What the Attack on Dr. Oz Is Really All About
In mid-April, a group of doctors--let's call them the Gang of Ten--led by Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution, "located" on the Stanford University campus, called for the removal of Dr. Oz from the Columbia faculty because of his "disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine" as well as his promotion of "quack treatments." Dr. Oz is a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and the vice chair of Columbia's Department of Surgery. Previously, he was a regular contributor to "The Oprah Winfrey Show," but is now best known as the host of "The Dr. Oz Show." The accusations are hypocritical nonsense and come with a disturbing agenda. But before I explain, let me be absolutely clear that:
- I do not know Dr. Oz personally.
- I have no financial connection with him.
- And I disagree with many of the things he has claimed on his show and, on more than one occasion, have detailed my issues with some of those claims.
That said, the attacks on Dr. Oz expressed in the letter to Columbia (as well as in the Senate subcommittee hearings held earlier this year) are demonstrably designed to support Monsanto and the GMO industry as a whole. This is not guesswork. You can actually trace the money back to Monsanto. Let's start by taking a look at the letter in question.
Here is the text of the actual letter that was sent to the Columbia School of Medicine:
Lee Goldman, M.D.
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine
Dear Dr. Goldman:
I am writing to you on behalf of myself and the undersigned colleagues below, all of whom are distinguished physicians.
We are surprised and dismayed that Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment, let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery.
As described here1 and here,2 as well as in other publications, Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops. Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.
Thus, Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgements about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both. Whatever the nature of his pathology, members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz's presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable.
Henry I. Miller, M.D.
Scott W. Atlas, M.D.
Jack Fisher, M.D.
Shelley Fleet, M.D.
Gordon N. Gill, M.D.
Michael H. Mellon, M.D.
Gilbert Ross, M.D.
Samuel Schneider, M.D.
Glenn Swogger Jr. M.D.
Joel E. Tepper, M.D.
Certainly, signed by all those MD's, that seems like a powerful indictment of Dr. Oz, but things are not always what they seem. Let's begin by taking each of the claims in the letter and looking at them one at a time.
Disdain for Science and Evidence-Based Medicine
"Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine."
Unfortunately, the historical record shows that much of so-called "evidence-based medicine" turns out to be ineffective or even harmful over time,3 not to mention the fact that, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, only 11% of physicians actually rely on evidenced-based medicine for all their treatments.4 When push comes to shove, some 90% of doctors like to go with their gut at least some of the time.
Holding Dr. Oz to a standard that 90% of the medical community itself does not follow is incredibly hypocritical to put it kindly. And, as we will see later, coming from this particular group of physicians, it is actually comical.
Opposition to GMO
[Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown a] "baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops."
First of all, Dr. Oz hasn't expressed "relentless opposition" to GMO. What he has done is relentlessly express his support for GMO labeling. It's a position that I agree with; I just want to see it done at a Federal level, not piecemeal, in multiple variations, state by state. The letter writers' position, however, is that people are too stupid to be told whether or not their food is GMO and should be kept in the dark for their own good--a position that probably does not generate a lot of support outside of Monsanto and its supporters, which happens to include the 10 signatories.
That said, the statement that opposition to GMO is "baseless" is simply not true. Yes, finding consistent scientific support for the position that all GMO is inherently unhealthy turns out to be a Sisyphean task, but finding scientific support for the dangers associated with specific GMO crops is actually quite easy. In particular, there is a heavy cloud that hangs over all of the GMO plants designed to resist pests versus those designed to have optimized traits such as being resistant to freezing. As I've explained before Bt expressing crops have been clearly implicated in the death of valuable insect species such as Monarch butterflies, and there is strong evidence that BT expressing crops are harmful to animals as well. Studies and field observations in Andhra Pradesh and other states in India have shown that sheep, goats, cattle, and buffalo populations exhibit morbidity and mortality after continuous and cumulative exposure to Bt cotton.5 Obviously, this is not definitive for people, but it certainly qualifies as the "basis" for concern and is just the tip of the iceberg.
The evidence against Roundup ready crops is actually much stronger--not because of the GMO itself, but because it looks likely that Roundup is much more toxic than advertised. Yes, Monsanto keeps getting the studies that demonstrate Roundup's toxicity pulled, but the evidence keeps mounting nonetheless.6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc., etc., etc.. Are there contradictory studies that indicate Roundup is safe? Absolutely!11 But based on the sheer number of recent studies that point in the direction of toxicity, calling concerns about Roundup ready GMO crops "baseless" is anything but an evidence-based pronouncement.
