Dr. Mehmet Oz projected a strong defense of his right to speak freely about “alternative routes to healing” and “unconventional approaches” to medicine in a piece published on Time’s website yesterday as well as during a nearly 30-minute counterattack against a letter signed by 10 physicians calling for his ouster as a faculty member at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Oz attacked his attackers in the Time piece. “I was surprised by a brazen note as I entered the operating room…,” he writes. “A small group of physicians unknown to me were asking my dean to revoke my faculty position for manifesting ‘an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.’”
Oz singles out the lead author, Dr. Henry I. Miller, who “appears to have a history as a pro-biotech scientist, and was mentioned in early tobacco-industry litigation as a potential ally to industry,” as well as “[furthering] the battle in California to block GMO labeling—a cause that I have been vocal about supporting.”
In a response emailed to the New York Times’ Sidney Ember, Miller responded: “My interest was and is solely to protect the academic respectability of a prominent medical institution. Dr. Oz’s record speaks for itself, and there is plenty of data which suggest that his medical judgment is questionable.”
Another signer of the letter, Gilbert Ross, is executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, Oz wrote, “a group that has reportedly received donations [according to a Mother Jones article in 2013] from big tobacco and food and agribusiness companies, among others.” Four other signees “are also linked to this organization,” Oz asserted.
Oz’ primary message was a rousing “we will not be silenced,” as he proclaimed on the show yesterday. But given his popularity, that’s obviously not going to happen. And Columbia has already stated that it is “is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members' freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion,” as the AP reported.
Arthur Caplan of the NYU Langione Medical Center tells “CNN Tonight” that he’s “not buying” the free speech argument. “No one is ever going to fire him because of what these 10 doctors wrote,” he says. But Caplan agrees with what he colorfully describes as their underlying thoughts that “he’s pushing the neti pot a little hard and not sticking with the evidence” and is “out there too much on the woo and the fairy dust.”
Oz “also addressed the so-called ‘Dr. Oz effect,’ in which numerous Internet sites, he said, ‘hijack footage’ from his program to sell so-called health products for their own financial gain — a steady dose of online trickery that Oz called a big challenge,” in an interview with NBC's Stephanie Gosk, NBC News’ Bill Briggs reports.
“I take responsibility for that completely,” Oz said. "There are segments that I made that I wish I could take back. If I could just go back in time, I would have never allowed those words to come out of my mouth, because it completely perverted the conversation I was having with America. But I can't take back those segments."
Eight Columbia faculty members yesterday published an opinion piece on the USA Today website that “recognize that the ‘Dr. Oz Show’ performs a public service by bringing alternative therapies which are generally under-researched and under-regulated into the public forum” but also point to the “2014 report in The BMJ(formerly the British Medical Journal) reported that less than half of the recommendations on his show are based on at least somewhat believable evidence.”
Michael Specter, author of an insightful New Yorkerprofile of Oz in 2013, wrote yesterday that “many people argue that Oz should be treated more like a Kardashian than like a cardiothoracic surgeon.” Specter himself does not believe the doctor is “motivated by money” or is “a fraud and a liar.” Instead, he says, he’s “somewhere between a cult leader and a talk-show host.”
“Oz refers to Oprah as his mentor, and for good reason: they both are smooth, intelligent, delightful. But Oprah is an entertainer, not a scientist. And at this point, despite his training, his skills, and his many medical accomplishments, so is Oz,” Specter concludes.
The Columbia doctors who wrote the piece for USA Today offer an Rx for compromise in their conclusion: “The medical and legislative communities give insufficient scrutiny to media-medicine. Barring such scrutiny, Dr. Oz might begin each program with a simple disclaimer: ‘The opinions expressed on this program may not be evidence-based or part of accepted medical practice and have no endorsement from Columbia University.’”