pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?

January 30, 2013

beaver talc

A feature piece on the Dr. Oz Show and the man behind it is up at the New Yorker, and as most features on a controversial topic in the New Yorker go, it’s long and none too flattering. In it, he’s described as brilliant, charismatic, but profoundly influenced by his wife’s deeply held beliefs in alt med woo, and seeking ratings and publicity to a fault. He may talk about giving patients every bit of information out there and wash his hands of any claims that in retrospect were found to be with little to no medical merit, but the message is clear. He needs drama, ratings, and to give the audience what it really wants: quick, easy, convenient answers to the big three questions. How can I lose weight? How can I live longer? How can I battle cancer if it sneaks up on me? And as numerous quotes from experts in the article show, he goes overboard with his answers…

“Mehmet was always unique, but now he has morphed into a mega-brand. When he tells people the number of sexual encounters they need each year to improve their lives in a specific way, or how to lose weight in three days—this is simply lunacy. The problem is that he is eloquent and talented, and some of what he says clearly provides a service we need. But how are consumers to know what is real and what is magic? Because Mehmet offers both as if they were one… It all seems to be in the service of putting on a show. And, when you add it up, that seems like something other than medicine. It’s more like medutainment.”

No wonder Oz is so popular. Have trouble with weight loss and yo-yoing back and forth, and no doctor can tell you how to keep weight off? Try the raspberry ketones. Then the green coffee beans. Then the blueberries and almonds. What should I do to add a year to my life? Have sex on a regular basis and aim for 200 orgasms a year. These are not exaggerations. I’m not being snarky or sarcastic whatsoever. These are real, honest to goodness Dr. Oz recommendations, his televised answers to complex medical questions we are only now learning how to even try to research thanks to cloud computing and an explosion in bioinformatics. But instead of doing an expansive study using data from millions of real patients whose data was uploaded into secure data centers for medical research use, Dr. Oz is basically telling his viewers "oh, want an extra year added to your lifespan? Why don’t you go out and get laid? Doctor’s orders!"

It’s simple, it’s nice to hear, and it comes with the most minimal amount of evidence. Yes, we do know that sex adds years to your life but we don’t know how well enough to tell someone how many orgasms he or she should have to live longer. Same goes for all the compounds that Oz touts as the miracle fat buster that Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about, despite being all too able to extract the active ingredient in pill form, patent it, and make billions selling it. It’s all those pesky FDA requirements that the supplement do a better job than a placebo that just get in the way, unlike for health store chains that sell vitamins formulated in Utah, where a senator with deep ties to the supplement lobby fights to keep vitamin sales totally unregulated. Point is, much of what Oz has to offer the public is either common sense or ridiculous hype and eyeball grabbing manufactroversies for the sake of ratings.

Considering that Oz is indeed a brilliant and accomplished surgeon and researcher, he should really know better than to opt for drama and ratings, telling his viewers what they want to hear instead of admitting that we don’t know a lot of things to which they demand instant answers. In the scientific world, nature doesn’t take the attention span and personal desires of patients into account and it makes you fight to find solutions to complex problems like aging and cancer. For someone to step into the role of "America’s doctor" without acknowledging it and sticking to the facts for which we can have solid evidence, is a gross abuse of trust and a position of immense power. He could’ve used his bully pulpit to dispel countless snake oils and get more people on treadmills and committing to a healthy lifestyle. Instead, he gave common sense a node while sending his fans on the hunt for the latest weight/cancer/age-busting fad. For shame…

[ illustration by Glen Southern ]

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  • TheBrett

    Is that the article where it describes the incredibly gross, joyless diet that he himself uses?

  • gfish3000

    No, that’s an NYT article from a while back according to which he eats blueberries, almonds, and some ghastly concoction of boiled spinach and other greens that sounds like it would resemble toxic refuse from an action movie when cooked. It sounds more like a punishment one imposes on oneself than a diet…