ScienceSkepticism

Physicians Speak Out Against Dr. Oz’s Position on Columbia Medical School Faculty

Dr. Oz is America’s trusted television doctor. Though his expertise is cardiac surgery, the Dr. Oz Show covers myriad subjects and tops ratings, with millions tuning in daily to heed his advice. The man has charisma on his side; his demographic is composed largely of adoring women and young mothers. Though mainstream media has slammed him for espousing anti-science views, Oz continues to promote non evidence-based health advice. He’s truly earned the “Snake Oil Salesman” title, and continues to uphold the quackery that led to the label. Indeed, a recent study found that about half of the medical advice on the Dr. Oz show is baseless or downright wrong.

In addition to baseless medical advice, Oz instills fear of genetically-engineered foods, though the world’s leading scientific organizations agree that GE techniques are inherently safe.

On his March 10th episode, Dr. Oz aired a segment on the Arctic Apple. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration recently approved and deregulated the genetically engineered apple after years of field testing. Engineered with an enzyme “off-switch” using a technique called “RNA interference,” Arctic Apples don’t brown or bruise when cut, bitten, or bumped. The television doctor treated the topic with his usual anti-GE sentiment. I’m a 32-year-old mom of two, and I fit solidly into Dr. Oz’s target audience. But I’m not biting when it comes to his take on Arctic Apples, or most of his drivel in general.

I took one for the team and watched that episode, titled ““The Non-Browning GMO Apple: Is It Safe?” I then co-authored a piece on the episode for Slate (check out the comments, lots of positive ones as well as a few typical cases of Shill Accusation Syndrome.) Following the relative success of our article, “Low-Hanging Fruit: Dr. Oz sows seeds of mistrust on genetic engineering” my co-author Dr. Henry Miller coordinated a letter from himself and fellow esteemed physicians to the dean of the medical school at Columbia University. Dr. Mehmet Oz holds a senior appointment there in the Department of Surgery.

The letter reads as follows:

 

Lee Goldman, M.D.
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine
Columbia University

 

Dear Dr. Goldman:

 

I am writing to you on behalf of myself and the undersigned colleagues below, all of whom are distinguished physicians.

 

We are surprised and dismayed that Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment, let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery.

 

As described here and here, as well as in other publications, 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.  Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.

 

Thus, Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgements about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both.  Whatever the nature of his pathology, members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz’s presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable.

 

Sincerely yours,

Henry I. Miller, M.D.
Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy
& Public Policy
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Scott W. Atlas, M.D.
David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Jack Fisher, M.D.
Professor of Surgery (emeritus)
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA

Shelley Fleet, M.D.
Anesthesiologist
Longwood, FL

Gordon N. Gill, M.D.
Dean (emeritus) of Translational Medicine
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA

Michael H. Mellon, M.D.
Pediatric Allergist
San Diego, CA

Gilbert Ross, M.D.
President (Acting) and Executive Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York, NY

Samuel Schneider, M.D.
Psychiatrist
Princeton, NJ

Glenn Swogger Jr. M.D.
Director of the Will Menninger Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences (retired)
The Menninger Foundation
Topeka, KS

Joel E. Tepper, M.D.
Hector MacLean Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research
Dept of Radiation Oncology
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC

 

I’m on the edge of my seat to see what happens next. In the meantime, please feel free to contact Columbia University yourself to add your voice by emailing the dean (Dr. Goldman), the president of the university (Lee C. Bollinger) and the chairman of the board of trustees (Jonathan D. Schiller).

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

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23 Comments

  1. April 15, 2015 at 3:55 pm —

    I would be surprised if anything happens because, money.

  2. April 15, 2015 at 4:45 pm —

    I hope Dr. Miller succeeds in de-legitimizing that quack!

    • April 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm —

      Stephanie Savage,

      So do I!

