation. MD degrees do not; though it is possible to earn a joint MD/PhD. A PhD isn’t about memorization for the most part, it’s about taking on a project and doing research.

    And no, I don’t think most (medical) doctors are very, very smart. Good at memorization, immune from vasovagal syncope responses, willing to get messy and touch icky bits, exhibit terrible handwriting… perhaps. But particularly “smart”? No, not really a requirement.

    I think the last MSM based doctor I listened to was Ruth Westheimer. From what I hear around the edges of my media blindness that’s probably a GoodThing™.

  • @CarolW

    Pinsky is full of it. I remember when he hosted “Love Lines,” any time a young lady with a high-pitched voice called in, he was like, ah-ha, sexual abuse as a child. Maybe consider that small-framed people have higher voices?

    Yes, I remember him doing this. Utterly ridiculous.

    “Dr.” Phil doesn’t even have a real medical degree.

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Dr. Phil isn’t a psychiatrist. He trained as clinical psychologist and holds a PhD in that field, as I do. I’ve never known him to misrepresent himself, and actually most of us are quite proud our training since we actually study in our field for much longer and more intensively than psychiatrists study psychiatry. We train as clinicians and academic researchers.

    That said, Dr. Phil can no longer legally call himself a psychologist. In 1989, the State of Texas filed ethics charges against him resulting in a one-year suspension of his license, a required psych eval and remedial supervision. Though he complied with the disciplinary requirements for reinstatement, he went into business with an attorney as a jury consultant and never returned to clinical work. He did not maintain his Texas license, probably because he discovered that there is a hell of lot more money in jury consulting than there is in clinical practice. This is how he met Oprah. He was the jury consultant hired by Oprah’s defense team. I’m no fan of Dr. Phil, but there is nothing deficient about his education and training.

  • carolw

    re Dr X @ 16:

    Mea culpa. I was going on what I had head about Dr. Phil, not based on any research. I should have consulted Google or Wikipedia. Thanks for the info.

  • slc1

    Dr. Pinsky has also been accused of using his radio show to pimp drugs for Glaxo, without informing his audience that he is the recipient of several hundred thousand dollars from Glaxo.