On Thursday, Donald Trump will appear on The Dr. Oz Show to "share his vision for America’s health," as the show’s teaser promises. He'll also divulge more details from his medical records to the TV doctor, according to the show's reps and Fox News.
We don’t know exactly what will transpire between these two, but it is hard to imagine how this coupling will yield anything good for public health or reason.
What could go possibly wrong?
Donald Trump has a history of pushing dangerous views on vaccines
If the conversation turns to vaccines, we can expect Trump to share his dangerous views that they hurt children and cause autism. He has repeatedly pandered to vaccine deniers, and made public pronouncements about the alleged harms of these life-saving shots.
Here’s a quick sampling, from a Republican debate last September, when Trump perpetuated the thoroughly discredited notion that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine can cause autism:
"You take this little beautiful baby," he said, "and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it is meant for a horse, not for a child, and we had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2 years old, beautiful child went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
There’s overwhelming evidence that this is not true — that vaccines do not cause autism. And there’s also good evidence that when confidence in vaccines flags, vaccine-preventable diseases can make a comeback.
Oz — a cardiothoracic surgeon — isn’t known for being a tough interviewer, particularly when it comes to vaccine deniers. In the past, he’s been criticized for lending his giant platform to anti-vaxxers, including the alternative medicine doctor Joe Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy. (Oz has already said he won't ask Trump things that he wouldn't want to answer.)
If Trump doesn’t talk about vaccines, he may instead choose to spread xenophobic fears about locking away disease-carrying immigrants, as he did with Ebola (see his tweets from 2014 below).
Given that we have an ongoing Zika epidemic, fanning the flames of xenophobia right now could be extremely unproductive — particularly at a time when public-health officials have failed to secure the necessary funding from Congress to fight Zika.
If Trump releases detailed medical records, as he's been promising to do, it's not clear they'll be truthful, either. Trump's doctor note, about his fitness for the presidency, trumpeted the candidate's "astonishingly excellent" health. It was so bombastic, it drew widespread criticism, and even the author of the note — Dr. Harold Bornstein — backed away from it, saying that he wrote it in five minutes while Trump waited outside his office in a limo.
Instead, Dr. Oz could focus on Trump’s ridiculous diet advice
Dr. Oz would do the least damage by inviting Trump to dole out diet advice — a favorite topic on The Dr. Oz Show. Here’s Trump, in his 2004 book Think Like A Billionaire, on how he manages to avoid weight gain:
"To summarize the Mar-a-Lago Diet:
1. It has to be served in a fantastic setting.
2. It has to look fantastic.
3. It has to taste incredible.
4. It cannot make you gain weight.
If you eat the best foods and watch your waistline, you’ll begin to look and feel great in no time."
The advice is absurd, but pretty harmless — and a much less dangerous proposition than spreading vaccine denialism.
Dr. Oz should really stick to science
The last time I sat down and binged watched Dr. Oz shows, he seemed to be featuring more science — even debunking bogus health claims — and less woo.
That apparent transformation came after years of sharp criticism leveled against him for promoting bad science and dubious health advice.
The Federal Trade Commission had found that Oz's producers did the scantest research on the show's guests, which allowed modern-day snake oil salesmen to appear on air hawking bogus products. In April 2015, a group of professors, scientists, and doctors argued the show was so misleading that Oz's position as a Columbia medical school professor was incompatible with his on-air work.
Trump’s appearance on Dr. Oz will mark the start of the show’s new season. Let’s hope he stays on the right side of history and that he challenges Trump when he steps away from science and into the realm of magical thinking.