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The making of Dr. Oz

How an award-winning doctor turned away from science and embraced fame

It's a dark and biting March morning on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Lilly is standing outside ABC's brick studio building, waiting to be let in to watch a live taping of Dr. Mehmet Oz's television show.

"I've been here since 7 am," she says.

Though the sun is barely out, her phone is buzzing with text messages from nearly every member of her family — all Oz-lovers excited about her peek behind the curtain.

They're not alone. Dr. Oz is arguably the most influential health professional in America. The Dr. Oz Show, which started in 2009, has an average audience of more than 4 million people each day in 118 countries. He has his own magazine (The Good Life) and syndicated columns that have run in the most widely read periodicals in North America. He has radio segments, about a dozen books, and the show's website — a go-to resource on medical questions for millions. He has millions of followers on his Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube accounts, and a starring role on the new medical reality show NY Med. Across all these channels, he preaches the same message: you can take control of your health with simple tricks and natural remedies.

Parts of Dr. Oz's message have come under fire recently from the federal government and the scientific community for deviating too far from established medical fact. This scrutiny, however, hasn't cooled the ardor of fans like Lilly.

"He has this practical, common-sense use of things on the planet to stay healthy," she says. "It's not about popping pills or using medication."

After covering Oz for several years, I'm fascinated by him. How did a gifted, award-winning cardiothoracic surgeon with credentials from three Ivy League schools become a TV star who promotes belly-fat busters and anti-aging tricks? I'm also intrigued by the hold he has on his fans. Why do so many people place their trust — and their health — in the hands of a TV personality? What does his popularity say about Americans' attitudes toward science?

I spoke to dozens of Oz's colleagues, mentors, and other health professionals who have been touched by the surgeon or his work, some who've known the man since his early days fresh out of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. I read his early books. I talked to his fans — including my own mother. I found out that the roots of Oz's experimentation with alternative techniques go all the way back to his childhood, and that his departures from evidence-based medicine have gotten more extreme as he's become more famous. I also learned that the making of Dr. Oz says more about America's approach to health than it does about its most famous doctor.

Dr. Oz graduation photo from Instagram

(Dr. Oz, via Instagram)

The early years

1960: Mehmet Oz is born in Cleveland, Ohio. He spends childhood summers in Turkey, where he’s first exposed to nontraditional medical practices.

1982: Oz graduates from Harvard University.

1985: Oz marries Lisa Lemole.

1986: Oz earns a dual MD-MBA at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Penn's Wharton School. He goes on to do his residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

1988-'91: At Columbia, Oz wins the prestigious Blakemore Research Award four years in a row — a testament to his early promise as a researcher.

My journey into the land of Oz started in New York City, at Oz's hospital, New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Richard Green, the associate chief of cardiac, thoracic, and vascular surgery — Oz's division — agreed to talk with me about his most famous colleague.

Oz has achieved some of the greatest scientific accomplishments of his career at Columbia. While a resident there, he was the four-time winner of the prestigious Blakemore research prize, which goes to the most outstanding surgery resident. He now holds 11 patents for inventing methods and devices involved in heart surgeries and transplants. This includes helping to research and develop the left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, which helps keep people alive while they're awaiting a heart transplant. Oz had a hand in turning the hospital's LVAD program into one of the biggest and most active in the world.

Dr. Green greeted me in a beige hospital hallway, a compact man with worn skin and white hair, dressed in blue scrubs. In his office, which was decorated with family pictures, diplomas, and medical textbooks, he alternately praised and defended his colleague. He said the following things about Oz: "He's a brilliant mind." "He's a very charming person." "He has great energy." "He's uniformly respected and admired here." "Maybe he should be president. I would vote for him." "He's a talent. He's multidirectional." "As for the other doctors who are on TV, I don't put them in [Oz's] league. Not even close."

Green also suggested that the leveling off we're seeing in obesity rates in the US may be thanks to the awareness Oz has raised about the importance of eating more healthfully and exercising.

Still, I pressed Green about Oz's TV work, specifically, a recent British Medical Journal study: researchers examined the health claims showcased on 40 randomly selected episodes of the two most popular internationally syndicated health talk shows, The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors. They found that about half of the recommendations either had no evidence behind them or actually contradicted what the best available science tells us.

