Cancer Research 101 is all about cancer research (duh!) and I have tried studiously to keep it that way. After all, that’s where my expertise lies, and while I have opinions about a million other things <smile>, the whole point of this blog is to educate and inform, and for that I feel I have to stick to the stuff I know, or else I have no credibility.
That said, once in a while something comes along that just screams to be written about, and today is one of those days. So forgive me if the subject matter is out of my expertise, and in fact is only indirectly related, and only slightly at that, to cancer research.
You all know him – the cardiac surgeon turned TV personality after having been vaulted into the limelight by being a regular contributor to the Oprah Winfrey show until Queen Oprah launched him into his own show, curiously named The Dr. Oz Show. He’s everywhere now – on daily TV, on his own web site, on Twitter, on Facebook and he does all kinds of speaking engagements and who knows what else.
He has this sort of cheesy but sort of down-home folksiness that seems to appeal to the masses and he dedicates himself to trying to educate and inform (much like my own goal) by explaining things in terms and models and examples that everyone can understand (again much as my own goal has been).
Not surprisingly, cancer is a recurring topic on his show, hence the (indirect) connection to my own blog.
Now, even though I don’t watch much daytime TV, whenever I have managed to catch a bit of his show, whether it was about cancer or not, I was initially very impressed by the way he explained things, by the models and hands-on approaches he used. He lets his guests get their hands dirty, and no subject is taboo. I thought as an adult educator, he has a very good style and a very good model – he know how to get a point across and how to punch home a message. At one time, I really admired that.
But being good at explaining things, while necessary, is not sufficient – you also have to know what you are talking about!
And the more I watched snippets of Dr. Oz, the more I became skeptical that this guy is just too full of himself, cuts too many corners, espouses too many things where I believed the science to be doubtful, if true at all. And so I soured on him.
But I never actually thought he was a quack.
Alas, I have changed my mind…..
I started having some real doubts when I read some articles penned by serious and credible colleagues who I follow on Twitter. One of these, Julia Belluz, writes a blog called Science-ish under the MacLean’s.ca banner. In her blog she “checks the latest health headlines against the evidence—and holds politicians, opinion leaders, and journalists to account”.
In a piece she wrote on February 14, 2012 called “Dr. Oz, faith healer” she interviewed Oz when he was in Toronto for an appearance and, as she said, “Science-ish was one of the few skeptics in the room. In order to understand how the doctor thinks about scientific evidence, his audience, and what really makes people healthy, Science-ish sat down with Dr Oz before his talk.”
Indeed her questions and his answers were very telling, and well worth the click and the read. I came away from that article not nearly as impressed with the great Wizard of Oz as I thought.
Julia’s post led me to another Twitter colleague, Dr Yoni Freedhoff, who writes a blog called Weighty Matters and who also took on Dr Oz. Yoni describes himself as a “Family doc, Assistant Prof. at the University of Ottawa, and founder of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute – a multi-disciplinary, ethical, evidence-based nutrition and weight management centre”. He writes widely, blogs regularly and speaks expertly on matters related to weight, nutrition and the like, naturally major focus areas for Dr Oz.
In a blog post on February 24, 2011 entitled Dr Oz – so corrupted by fame he even sells himself out? Yoni took Dr Oz to task on his flip-flopping on the so called HCG-diet he was first cautioning against then promoting. It led Dr. Freedhoff to muse in conclusion “So thanks Dr. Oz for promoting the exploitation of your viewers, for embarrassing our shared profession, and for being such a stellar role model for how not to embrace fame and fortune.”
But the real kicker (for me, anyway) came just today in a post on another blog I follow called Science-Based Medicine (tagline: Exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine). In a post by Scott Gavura entitled Dr. Oz and Green Coffee Beans – More Weight Loss Pseudoscience I finally realized that Dr Oz has gone over to the dark side, that place where “celebrity” and hucksterism seem to have trumped whatever his credentials as a credible health practitioner might once have been. In other words, Celebrity run amok…
Gavura starts out his post with “I can’t keep up with Dr Oz. Just when I thought the latest weight loss miracle was raspberry ketone, along comes another weight loss panacea. This time, it’s green coffee beans.”
What follows is an examination of real science and real data that you should look at, essentially nullifying Oz’s recommendations. Gavura concludes:
“Green coffee bean supplements have the characteristics of a bogus weight loss product. The supplement lacks plausibility, the only published clinical trial is tiny, and it appears to have have some serious methodological problems. Ignoring all of this, Dr. Oz has instead embraced it as the newest panacea for weight loss. Obesity is a real health issue, yet Dr. Oz seems quite content touting unproven products instead of providing credible, science-based information. In the real world, permanent weight loss is difficult, and there are no quick fixes. But not in the Land of Oz.”
After reading this, I went to Google and decided to see a bit more for myself. I Googled such terms as “Dr Oz debunked” and “Dr Oz quack” and came up with so many hits I could take days to write about all I found. You can do this for yourself. Let me just touch a few highlights (caution: this list is not exhaustive nor balanced – I selected them to make a point and I make no deceptions about my now strong anti-Oz bias).
For example, other blog posts uncovered on Science-Based Medicine told similar stories. One called A Seal of Approval by Mark Crislip on December 2, 2011 has many examples of where Dr Oz has stepped over the line from science to seeming hucksterism.
Or this one: For shame, Dr. Oz, for promoting Joseph Mercola on your show! by David Gorski on January 19, 2011.
And other web sites/blogs as well. For instance: Oz is no wizard by Jesse Singal in the March 8th, 2012 in The Daily Princetonian.