Promoting Quack Treatments for Personal Gain
"Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain."
I have a real problem with this one. Going back through the decades, it is not hard to find example after example after example of the medical community promoting what eventually turned out to be quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain--even when contradictory information has become irrefutable. As we have discussed in previous newsletters:
At one time, medical doctors actually worked as spokespeople for the cigarette industry, and the Journal of the American Medical Association ran ads for cigarettes promoting their benefits for weight loss,12 all long after multiple studies were pointing to the danger of cigarettes. And how many people died from that egregious lack of integrity? Several hundred thousand? A million? More? How much money did doctors earn promoting cigarettes? How much money did JAMA earn running those ads? On the other hand, how many doctors were removed from their positions of authority for promoting what ultimately turned out to be a highly dangerous quack cure? None!!!
And then there are trans-fatty acids. Even as those of us in the alternative health community were identifying artificial trans-fats as one of the single biggest contributors to heart disease and premature death, the medical community was promoting their virtues and advising their patients to switch from butter to high trans-fat margarine and high trans-fat baked goods--for health reasons. Now, of course, they are at the forefront of the "ban trans-fatty acids" movement -- and once again, without any acknowledgement of their role in killing hundreds of thousands of people by convincing them to head down the trans-fat road to heart attacks. Again, how many doctors lost their positions as the result of promoting this deadly quack cure? None!
I could go on and on. For example, there's also: angioplasty, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants except in cases of extreme depression, and the use of statins for people who have never had a heart attack. The bottom line is that the medical community has frequently pitched what ultimately turned out to be quite deadly quackery. And no one ever calls them to task for it, or requests anyone's removal from their job.
Misled and Endangered the Public
"Thus, Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both. Whatever the nature of his pathology, members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz's presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable."
First off, you've got to love the use of the word "pathology" in the letter. The doctors are calling Dr. Oz's actions "the manifestations of a disease." Talk about a purely highly prejudicial, non-evidence based word-bomb! And we won't even discuss the doctors who consult for the FDA and help decide what drugs get approved while having financial ties to the drugs they are advising on--Vioxx being just one example.13 And how many people died from the "nature of that pathology?" Low end estimates are 27,785.14 And guess how many doctors lost their positions over that fiasco. Yes, that's right: none.
So Doctor Oz pitched the questionable benefits of green coffee bean extract for weight loss. Even WebMD indicated it might work.15 So, some people lost a small amount of money. But no one died! Right now, despite a few hyperbolic claims, Dr. Oz is looking a lot better than many others in the medical community.
At this point, I think it's worth taking a look at the doctors who signed the letter, for it is there that we begin to learn what the true purpose of the letter really was. Let's start with the person who drafted the letter and whose signature is first on the list: Henry I. Miller, M.D. Perhaps, we can learn something from his background that might lead us to question his objectivity.
Henry I. Miller, M.D.
Dr. Miller is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.16 The Hoover Institution is a conservative think tank located on the Stanford University campus. Its primary objectives are to promote less government, reduced regulation, and laissez-faire capitalism. Dr. Miller's research focuses on public policy as it relates to science and technology. This encompasses a number of areas, including pharmaceutical development, genetic engineering in agriculture, models for regulatory reform (i.e., reducing all industry regulations), and the emergence of new viral diseases.17 As we can see, he is not a practicing physician but, essentially, a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical and GMO industries.
Before assuming his position at Hoover, Dr. Miller was one of the original members of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).18 The ACSH, which was founded in 1978 and describes itself as "a consumer education consortium." Over the years, the Council has chosen to "educate" the public about the wonderful benefits and safety of GMO foods, pesticides, and herbicides. Not surprisingly, the ACSH actively solicits and receives funding from corporations supported by ACSH positions--positions such as opposition to GMO labeling.19 Curiously, even though the ACSH unabashedly supports GMO, high fructose corn syrup,20 artificial sweeteners,21 the carbonated beverage industry,22 they are actually anti-tobacco, pointing out the negative long-term effects of smoking. On the other hand, they are pro e-cigarettes and are opposed to any government regulation of the industry.23 As it turns out, despite his association with ACSH, Dr. Miller's principals are available to the highest bidder.
In 1993, Dr. Miller moved on from the ACHS (at least officially) to become one of the two founding members of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). TASSC's original funding came from Philip Morris, which was attempting to discredit research that connected long-term cigarette smoking with increased cancer and heart problems.24 Not surprisingly, given where their money came from, TASSC adopted industry-friendly positions on a wide range of topics, including cigarette smoking, global warming, phthalates, and pesticides. In other words, they promoted industry friendly positions for any industry that paid them money.
