Citing controversial positions and unscientific public statements, 10 doctors have signed a letter stating Dr. Mehmet Oz should be fired from the faculty of Columbia University.
Oz, a faculty member and cardiothoracic surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center, moonlights on TV and radio as “Dr. Oz” and “America’s doctor,” often dispensing advice on miracle cures and fat-burning pills. His critics say he’s nothing more than a modern-day charlatan and snake-oil salesmen.
“Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops,” wrote Dr. Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, along with nine other doctors. “Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”
“[Oz is guilty of] outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments,” wrote Miller.
Miller and the other nine doctors who signed the letter say Oz should no longer remain on the faculty of a “prestigious medical institution.”
Numerous Irresponsible Claims Cited
Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical and executive director of the American Council on Science and Health and a signer of the letter, says although Oz may be a very good cardiothoracic surgeon, he is out of his depth when it comes to talking about nutritional supplements, magical cures, energy-harnessing, talking to the dead, and special supplements that will burn fat without exercise or diet.
“It’s all nonsense and snake oil,” Ross said. “He’s a TV pitchman, and for being an entertainer on TV, he’s doing quite well.”
Ross says the problem is Oz is known as “America’s doctor.”
“I think [Oz] calls himself that, and he has an audience of several million people, many of whom trust everything he says, and some of them actually look upon him as their own doctor,” Ross said. “They don’t have another doctor, and when you ask them who their doctor is, they say ‘Dr. Oz.
“Unfortunately, he has a lot of followers who will do anything he says, so when he talks about nutrition, supplements, snake oil, magic fat burners, miracle cures, and various antioxidant potions, that’s very irresponsible of him,” Ross said.
School’s Prestige at Issue
Ross says the TV doctor’s pitching of irresponsible cure-alls is why he cosigned the letter to the Columbia Medical School faculty suggesting they review Oz’ qualifications to remain a spokesman under the auspices of the highly respected medical school.
“Now, since all this happened and it became a big public eruption and a maelstrom, [Oz] did his own show and the national news shows where he attacked the people who wrote the letter, myself included, to distract attention from his own malfeasance,” Ross said.
Oz promised to clean up his act a little and his logo for the show, making the “Dr.” a little smaller, and he now says the program is not really a doctor show but instead is just TV entertainment, Ross says. Oz also agreed to resist the urge to aggressively sell miracle cures.
Neglect of Surgical Career
Dr. John Dale Dunn, an emergency physician and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which published Health Care News, says the worst thing about the situation is Oz’ apparent neglect of his career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“I’m guessing he makes a good living at it and is relatively successful, but now he’s in an area he knows nothing about—biochemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, etc.—and he’s reaching out to expand his fame and fortune,” Dunn said.
“Oz is a surgeon,” Dunn said. “He got into this because surgeons fix things. They don’t want to be TV stars or salesmen. But here he is. I would bet he got into [the discussion of] GMO foods because he knew he would get a lot of support from a lot of neurotic people who are afraid we’re creating Frankenfoods.”
Oz Backs Away From Miracle Cures
Concern about the lack of science behind many of Oz’ unscientific claims and questionable medical advice has been growing over the years and reached a new level in the spring of 2014, when members of Congress grilled him about having helped advance fraudulent claims about dietary supplements, says Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow in environmental risk, regulation, and consumer freedom at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Rather than owning up to or defending the positions he has taken, Oz personally attacked the 10 doctors, which didn’t work, Logomasini says.
“Oz is finally being held accountable for a lot of the junk science he has peddled on his show,” Logomasini said. “And it’s having an impact. At least Oz has backed away from claims about dietary supplement ‘miracles’ that cure obesity. Whether he will change his tune on other things remains unclear.”
Logomasini says criticism of Oz appears to be part of a larger trend countering junk science in the media and on the Internet, and it appears to be a nonpartisan and apolitical movement.
“New science-minded voices have emerged within the medical community—see Sciencebasedmedicine.org—and among science bloggers—see Scibabe.com,” Logomasini said. “Dr. Oz and others who benefit from sensationalist unscientific claims are finally being called to the mat, and it’s about time.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.
Julia Belluz, “A group of doctors just asked Columbia to reconsider Dr. Oz’s faculty appointment,” Vox, April 16, 2015: http://www.vox.com/2015/4/16/8423867/dr-oz-letter-columbia