For Dr. Oz, Pseudoscience Trumps Reality

Joseph Perrone Chief Science Officer, Center for Accountability in Science
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It’s been called a “match made in TV heaven.” America’s Doctor and Donald Trump under one roof, talking about the latter’s blood pressure and likely sending the former’s ratings through the roof.

Trump’s appearance on Dr. Oz last week revealed that he is slightly overweight for a man of six-foot-two. But unlike the candidate’s commentary which continues to fuel this election’s news cycle, his doctor’s report seemed fairly unremarkable. The impartial discussion is a welcome change for Dr. Oz, who often advocates for unsubstantiated nonsense.

Dr. Oz is an enigma. He holds prestigious degrees from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. He is the director of Columbia University’s Integrative Medicine Center, and practices cardiovascular surgery at the highly regarded New York Presbyterian Hospital. Yet he continuously promotes junk science that enriches him but endangers viewers’ health, and mars the public’s understanding of science.

For example, he often advocates for unproven “miracle” cures, including a green coffee bean weight loss pills which landed the doctor in a Senate hearing after the product faced a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission on allegations of false advertising. In fact, a 2014 study found that close to half of Dr. Oz’s recommendations were either baseless or outright contradicted by available scientific evidence.

In addition to peddling junk science, Oz also denounces sound science. Between interviews with psychics and faith healers, he regularly attacks, the scientific consensus behind bisphenol A (BPA) and genetically improved food.

BPA is commonly used in the lining of cans and plastics to prevent food spoilage and deadly microbial contamination. BPA is one of the most studied commercial chemicals, with over 10,000 PubMed citations. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have conducted extensive reviews of BPA and independently concluded that the substance poses no consumer health risk at current levels of exposure.

One study in particular found BPA exposure yielded no discernable adverse effect in female rats, even at levels 4,000 times higher than the maximum exposure the general human population would face on an average day.

But it’s not enough for Dr. Oz, who slams BPA as the metaphoric key to cell death while his guest blames the substance for everything from hormone disruption to infertility. The doctor gestures toward a tower of BPA-containing products, calling them “riddled with chemicals and toxins that will destroy your health.” Sounds more tin-foil hat conspirator than esteemed doctor.

His stance on genetically modified foods, also known as GMOs, is just as out of step with the scientific community. Roughly 90% of scientists believe GMOs are safe to eat. A 2015 research review published in Critical Reviews in Biotechnology examined over 1,700 independent studies and concluded, “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.” More than two decades of research affirm and reaffirm GM technology as a beneficial contributor to global nutrition.

Yet Dr. Oz introduces a segment on GMOs by posing the question “Are they safe?” alongside music which wouldn’t be out of place in the climax of a crime drama. In a later episode, the doctor shares his stage with Moms Across America activist Zen Honeycutt, who claimed that an organic, GMO-free diet eliminated her son’s autism symptoms. “I’m very concerned,” Dr. Oz interjected, “that we’re at the beginning of a catastrophe that we don’t have to subject ourselves to.”

Dr. Oz’s acceptance of so-called “woo” medicine has started to catch up with him. He has been on the receiving end of several negative exposes, including a particularly scathing piece out of The New Yorker. At the aforementioned Senate hearing, Senator Claire McCaskill scolded “I don’t get why you say this stuff because you know it’s not true.” Several physicians concur, and called for his removal from Columbia University’s board.

Yet by appearing on his show, Trump legitimizes him and his crackpot theories.

If Dr. Oz could have his way, Trump’s America may well consist of a CDC which advocates for fad diets, weight loss pills and psychics. If our national healthcare begins to mirror Dr. Oz’s stage, the consequences would be undoubtedly YUGE.

Dr. Joseph Perrone is chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science.