Green admitted that he had never seen The Dr. Oz Show. "I don't know what he would promote or not promote," he said.

Then he asked: "Why would anyone mistake that for anything but entertainment?"

Green said he thought people in Oz's audience would be able to distinguish between the man's work on TV and his work in the operating room. Plus, he said, even if Oz did deviate from science sometimes, this didn't make him any different from every other doctor. After all, physicians don't always practice in an evidence-based manner. Critics were being unfair to Oz by holding him to an evidence-based standard, Green felt. Oz wasn't pushing narcotics and antibiotics through his show, Green reasoned — just harmless supplements and health tips.

"What can a TV doctor do except for give advice about how to live your life?" he asked.

I asked Green whether he'd want to be Oz's patient, and he said, "If you did a poll of the staff at Columbia and asked them, 'If you needed a heart operation and Mehmet was there, would you want him?' they'd say yes."

He then added, "He's probably a little rusty right now." He said Oz seemed to be operating less and less — from several hundred surgeries per year at his peak to a maximum of about 100 now — as he entertains more and more.

When I asked Green whether he thinks Oz has been corrupted by fame, he said, "I don't think he's a charlatan." Green added that in addition to being a top-notch surgeon with impeccable credentials, Oz had long embraced alternative medicine. "In his earlier days, he always believed there was more to getting well than just a pill or an operation. I think there was a period of time he thought music had healing power. I think he's very sincere in his belief."

The next day, over the phone, I spoke to Dr. Michael Argenziano, a colleague at Columbia who has known Oz for 25 years, since they were both surgical residents. They still perform surgeries side by side, though that's become increasingly infrequent.

"When he was young and just starting out," Argenziano said, "[Oz] was practicing what he's now preaching. He was always very committed to preventive medicine, holistic natural health."

In the early ‘90s, according to Argenziano, Oz could often be found in his lab, studying "alternative medicine, hypnosis, Eastern medicine, all that stuff — guided imagery, acupuncture." Argenziano added, "That was 10 years before he ever went on TV."

Dr. Oz

(Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

Oz's parents are Turkish, and the family spent summers in their homeland. Oz trained in the Turkish military to retain his dual citizenship. During his time there, he observed approaches to health care that weren't common in America — but were, he believed, perhaps just as powerful.

As Oz described in a 2010 interview, in Turkey, "You would never leave a patient in the hospital there unless you had a relative with them. In fact, the nurse gives you the pills to give the patient." He said these customs may confer curative powers, however intangible and difficult to account for in the evidence-based medicine model.

"I feel strongly," Oz said, "that in the West we have come to believe that medicine offers all the solutions, and so we no longer play the proactive role we should be playing."

There was another influence, too. While he was studying for his medical degree and MBA at the University of Pennsylvania, Oz met his wife, the actress Lisa (then Lemole). Lisa's dad was also a cardiothoracic surgeon who embraced alternative medicine and Eastern mysticism, and, according to a profile in the New York Times, her mother "believed fervently" in homeopathy.

In 1994, Oz launched the Cardiac Complementary Care Center at Columbia-Presbyterian with a certified perfusionist and registered nurse, Jery Whitworth. The center, one of the first of its kind in the nation, was "created, in part, as a response to consumer demand for comprehensive care," Oz and Whitworth wrote in a 1998 scholarly article.

The idea was that they'd apply science to the study of alternative medicine and figure out which approaches were helpful to people. As Oz said at the time, "It's an attempt to translate what's going on in alternative and complementary medicine into a language that's acceptable not just to physicians but Western culture."

Oz and Whitworth experimented with hypnosis, "therapeutic touch," guided imagery, reflexology, aromatherapy, prayer, and yoga, according to Oz's 1998 book, Healing from the Heart.

They also used audiotapes to try to subconsciously relax patients before surgery and brought reiki — or "energy medicine" — into the operating room. Reiki, an ancient Japanese healing art, has never been shown in scientific studies to alter the outcomes of patients. One high-quality study on the effect of reiki on pain in women after C-sections showed that it had no effect. Science-based thinkers have wondered whether it's ethical to continue studying reiki, given that we know it works no better than a placebo and we may be diverting funds from treatments that could actually help people.

Oz's work with the center drew critics. One Mount Sinai physician told the New York Times in 1995: "I call practitioners of fraud practitioners of fraud. It's my feeling that the [center] has been promoting fraudulent alternatives as genuine."