    • June 6, 2015 at 10:08 am —

      Oz is a quack but so is Miller. I dont like nor watch Oz, but it must be pointed out (like ABC News did) that of the list you published, one of the doctors is a convicted felon (medicare fraud) and Miller, has extremely questionable ethics. He supports spraying of DDT, doesn’t care what it does to the environment, and has some horrendous views about atomic weapons, let’s just say he isn’t opposed to genocide. He and I have tangled many times in the past on Forbes.com Oz should go, but Miller should be fired from Stanford too.

  3. April 15, 2015 at 5:15 pm —

    What do you think about the recent MIT article about roundup/glyphosate? http://web.mit.edu/demoscience/Monsanto/impact.html

    • April 15, 2015 at 5:43 pm —

      Spring of 2009 is recent?

      • April 17, 2015 at 11:14 am —

        Relatively recent, and I do really want to know what people think, because while I think GMOs in theory are fine, the profit driven practices of corporations make me suspicious. I am trying to be well informed, but it is difficult and if I am going to err, I will err on the side of caution.

        • April 17, 2015 at 5:21 pm —

          Sure, that sounds fair. I think I would start by saying that, in general, you need to remember that GMO technology is a tool. And like many tools, it’s largely about how the tool is used. A pressure cooker is typically used for what its name implies — cooking. But they can also be used as bombs. In the case of GMO’s, the technology can be used more for driving up the profits of a company or for making better food. What a lot of people do, though, is have this distrust of the tool based on how it is used rather than being based on the qualities of the tool. Worse is that they make false claims about the qualities of the tool due to that mistrust. E.g, it is errant to say GMO’s as a whole are unsafe because of profit driven practices of corporations. That is a non sequitur. (On the flip side, suggesting that a company makes unsafe GMO’s — so note we’re not taking about GMO’s as a whole here — would be at least logically valid. (It may not be sound, so I hope you understand the difference between a valid argument and a sound argument.))

          Another issue I typically see, and I see it in the link you have provided, is a failure to recognize that similar practices happen with non-GMO crops. (To put this another way, these are problems seen with farming in general and are not limited to GMO’s.) As an example, one part of the link says, “An article recently published in Science Daily suggests that farmers are becoming too reliant on Roundup.” This is actually just a variant of a larger problem of farmers becoming too reliant on single crops. I, for example, live in Iowa where there is a heavy dependence on corn. This is a problem whether or not farmers are growing GMO corn or not.

          Another one: “A big concern about genetic engineering in general, and including Roundup Ready crops, is the fact that scientists do not know what the true effect of these organisms is on the environment before releasing them.” Again, any farming practice has this problem. Iowa used to be 20% forest with the other 80% being pretty much all prairie land. We’re down to 4% forest and virtually no prairie at all. What environmental impact has that had? Or, PZ Myers noted on his blog earlier this week about how there are few Monarch butterflies around his part of Minnesota anymore; the problem looks to be more with farming practices in general than just with GMO’s.

          One more: “Roundup Ready seeds have what is known as ‘terminator technology;’ seeds that are grown for a second generation are sterile. Farmers need to purchase seeds from Monsanto each year if they want to continue to use their crops.” First, I’ve read that Monsanto doesn’t actually do this. My understanding is it’s actually that they’ve copyrighted their seeds, so they can sue farmers for infringement if they plant seeds they didn’t purchase. With that, it seems this piece you linked is more about listing concerns and claims people have made about GMO’s and didn’t actually bother to evaluate the truth of these claims. But, what I really wanted to point out with this is this is actually more common with hybrid (i.e, non-GMO’s) seeds. It’s not that the hybrid seeds are sterile, but that the quality of the seed degrades with each generation. That’s because the breeding conditions to make the original seed were controlled, but they’re not out in “the wild,” and thus loose quality. The point, once again, is where is the similar criticism of hybrid seed production over this?

          So, I’ll get off the podium now and just exit by saying that I do understand your concerns. But please remember to be concerned by ALL types of farming, and not just GMO’s. I’ll say it again that that seems to be the biggest error people make — they’re so focused on GMO’s that they’re missing the bigger problems and the bigger picture.

