Deepak Chopra likes me! He really, really likes me! (Well, not really…)

Orac is currently hiding from the Federation in an undisclosed location (somewhere warm and out of the country, the better to avoid election news after having cast an absentee ballot), where he is charging his Tarial cells, the better to return fully recharged and ready to dive back into the massive piles of woo awaiting him when he returns. Since it’s only a brief respite, I had been planning on either reposting material from Orac’s other known hideout on the web, the better not to let this blog lie fallow and lack for Insolence, Respectful and not-so-Respectful, as indicated depending upon who (or what) is on the receiving end. However, something so amusing happened over the weekend, that, as I sat yesterday morning having for some reason gotten up earlier than I would want to, I decided a brief post would be in order (and even fun). Only one woo-meister could “inspire” that: Deepak Chopra. (OK, there are others, but when someone as high ranking in the pantheon of alternative medicine gurus actually addresses you directly, it’s hard to resist commenting.) Then the brief post grew, because for some reason I was awake fairly early in the morning an no one else was getting up. That’s how this post changed from one that would just post Chopra’s video and leave a brief comment to a full Orac post. Damn, I’ll have to recharge more.

Actually, no I won’t. This was fun, and vacations are meant for fun.

Last week, I wrote a post entitled Why do medical conference organizers keep inviting Deepak Chopra to speak? It was a simple question asked in some frustration in the wake of the American Osteopathic Association’s having invited Chopra to speak at OMED 2016, its yearly conference, and, more recently, at the Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton’s Annual Conference. As you’ll recall, my chief complaints about these invitations is that Deepak Chopra has long promoted a brand of pseudoscience and mystical mumbo-jumbo that sounds all science-y and cool if you don’t know much about science but that is easily recognized as utter bullshit if you have a modicum of knowledge about the relevant disciplines, such as quantum mechanics, epigenetics, and the like, that Chopra twists into pretzels of woo in his articles, books, and talks. Inviting Chopra to legitimate medical conferences, unfortunately, has a tendency to legitimize his particular brand of mysticism as being valid science and medicine when it is not. I wasn’t alone in my complaints. In fact, my complaints were inspired by Tim Caulfield, thanks to news reports from Canada quoting him about the Edmonton conference, a conference I hadn’t known about. Add that to the AOA invitation (which I had known about but felt that I had probably missed my chance to blog about), and you have a post. That’s the tl;dr version; read the full version if you are interested.

In the meantime, here’s Chopra’s response:

He starts out by bragging about a spiritual retreat he’s directing. Hilariously, though, Chopra makes a remark about my having been on his case for close to two decades now. Would that were true! Actually, this blog has only existed since December 2014, and the first post I ever wrote about Chopra was on the old blog on October 11, 2005, a post appropriately called Deepak Chopra misunderstands skepticism. Of course, since the move over to Scienceblogs in 2006, I’ve “featured” Chopra frequently. So I’ve only been on Chopra’s case for 11 years, but I’ll take it as a complement that Chopra thinks it’s nearly two decades, interpreting it as Chopra thinking it feels that way.

Be that as it may, Chopra even read directly from my post extensively. Indeed, I’m thinking of capturing that sound and using it for…something. Chopra is even more unhappy with Tim Caulfield because, as a result of his efforts, there is a movement to disinvite Chopra from the autism conference where he’s been invited to speak, an effort Chopra rather arrogantly dismisses by saying that if he is disinvited he’ll just be saved a flight and fulfil some other obligation. Nice to know that he thinks so highly of the organizers of the Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton’s Annual Conference that he would so blithely dismiss the talk he’s scheduled to give there. He also brags about how he is board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology, which is nothing that I didn’t already know, although I wonder if he is still boarded in those specialties. Of course, it’s quite possible that he’s old enough to have been grandfathered in after the American Board of Internal Medicine stopped issuing lifetime certifications and started requiring periodic recertification and, now, maintenance of certification. He also goes on about how he has a professorship at the University of California and teaches a course at the Chopra Center that is certified for CME credits.

I must admit that I didn’t know that Chopra was so in with the University of California. Indeed, inspired by this statement I did some Googling and found that in March 2016 this happened

The UC San Diego School of Medicine has promoted Dr. Deepak Chopra from assistant professor to full professor to reflect his growing work with the campus to explore and explain how such things as meditation, yoga and diet affect a person’s health.

The promotion does not come with a salary. The 68 year-old physician-spiritualist will continue to interact with the university on a voluntary, unpaid basis. He will continue to be based out of the Chopra Center in La Costa, which he co-founded in 1996 to explore and teach about the wellbeing of mind, body and spirit.

OK, it’s an unpaid professorship, which means it’s probably a clinical faculty position, which is similar to adjunct faculty positions, except that it might not even be paid. The reason medical schools dole out clinical professorships is because it allows those with such positions to teach medical students at clinical sites. Not infrequently, private physicians at whose practices medical students and residents rotate for training will have clinical instructor, clinical assistant professor, or even clinical professor positions. The standards for such positions are a lot less rigorous than for full faculty positions, of course. Chopra also brags about regularly lecturing for CME at Beth Israel in Boston for CME credits certified by Harvard and having several peer-reviewed publications.

