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The Operator: Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good

Ohanian Comment: This is excerpt from a fascinating New Yorker article. I may be the only person in the universe who has never seen Dr. Oz, an effect of not watching TV. Actually, I first heart about him about a month ago when I complained to postal clerk of persistent sinus problem and she told me of a device "recommended by Dr. Oz."
It looked like a $45 neti pot, so I skipped it.

This New Yorker zeros in on both Dr. Oz's whacky celebrity status and his professional expertise at Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. I'll note that as the wife of a man who recently had the 5+-hour open heart surgery for mitral valve repair described in the article, I'm appalled that Dr. Oz treated the surgery as one more media event, insisting that the New Yorker writer get up close:

As the team of doctors, nurses, and technicians busied themselves draining blood from the woman's heart, Oz insisted that I climb onto a step stool at the head of the operating table and gaze directly into the woman's open chest cavity, where her heart, controlled by a machine and a team of masked surgeons, lay exposed. "What better view will you ever have?" he asked.


I recommend this article for what it reveals about our society's worship of celebrity and eagerness to embrace whacky fads. The author is talking about health care, but of course it could be education.

by Michael Specter

By 2009, after dozens of appearances on "Oprah," Oz had become so popular that Winfrey offered him his own show, produced by her company, Harpo. "The Dr. Oz Show" has since won two Emmys and averages nearly four million daily viewers. Certainly, no American physician has greater influence over a larger number of people. Oz has been named one of Esquire's 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century, as "the most important and most accomplished celebrity doctor in history." He ranks consistently in the top ten on the Forbes list of most influential celebrities, and has been included on a similar list of Harvard University alumni. In 2008, Oz received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. And, along with Michael Roizen, who is the director of wellness at the Cleveland Clinic, Oz is one of the "You Docs," having written, over the past decade, a series of books, including "YOU: The Owner's Manual"; "YOU: The Smart Patient"; "YOU: On a Diet"; "YOU: Staying Young"; "YOU: Losing Weight"; "YOU: Having a Baby"; "YOU: Stress Less"; and "YOU: Being Beautiful." There are well over a million "YOU" books in print.

Oz also presides over a rapidly expanding empire of social media. He recently launched You Feel, an app on his Web site that lets users "enhance" their response to the question "How are you feeling today?" by "adding an image from their computer, a picture from Facebook, or a YouTube video." The You Feel community is an outgrowth of doctoroz.com, which has become a kind of Merck Manual for the layman, addressing nearly every imaginable ailment, but pitched particularly to those who feel constrained by the rules of conventional medicine. Thousands of videos are available on the Web site, and they deal with every issue of mind and body, from facts about stomach cancer to the value of shrink-wrap liposuction.

Oz's popularity isn't hard to understand: he speaks to Americans about problems that many find impossible to share, and he talks to them in ways that few other physicians would. Want to know how many orgasms you will require each year to prolong your life? Oz says two hundred--give or take. 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"). Oz likes to be in the news; he was on the air with students from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, three days after the shootings there. And you never know who his guests will be. 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."

"The Dr. Oz Show" frequently focuses on essential health issues: the proper ways to eat, relax, exercise, and sleep, and how to maintain a healthy heart. Much of the advice Oz offers is sensible, and is rooted solidly in scientific literature. That is why the rest of what he does is so hard to understand. Oz is an experienced surgeon, yet almost daily he employs words that serious scientists shun, like "startling," "breakthrough," "radical," "revolutionary," and "miracle." There are miracle drinks and miracle meal plans and miracles to stop aging and miracles to fight fat. Last year, Oz broadcast a show on whether it was possible to "repair" gay people ("From Gay to Straight? The Controversial Therapy"), despite the fact that Robert L. Spitzer, the doctor who is best known for a study of gay-reparation therapy, had recanted. (Spitzer last year apologized to "any gay person who wasted time and energy" on what he conceded were "unproven claims.") Oz introduced a show on the safety of genetically modified foods by saying, "A new report claims they can damage your health and even cause cancer." He also broadcast an episode on whether the apple juice consumed daily by millions of American children contains dangerous levels of arsenic. "Some of the best-known brands in America have arsenic in their apple juice," he said at the outset, "and today we are naming names." In each of those instances, and in many others, Oz has been criticized by scientists for relying on flimsy or incomplete data, distorting the results, and wielding his vast influence in ways that threaten the health of anyone who watches the show. Last year, almost as soon as that G.M.O. report was published, in France, it was thoroughly discredited by scores of researchers on both sides of the Atlantic. . . .

And this telling detail from his childhood.
Oz was brought up to be ambitious and aggressive, and, above all else, to win. "I grew up as orthodox and conventional as they come," he told me. Oz's parents immigrated to America from Turkey in the nineteen-fifties, after his father, a thoracic surgeon, received a scholarship to study in Cleveland. Mustafa Oz, who is now eighty-seven, practiced medicine in the United States until a few years ago, when he and Oz's mother returned to Istanbul. He was born in central Turkey, near Konya, a center of Islamic piety--a fact, Oz says, that is critical to understanding his father's approach to the world, and therefore his own. Mustafa Oz believed in hard work and little else. "The only question my father ever asked me was: Did anyone do better than you?" Oz said, with a wistful smile. "If I came home, proud and excited, with a ninety-seven on an exam, he would ask if somebody got a higher grade. And if George or Tom got a ninety-eight then I might as well have failed. When I made all-state football, which was a big deal for me, he didn't ask me what it was or comment on it. He thought sports were a distraction. When his friends congratulated him at work the next day, he didn't know what they were talking about."

— Michael Specter
New Yorker





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