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"Medicine is a very religious experience"
January 28, 2013 5:47 PM   Subscribe

The New Yorker's take on Dr Mehmet Oz.
posted by hat_eater (69 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
If Dr Oz told me to not drink a vial of live syphilis bacterium I would actually be in a quandary.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:03 PM on January 28, 2013 [29 favorites]


I flipped on the tube to see the news and caught Oz promoting homeopathy. He has his own kit you can get. Telling...
posted by njohnson23 at 6:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oz often says that he is just trying to present people with all their options, because they are sophisticated enough to make decisions for themselves.

No. They really aren't. Many people rely on professionals with expertise to guide them in the right direction, precisely because they are not sophisticated enough to make a fully informed decision on their own.
posted by young sister beacon at 6:18 PM on January 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


Huh. I had always assumed he was Australian, not that he was a man with the actual last name "Oz." On the plus side, I want to punch him in the face slightly less than "Dr." Drew, who causes untold harm with the "evils of marijuana" gibberish he spouts at every opportunity.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's an acronym coined by a friend that can be useful as a way of mentally flagging these types and moving on: SCAMO. That stands for Scientific Consensus As Mere Opinion.

Behold, SCAMO:

Michael Specter: Either data works or it doesn’t. Science is supposed to answer, or at least address, those questions. Surely you don’t think that all information is created equal?

Dr. Oz: (sighs) Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. All facts come with a point of view. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.

posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:26 PM on January 28, 2013


All you need to read:

Not long ago, Michelle Obama appeared on the show to talk about her effort to end the epidemic of childhood obesity. A few weeks later, Oz welcomed back Theresa Caputo, a Long Island-based medium who helps people commune with dead family members. “The last time she was here,” Oz told the audience, “her readings blew me away.”
posted by Sys Rq at 6:32 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Never heard of him before, but he sounds like an object lesson on how the Fame Machine can just chew you up and shit out your integrity.

Not a new lesson, but it's one we hear again and again.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:40 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


We have to constantly peek through my husband's 95 year old grandmother's cupboards because she's an avid fan of Dr. Oz and if left to her devices, she'll buy anything mentioned on his show. Regular mainstream medicine's killing her just fine without adding goddamn green coffee beans and raspberry ketones to the mix.

I find him charming and in general I appreciate Western doctors who are open to alternative therapies but Oz is truly doing his audience a grave disservice. The worst part is that he seems to have no idea that he's not using his powers for good.
posted by padraigin at 6:48 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The dude wears scrubs on a TV show to look doctory. That tells you everything you need to know.
posted by Artw at 6:51 PM on January 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


“I would take us all back a thousand years, when our ancestors lived in small villages and there was always a healer in that village—and his job wasn’t to give you heart surgery or medication but to help find a safe place for conversation"
When did this ever happen ? This never happened.

What actually happened was barbaric insanity. How can a man that educated have such a distorted view of history ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:52 PM on January 28, 2013 [25 favorites]


many lacked insurance, a doctor, or medical support of any kind...Another threw her arms around his neck. “I haven’t seen a doctor in eight years,” she said.

One doesn't get rich and famous by noting that rectifying this situation would probably do far more, far faster, for the national public health than demonstrating new kale juice formulas on TV.
posted by Miko at 7:01 PM on January 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


I liked him so much better when he was manhandling organs on Oprah.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:01 PM on January 28, 2013


There's a serious difference between "As a doctor, I'm open to alternative and unproven therapies" and "I'm a doctor and I make no distinction between sense and bullshit."
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


There's a serious difference between "As a doctor, I'm open to alternative and unproven therapies" and "I'm a doctor and I make no distinction between sense and bullshit."

It's pretty obvious that Oz makes a distinction: Bullshit pays a lot better.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:10 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Does anyone on here like Dr. Oz. I figured there would be at least one supporter.
posted by PJLandis at 7:12 PM on January 28, 2013


Well, if I had to save him or Dr. Phil from drowning I'd probably save him.
posted by Artw at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


"You get a charlatan and you get a charlatan and you get a charlatan. Charlatans for evvvryboddddddy!"
posted by benito.strauss at 7:18 PM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


First Oprah gives us Dr. Phil, and now this. I can't even make a "Beats By Dr. Oz" joke here.
posted by rhizome at 7:20 PM on January 28, 2013


One good result of this excellent article is that I now know for sure which one is Dr. Oz and which one is Dr. Zizmor.
posted by escabeche at 7:26 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this the guy who composes all those weird askme answers to the questions that start, "I know you are not my doctor, but . . ."?