There were also problems within the center itself. Whitworth, Oz's co-founder, told Vox that by 1998, four years after launching, he and Oz were arguing regularly.

Speaking to the media for the first time in 15 years, Whitworth said their disagreements "had to do with our inability to see eye to eye with the marketing of what was going on, which I felt was inappropriate."

"It became about Oz. Not about the project. Not about the patients."

Whitworth said he told Oz often, "We are in our infancy. We haven't proved anything. Before you're going out there to major media, we need to look at what we're doing here. Stop the media circus."

Monique Class, a family nurse practitioner and another former employee of the center, said the media attention negatively affected their work. "It became about Oz. Not about the project. Not about the patients. Not about the work. That all became secondary to his rise to the top."

It wasn't uncommon, Class said, for Oz to say some version of the following to her or to the other employees: "Give me a patient because the cameras are coming in, and tell me what I need to know."

Class said, "He was always acting. He didn't know this patient. He was not connected to this patient. We'd give him a two- or three-minute sound byte and he'd sit there in front of the cameras like he'd done this work and had this deep connection."

Out of frustration with how things were being run, Whitworth said he shuttered the center in 2000. That same year, Oz reopened it under another name. (Oz's public relations representative declined to comment for this article.)

This setback didn't slow down Oz in his study of alternative medicine — or his embrace of fame. In the early 2000s, he worked with a reiki healer named Raven Keyes. She told me recently, "My reiki master is the archangel Gabriel. All I have to do is ask Gabriel to activate all the angels, and everybody's angels come to life." In the operating room, she said, she'd perch on a stool behind the anesthesiologist and transfer her good energy. "I'm connecting with the divine light within me and allowing myself to absorb the divine light in myself so it expands outward."

Raven attributed Oz's experimentation with reiki to his desire to help people and to understand "energy medicine." Oz, in turn, endorsed Keyes by writing the introduction to her book, The Healing Power of Reiki.

Outside of the operating room, Oz's renown was growing. He landed a spot on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a regular medical expert in 2004, and was anointed "America's Doctor" — a moniker he trademarked. He used his platform to back a range of questionable health practices, including lending the seal of credibility to the Brazilian medium — and well-known huckster — "John of God" on ABC News and in Oprah's O magazine.

This embrace of alternative medicine only boosted the Oz brand — even if it meant he was slowly shifting further away from science and closer to wizardry. "His style, his emphasis on some of his more holistic material, really made him very attractive," said Argenziano.

The public face also massively expanded the number of people Oz could touch, Argenziano said. "At his peak, Mehmet was doing 300 to 400 operations a year. That's 300 to 400 people you can help." Through a multimedia empire, he now reaches millions.

When I asked Argenziano about Oz's turn toward entertainment and the recent criticisms of his use of science, he was dismissive, describing Oz's tactics as a tradeoff for helping people.

"Mehmet is not immune to the pressures of production schedules, ratings drives," Argenziano said. "You have a daily show millions of people are tuning into. People are wanting and asking for advice on issues like weight loss and health. So does he sometimes use more flowery language than you might if you were looking at something truly scientifically? Maybe."

Dr. Oz young

(Getty Images)

An "open-minded" physician-scientist

1994: Oz is awarded a Florence and Herbert Irving scholarship at Columbia to study patients’ quality of life.

1994: With a colleague, Oz co-founds the Cardiac Complementary Care Center at Columbia Presbyterian to study diet, meditation and hypnosis, and manual therapies like massage and energy medicine.

1995: The New York Times calls Oz the most "accomplished 35-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in the country."

1995: Oz brings a reiki "energy" healer into his operating room.

1998: Oz publishes the book Healing From the Heart and coins the term "global medicine."

In 2012, when I started writing about Dr. Oz, I was one of a few critical voices in the mainstream media. (There were plenty of bloggers already criticizing him.) The most comprehensive profile of Oz around that time ran in the New York Times, and it glorified him.

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.

Oz has shared the stage with vaccine deniers, and activists like the Food Babe (known to scientists as "the Jenny McCarthy of food"). Recent investigations by the Federal Trade Commission show that at least one of his miracle-touting guests used the program as a platform to deceive audiences and sell products, capitalizing on the "Oz effect" — or the fact that whenever he so much as mentions a product, stores can't restock it quickly enough.

