“Doctor Oz,” whose real name is Mehmet Cengiz Öz, is a cardiovascular surgeon who is famous—or rather infamous—for touting “alternative medicine” on his television show. Like the psychologist “Dr. Phil,” Dr. Oz was launched by Oprah Winfrey, and became sufficiently popular to warrant his own show, “The Dr. Oz Show.” He’s also written several bestselling books. His notoriety comes from endorsing questionable cures, especially products that supposedly help with weight loss. But he’s endorsed a lot of other woo, too. As Wikipedia notes:
Popular Science and The New Yorker have expressed criticism of Oz for his non-scientific advice. These criticisms include questioning if he is “doing more harm than good”. In an article in Slate, a medical researcher said that Oz’s work bordered on quackery. The James Randi Educational Foundation has given Oz its Pigasus Award for Refusal to Face Reality at least three times. Oz has been supportive of pseudosciences such as faith healing, homeopathy and psychic communication with the dead. In 2011 Independent Investigations Group awarded The Truly Terrible Television award to Oz and Oprah Winfrey “for extraordinary contributions to America’s scientific illiteracy and pervasive fear mongering.”
Yesterday, Dr. Oz testified before Congress, or rather, before Senator Claire McCaskill’s (Democrat, Missouri) Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Product Safety. As Chris Morran reports at Consumerist, and as you can see in the video below (it’s long!), Oz was given a public spanking for making questionable claims. Oz tried to defend himself, but he was lame.
A few snippets from the piece:
[McCaskill} went straight for Dr. Oz’s jugular in her opening remarks on this morning’s hearing about the false and deceptive advertising of weight-loss products.
“When you feature a product on your show, it creates what has become known as ‘Oz Effect,’ dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products,” the Senator explained. “I’m concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”
. . . Sen. McCaskill quoted three statements that the great and doctorful Oz had made about different weight-loss treatments on his show:
•(On green coffee extract) — “You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found the magic weight-loss for every body type.”
•(On raspberry ketone) — “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat” (raspberry ketone)
•(On garcinia cambogia) — “It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”
“I don’t get why you say this stuff, because you know it’s not true,” said McCaskill. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”
. . . the Senator wasn’t going to let him off the hook.
“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products that you called miracles,” she told the doctor. “And when you call a product a miracle and it’s something that you can buy and it’s something that gives people false hope, I just don’t understand why you need to go there.”
Dr. Oz countered ineffectually:
Dr. Oz openly admitted that the weight-loss treatments he mentions on the show are frequently “crutches… You won’t get there without diet and exercise,” and that while he believes in the research he’s done, the research done on these treatments would probably not pass FDA muster.
“If the only message I gave was to eat less and move more — which is the most important thing people need to do — we wouldn’t be very effectively tackling this complex challenge because viewers know these tips and they still struggle,” said the doctor. “So we search for tools and crutches; short-term supports so that people can jumpstart their programs.”
“Tools and crutches”? Really, will taking green coffee extract act as a sort of placebo, but one that will motivate people to do the real work needed to lose weight: stop eating so much and get more exercise? Oz just kept rabbiting on, emphasizing how much care he takes to protect his reputation (such as it is) and to keep people from using his name to sell their products.
“My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience and when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I wanna look — and I do look — everywhere… for any evidence that might be supportive to them,” explained Oz, who believes that products like green coffee extract jumpstart someone’s weight loss program and “gives you the confidence to keep going, and then you start to follow the things that we talk about every single day — including those seven items [on the FTC Gut Check list].”
The problem is that stuff like raspberry ketones and green-coffee-bean extract give people false hopes. I wonder if people have really used those products as crutches in the way Dr. Oz characterizes them. In fact, he doesn’t present them as placebos, but as things that work by themselves to take off weight, so he’s actively misleading people. “Evidence” is not evidence if there’s no good research behind it.
Finally, in one exchange McCaskill, who is relentless, takes Dr. Oz down several notches:
Throughout his testimony, Dr. Oz repeatedly reminded the subcommittee that he has to do constant damage [sic] reputation — along with taking legal action against some scammers — because of the people who abuse his enthusiastic statements for their own ends. However, the Senator was not exactly moved to tears.
“I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim,” concluded McCaskill. “I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized quite as frequently.”
Here’s all of Dr. Oz’s testimony, but it’s 1.5 hours long. Click on the screenshot to go to the C-Span video:
Kudos to Senator McCaskill for being so forthright and aggressive. Obesity is a huge problem in the U.S. (the high percentage of overweight Americans is one of the first thing foreigners notice when visiting our country) and there’s no miracle cure for it save the onerous operation of bariatric surgery (shrinking the stomach).
h/t: Grania, Hempenstein