Almost two years ago on these very pages I wrote about Dr. Mehmet Oz and how I felt that his celebrity, and the incessant need to ‘feed’ that celebrity, was driving him into quackery and snake oil sales. I was scarcely alone in this view – one has but to Google “Dr. Oz huckster” or similar term to see that most of us who believe in science and evidence are not among Dr. Oz’s huge fan base.
But I was especially heartened yesterday to see Dr. Oz being taken to task publicly over his phony claims by none other than the US Senate!
In hearings conducted by the US Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, the Committee Chair, Senator Claire McCaskill was pretty blunt in her assessment of Dr. Oz’s phony claims, zeroing in on some of his more egregious weight loss claims and the fact that he has all too readily bandied about terms such as “miracle” one time too many.
As you can see in this clip below from the hearings, it is pretty obvious that the good doctor is not hoodwinking everyone:
I’m not sure that I would say that Oz was squirming, but he certainly seemed uncomfortable. Although he had prepared statements that he read at many junctures, this seemed to me to be a far less polished Dr. Oz than the slick huckster I can’t bring myself to watch anymore.
I have to believe that he was in part blind-sided by some of this. Surely there is no other explanation for someone of his stature to voluntarily allow this kind of exposé of his quackery.
My favourite parts of the exchange?
When Oz tried to defend some of this by saying:
“I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show. I passionately study them.”
Passion is one thing but “STUDY them”?? If you had studied them you would not be touting this kind of crap over and over.
And then the kicker when he admitted, finally:
“I recognize they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact but nevertheless I would give my audience the advice I give my family all the time and I have given my family these products.”
So there you have it – they won’t pass muster scientifically, but it is OK to tout stuff that hasn’t a shred of scientific evidence if your name is Dr. Oz and you have achieved cult status.
As the good Senator rejoined at one point:
“The scientific community is almost monolithically against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called miracles.”
For me the saddest part is that Dr. Oz is a FANTASTIC communicator of science and medicine. He has a wonderful way in making adult education come to life. He is a gifted teacher who has the resources to be able to make his topics come alive in ways that are memorable and impactful to his audience.
But as McCaskill, said, and as I said 2 years ago, with this kind of power comes great responsibility. He has the responsibility to get his facts straight and to get his evidence right. He has the responsibility and obligation not to lie to his audiences and to use the power of his celebrity more judiciously than he has.
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true. Why, when you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”
Because even the great and powerful Oz can’t sustain all of the show’s popularity without appealing to the masses who want their miracle cures or their jaw-dropping moments. Because ratings matter and advertisers matter and celebrity-worship matters in this warped society of ours.
And if truth, science, evidence and integrity have to be sacrificed in the name of ratings, well so be it….