“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you”: when Dr Oz went to the Senate


The way Oz described it, he used flowery language to express his enthusiasm for promising new supplements, and then he himself fell victim to unscrupulous manufacturers: companies that used his name, image and statements. to sell branded versions of the generic supplements which it has endorsed.

Members showed only limited sympathy for his complaints, pointing out that it was he who pumped these substances in the first place. “We all have the experience of being elected [having] any word that can be taken out of context, ”said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) with a wry smile. “But at the same time, besides being a celebrity, you are a doctor, and I believe that doctors have a duty to give [your audience] the best proof.

Halfway through the hearing, after long rounds of questioning by McCaskill and Klobuchar, Oz was cross-examined by Senator Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada. (Heller, who lost his Senate seat in 2018, is now running for governor of Nevada.) Heller got right to the point, asking Oz whether or not he believed in the existence of a miracle pill that makes consumers lose weight.

“There isn’t one pill that is going to help you lose weight in the long run, live the best life without diet or exercise,” Oz replied.

“Do you think there is a magic bullet for losing weight? Heller said.

Oz stammered. “If you’re selling something because it’s magic, no,” he said. “If you claim it’s going to be magic because if you stop eating carbohydrates you’re going to use a lot of weight, that’s a true statement.”

I asked Matthew Eisenberg, an expert in health economics and politics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to review Oz’s testimony. He said Oz’s rhetorical sleight of hand – proclaiming “magic” while defending “it will be magic” – are a common feature of misleading advertising in the weight loss industry. And despite Oz’s careful analysis of claims like this, several of his hearing statements has encountered both scientific and regulatory consensus, Eisenberg said. In his written testimony, says Eisenberg, Oz clearly violated Federal Trade Commission guidelines for supplement companies when he referred to a pill’s ability to “melt” fat.

“The scientific consensus is that the pills cannot do this, and the regulatory consensus is [the same]Eisenberg said. “The FTC has stated that no product can say in its advertisement that a product burns or melts fat.”

Neither the FTC’s recommendations nor the contempt of Congress did much to deter Oz, whose lucrative empire flourished despite being repeatedly condemned in mainstream medical circles for making unsubstantiated claims about diet and weight loss products. In 2013, a team of researchers from Georgetown University analyzed the various health recommendations made on the Oz show, finding that about 78% of those recommendations “did not meet evidence-based medical guidelines,” recommendations from the company or statements of authority ”. In 2018, without admitting liability, Oz agreed to pay a $ 5.25 million settlement in a class action lawsuit alleging that he misrepresented the effectiveness of two diet pills, which he characterized in his show of “Revolutionary Fat Destroyer” and “Magic Cure for Weight Loss”.

Oz reviews characterize him as a charlatan – and at the start of the hearing, McCaskill almost did just that. When Oz defended his decision to sell untested weight loss drugs by noting that he had also promoted the healing power of prayer, McCaskill countered, “But you don’t have to buy prayer – prayer is free. . ”

“Yes, prayer is free,” Oz said. “This is a very good point.”

Chalking Oz’s endorsements of weight loss pills down to sheer greed, however, are missing something critical about his business. During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Oz repeatedly noted that he had never sold specific dietary supplements through his show, and that he did not directly profit from the sale. supplements he had approved. While there is no doubt that Oz has profited greatly over the years from the gullibility of his audiences – his show has been on the air for 13 seasons and he has written eight. New York Times bestsellers – he didn’t make money selling diet pills. Asked by Klobuchar why he chose not to sell products himself, Oz replied, “A doctor shouldn’t sell products. … You wouldn’t trust me if you came to me for advice and I said “Oh, you got a crushed toe here, take my version of a resolving cream.” ”

But the effectiveness of the pills he approved may not really matter at the heart of his business. Pressed by McCaskill for his support for ‘miracle’ diet pills, Oz conceded, “I recognize that often, [my claims] do not have the scientific strength to present it as a fact. … My job, I think, on the show is to be a cheerleader to the audience, and when they think they don’t have hope, or when they don’t think they can make it happen , I look everywhere for evidence that could support them.

Despite the subcommittee’s focus on dietary supplements, the audience went into something deeper about what the real product of Oz is: not diet pills at all, but rather the promise of an alternate reality.

Seven years after the Senate ruled on Oz’s false information, the Public Opinion Tribunal returned a not guilty verdict. Far from questioning Oz’s political credibility, the deluge of pseudoscience and disinformation that has emerged from the pandemic has proven that Americans are more eager than ever to buy what he sells. Huge swathes of the country are turning away from a medically effective vaccine and embracing haphazard treatments touted by politicians they love. Oz himself offers a diagnosis political evils of the country which is above all metaphysical rather than material. “I am running for the Senate to enable you to control your destiny, invigorate our great nation and rekindle the divine spark that we should always see in each other,” Oz wrote in the Washington Examiner.

Oz has yet to come up with a policy prescription to rekindle the nation’s divine spark.

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