Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interview with Dogma Free America's Dr. Rob Orman

Dogma Free America (DFA) is one of those podcasts you either hate or love. Well, I don't know too many people who hate it but I thought that line was just a snappy entry into this interview introduction. If you love DFA, you love the interaction between the show's main honcho Rich Orman and his rotating clutch of co-hosts: Dr. Rob Orman (no relation other than they're totally brothers), Flynn Owens ESQ., and Jamye Johnston (actually banned in Canada). A recent show the Greater Orman was kvetching on his Facebook that the show seemed light on news and long on chat with his brother, the Lesser Orman. To wit, the Greater Orman feared listeners would hate it. The Greater Orman could not be more wrong. Podcast that have long, successful runs like DFA are successful precisely because the relationships and interplay between the hosts is as entertaining as the hard news.

Anyway, for Skeptical Review I wanted to land one of the DFA hosts for an interview. I sent an email to Rich, Rob, Flynn, and Jamye. Flynn responded first but included an 8 page rider set in 6 point arial (narrow) font. Jamye, due to a misunderstanding over a previous Skeptical Review I wrote about DFA, responded with a restraining order. Rich seemed eager but was firm on having me produce a criminal background check attesting I was not a danger to humans, dogs, or his completionist collection of Great Big Sea CDs, concert bootlegs, and autographed lobster traps. I was cool with that but the RCMP require finger prints and about a 4 month waiting time. Rob seemed to have the least demands. "If you can help me haul my used Babylon 5 and Star Wars Jedi Kids novels to Powell's Books, I'll talk with you."


After collecting $5.80 for three boxes filled with all manner of TV/movie sci fi novelizations, we trudged over to Pioneer Place and lunched at the famous Todai sushi buffet joint. Oh man. They lay out a great steam table.

I think everyone has their favorite Dogma Free America (DFA) cohost and I don't want you to think this is ass kissing but I think I enjoy the Rob shows by about a nose over the Flynn shows. It strikes me as you're the moral center of the show. You bring a certain good heartedness to the show, balancing out Rich's aloofness and Flynn's "take no prisoners" approach. Would Flynn agree with my take?

One issue I have with DFA is that it can be too negative. I actually tried leaving the show because it was starting to wear on me. Rich talked me out of leaving because of the exact reason you say (we have very different world views). He is glass half empty and I am half full. It was that way even when we were kids. We were in high school and I asked him if he had heard such and such good news. He replied that the only real news is bad news. If it’s good news, it’s not really news at all.

As far as what Flynn would think of your take... I guarantee he doesn’t care what you think. He holds everyone in disdain. Bastard. OK, to be fair to Flynn, he would say you were spot on. He is one of the wittiest people I know and gets to the core/root issue very quickly.

Rich and Flynn seem to have a history of playing wicked pranks on each other. Any traditions between you and Rich or you and Flynn?

The pranks run far and deep. My bed was short sheeted weekly and there were a few instances of saran wrap on the toilet when we were kids. Of the three of us, Rich is the prank master and some of the stuff that we’ve done to each other is probably illegal so I’ll skip the details.

I don't want to get into it but I reviewed DFA for Skeptical Review and I couldn't help noticing Jamye was an actual lady and now I think she hates me. Do you think Jamye hates me? If I see her at TAM8 this year in Las Vegas, is there a sure fire way of getting on her good side? Does she like butter tarts?

Jamye and I have never met in person. The first time I spoke with her was two weeks ago. She had posted something on Facebook about an acute illness she was experiencing. We emailed back and forth and eventually did a video Skype so I could figure out what was going on and give her some medical advice. What’s up with Facebook anyway? I am bewildered by the inane comments that people put about the comments left for comments.

As far as getting on her good side, tequila is always a solid choice.

I'm assuming DFA was Rich's idea and he found a natural co-host in you. What was your response when Rich sprang the idea of DFA on you?

DFA is all Rich’s brainchild. I thought it was an awesome idea from the get go. He originally planned to explore all sorts of different dogma but it quickly narrowed to religion. The first episode we did together, which I think was #3, was so boring I fell asleep halfway though his droning on about the feast of Saturn, origins and hypocrisy of xmas, blah blah blah. Things have improved since then. Greatly.

Do you have a favorite swear word?


If I have it right, you're an actual medical doctor actually living in Portland, Oregon. Do any of your colleagues know about your podcast?

They all know about ERcast but only a handful know about DFA. I will bring it up in conversation if I think it is something that might interest them. But let’s be honest, it ain’t for everyone. When they do listen to it, the reaction is 100% positive, even if they don’t agree with our position.

Ever discover you have a DFA listener in your medical practice?

Yes! I was working in the pediatric part of our emergency department and walked into the room of a little boy with some breathing issues. While I was talking with his parents, I noticed that the father was reading the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I asked him how he liked the book and he went on to talk about all the stuff Rich and I had just discussed on the previous DFA episode. When asked where he got all of that information, he said the ‘Dogma Free Podcast.’

“Do you recognize my name?” I asked.


“Hello, I’m Dr. Rob Orman, official medical analyst for Dogma Free America.” We were both cracking up after that (of course this came after appropriate medical stabilization of his son)

I wonder if it helped my patient satisfaction scores.

