When Dr. Mehmet Oz threw his stethoscope into the ring for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat, he promoted his medical credentials as a reason for voters to choose him over his Republican competitors in Tuesday’s primary. His campaign website introduces him as “Dr. Oz” and notes that “Surgeons keep their priorities straight and always protect their patients first with competent delivery of the best approaches.”
Oz does indeed have top-notch medical credentials. He holds degrees from two Ivy League universities, has been a professor at a third, has written hundreds of scientific articles, holds multiple patents and once specialized in heart transplants. Last year, Oz assisted four police officers using CPR to save a man’s life at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Back of the envelope math would suggest that he gave bad medical advice on his show more than 4,000 times from 2009 to 2022.
The vehicle that made him a household name and gives him the possibility of leaping to the U.S. Capitol, though, was his nationally syndicated program, “The Dr. Oz Show.” And we know from his show that he is all too willing to throw science by the wayside for ratings, which makes his claim to be a good candidate for Senate based on his career all the more troubling. His show — and his endorsement by former President Donald Trump — may result in him eking out a win in the primary once all the ballots are counted (the race is currently too close to call), but it should serve as a warning call for voters come fall if he becomes the GOP candidate.
Oz never brought the rigor of his CV to his television show. A 2014 study of 40 randomly selected episodes from 2013 found that just 46 percent of his recommendations were backed by evidence, and 1 in 7 were actually contradicted by scientific data. The study also found he had made an average of 12 recommendations an episode, meaning that he was giving bad advice on average once or twice every episode. Assuming these statistics stayed the same over his show’s 2,305-episode run, back of the envelope math would suggest that he gave bad medical advice on his show more than 4,000 times from 2009 to 2022.
Some of his more outlandish claims included the notion that you can whiten your teeth with baking soda and strawberries (an acidic food), but rubbing acid on your teeth will not whiten them and may actually weaken them. Oz has also claimed, apparently based on the faulty interpretation of a test, that common brands of apple juice contain dangerous levels of arsenic, with the Food and Drug Administration calling him “irresponsible and misleading” for making that claim. (Oz responded by defending his results.)
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He got even more blowback for promoting what he called the “magic weight loss cure” of green coffee bean extract. The study that supported that contention was retracted, and medical authorities advise caution against it because of possible harmful interactions with health conditions and medications.
In 2014 he was hauled before the very legislative body he now wants to represent to explain his shilling of green coffee bean extract and other shady weight-loss supplements. Unlike on his TV show, Oz admitted to the senators grilling him that a magic weight loss pill does not exist and that he uses “flowery” language. Oz told them, “There’s not a pill that’s going to help you, long-term, lose weight [and] live the best life, without diet and exercise.”
In 2016, he and related companies were sued for false advertising for exaggerating the effects of green coffee bean diet pills. Two years later they settled out of court for $5.25 million. (The statement about the agreement notes that the defendants have not “been found liable for any wrongdoing and are pleased with the resolution of this matter.”)
As problematic as his miracle cures are some of the guests he invited onto his show. He had repeated interviews with Joseph Mercola, whom a New York Times headline referred to as “The Most Influential Spreader of Coronavirus Misinformation Online.” (Mercola told the Times he thought the designation was “quite peculiar.”) Oz has also welcomed multiple “psychics.”
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with letting people with controversial opinions appear on a show — as long as you hold them to account for their views. When performer Uri Geller went on “The Tonight Show” to try to bend spoons without touching them, host Johnny Carson approached it with an appropriate level of skepticism (and, at times, sarcasm) as Geller failed miserably for 20 minutes to do anything.
When Char Margolis attempted to showcase her claimed abilities to see the spirit world on WGN Morning News, an anchor accurately noted her act was “failing miserably.” But when Margolis went on “The Dr. Oz Show” for a segment titled “Medium vs. Medicine,” Oz seemed to be on Team Medium — which means that either a man who has written hundreds of scientific papers was fooled by simple parlor tricks or he knew her special power is merely guessing but didn’t think he should point that out to his audience.
In 2014 he was hauled before the very legislative body he now wants to represent to explain his shilling of green coffee bean extract and other shady weight-loss supplements.
At one point, under fire for the shenanigans on his program, Oz defended himself by telling NBC News that his show is “not a medical show,” yet kept the word “doctor” in its title. That type of double talk might make him well-suited to being a politician, but not to serving the people of Pennsylvania in what has been called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
Complex problems require complex solutions, but long before Oz entered politics he seemed to appreciate that it’s much easier to give a simple solution without nuance rather than explain benefits and drawbacks of carefully thought out policies.
Would intelligent proposals for health care reform be met with pithy suggestions of a fruit extract we should take instead? Would our soldiers be provided with unfounded “energy boosting” supplements? If another doctor was called before the Senate over exaggerated claims, would he treat them with appropriate skepticism, or like a psychic on one of his shows? Our federal government spends billions of dollars on health care every year, and Oz would make a poor steward of our money.