The New Yorker has an article by Michael Specter on Dr Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon who is also the host of ‘The Dr. Oz Show’, a hugely popular US television program watched by millions of Americans. Dr Oz is notorious for his refusal to disavow ‘alternative’ medicine as unscientific and unproven; he promotes quackery like ‘miracle’ foods and cures, anti-GMO and anti-vaccine propaganda, Reiki, acupuncture, homeopathy and psychic powers alongside real, effective medical advice. To quote one of his critics, the cardiologist and professor of genomics Eric Topol, Dr Oz’s lack of discrimination between evidence-based medicine and alt-med can mislead people, since “how are consumers to know what is real and what is magic? Because Mehmet offers both as if they were one.”
Echoing the singer Tim Minchin, Specter writes:
Scientists often argue that, if alternative medicine proves effective through experimental research, it should no longer be considered alternative; at that point, it becomes medicine. By freely mixing alternatives with proven therapies, Oz makes it nearly impossible for the viewer of his show to assess the impact of either; the process just diminishes the value of science.
Neurologist Dr Steven Novella (who has been a guest on ‘The Dr. Oz Show’) is another critic of Dr Oz, writing in a blog post that “Promoters of alternative medicine [like Dr Oz] only pay inconsistent lip-service to science, but the core of their philosophy is that science is optional,” and that this is “a very dismissive attitude – the casual dismissal of scientific evidence simply because it contradicts a pet belief.”
The problem of shoddy methodology in medical science, whether in research or in the media, is also touched on by the physician and writer Dr Ben Goldacre in his book Bad Science. As a media personality, the issue of how entertainment values and populism subvert medicine is pertinent to Dr Oz’s case. He seems to think that truth is a democracy, that facts are determined not by the careful examination of reality but by popular vote. These personal beliefs about truth and facts are a core factor in Dr Oz’s promotion of quackery, as this passage from Specter’s article reveals:
”Either data works or it doesn’t,“ I [Specter] said. “Science is supposed to answer, or at least address, those questions. Surely you don’t think that all information is created equal?”
Oz sighed. “Medicine is a very religious experience,” he said. “I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean.” All facts come with a point of view. But his spin on it – that one can simply choose those which make sense, rather than data that happen to be true – was chilling. “You find the arguments that support your data,” he said, “and it’s my fact versus your fact.”
Dr Mehmet Oz is an epistemological relativist; to him, there is no such thing as objective truth, and unsubstantiated medical claims are just as valid as those backed by a mountain of evidence. With such a rotten ideological foundation, should it surprise us that his house of medical knowledge is so unsound? The tragedy is that Dr Oz has an impressionable audience of millions, many of whom may be harmed, not empowered, by the relativism of ‘America’s doctor’.