And finally, Dr. Miller was effectively hired by Monsanto (the lead funder of the anti-California-GMO-labeling initiative, Prop 3725) and became the voice of the opposition to Prop 37.26 For Dr. Miller to accuse Dr. Oz of promoting bad ideas "in the interest of personal financial gain" is the living definition of hypocrisy.
Scott W. Atlas, M.D.
If it was just Dr. Miller, the author and driving force behind the anti Dr. Oz letter, there still might be reasons to take the letter seriously--assuming the other signatories were legit. As it turns out, no need to worry in that regard; they're not.
Dr. Atlas is the second signatory. Like Dr. Miller, he is a member of the Hoover Institution. It should be noted that although the Hoover Institution lists its address as Stanford University, it is not actually affiliated with Stanford. It is a conservative think tank that pays for the privilege of having its address on the Stanford campus. It is independently funded by corporate grants and independent donations from individuals such as Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch brothers, as well as several oil companies27--just to make sure that climate change remains debatable (more on this later).28 And it has its own administrators and board of directors, all of whom are entirely separate from Stanford. The bottom line is that as a member of the Hoover Institution, Dr. Atlas harbors a paid bias on behalf of pharmaceutical development and genetic engineering in agriculture. No wonder he is opposed to Dr. Oz.
Gilbert Ross, M.D.
And we saved the best for last: Dr. Gilbert Ross. Dr. Ross is the acting president and executive director of Dr. Miller's former organization, ACSH.29 Why should that be a problem beyond what we've already discussed concerning the ASCH--especially if you read Dr. Atlas' bio on the ACSH site?30 His credentials are impeccable. He was a member of the faculty of Cornell University Medical School, Stony Brook Medical School, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He was also a member of the attending staff at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Hospital, as well as the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens. All very impressive. The problem is in what his ACSH bio doesn't tell you. As it turns out, Dr. Ross's medical license was revoked in 1995 by a unanimous vote of the state administrative review board for professional misconduct after it was revealed that he had been involved in a scheme that defrauded the New York State Medicaid system of $8 million.31, 32 He was convicted of "engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity," "nine counts of money laundering," and "mail fraud" and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison and barred from participating in Medicare and Medicaid for ten years.33 In addition to his prison sentence, Dr. Ross was ordered to forfeit $40,000 and pay restitution of $612,855--an amount later reduced to $85,137 on the grounds that he didn't have the assets to pay more. In 1997, a judge sustained his 10 year banishment from Medicare and Medicaid, stating that he was "a highly untrustworthy individual" who had engaged in "practices that were medically indefensible."34
Keep in mind, Dr. Ross just signed a letter accusing Dr. Oz of "flawed judgment," "lack of integrity," and acting "in the interest of personal financial gain." Shameless!
The Other Seven Signatories
Although not quite as bad as the first three, they nevertheless all have industry ties that pretty much negate any semblance of impartiality.
Putting Things in Perspective
Columbia University recognized the letter and signatories for what they were and dismissively responded by saying, "Columbia is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members' freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion." Or in other words, "Go stuff yourselves!"
Unfortunately, the mainstream media was not so savvy. Seeing all the MD's after the signatories' names, they took the letter seriously and published the story with headlines like:
- Even Dr. Oz's Boss Thinks He's 'Full Of [It]'.35
- Doctors Call for Dr. Oz Firing From Columbia Med School Board: ‘He's a Quack, ‘Fake,' ‘Charlatan.'36
- Colleagues want Dr. Oz off Columbia University staff.37
- Top Doctors Demand Columbia University Remove Dr. Oz From His Faculty Position.38 (Really! These are "top" doctors?)
And that's exactly the point. The letter from Dr. Miller and the Gang of Ten was never about getting Dr. Oz fired; it was about discrediting in the press so that his position on GMO labeling would also be discredited--viewed as unscientific, as a quackery if you will. And thanks to the lack of in-depth reporting by the media, which made no effort to identify who these MD's were and what they represented and who funded the main drivers behind the letter, that purpose was largely accomplished.
And why did the Gang of Ten do this? Keep in mind that the goal of every organization (other than the FDA) that Dr. Miller and the other signatories have been associated with over the last number of years has been to promote the agenda of their corporate backers. And right now, that puts GMO front and center.