CNN is really bad news. I had to stop for good during the Iranian twitter revolution when Wolf Blitzer was reading tweets that claimed to be Iranian during his "news" show Situation Room.
posted by bukvich at 7:27 PM on January 28, 2013


We have to constantly peek through my husband's 95 year old grandmother's cupboards.... Regular mainstream medicine's killing her just fine....

If she's buying crap endorsed by Dr. Oz at 95, regular mainstream medicine is really falling down on the job of killing her.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:33 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's weird because according to this New York Times profile Dr. Oz is "one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation".
posted by chrchr at 7:34 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good piece, I liked how the narrative got increasingly darker as it went on. The contention that promoting fake stuff is harmless gets ruthlessly deconstructed.

More broadly, what an interesting profile to capture the nexus between medicine, identity, entertainment, consumerism. The relativism espoused by Oz (you pick the [medical] reality in which to live) is obviously practiced by everyone to larger or smaller degrees, but the way - in this specific instance - that it ties into broader feelings of disempowerment and bemusement in medicine is very interesting.

I think the success of various "woo" things is produced by people's emotional distress in the face of illness, and a desire for three things: 1. To understand their sickness, 2. To get better, and 3. To have a sense of agency about their health.

Those three things look deceptively simple, but you can unpack them into so much depth and nuance, I think, especially when it comes to cancer (which has such a heavy symbolic weight in Western society), and chronic or "lifestyle" illnesses.

In some respects I feel like the success of woo - despite the fact it's been with us forever and likely will be - is a failure of the health sector and our education about the health sector. I think that's a trenchant criticism of Oz's which resonates - especially as it applies to surgeons; the medical establishment can expect patients to act like rational robots, and trains surgeons and others to act that way, as well.

There is a gap there, that's not being met. The result is anxiety, fear, lack of consultation etc. Naturally, people find it a lot easier to eat the fermented yak semen pills once a day, jump onto a website filled with sympathetic voices, feel that they are taking a positive step and ownership of their own health after seeing the reiki professional, than a depressing conversation with a doctor which leaves them confused, judged, and asked to do hard things.

Can the health sector ever close that gap? That's not addressed. Can it do so without resorting to woo? Not addressed. Can you contemplate these issues without taking into account the vast financial interests motivating many attempting to fill that gap? The lack of regulation around supplements and magic water? The tragic results of woo? Not addressed, and it's not really the piece to do that, either.

I don't know; tl;dr: I think Dr Oz's popularity stems from a huge need for accessible, understandable, compassionate, non-judgmental, and easy health interactions. I think it's deplorable his popularity is used to exploit ignorance and fear in ways that may very well result in worse outcomes for his audience/patients.
posted by smoke at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [44 favorites]


"Sometimes Mehmet will entertain wacky ideas—particularly if they are wacky and have entertainment value.”

That more or less sums it up.

My mom, who I consider to be my test audience for media lunacy, has often griped about the fact that if you did everything Dr. Oz suggested you'd be broke and probably dead inside of a week. Occasionally the diet and nutrition forums I read will spawn a frothing-at-the-mouth thread about Dr. Oz's latest thing with a clip of the show. Having watched those, I can honestly say I don't think I'm missing anything.

Also find this interesting:
...I asked if he [Dr. Eric Rose, the guy who hired Oz at New York-Presbyterian] would place his confidence in a heart surgeon, no matter how gifted, who operated just once a week, as Oz does. “Well,” he replied, “in general you want a surgeon who lives and breathes his job, somebody who is above all devoted to that.” Again he mentioned Oz’s experience, but when I asked if he would send a patient to Oz for an operation, he looked uncomfortable. “No,” he said. “I wouldn’t. "

This suggests a certain level of professional dishonesty and the "surgical ego" that gets mentioned by Oz himself earlier. Honestly, it doesn't sound like he's doing anyone any favors by continuing to do surgery once a week. But I'm sure it makes him feel like he's still practicing medicine.
posted by offalark at 7:38 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Great comment, smoke.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on January 28, 2013


To be honest, I don't really buy Oz's reasoning that offering [so-called] complementary & alternative medicine is about "making people more comfortable." I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that if a dr. suggested CAM to me, I'd feel profoundly uncomfortable about his/her knowledge of the literature and/or willingness to use their greater expertise to educate me & advocate the best treatment; it would totally undermine my faith in them. Granted not everyone's like me, but that only means that "making people more comfortable" is a crapshoot... so either he's applying CAM-style standards of evidence to the question of what makes people comfortable, or it's not really about making people comfortable at all.