Of course, the fact that UC-SD is embracing Chopra so tightly, that he can co-author peer-reviewed articles, and that Harvard also certifies one of his courses are all prime of exactly the problem that I’ve been discussing for so long, namely the infiltration of pseudoscience into medical academia, or, as I like to refer to this phenomenon, quackademic medicine. Chopra brags about all these things, as well he should because I would too if I had these associations. The fault lies with UCSD and Harvard for actually putting the imprimatur of their respected names on Chopra’s activities over the last 14+ years. So I thank Chopra for bringing this up, because, although he’s proud of it, his boastfulness about his affiliations with major academic medical centers gives me the opportunity to discuss the problem of quackademic medicine yet again.

Particularly amusing is Chopra’s urging that Caulfield and I should “catch up with the times,” so to speak and catch up with the scientific literature. Chopra, of course, doesn’t realize that I am caught up. I read the scientific literature about “integrative medicine” intensively. I blog about it all the time, both here and at my less…Insolent…blog. I also read the scientific literature about epigenetics intensively because I have to. I’m a breast cancer researcher; it’s my job. That’s why I know that what Chopra is spouting about epigenetics is a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. He even starts launching into said fetid pile by going on about how the mind and body are not separate but are one and should be called “body-mind.” Oh please. Science knew that a long time ago when it rejected mind-body dualism. The mind is a product of the brain. If the brain is injured, the effects on behavior and consciousness can be observed and predicted by the anatomy of the injury.

In fact, it is not I, or other skeptics, who reject the contention that consciousness is a product of brain activity. It’s Chopra! In fact, Chopra has a long history of making statements that can only be interpreted as assuming mind-body duality. He’s even gotten into a spat with James Randi about it and castigated skeptics who have questioned him. As my friend Steve Novella has pointed out, Chopra is “one of the biggest names in dualist woo nonsense.” It is not scientists who are arguing that the mind is separate from the body. It’s Chopra, who basically pioneered the latest fad in alternative medicine, namely that through the magic of epigenetics, thinking makes it so and you can heal the body with your mind, even going so far as to invoke epigenetics, “Epigenetics acknowledges that we are not victims, but masters, for we can change our environment or perceptions, and create up to 30,000 variations for each of our genes.” Oh, wait. Chopra just told us that the mind and body are one. So why even refer to the mind at all?

Worse, thanks to the ill-considered embrace of alternative medicine of the ilk promoted by Deepak Chopra, Chopra can even say he’s doing clinical trials based on his quantum mind-body dualism pseudoscience. Not surprisingly, he invokes systems biology without actually understanding what systems biology, referring to Caulfield, myself, and those who castigate him as “pseudoskeptics.” Of course, as usual, Chopra seems to think that anyone who is not so open-minded that his brain falls out is not a true “skeptic” but rather a pseudoskeptic and must be “frozen in an obsolete world view,” which is what he calls me while referring to Caulfield as a “vigilante.” Yes, it’s good to be open-minded and to question existing paradigms. That’s exactly what we do. However, that questioning must be based on evidence, which is not what Chopra does. He claims to be asking the “big questions,” but if the big questions aren’t based on science, rationality, and reality, then what good are they?

As a last bit of fun, Chopra even addressed me on Twitter last Friday.


To which I responded:


To which Chopra replied:

Leading to my response:

Which is, of course, utterly true. This lead Chopra to Tweet:

Hmmm. Should I take him up on this? He keeps saying variants of “Orac, whoever he is,” apparently not realizing that my pseudonym is perhaps the worst kept secret in the skeptical blogosphere. He might be surprised when he finds out who I am, particularly given that he’s blocked my real life Twitter account in the past. I even brag about it in my Twitter profile!

As for whether or not I take Chopra up on his offer, I’ll think about it. Today, I’ll be too busy relaxing on the beach lowering the levels of those nasty inflammatory cytokines that Chopra so frequently invokes now. You know, I might just take him up on his offer, but only if he signs the book and unblocks my real life alter ego on Twitter! After all, if he’s going to require me to read it as a condition of sending it, the least I can do is require him to sign it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist voicing these musings on Twitter:

I also had one other minor condition: Unblocking my real-life alter ego. Predictably, Chopra was not receptive:

Well, that’s what I get for pushing things a little farther than perhaps I should have. On the other hand, Chopra’s response tells me a lot. For one thing, I’m sure that he still doesn’t know who Orac really is. He just heard that my real life alter-ego was blocked and blocked Orac too. In particular, his reaction also tells me that he almost certainly wasn’t sincere about sending me a copy of his book. I suppose I should be grateful. If he actually did send me a copy of his book based on my promise to read it, my sense of honor would compel me to actually read the damned thing.

I guess I dodged that bullet!