And then there was this one in the A-Unicornist (Skepticism. Science. Reason. Unicorns.) entitled “Dr. Oz, quack (or yes, you can drink apple juice)” on September 18, 2011 after Dr Oz had amazingly warned people about arsenic levels in apple juice, but had the science all wrong!
“Here’s the saga in a nutshell: Dr. Oz recorded a show in which he tested apple juice for total levels of arsenic, and came to the conclusion that apple juice is potentially unsafe due to levels of arsenic that exceed the FDA’s standard for drinking water. The FDA wrote him a letter prior to the show being aired informing him that his testing methodology was deeply flawed and his claims misleading. Oz and company ignored the FDA’s letter and ran the show anyway.
You can read the FDA’s letter here, but the gist of it is this: Oz’s tests were not only inaccurate, but they failed to distinguish between organic arsenic (which is safe) and inorganic (which is not safe). Oz’s test looked only at total arsenic. Further, the FDA varies the amount of safe arsenic based on consumption; since people drink a lot more water than they do apple juice, the safe amount of total arsenic is a little higher in apple juice.
In other words, Dr. Oz has fabricated a health concern where none need exist. It’s irresponsible fear-mongering, and Oz should be have his feet held to the fire for it. Oz’s audience is unlikely to be informed enough to do anything other than take Oz’s claims at face value, breeding a misplaced mistrust of the FDA and a pointless aversion to a completely safe fruit juice.”
It’s not just the FDA. The American College of Radiation (ACR) has taken issue with a recent Oz pronouncement. In a story on April 8, 2011, Brandon Nafziger of DOTmed News wrote in an article called “ACR debunks ‘Dr. Oz’” that “the American College of Radiology is reassuring women that there’s little evidence they need a thyroid guard when getting a mammogram after a popular television show linked ionizing radiation exposure from the exam to rising rates of thyroid cancer”.
“This concern simply is not supported in scientific literature,” the ACR said in a statement posted on its website this week.”
From yet another quarter, the James Randi Educational Foundation, whose mandate is “to promote critical thinking through grants for outstanding educators, scholarships to inspire skeptical students, and annual conferences showcasing the best of skeptical thought”. But every April Fools Day, the organization says it honors the five worst offenders who are intentionally or unintentionally pulling the wool over the public’s eyes.
According to their website, “since 1997, the JREF’s annual Pigasus Awards have been bestowed on the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudo-scientists, and faith healers—and on their credulous enablers, too. The awards are named for both the mythical flying horse Pegasus of Greek mythology and the highly improbable flying pig of popular cliché”.
In their 2011 awards, The 5 Worst Promoters of Nonsense, they “honoured” Dr Oz:
The Media Pigasus Award goes to Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has done such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus two years in a row. Dr. Oz is a Harvard-educated cardiac physician who, through his syndicated TV show, has promoted faith healing, “energy medicine,” and other quack theories that have no scientific basis. Oz has appeared on ABC News to give legitimacy to the claims of Brazilian faith healer “John of God,” who uses old carnival tricks to take money from the seriously ill. He’s hosted Ayurvedic guru Yogi Cameron on his show to promote nonsense “tongue examination” as a way of diagnosing health problems. This year, he really went off the deep end. In March 2011, Dr. Oz endorsed “psychic” huckster and past Pigasus winner John Edward, who pretends to talk to dead people. Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums to receive (faked) messages from their dead relatives as a form of grief counseling.
There are many who are predicting a three-peat when the 2012 awards are announced…
Or how about this, from a pharmacist who blogs as ‘Pharmadaddy’. On March 1, 2012 he wrote, in a post called Debunking Dr. Oz-Day 1, that:
I am following a blog that summarizes the insane recommendations made on Dr. Oz. And I’m doing this because, no word of a lie, EVERY SINGLE DAY I get someone who comes to me asking me if I carry some random, obscure product that I’ve never heard of. And now that I’ve started following this blog, I come home and read it and understand why they were asking me. Because Dr. Oz recommended it. And this concerns me. If he was just some guy who spouted off garbage that no one listens too, fine. But my patients actually intend on ingesting supplements and making changes in their health habits based on his information. To me, that is scary.
So, starting now, every time I get a request for something and I then see that it was featured on the Dr. Oz show, I’m going to tear it to shreds and expose it for the blatant sensationalistic ratings-grab that it is.
I could go on and on, and probably have gone on too long already, but I think you get the point. Dr Oz might (and I say might) be entertaining, but viewers and readers should be VERY cautious about taking anything he says too seriously. I would certainly not be taking any of his advice without sober 2nd or 3rd thought and without further advice from someone who knows what they are talking about. Someone who still believes that health care recommendations must be based on evidence, not whimsy, who believes in fact, not fancy and who relies on truth, not snake oils sales.
Perhaps the last word on this is left to David Gorski, again from Science-Based Medicine on February 27, 2012 in his post entitled Dr. Oz Revisited:
Whenever I’m asked why things are so bad and getting worse when it comes to the infiltration of quackery into medicine, particularly the phenomenon of quackademic medicine, I look at Dr. Oz. He reaches millions of viewers every day with his “bread and circuses”-style of medical infotainment, where anecdotes trump studies and snake oil hucksters like Joe Mercola are welcome. I keep hoping that some day he’ll have an epiphany and realize that he is no longer a scientist. Worse, he is no longer a responsible doctor. Instead, he’s become an enabler and cheerleader, either wittingly or unwittingly, for quackery. I fear that epiphany will never come. Promoting quackery is just too lucrative.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned…..