At the height of the Ebola panic last year, Oz suggested the virus could go airborne — even though there was universal agreement among virologists that the pathogens have never behaved that way.

Criticizing Oz is not always a popular position to take. Whenever I write a negative story about him, I get emails from fans explaining how the TV doctor helped them lose weight, eat more fibrous foods and fewer doughnuts, quit smoking, or all of the above.

Oz's staff, unsurprisingly, doesn't like the criticism either. When I tried to attend that March taping of Oz's show in New York after getting a ticket through a lottery, Tim Sullivan, the show's media representative, told me, "We cannot accommodate you attending Friday's taping or other future tapings" — despite the fact that several other journalists have gone to Oz show tapings in the past. Sullivan then stopped returning any of my emails, including several requests for interviews and information for this piece. (The media relations team at the Oprah Winfrey Network also declined to comment for this story. When asked to comment on the criticisms of Oz, a Columbia University media relations person pointed to the school's policy on freedom of expression, which states that it "is fully committed to upholding academic integrity and freedom of expression. This means both that the university will not penalize faculty for statements made in public debate and that we are committed to a strong principle of academic freedom in teaching and research.")

Several more mainstream voices have joined the chorus of Oz critics in recent years. Scientific journal articles and major media profiles have documented the extent to which Oz deviates from science. The FTC investigated the products featured on his show. There has been a push by some doctors to begin to regulate the speech of doctors like Oz, who use their white coats to treat patients through the media. A group of Oz's peers recently questioned Columbia University's decision to keep him as a faculty member.

"The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles'"

Oz was also called before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection last summer. He was asked by the senator in charge, Claire McCaskill, to explain his use of "flowery" language to champion weight-loss fixes that don't actually work. She then admonished him for endorsing a rainbow of supplements as potential  "belly blasters" and "mega metabolism boosters." As McCaskill put it, "The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles.'"

Still, Oz has retained his medical license and faculty position. Last year, he again took home a couple of Emmy awards, and this year was nominated for three more. (So far, the show has won a Daytime Emmy five years in a row.) According to the Oz Media company, clients for Oz's various branding, speaking, and partnership endeavors include everyone from the White House to Google, as well as numerous banks and pharmaceutical companies. For the last four years, he appeared on Forbes magazine's most influential celebrity list, and Esquire magazine listed him as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.

His brand and reach now rival that of the woman who made him famous: Oprah. And Oz's popularity doesn't stop at him; it extends to his family members. His wife, Lisa, helps run Oz Media and has books and speaking engagements of her own. So does their eldest daughter, Daphne. The Oz family is an American health-and-wellness empire, and they see more virtual patients through the media than Oz could have ever dreamed of in his hospitals and clinics. Unlike Oprah, the Ozes aren't talking about which books and nail polishes to buy; they're dealing with life-and-death questions of medicine and health.

dr oz oprah

(Cover of O magazine)

A physician-entertainer

2000: The Cardiac Complementary Care Center transitions into the Cardiovascular Institute and Integrative Medicine Program.

2001: Oz is named a professor of surgery at Columbia University, a title he still holds.

2004: Oz makes his first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He’s referred to as "America’s Doctor."

2005: Oz endorses the discredited faith healer "John of God."

2008: Time magazine names Oz one of the "World's 100 Most Influential People."

Oz's dubious medical advice wouldn't be such a problem if people saw the show as merely entertainment — if they simply watched the show but didn't take its claims to heart. But it's clear viewers really do heed his advice. There's the case of a man who followed Oz's suggestion of curing insomnia by pouring uncooked rice into socks, heating them in a microwave, and wearing them to bed. The man got second- and third-degree burns on his feet. He sued, but the case was thrown out because the judge determined that Oz cannot establish a physician-patient relationship through TV.

Not everyone agrees with the judge's reasoning. Rochester New York medical student and blogger Benjamin Mazer has been publishing anonymous stories sent into him from health professionals about the impact Oz has had on patient care. One reported that her dad had a heart attack and five stents placed in his heart, which required him to take aspirin and Plavix to prevent blood clots. "He was watching Dr. Oz, who said Plavix was not necessary, so he stopped taking it. About a month later, he had another massive [heart attack] and coded and had to be shocked back to life." She continued: "My dad admitted to following Dr. Oz's advice and not asking his own cardiologist."