Will Dr. Oz continue on in his position at Columbia Medical School? If he's doing a good job there, which he seems to be doing, then yes, he most likely will continue. Columbia seems to be standing behind him so far. Will he continue with his TV show? Again, if the ratings hold up, then yes, he will likely continue.
But has he been damaged as a credible voice against GMO with the public at large and with Congressional legislators? Thanks to the media's uncritical support of the letter, as well as the recent Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security that censored Dr. Oz, the answer to that question is "yes." He has been damaged. And let's talk about the Senate subcommittee hearings for a moment, since it's not unconnected from the Miller letter. In fact, this is how we know the true purpose of the Miller letter since the same people that were behind the Miller letter were behind the Senate hearings. Let me explain.
The two strongest voices against Dr. Oz in those hearings were Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, Missouri's two senators. Both senators received substantial donations from the pharmaceutical industry and Monsanto. It's not a coincidence that these two conspired to bring down Dr. Oz in their hearings as well as being identified as prime supporters of what became known as the "Monsanto Protection Act." This act, which has in fact passed thanks to the efforts of Senators McCaskill and Blunt, prevents anyone from suing Monsanto for any health issues resulting from GMO crops.39 Make no mistake; it is not a coincidence that these two events--the Senate subcommittee hearings on Dr. Oz and the letter to Columbia--happened back to back. They are part of a coordinated attack to discredit Dr. Oz. If you haven't connected the dots yet, let me do that for you now.
Dr. Bob Arnot, the former NBC News "chief medical correspondent," recently pointed out in a CNN interview that all ten signatories to the Miller letter have "industry ties," and that industry is "furious that he's taken on genetically modified crops." Dr. Arnot literally called the letter signatories "industry henchmen who are after Dr. Oz."40
There is no coincidence here. The same corporations that fund the activities of most of the Gang of Ten also fund the campaigns of Senators McCaskill and Blunt. Their goal is not to get Dr. Oz fired (that would be a bonus if that happened) but to undermine his credibility so that neither the public nor the rest of Congress will give any credence to his position on GMO. Whereas readers of this newsletter are unlikely to be swayed by their activities, it is, unfortunately, highly likely that the public at large and a majority of Congress will be swayed. You should be very concerned.
I have made my position on GMO very clear. I know it's not popular with many in the alternative health community who believe that purity trumps practicality, but I believe that fighting to ban GMO foods is futile, at least at this time in history. All you have to do is look at the ever growing number of GMO crops that are being approved and their spread throughout the world to see the way things are trending. Just last month, despite everything written in alternative health blogs, the FDA approved two more GMO crops: Arctic Apples and Innate Potatoes.41 As Bob Dylan said: you really don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. I believe that for better or worse GMO foods are inevitable and unstoppable in the near term, so we need to figure out how to deal with that fact. I agree with Dr. Oz that we should have sensible GMO labeling now--but as controlled by Federal law, not by a multitude of varying state laws. Then let the GMO companies and the scientific community make their case. If Monsanto can convince the public that specific GMO products are safe, then more power to them and let sales grow. On the other hand, if evidence continues to emerge that certain aspects of GMO products--such as the excessive use of Roundup--are problematic, then those products should be pulled from the market. Conversely, paying legislators to pass laws that hide the truth from the public and that forces people to eat foods of unknown origin is simply intolerable.
And if nothing else, you would think that every single doctor who truly believed in evidenced-based medicine would actually stand with Dr. Oz on this issue and completely support open GMO labeling. Why? Quite simply, if there is no way of knowing what GMO foods people are eating, researchers will never be able to do a cohort study in the future to determine the long term consequences (if any) of eating GMO foods. Future research would be impossible because the data would not be available. Science actually demands the labeling of foods for this reason, if no other. For any scientist or medical doctor to oppose GMO labeling, they have to stand for willful ignorance.
Finally, you would think that if Monsanto was so sure that the results of such studies would be positive, they would welcome open labeling--after all, they would ultimately be vindicated and supported by future studies. All concerns about GMO safety would fall away, and the market for GMO foods would exponentially explode. Monsanto would literally stand astride the world's food supply. Instead, they back groups like the Hoover Institution to fight open labeling and they pay members of Congress to pass legislation that protect them from lawsuits if GMO foods are not safe. One can only wonder why they are doing things and continually causing people to doubt their motives. What does Monsanto know that they are not telling us? (That was a rhetorical question, by the way.)
