Regulate Dr. Oz, Says Med Student Benjamin Mazer — And He's Got A Point
Lo and behold, a crusade led by one young man against a titan of televised pseudoscience — and no, we're not talking about Ancient Aliens. In a brilliant interview by Vox's Julia Belluz that went up Monday, the world's been introduced to University of Rochester medical student Benjamin Mazer, who wants to stop TV host Dr. Oz. And he's got a running start on the project, having already brought a proposal before the Medical Society of the State of New York, through which Oz is licensed, to crack down on doctors broadcasting pseudoscientific claims about health products.
To hear Belluz tell it, Mazer's plan was pretty simple and straightforward: submit televised health claims to the same requirements as expert testimony.
If this sounds like a familiar topic, it's entirely possible you saw John Oliver's exhaustive, impassioned take-down of Dr. Oz on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. In about 16 minutes, Oliver shredded Oz's recent appearance before Congress, in which he was forced to concede that some products on his show don't pass "scientific muster" — in other words, to the trained ear, "scam alert." But Mazer's been taking Oz's sensational claims seriously for longer than that, and in his interview with Vox, he sheds some light on exactly why he decided to fight this battle.
He Believes Dr. Oz Hurts Doctor-Patient Relationships
Mazer was moved to take action against Oz thanks to his time in a family medical clerkship. In speaking with physicians, Mazer found that the massive popularity of Oz's show, coupled with the dubious remedies he sometimes advocated, was having an impact on the way viewers showed up to appointments with their actual doctors.
We had all of this first-hand experience with patients who really liked his show and trusted him quite a bit. [Dr. Oz] would give advice that was really not great or it had no medical basis. It might sound harmless when you talk about things like herbal pills or supplements. But when the physicians' advice conflicted with Oz, the patients would believe Oz.
Obviously, this isn't solely a problem with Oz — if you're susceptible to buying into untested or unprovable remedies, somebody is going to show up with one in hand, whether you see it on his show or somewhere on the internet. But with millions of viewers per day, his influence is particularly emphasized, and it's reflected in sales figures — "the Dr. Oz effect," they call it.
He Was Inspired By a Particular Patient's Poor Choice
While in that medical clerkship, Mazer was driven to author the policy he presented to the Medical Society of the State of New York by a particularly troubling case. A woman, aged 60, was suffering from a range of closely associated health issues — obesity, diabetes, and heart disease — but she insisted against the standard treatment advised by her real, in-person doctor, in favor of Dr. Oz's aforementioned green coffee beans.
She had watched the Dr. Oz Show featuring green coffee-bean supplements—and how it was great to lose weight—and she was convinced this was going to be a huge impact on her weight. We tried to politely express concerns that this probably wasn't going to be effective because there's no evidence for it. She refused the diabetes medications. The hope she had placed in the green coffee-bean extract was part of that.
This is a classic consequence of promoting pseudoscientific remedies. If a supplement, say, doesn't really do anything (ahem, homeopathy), then it's money down the drain, but whatever. The more people start to buy into such imagined remedies, the more they'll start turning to them for serious conditions that demand serious treatments.
You don't have to fit the stereotypical image of a vulnerable consumer to fall for this sort of thing, either — Steve Jobs himself delayed potentially life-saving cancer surgery for a whopping nine months in favor of "alternative" cures.
He's Bothered By Dr. Oz's "Degrading" Medicine
Beyond just the practical and ethical reasons Mazer objects to Oz's show — and as he emphasizes at the very start of the interview, he's not the only medical student who'd like to bring him down — he also clearly takes offense to how talk of miracle supplements and remedies reflects on the medical community.
The movement in medicine has been toward evidence-based medicine because physicians had done things by their gut and belief for hundreds of years. Most physicians would agree it's only through the scientific process and evidence that we were able to make huge differences in medical care. It's insulting to talk about important medical issues and drugs as if they were a matter of belief. It degrades all that work that has been done.
For what it's worth, if you were to get Oz on the record at, let's say, a congressional hearing, he'd be forced to admit that he doesn't exactly believe in miracle remedies either. It's the discrepancy between what he says in front of Congress and what he says while beaming into your living room that's the problem.
Images: Getty Images (2); The Dr. Oz Show/Sony Pictures