On preview: that's a great observation, smoke, about why the offer of CAM is comforting to some (and why it's a poor way to address the very real underlying need for compassion & agency).
posted by Westringia F. at 7:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had no idea Oz was actually still a practicing doctor, much less a heart surgeon.

This is a wonderful piece, and it leaves me conflicted.

I remember reading about the experience of a Newton, CT, resident, and how the media circus had made everything awful crowding outside the vigil ceremony, and then they saw Dr Oz there and seemed so genuinely relieved by his presence. Whatever you think of him, the guy really knows how to connect with folks...

At the end of the day, if he motivates thousands of people to get up and about and tackle their hypertension and obesity, is a bit of quackery an unreasonable price to pay?
posted by cacofonie at 8:24 PM on January 28, 2013


On the other hand, the "cure a gay person" and vaccine stuff is pretty heinous.

He could be empowering patients the way "Teach The Controversy" empowers kids..
posted by cacofonie at 8:35 PM on January 28, 2013


Lots of terrible people know how to connect with folks. That's the problem.
posted by WASP-12b at 8:36 PM on January 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oz really is a distinguished heart surgeon. I know people whose lives he saved.

He needs to get the fuck off the teevee with his woo-woo snake oil garbage and stay in the operating room where he can actually help people.

His daughter also needs to get out of the media. Fortunately nobody actually watches The Chew, so hardly anyone sees her ill-informed blatherings.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:47 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


As someone who has spent the past 18 months trying to sort out the cause of her chronic pain and fatigue, I get the appeal of woo quackery. If the answer isn't obvious, our healthcare system is really not great at giving answers. It would be so easy for me to fall into that trap of someone having an answer, and so many people in similar situations have. I constantly get advice from friends, family, and strangers online how this one thing that is totally bunk science will cure me because a friend of a friend had the same thing and it worked for them.

Plus, the internet has opened a whole echo chambery can of worms, and you have people reading scientific papers but not understanding how to evaluate the data or source critically. And then you have the echo chamber agreeing with their own theories.

On top of that, you have doctors who, while practicing evidence based medicine, aren't always good at staying up to date on the latest information in their fields, so you have doctors who don't have answers, patients who are often more informed (even if wrongly) than their doctors and then someone promises the answer. It takes a very tough person to say "no, I'd rather still be in the dark than believe this nonsense."

My whole family is like this. I eventually had to ban my own mother from talking about my health issues because I couldn't stand hearing how a naturopath would cure me as she's paying hundreds of dollars per month for suppliments, when if you check the ingredients comes to about $30 in raw material sans woo. And she still has all the same problems but thinks she is better. Yet if you talk to her outside of the context of her naturopath, all her symptoms are the same.

Smoke has it though, I'm the face of uncertainty, a lot of woo medicine provides the patient with a sense of agency. They can feel like they're doing something rather than being adrift at sea. Having someone tell you they have the answer is incredibly seductive.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:59 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I finally added "Dr Oz" to my email-header-spam-filter a couple of weeks ago.
posted by mrbill at 10:15 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the article:

Scientists often argue that, if alternative medicine proves effective through experimental research, it should no longer be considered alternative; at that point, it becomes medicine.

Sums up my thoughts on alternative medicine nicely.
posted by Quack at 10:30 PM on January 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I hate him, but it's because he's part of the whole nasty interventionist culture we have in the US of making healthy people worry that they are sick.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:33 PM on January 28, 2013


Lots of terrible people know how to connect with folks. That's the problem.

