The Tragedy of Dr. Oz

Dr. Mehmet Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon and vice chairman of the surgery department at Columbia University’s medical school.

Most people know him, sadly, as a celebrity,  television star, or as a promoter of quack remedies.

Other prominent physicians across America, at leading institutions, have had enough of the embarrassment that Oz’s sales pitches are to medicine.  They’ve asked Columbia to remove Oz from his position:

In the letter sent via e-mail this week by Dr. Henry I. Miller of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the doctors refer to Oz warning his viewers about arsenic in certain apple juice brands and other stances he has taken.
“Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops,” the letter states. “Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

See, Physicians urge Columbia University to cut its ties with Dr. Oz @ Washington Post.   See, also, Half of Dr. Oz’s medical advice is baseless or wrong, study says @ Washington Post.

Columbia has refused, citing Dr. Oz’s academic freedom to speak in public forums as he wishes.

That’s a tenuous defense, as Stanford’s Miller notes that “Oz’s promotion of worthless products that might have side effects and that delay patients’ seeking safe and effective therapies threatens public safety.”

(There’s no First Amendment issue here, as Columbia is a private university.  Academic freedom is a separate claim, but it seems weak to me: it’s junk science Oz is peddling, and an academic program has a justification to reject him for demonstrably false bio-medical claims.)

The principal tragedy in all this, of course, is that impressionable people might rely on Oz’s claims and become ill, or waste vast amounts of money without improvement.

There’s another tragedy, though: Oz legitimately earned his position at Columbia, but he’s thrown away a commitment to science for personal financial gain, or additional notoriety, or something else that’s a debasement of medicine.

Neither his past accomplishments, nor his celebrity status, are an excuse for using his abilities for selfish and false ends.   That he earned his faculty position does not make right the wrongs he’s been doing by luring people into scams.

Dr. Oz needn’t have done this, but he did do this.

No one in all the world owes him his error, especially since his error may lead to the injury of vulnerable people seeking necessary cures.

No one owes greedy hucksters their quackery.

Each day and every day, one is obligated to use all one has, to the best of one’s abilities, to try – at least to try – to meet the best standards of science and reasoning.

There is no past accomplishment, there is no present status, that relieves the fortunate from their obligation on behalf of the less fortunate to recommit to these goals each morning.

It’s more than sad that Dr. Oz either doesn’t see, or doesn’t care, about this large obligation.

It’s there, nonetheless.

Posted at Daily Adams and FREE WHITEWATER.

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