There's also the powerful "Oz effect," which has worked on everything from raspberry ketone supplements to neti pots. This suggests that people act on Oz's health advice as if he were their own doctor, for better or worse. (While Oz has been careful to point out repeatedly that he does not "directly" endorse any company or product, he is available for strategic partnerships, according to the Oz Media website: "Our goal is for Dr. Oz to forge a direct and authentic connection between you and your demographic.")

I talked to many other doctors from across America with patients who have been touched by the Oz effect. Again and again, they used phrases like "snake-oil salesman" and "quack" to refer to him. They worried about their patients. Rather than heaping him with praise as Oz's New York colleagues or fans did, they said he is a menace to public health, that he takes advantage of people and confuses medical issues.

Dr.Oz on the View
dr oz barbara walters

The View. (Getty Images)

My mother is a reasonable woman, not prone to buying into miracle cures, and is a longtime believer that prevention is the best route to health.

Nevertheless, she is also a Dr. Oz fan.

She told me that in the early days, when Oz was on Oprah as a guest medical expert, he did a great job of teaching people about their health and talking about issues that other TV doctors didn't touch. That's when she started to pay attention to him.

"He was the first one who came out and said, 'If your poop isn't shaped in an S, that's a bad thing.' He'd make it funny," she said with a laugh.

"He was the first one who came out and said, 'If your poop isn't shaped in an S, that's a bad thing.' He'd make it funny."

Back then, she observed, Oz was just a great science communicator, demystifying questions people had about their bodies. "There were no products being sold," she said. "It was true doctoring."

I reminded her that times have changed. But my mom persisted. "I felt sorry for him when you started writing about him. Because Oz's premise is good." She, like Oz's colleagues, believes he's a benevolent force, out there to help people improve their health.

When I pressed her on the fact that she has never believed in the kinds of miracle cures or quick fixes to which he now dedicates nearly every episode of his show, that she never took supplements like the ones he's been promoting, all she could muster was: "I feel like somebody's led this guy down the wrong road."

"If you feel that, why keep watching? What does he tap into?" I asked.

"Hope and renewed faith," she said.

droz magazine

(The Good Life magazine)

Oz, the wizard

2009: Oz launches The Dr. Oz Show.

2011: Oz uses 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).

2013: Oz calls Garcinia cambogia "the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good" — even though the science unequivocally refutes this claim.

2013: Oz calls green coffee bean supplements a "miracle pill can burn fat fast, for anyone who wants to lose weight."

2014: Oz launches the Good Life magazine.

Dr. Oz, early in his career, identified that something was missing from mainstream medicine: that people longed for more than the cold, scientific approach. They wanted, in my mother's words, "hope and renewed faith." It's in our human nature to desire those things. We want to be heard. We want to be healed — not only physically but emotionally. Health care in America doesn't address this longing, and it certainly doesn't alleviate the deep anxieties many Americans have about the limitations and flaws inherent in medicine and science.

Oz was one of the first highly credentialed doctors to tap into this longing, a longing that far-less-educated quacks had seized on for decades. From the TV faith healer Peter Popoff to the "psychic surgeon" John of God, from star fitness gurus to celebrity diet peddlers, people have long been profiting off our willingness to buy into miracles — especially when they make us feel good, provide simple answers to our most vexing health issues, and offer alternatives to Big Pharma.

Oz arrived on the national stage at a time when the American public was beginning to accept the role some nontraditional therapies, such as yoga and meditation, have in promoting health. The tragedy of Dr. Oz is that he was perfectly placed to help people navigate this tension in medicine — acknowledging their longing and their suffering, studying viable alternative therapies, and helping people understand and appreciate all that science has to offer.

But Oz hasn't done that. Instead, he seized on the surging interest in alternative medicine, embraced an "open-minded" approach to healthcare, and replaced science with quackery.

Tim Caulfield, a health law professor and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, pointed out that this pattern isn't common in other disciplines: "We don't adopt this ‘open-minded' approach in other realms of science — physics or engineering or chemistry." Yet even the most reasonable among us — Oz's Columbia colleagues, my dear mom — are vulnerable to magical thinking when it comes to the desire for health and healing. Oz knew that weakness, and he exploited it.