I think this is the problem with humanity in general, and why we'll be lucky to survive ourselves in the long run. It's how a snake-oil salesman like Dr. Oz becomes "America's Doctor" and how despots get into power in the first place. Same dynamic. Charisma. It's our collective cognitive Achilles Heel.
posted by treepour at 11:39 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you can't afford health insurance, can't afford to pay a doctor out of pocket, aren't you a sitting duck for the TV/internet pitch man'? There the oh-so-confident doctor is with all the answers, and a medicine that does not need a prescription.
Is this the 21st century incarnation of the Old West itinerant medicine man with his cure-all elixir?
posted by Cranberry at 11:40 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"There's a crazy man with a scalpel in ER—he's demanding to see a quack!"
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:02 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Telling quote:
I told Oz that I was aware of no evidence showing that Reiki works. He cut in: “Neither am I, if you are talking purely about data.
There's no room for data in the world of Dr. Oz.
posted by tommasz at 5:27 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


He also suggests how often we should move our bowels and what they ought to look like when we do (at least every other day, brown with a hint of gold, shaped like an S, he says, and “it should hit the water like a diver from Acapulco”)

That is, to the sound of a cheering, exhilarated crowd.
posted by jquinby at 5:32 AM on January 29, 2013


“Oh - You're a very bad man!"

"Oh, no my dear. I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad Wizard.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
posted by Segundus at 5:43 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


the way "Teach The Controversy" empowers kids..

Right...
posted by kmz at 6:09 AM on January 29, 2013


Yeah because America's problem is that we're overwhelmingly healthy, relaxed and generally at peace with ourselves. How dare anyone suggest that we try our best not to die from diabetes, heart disease, or suicide brought on by unmanaged mental illness. America has a denial problem more than an "interventionist" problem when it comes to general health and things that kill people.
posted by lordaych at 6:15 AM on January 29, 2013


America has a denial problem more than an "interventionist" problem when it comes to general health and things that kill people.

And clearly the solution to that is homeopathy and woo!
posted by kmz at 6:18 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


As yes Oz is exploiting people, how else do you make a show every day and keep people watching? Just another of Oprah's progeny spinning infotainment.
posted by lordaych at 6:18 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nobody said that, but go on and showcase that all or nothin' thinkin' that really makes us stand out in the modern world.
posted by lordaych at 6:22 AM on January 29, 2013


So what was your point then? I didn't see anybody arguing that our health care system is perfect and sacrosanct.
posted by kmz at 6:28 AM on January 29, 2013


I quite like his daughter Daphne Oz, who is one of the hosts on a daytime cooking show called "The Chew" that is really very good (iron chefs Mario Batali and Michael Symon are also hosts).
posted by jbickers at 6:30 AM on January 29, 2013


The dude wears scrubs on a TV show to look doctory. That tells you everything you need to know.

I did some of my training with the son of a well-regarded portrait artist (this guy). He told me his father had done many portraits of physicians and they generally wanted to be painted in a suit and tie, occasionally a lab coat. Except for surgeons, who almost always wanted to be painted in scrubs. So although it is kind of cheesy, it is also in character for a surgeon.
posted by TedW at 6:40 AM on January 29, 2013


I knew Dr. Oz was full of shit when he talked about the triangle of death.

My zit picking OCD makes me live on the edge, Oz. I FEEL ALIVE!
posted by stormpooper at 7:10 AM on January 29, 2013


Triangle of death, that's a good one, I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I yank out a nose hair.
posted by e1c at 8:33 AM on January 29, 2013


The triangle of death is a real thing; I learned about it in anatomy class my first year of med school. I even referenced it on MeFi just the other day.
posted by TedW at 9:05 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, cavernous sinus infections are extremely rare, so I still pop zits in that area. I stick q-tips in my ears too. I like to live on the edge.
posted by TedW at 9:06 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


His arrogance is underlined by his desire to continue operating once a week. This means his skills aren't as practiced as they could be and this has a direct bearing on the welfare of his patients.

If he wants to focus on his media career, go ahead, but do that - not part time surgery. The willingness to embrace woo just leaves me cold. Whatever happened to the declaration of Geneva?
posted by arcticseal at 10:00 AM on January 29, 2013


In general, surgeons aren't in the operating room every day. Most of the ones I know are usually in surgery twice a week, and seeing patients for consults, follow-ups, etc the rest of the time.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:03 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry kmz, I was responding to a statement further up implying that America has an "interventionist" problem with health care. It is a huge problem at end of life, certainly.
posted by lordaych at 10:06 AM on January 29, 2013


The one day surgery snipe does come off as BS but it's a matter of medical opinion and clearly his privileges haven't been revoked for cause. Many world class docs operate once or twice a week but I don't know if there are particular guidelines for cardiology. Ego tends to rule the fuzzy logic domain in medicine Imho
posted by lordaych at 10:09 AM on January 29, 2013


