For those who fear "chemicals" and "GMOs," TV personality Dr. Oz is far from a quack: The man is a hero. And now that other physicians have publicly called for Columbia University to cut ties with Oz, he's officially become a martyr.
"I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves," Oz stated in a post to his public Facebook page. "We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts. For example, I do not claim that GMO foods are dangerous, but believe that they should be labeled like they are in most countries around the world. I will address this on the show next week."
Natural News, which has been thoroughly debunked as touting Facebook-pandering, anti-science hokum, wrote that the letter against Oz was a tactic of "the black ops branch of the 'Monsanto Discredit Bureau,'" which sounds totally measured and reasonable.
On Twitter and Facebook, Oz's followers are in passionate agreement:
— Mary Bruneau (@Maryb2222) April 20, 2015
— HealthyOrganicGreen (@H_O_G_) April 20, 2015
— Pat Thomas (@patthomas08) April 20, 2015
For many of these supporters, the proof that Oz is being bullied by an anti-science, anti-truth corporate agenda lies in the vulnerability of the American Council on Science and Health -- even though only two of the ten signers of the letter are affiliated with the organization. One of those signers is ACSH's medical director, who briefly worked at a practice that committed Medicare fraud back in 1993 and served time for his involvement.
— Wayne Parcheman (@WayneParcheman) April 20, 2015
This is obviously no joke, but his medical license was reinstated in 2001, not to mention the fact that this is such a basic example of an ad hominem attack that it would have gotten me kicked off the middle school debate team.
To be fair, ACSH (which, again, only brought two of the ten letter signers to the table) has also been criticized as being too cozy with industry to be a good source of scientific information. It's fair to be skeptical of a group that claimed BPA was totally safe in 2012, given mounting evidence that the chemical found in many plastics is cause for concern.
But Oz isn't just cozy with industry. He is an industry. The talented surgeon has made a career of touting medical advice he has no qualifications to back up -- and studies have found that much of it is flat-out incorrect. From Vox.com:
There were — and still are — plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Oz's medical advice. Oz has long been a proponent of homeopathy, an alternative therapy, despite the fact that it defies the basic laws of science and has been shown in numerous studies to be useless.
He used his own made-for-TV studies to suggest little kids are getting poisoned by arsenic in apple juice (when the Food and Drug Administration has shown this isn't true), and to promise his audience that green coffee bean supplements "burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight." He has featured discredited research that claims genetically modified foods are harmful to humans, stoking fears about the foods.
Many guests on Oz's show also endorse questionable health claims, particularly in pursuit of profit. Monica Seles, the star tennis player, recently appeared in a segment about binge eating. At the time, she was a paid spokesperson for the drugmaker Shire, which recently won FDA approval for the binge-eating drug Vyvanse.
To focus on Oz's calls for GMO labeling is to ignore the fact that many of his stances on science – his support of vaccine refusal and questionable (and expensive) weight loss methods, for starters – are much more worrying to the scientific community. He’s reached quack status, and his thoughts on GMOs aren’t what landed him there.
The question of whether or not the United States should require special labeling for genetically modified organisms is a complex one: It's not entirely clear what we should classify as "genetically modified," given that many crops have been bred selectively for thousands of years with no fuss. Scientific American came out in 2013 with the stance that GMO labeling would simply fan the fires of anti-science fearmongering. But in a piece for the same magazine, environmental reporter Dan Fagin argued that there were downsides to scientists fighting labeling -- not least of which the alienation of people who fear the products.
In other words, pretending that doctors only have a problem with Oz because of his anti-GMO stance is ridiculous because it's the least controversial stance he has. Oz is not the one man standing between us and a Monsanto-run future.
He is, however, a supporter of homeopathy -- which quite literally has no basis in fact whatsoever, and is probably one of the most offensive attempts at "science" ever sold to the public -- and gives a loud signal boost to vaccine deniers. He helped give the world the gift of The Food Babe, an anti-science moneymaker who bedecks herself in Pinterest-friendly warnings about "chemicals." When testifying before a Senate subcommittee about his claim that weight loss products summarily dismissed by the scientific community were "miracles," he claimed that he was just using flowery language and that his misdirection was harmless.
Oz is, by all accounts, a remarkably talented surgeon. But the question of whether or not a medical school should maintain ties with someone who seems determined to ignore scientific evidence and tout misinformation to the public is not a new one -- and Monsanto supporters aren't the only ones asking.
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