Dr. Mark Crislip, host of the skeptically themed QuackCast podcast, practices as an ID doctor in Portland as well. Have you guys ever met?

We know a lot of people in common but have never met. Talk about not holding punches! What a riot.

Ever get on Portland's TriMet streetcar in the free zone and ride it into a paid zone and not paid? I did that once.

Only once when I couldn’t get a ticket in time. I was sweating bullets picturing the transit cops hauling me off to jail.

You were thinking about hanging up your DFA Skype headphones and calling it quits as a co-host on DFA. But listener response made you reconsider. Any particular email or message do it for you?

I honestly didn’t think anyone would notice. As far as a specific email, it was the one from you that really made me rethink it. I really appreciated that.

DFA almost died off after episode 50 but Rich brought it back, much to the delight of the skeptical world. Any background info you can share on what made the DFA crew return to the airwaves?

We definitely needed a break. I think the show was starting to get stale and the time investment for Rich was overwhelming. A few months after we pulled the plug, I told Rich that I missed listening to the show and that got the ball rolling.

Any viewer email from a nut stick out or gave you pause?

No nuts per se, but some interesting characters. My all time favorite is Desertphile. He has a unique background and has some interesting takes on the show topics.

Members of Team Rob were delighted to find out you're doing a podcast about emergency medicine called ERcast. Beyond the money and hyper fame involved in podcasting, what motivated you to start a medical podcast?

Education is a one of the fun things about my job. Educating patients, residents, other emergency physicians, etc. I used to lecture quite a bit but it became harder as the family grew and I honestly find most lectures too long and boring.

With ERcast, I wanted to get down to the essential elements of what a doctor really needs to know. There is too much superfluous information in most lectures. They start with about 5 slides of epidemiology and pictures of the lecturer’s summer vacation. That’s interesting, but I don’t want to fill my brain with all that stuff. My attention only lasts so long and by the time the important information comes, the memory banks are full and concentration has waned.

What docs want to know is what to do in the arena. How do I treat and think about this patient in front of me? That’s what ERcast is. The tools you need without the nonsense.

While most of your podcasts are generally geared for fellow doctors, there's still plenty of stuff skeptics will find not only entertaining but useful. Your "Brain Attack" episode I think is a good example of a legitimate scientific/medical controversy (controversies in acute stroke management). In the skeptical world we're always hearing Creationists try to claim there's a legit scientific controversy about evolution versus creationism. Anti-vaxxers want us to believe there's a legit controversy in the medical community about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. So it's nice to hear a whole podcast about a real scientific controversy and how controversies are handled in the medical field and in the literature. I noticed, for example, no side in the stroke management debate got Jenny McCarthy to champion their side. No side tried to get laws passed about when to employ thrombolytics after a stroke. Any other upcoming shows on interesting controversies?

There are a few in the works. Mostly they are about medical dogma and how there is little evidence to support many concepts and practices in medicine. One I’m working on now is about medications given during pre-hospital (ambulance) treatment of cardiac arrest. There are complex algorithms that guide what drugs to give but scant data to support their use. What really makes a difference in cardiac arrest? Good CPR. Period. All the other stuff is fluff.

Knowing you have a lot of initial listeners from your DFA fan base, has that influenced the content of your show? I noticed you led off with a rather shocking show ("Rectal Foreign Bodies") about things people like to stick up their hoo hoos. I would guess as an emergency department doc you get asked about that a lot at parties. Well, you'd get asked about that at my parties. Was your motivation to lead with "Rectal Foreign Bodies" as a way of getting the school yard stuff out of the way? (The podcast isn't really a lot of dorm room laughs. It's one of the rare times I've listened to a podcast and felt a bit sick.)

I’m glad you had a visceral reaction. That means you care. I have a rectal foreign body story about a vibrator (that was on) and a mermaid that you might find interesting but is beyond the scope of this interview.

As far as the first episode, it had to be something interesting that would catch attention, kind of like a book cover. Podcasting is so much about telling stories and rectal foreign bodies are great subject matter. What would you rather hear about, how to treat a high potassium level or the day I met a patient with a 13 inch can of industrial strength oven cleaner stuck in his rectum?

"The Death Tell" show is another one skeptics would enjoy. Most of us only understand the dying phase of death from what Hollywood shows us in movies. How has seeing death from a medical perspective changed your thinking about life, the universe, and everything?

Absolutely. Death is very much a part of my job. I didn’t really understand death before I went into medicine, but having been around it, it is much less mysterious. There is so much fear about death, I mean, look at all of the world religions. They are based on our fear of death. The real kicker is loss and the grief that comes from that. No matter what your belief, religion or universal paradigm, loss and grief are a human constant.

What does your wife think of your involvement with DFA?

She likes that it’s something I do with my brother and that I record after the kids go to bed. Beside that, she’s not impressed. I don’t think she’s ever listened to an episode. ERcast though, huge fan.

-- Karl


  1. I like whiskey sours a bit more than tequila, but Rob's right, you can't go wrong with tequila and Texas women.

    And I don't hate you. Especially if you bring me butter tarts and tequila. :)


  2. I'm on it, Jamye! You'll be at TAM?


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