Yes triangle of death is a real thing, yes neti pots are a good way to avoid killing yourself with a nasty infection brought on by picking. And yes the neti pot can bring death just as quickly if you use tap water and introduce the right number of nasty microbes. This shit is painfully complicated and fundamentally we have a critical thinking problem brought on by crappy substandard education and off putting arrogance from those who should know better. It's a pickle!
posted by lordaych at 10:16 AM on January 29, 2013


Daphne Oz has spouted anti-vaccine garbage on "The Chew". She needs to get off the television or stick to talking about nutrition, one.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Daphne Oz has spouted anti-vaccine garbage on "The Chew". She needs to get off the television or stick to talking about nutrition, one.

I've never heard her go there, but then, I certainly don't watch it everyday. That's unfortunate to hear.
posted by jbickers at 11:46 AM on January 29, 2013


What is it with TV celebs and antivax nonsense?
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on January 29, 2013


Antivaccination nonsense is trendy among a certain quasi liberal set which is over-represented among both the audience and the celebs themselves. It's the left's answer to climate change denial.
posted by Justinian at 12:19 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a bunch of judgmental shits most of you are. Honestly, if you can get more people thinking about their high blood pressure, their shitty diets, their fat asses and their inactive lifestyles, what the hell is so wrong? And those of you blathering on about how operating once a week just isn't enough to keep your skillz up...show me your empirical DATA or shut the hell up. Yeah, he likes alternative methods, he has had some questionable stuff on his show (I really believe his intent with the gay therapy show was to ultimately demonstrate how silly it was), and his wife doesn't like the FLU VACCINE (not all the rest of them, try reading a bit slower, people), but all told, he's not a quack. I know lots of doctors who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and have 3+ martinis for dinner. I'd rather take my chances with the green coffee beans and blueberries.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:29 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


And there we have the Great TV-Watching Public, ladies and gentlemen.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:15 PM on January 29, 2013


but all told, he's not a quack.

He has psychics on his show to communicate with dead people and thinks homeopathy is legit. The numerous ways that quackery causes real harm to people has been well-documented (people die from it!). He could just as easily use his likeable personality and huge platform to teach people about sensible ways to be healthy.
posted by young sister beacon at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


show me your empirical DATA or shut the hell up.

You don't seem so keen on the data about homeopathy, mediums, or green coffee beans...
posted by smoke at 5:29 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a bunch of judgmental shits most of you are. Honestly, if you can get more people thinking about their high blood pressure, their shitty diets, their fat asses and their inactive lifestyles

I see what you did there!
posted by Miko at 6:32 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a bunch of judgmental shits most of you are.

I've no time for quacks. Oz is to science as Manti Te'o is to women.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:37 PM on January 29, 2013


I just watched his segment promoting red palm oil (part 1, part 2), and OH MY GOD is this man doing a massive, MASSIVE disservice to his viewership. It's classic charlatan stuff. Give the man a monocle and sleeve-garters and he'd fit right in at a 19th century fair.

The article says, "Oz explains complex medical issues in ways that almost anyone can understand," and that, to me, is one of the most frightening aspects. He's NOT actually explaining anything; he's making absurd analogies that can't even be charitably called handwaving. The "demonstration" of how the oil supposedly cleans one's arteries was actually less meaningful than one of those ads that show how the Brand Name maxipads/diapers/papertowels are more absorbant than the Leading Brand after being saturated with blue dye -- at least those ads are showing something vaguely connected to reality.

What he is doing, however, is putting on a simplistic show that can make one feel like one understands without having learned anything. It's not empowering, and it's not an alternative to paternalism -- it's just a different sort of paternalism, the kind that people engage in when they give fanciful explanations to children who aren't mature enough to understand true answers. It's pretty insulting how little he thinks of his audience (worse than a diaper ad!), to the point that it totally betrays his claim that he thinks people are "sophisticated enough to make [medical] decisions for themselves" -- he doesn't even think we're sophisticated enough to handle diaper-ad levels of science, ffs! And it's completely unconscionable that he would use his fame & credentials to give an air of legitimacy to simplistic "explanations" that he himself knows (or should know) are completely misleading.

Reversing arteriosclerosis with palm oil is just rinsing like globs of frosting down a PVC pipe -- a cardiologist said so!

*pouring a drink to rinse the globs of this dreck out of my applbrain*
posted by Westringia F. at 10:36 PM on January 29, 2013


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