  4. April 15, 2015 at 6:59 pm —

    Kavin Senapathy,

    Speaking of Dr. Oz and others like him, have you seen this commentary from Julia Belluz over at Vox?

    How should journalists cover quacks like Dr. Oz or the Food Babe?
    http://www.vox.com/2015/4/13/8385295/science-reporting-ethics

  5. April 16, 2015 at 12:40 pm —

    One of these doctors is in my area. I just called his office to thank him for standing up against quackery.

  6. April 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm —

    “In addition to baseless medical advice, Oz instills fear of genetically-engineered foods, though the world’s leading scientific organizations agree that GE techniques are inherently safe.”

    World’s leading scientific organizations?? Really? Which ones? Nobody trusts GMOs anymore.

    • April 16, 2015 at 2:26 pm —

      So, public trust is how we decide scientific truths now?

    • April 16, 2015 at 2:41 pm —

      People only mistrust GMOs because they don’t like Monsanto. They take their distrust of a corporation and one GMO plant and extend that to all GMOs everywhere, even Golden Rice, which has the potential to prevent large numbers of children from going blind.

      These same people are willing to trust climate change scientists and are fast to point out that more than 98% of them agree that climate change is happening yet they refuse to trust the 88% of scientists who agree that GMOs are safe. It’s an excellent example of cognitive dissonance.

  7. April 16, 2015 at 3:30 pm —

    Kavin, when I click on any of the links for the doctors at Columbia, all 3 of them give me a 404 Page Not Found Error. Not sure what’s wrong, but I would love a way to contact the doctors and add my voice to the protest.

  8. April 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm —

    Wonderful, thank you so much Kavin! I’ll send my letters this weekend, most likely. I will also share this to my dental networks to see how many others will join in.

  9. April 17, 2015 at 9:38 am —

    Oh, like he needs to keep his job at Columbia? If they drop him he’ll just have more time to promote quackery, plus, he’ll be a martyr in his own eyes and the eyes of his devoted viewers. There’s simply no way that he can lose, which is horrifying.

  10. April 17, 2015 at 6:51 pm —

    Dr. Oz is right on the money, it doesn’t take chemicals and pharmaceutical companies to call the shots for all sickness in the world, if there is a natural cure to a problem use it. Take for example insulin, did anyone bother to tell people with diabetes type 1 diabetes, that insulin only stalls the problem of diabetes, and will destroy your pancreas, giving you a life span of about 10 years. When there are natural cures already, but the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know about this because diabetes is a billions of dollars industry. The truth need to be told in this industry.

    • April 17, 2015 at 10:16 pm —

      Did you know that the natural cures industry makes millions annually?

      Did you know they are not regulated to actually contain the promised ingredients?

      Why are you a natural cures industry shill?

  11. April 18, 2015 at 7:47 pm —

    The Pharmaceutical Companies almost daily have incidents with injuring patients of there medicines there are too many incidents with symptoms and side effects, that patients may not know they are allergic to certain medicines and could die. I not against chemicals as a last alternate, but if you can be cured with natural medicines, without side effects let it be so. The word Pharmacae goes back to witches in Salem, there portion and mixes could either help you or hurt you, why do you think witches were burned at the stakes. Indians and African Americans, have know secrets to curing for years, before Scientist created there versions of medicines, which is unproven in studies, the same medicines they create to help people will also kill people, after the lawsuits, they will place the same medicines back on the markets to make up for the money they lost in the lawsuit.

  12. April 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm —

    A gentle suggestion. Please don’t use the word, “myself” in the manner you did. Use the word, “me”. It is not appropriate to refer to yourself as “myself” when you are not using it as a reflexive pronounce. For example, you should have used the phrase, “on behave of me….” and not “on behave of myself.” You can hurt yourself, hate yourself, like yourself but you may not refer to yourself as “myself.” You need to be doing something to yourself when using “myself”..

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