Today, Oz justifies his work by saying he is comforting his fans. At last summer's Senate hearing, he said, "My job on the show, I feel, is to be a cheerleader for the audience."

After dozens of interviews for this piece, I was left with a strong impression that the world is divided into two types: those who believe Oz is a force for good, and those who think he should be barred from the airwaves and the medical profession. What makes matters complicated is that when it comes to health, those two types don't neatly map onto the believers and doubters of science.

dr. Oz senate hearing from flicker

(Senator Claire McCaskill, via Flickr)

The skepticism builds

2014: Oz testifies at a consumer protection Senate subcommittee hearing, where he’s chastised by Senator Claire McCaskill.

2014: Researchers publish a study in the British Medical Journal that finds about half of the health claims showcased on The Dr. Oz Show are baseless or wrong.

2014: The study behind green coffee bean supplements — promoted on Oz's show as a weight-loss fix — is retracted. The Federal Trade Commission settles a $3.5 million lawsuit with the supplement-makers for its false marketing and bad science.

2015: The FTC goes after Lindsey Duncan, a guest on The Dr. Oz Show, for false and misleading marketing practices related to promoting weight-loss supplements, ending in a $9 million settlement.

2015: The Dr. Oz Show is nominated for three Emmy Awards. (So far, the show has won a Daytime Emmy five years in a row.)

Back on the sidewalk in Manhattan, before the Dr. Oz Show taping, I expected a big crowd outside the ABC studio. But by 8 am, it's just Lilly and six enthusiastic students from Florida International University in Miami. I ask a giant security guard standing nearby where everyone is. "They'll trickle in," he says.

Just as the words come out of his mouth, I look up 66th Street and spot a group of women charging down the sidewalk. "Here they come," he says. The women are all designer purses, big coats, dyed hair, lipstick, and Long Island accents.

"We're VIPs!" yells one. "We have a guest, and she's on the show!"

I greet the guest, a mother named Julie.

"What will you talk about on air?" I ask.

"I have some funny advice," she says. "I tell my kids never to leave the house without food, because I'm afraid they'll starve to death." Her purse is stuffed with apples. She always encourages healthy snacking, she says.

"Why do you follow Oz?" I ask Julie.

"The show is, like, magical," she says.

Her choice of words is apt. The trouble with Oz is precisely that he mixes magic and science. He holds himself up as a medical man, "America's Doctor," even though he's traded the ideals of science for those of entertainment.

To date, the medical profession has done nothing to formally admonish its most famous member. After Oz's appearance at the Senate subcommittee last summer, the American Medical Association could only muster that it's "not empowered to take action against a physician's license to practice medicine." That power lies with state regulators, who were also silent. The one scientific article that systematically examined the evidence behind Oz's show was published not in an American medical journal but in a British one.

Some doctors are advocating for change. Benjamin Mazer, the medical student and blogger, has asked the American Medical Association to publicly condemn physicians who use the media to share medical misinformation. He also wants to see the organization create ethics guidelines for media doctors like Oz.

A group of professors, scientists and doctors, led by Stanford University's Henry Miller, is asking Columbia to reconsider Oz's faculty appointment. "Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both," they wrote in a recent letter to Lee Goldman, Columbia's dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine. "Members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz's presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable."

The medical community's reluctance to hold Oz accountable is part of a problem that's bigger than the man himself. The number-one book on in the children's health category is an anti-vaccine guide. The "natural" supplements business now rivals the pharmaceutical industry in profitability — and is much less regulated, largely because of a small handful of powerful congressmen with ties to supplement-makers. Americans spend billions on homeopathy despite the overwhelming evidence that it doesn't work. While we don't go to hairdressers to talk about the mechanics of our cars or ask waiters for legal counsel, when it comes to our bodies, we routinely take medical advice from just about any celebrity "expert" — actor or folk singer, business tycoon or "Food Babe." This problem will only become more urgent in a multimedia age, when information is balkanized and health proselytizers can disseminate their messages through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

There are not enough people speaking out against faulty science in health — what Caulfield calls the "slow drift toward a faith-based approach." As a gifted researcher and doctor, and a charismatic communicator, Oz had the potential to be a voice of reason in this moment of confusion. Instead, he's leading America adrift.

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