A Letter to Dr. Oz from a PhD Microbiologist
Dear Dr. Oz,
As a TV host, book author, and "America's Doctor," you hold a powerful and privileged position to which few people inside or outside your profession could ever aspire. I must admit to being envious of your influence. I wish that more Americans were fascinated by the complicated nuance of biomedical research than are fascinated by miracle cures. Alas, they are not (yet). I'm working on it, though.
While I understand your desire to defend your reputation, your rebuttal failed to address any of the scientific and ethical concerns raised in the letter. Instead, your statement was full of ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies. Such a rejoinder is not what I would expect from somebody claiming to be a scientist (as you do), but far more typical of a person who has been thoroughly defeated in a scientific debate. In fact, your response reminds me of the sort of outburst one regularly hears from anti-vaxxers, anti-GMOers, climate change deniers, and the like.
For instance, you wrote:
"The lead author, Henry I. Miller, appears to have a history as a pro-biotech scientist..."
How is this relevant to the issue at hand, which is your promotion of unscientific alternative "remedies" and dubious ethical practices? Changing the topic by trying to smear Dr. Miller is simultaneously an ad hominem and a red herring fallacy. Also, how is being "pro-biotech" a bad thing, which you are clearly implying? I hold a PhD in microbiology, and I am vehemently pro-biotech because it will (and already has begun to) revolutionize the planet. I was pro-GMO when I first learned about them in my undergraduate molecular biology class in 2001, long before most people even knew what GMOs were. (In case you were wondering, despite my vocal support, I have never received a nickel from industry or its lobbyists.)
Furthermore, on your TV show, you sent your "investigative journalist" out to smear Dr. Miller's reputation. Nowhere in the segment did she seriously discuss Dr. Miller's credentials, such as him being the Founding Director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology. That makes Dr. Miller perhaps the nation's #1 expert on GMOs and biotech regulation. No, the report conveniently left that analysis out. Instead, your "journalist" found two left-wingers, Lisa Graves (a progressive activist) and Gary Ruskin (an anti-GMO activist who has been harassing scientists with dubious FOIA requests), to call Dr. Miller a "shill" and a liar.
You then trotted out Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who has partnered with the exceedingly dishonest Whole Foods, to call your critics "anti-American." Anti-American, because they disagree with you, Dr. Oz? That's not investigative journalism. That's propaganda.
Now, back to your essay. You went on to write:
"Another of the letter signees, Gilbert Ross, was found guilty after trial of 13 counts of fraud related to Medicaid."
One of your TV guests killed somebody, then paid $2.3 million to the family in an out-of-court settlement. What does this have to do with anything? Nothing. I just thought I'd mention it because you seem to find the "guilt by association" fallacy persuasive.
I would also suggest that the only reason you haven't been arrested for fraud is because, mind-bogglingly, it is legal in this country to promote fake medicine. You have presented no fewer than 16 different weight loss miracles. You believe in talking to the dead. And you've promoted homeopathy.
Next, you go on to criticize the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) because they are pro-industry and have taken money from food and agriculture companies. Let's set aside the fact that a lot of fantastic science comes from industry. Let's also set aside the fact that combating chemophobia and pseudoscience, which is what ACSH does, is necessary because of people like you. And, let's set aside the fact that, as a non-profit, ACSH has to raise money from somebody, and industry is just as good as anybody else.
Let's set aside all that. Instead, I would like to focus on the fact that you take money from companies, too, such as Walmart, IcyHot, and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. (Okay, I can't blame you for that last one; Fabio is rather convincing.) Recently, WikiLeaks released emails from your show that strongly hint at a lucrative deal you were hoping to strike with Sony. Your speaking fee, according to your profile on All American Speakers, is a jawdropping "$200,000 and above."
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making lots of money. But, how is your criticism of ACSH's finances anything other than pure, unadulterated hypocrisy?
I will end my lengthy letter by noting a piece that eight of your own colleagues wrote for USA Today. While they defended your employment at Columbia University, they still had this to say: "Many of us are spending a significant amount of our clinical time debunking Ozisms." Further, your "unsubstantiated medicine sullies the reputation of Columbia University and undermines the trust that is essential to physician-patient relationships."
Aren't you ashamed by that? Aren't you humiliated that your colleagues hold you in such low regard?
Like you, I am a professional communicator. But, unlike you, I use my platform to tell people things they don't always want to hear. I don't have applause lines. I tell the truth as best as I understand it. I present data, even if I don't happen to like it. I don't offer miracle cures. I don't offer oversimplified, easy answers. In other words, I do what scientists and journalists are supposed to do.
That decision, to put integrity first, almost certainly won't earn me much fame or fortune. But, injecting science and reason into public debates allows "America's Microbiologist" (if I may) to sleep with a clear conscience.
Alex Berezow, PhD
Founding Editor, RealClearScience