Remember how I mentioned that even though Columbia ignored the Gang of Ten, getting rid of Dr. Oz was never their intent. Acting on Monsanto's behalf and discrediting Dr. Oz in the court of public opinion was their true purpose--as well as the purpose of the Senate subcommittee hearings. I also thought that strategy was likely to play well. Well, right on cue, John Oliver devoted a 16 minute segment of the April 26th edition of his show, Last Week Tonight, to Dr. Oz—and ripped him apart. He acknowledged that perhaps the doctors who came after Dr. Oz may have had industry ties, but said it didn’t matter.
I think we’ve pretty much covered why it actually does matter.
But then John cited the December 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal that focused on the reliability of the things Dr. Oz promotes on his TV show.42 The study concluded that of the health recommendations that appear on his show, researchers found evidence to support only 46 percent of Dr. Oz’s recommendations. Unfortunately, that 46 percent figure may not mean quite what John Oliver thinks it means. He assumed it meant that 54% of the time, Dr. Oz is giving unscientific, bad advice--dangerous advice. But, in fact, that’s not what the numbers in the study actually mean. The percentage breakdown from the study is as follows.
- 46% of the time the advice given by Dr. Oz is backed by credible research.
- 15% of the time, the advice directly contradicts best available evidence.
- 39% of the time, the researchers found that existing studies are insufficient to support the advice.
Let’s pretend that the 15% of the recommendations that contradicts best available evidence might actually be wrong. That leaves 39% to account for. The researchers didn’t actually say those recommendations were wrong, just that there wasn’t enough evidence to support them. But keep in mind, it took researchers almost 100 years after John Harvey Kellogg began talking about diverticular disease to recognize its existence. Diverticular disease is now known to affect virtually 100% of all Americans if they live long enough. Think about that for a moment. It took decades for studies to finally support the importance of fiber in the diet. It also took decades for the evidence to become “sufficient” to finally support the dangers of trans-fatty acids. And it took decades for the evidence to become sufficient to support the dangers of lead in the environment.
Just because the evidence is insufficient to support a popular alternative health position at the moment, doesn’t mean that position is wrong--especially if the circumstantial and anecdotal evidence is strong. And think how much healthier you are now—alive even—if you listened to the alternative community and didn’t believe the doctors who told you to eat high trans-fat margarines instead of butter before the evidence became “sufficient” to convince them otherwise. The bottom line is that 85% of the time Dr. Oz has given advice that is either supported by science or has notable circumstantial evidence behind it and is still being investigated. When you think about it, that makes your odds some 800% better of getting good advice from Dr. Oz than from a medical doctor who only practices evidence-based medicine 10% of the time—just saying!
At this point, you might be inclined to say, "Yes, but, Jon, your conclusions all based on a single study in which doctors say they don't practice evidence-based medicine. Do you have a more specific argument?" Yes, it's called off-label prescribing. I've explained before about this widespread problem where doctors order up a medication for you for a purpose other than that originally approved by the FDA. For instance, a common off-label application occurs when a patient complains of insomnia and the doctor prescribes antidepressants, although the FDA has not approved antidepressants for insomnia, only for cases of depression. In 2001, off-label prescriptions accounted for at least 21 percent of pharmaceutical sales, amounting to at least 150 million prescriptions annually.43In fact, once a drug has been approved for any condition, physicians frequently prescribe it for other applications based on what they hear in passing from other doctors. About seventy-five percent of the time, there's a complete lack of clinical evidence supporting the efficacy or safety of the off-label application. Once you understand the reality, Dr. Oz's recommendations start looking more in line with standard medical practice.
Am I upset with John Oliver for his particularly nasty comments on Dr. Oz? Not really. Actually, I like John and feel more sorry for him than anything. He got conned by the very same people who lead the charge against taking action on climate change. No really! We're talking about the very same people--both the Hoover Foundation and ACSH are at the forefront of stopping all action on climate change.44, 45 And no matter what your view on climate change, knowing how passionate John is about the issue, it's going to really be embarrassing for him when he eventually realizes who he's climbed into bed with and tied his credibility to in his attack on Dr. Oz. In fact, I wonder if he'll still think their industry connections really don't matter. Ouch!
Again, this newsletter was not an endorsement of Dr. Oz or the supplements he sells. As I mentioned earlier, I don't know him personally. I have no financial connection with him, and I disagree with the "magic bullet" approach to health he often espouses. It is, however, an attempt to give you a context for that attack so that you understand what's really going on here and why the orchestrated attack on Dr. Oz is really about your right to be informed about the food you buy--and indirectly, about your right to buy the supplements you want.
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- 17. Henry I. Miller
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