Dr. Mehmet Oz is going on the offensive against a group of doctors who sent a letter to Columbia University asking that he be stripped of his position as a professor of surgery. Those doctors had criticized Dr. Oz's behavior on TV, which they suggested was the equivalent of peddling snake oil.
In a phone interview with Vox on Sunday evening, Dr. Oz said his detractors had ulterior motives — such as financial ties to the food industry. "Did you know who those people were who were sending the petition?" Oz told me. "Did you know they work for companies and groups linked to the pro-GMO groups?"
Oz seemed to be previewing a defense he is expected to articulate this week on his show — attacking the integrity of his critics. "We plan to show America who these authors are, because discussion of health topics should be free of intimidation," a spokesman for the show told CNN.
In response, Dr. Henry Miller, the lead author of the letter to Columbia University, emailed me this statement: "Although I've written extensively about genetic engineering regulatory policy for many years, I have no conflicts of interest." Miller added: "To the best of my knowledge, none of the other signers has had any connection with genetic engineering at all, let alone conflicts of interest. They are (or were) practicing physicians."
But even if Miller and his co-signers do have conflicts of interest — as other observers have also suggested — it's largely beside the point. Attacking their motivations completely sidesteps the substance of their claims, which did not come in isolation. In their letter to Columbia University, the doctors echoed a chorus of concerns from members of the medical and scientific communities, as well as from the US Senate and Federal Trade Commission, that Dr. Oz's medical advice too often deviates from science and influences public health for the worse.
That's the issue, and Oz's counterattack is nothing more than a diversionary tactic to shift the focus onto his critics and away from himself.
Dr. Oz's questionable medical advice
A recent study in the British Medical Journal 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. The researchers found that about half of the recommendations either had no evidence behind them or actually contradicted what the best available science tells us.
Separately, investigations by the Federal Trade Commission show that at least one of Dr. Oz's guests used the program as a platform to deceive audiences and sell products, capitalizing on the "Oz effect" — the fact that whenever he so much as mentions a product, stores can't restock it quickly enough.
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. McCaskill 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 will accuse some of his critics of being industry shills out to bully him into silence about alternative medicine in a Big Pharma world. He'll use the controversy to boost ratings, and paint himself a sacrificial lamb. But he's not going to be able to address the vast array of concerns about his show with ad hominem attacks.