Having just returned to New York this evening after several days on Cape Cod, I turned on our local PBS television station, Channel 13, to watch Moyers and Company while my wife and I hustled up some dinner. Channel 13 is in the middle of a fund drive, and so it is presenting special segments; following the Moyers program was a lengthy double-segment titled “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” featuring Dr. Daniel Amen.
After a few minutes of watching this video of Dr. Amen presenting his “findings” before a rapt audience, I turned to my wife and asked why in the world was PBS airing this blatant infomercial? Once I turned off the program and went to my computer, I quickly found out that others had asked the same question, at least as far back as four years ago. On May 12, 2008, for example, the neurologist, Robert Burton, wrote a piece in Salon.com titled, “Brain Scam. Why is PBS airing Dr. Daniel Amen’s self-produced infomercial for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?”
Now, I am neither a medical doctor nor a scientist–simply a well-educated humanist with a healthy dose of skepticism. And what I saw in Dr. Amen’s video presentation quickly had my skeptical antennae quivering. Clearly, this man was looking for fish to haul aboard into his Amen Clinics; and the net he threw out was wide enough to gather in most of our older population. Among its many strands are memory issues (most everyone’s worry), obesity (America has the highest rates in the world), and depression (a major chronic illness in America). And, after getting one’s brain scanned as a way to diagnose one’s particular malady, Dr. Amen will prescribe treatments that bring health to one’s brain and cure any number of disorders.
Now, if this weren’t enough to arouse my suspicions, the many images Dr. Amen showed of brian scans surely wakened my incredulity. Given the fact that my particular academic discipline was Art History, in which I work with visual images all the time, I found something particularly “fishy” about those SPECT scans that Dr. Amen kept showing as evidence of various malfunctions in a person’s brain. His scans lacked sharpness; they looked manipulated and unreal, more like some sort of asteroid full of deep penetrations and holes than a brain. And then, Dr. Amen simply presented these images with neither any description or analysis–as if the dimmest member of his audience would know what he or she were reading on the screen. To an art historian, an image, if it has significance, requires some description and analysis; a presentation lacking this becomes meaningless.
|SPECT Scan from Amen’s software|
|Traditional SPECT Scan|
But as I am a humanist, not a scientist, allow me to mention one other person besides Robert Burton who, with more appropriate scientific credentials, has questioned the validity of Dr. Amen’s claims. Dr. Harriet Hall, in an article titled “A Skeptical View of SPECT Scans and Dr. Daniel Amen,” has written: “I believe it is improper to charge thousands of dollars for a test that has not been validated and may not be safe….At the very least, he should be describing the test as experimental…. I, personally, would not undergo the test at Dr. Amen’s clinic even if it were free. In my opinion, based on current knowledge, the possibility of harm outweighs any potential benefit.”
It would appear that Dr. Amen, with clinics in California, Washington State and Virginia, is more interested in collecting his $3,250 for a “comprehensive evaluation” that he is in protecting his patients from the radiation effects of his SPECT scans.
Moreover, in my opinion, Dr. Amen comes from a questionable academic lineage. He holds an undergraduate degree from Southern California College (now Vanguard University of Southern California), a Pentecostal Christian college. Subsequently, he earned a doctor of medicine from Oral Roberts University School of Medicine (the medical school of this Charismatic Christian university suspended operations in 1989, after a mere decade of existence). Even more questionable is the fact that, until 2007, the home page of the Amen Clinics stated the following: “Everything starts and ends in your Brain-Soul connection…. The brain-soul connection is vastly more powerful than your conscious will.”
Regardless of our particular belief system (or lack thereof), I think we can agree that the soul is separate from our physical body, that it is non-material, and that it cannot be proven to exist, scientifically or otherwise. That Dr. Amen, as a scientist, would posit a connection between the brain and the soul, simply increases my suspicion about everything that the man does.
Having voiced my suspicions about Dr. Amen, however personal and unscientific they may be, my main concern is the fact that I encountered him on a PBS television station, and on a major New York City station at that.
What is this blatant piece of advertisement doing on public-TV? Why would Channel 13 show Amen’s infomercial, especially after respectable scientists had questioned PBS about showing him several years ago? Across America, PBS stations have been presenting his infomercials as if they were actually a regular part of their programming. Yet, the Amen video was produced by Amen and High Five Entertainment out of Nashville, and has nothing to do with PBS. Does Amen pay these stations for this privilege of airing his videos? Is this where public-TV is heading? Who can we trust? Will PBS soon join FOXNews as a disseminator of propaganda paid for by the highest bidder? I feel betrayed: et tu, PBS?