Dr. Oz Defends His ‘Miracles’

Sen. McCaskill grills the popular TV personality on his dubious nutrition claims.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
June 17, 2014, 8:20 a.m.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5027) }}

Claire Mc­Caskill — the chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate Com­merce Sub­com­mit­tee on Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion — asked Dr. Mehmet Oz — the enorm­ously pop­u­lar talk-show host — the fol­low­ing ques­tion Tues­day morn­ing: “Why would you say something is a mir­acle in a bottle?”

That’s a ques­tion Oz’s crit­ics have long de­man­ded answered.

While his day-time health show reaches mil­lions, Dr. Oz has come un­der fire for en­dors­ing nu­tri­tion sup­ple­ments with du­bi­ous ef­fic­acy. One of those products was green cof­fee bean ex­tract, a sub­stance de­rived from cof­fee that is mar­keted as a weight-loss sup­ple­ment. In a 2012 broad­cast Dr. Oz claimed

This little bean has sci­ent­ists say­ing they have found a ma­gic weight-loss cure for every body type. It’s green cof­fee beans, and, when turned in­to a sup­ple­ment — this mir­acle pill can burn fat fast.

Nev­er mind the only sci­ent­ists say­ing that were ones paid by a com­pany that pro­duces green-cof­fee ex­tract. After the broad­cast, Oz’s like­ness has ap­peared on count­less Web ad­vert­ise­ments for products that in­cluded the in­gredi­ent.

In a busi­ness sense, Oz doesn’t en­dorse these products, and has fought back against com­pan­ies us­ing his im­age and words on ad­vert­ising. But still, they pro­lif­er­ate. Last month, the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion brought suit against a green-cof­fee ex­tract com­pany for bogus weight-loss claims, which in­cluded Oz’s “mir­acle” en­dorse­ment. A 2013 New York­er pro­file was par­tic­u­larly scath­ing in its cri­ti­cism of Oz’s sci­entif­ic scru­tiny. “By freely mix­ing al­tern­at­ives with proven ther­apies, Oz makes it nearly im­possible for the view­er of his show to as­sess the im­pact of either; the pro­cess just di­min­ishes the value of sci­ence.”

On Tues­day, Oz was on Cap­it­ol Hill to testi­fy on a Sen­ate hear­ing about such weight loss scams, and to ad­dress his role in provid­ing fod­der for false ad­vert­ise­ments.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Oz was adam­ant that he is not in­volved in the sale of any nu­tri­tion­al sup­ple­ment, and said he has stopped us­ing over­blown words like “mir­acle” on his pro­gram. But Oz de­murred in an­swer­ing Mc­Caskill’s ques­tions, which in­cluded the equally sharp “why would you cheapen your show by say­ing things like that?” and the as­ser­tion that “the sci­entif­ic com­munity is al­most mono­lith­ic against you.”

Here’s his de­fense.

If I can just get across the big mes­sage that I do per­son­ally be­lieve in the items I talk about in my show. I pas­sion­ately study them. I re­cog­nize that of­ten­times they don’t have the sci­entif­ic muster to present as fact. But, nev­er­the­less, I give my audi­ence the ad­vice I give my fam­ily all the time. I give my fam­ily these products, spe­cific­ally the ones you men­tioned. I’m com­fort­able with that part.

I do think I made it more dif­fi­cult for the FTC. In an at­tempt to en­gage view­ers, I used flowery lan­guage. I used lan­guage that was very pas­sion­ate, but it ended up not be­ing help­ful but in­cen­di­ary. And it provided fod­der for un­scru­pu­lous ad­vert­isers… We have spe­cific­ally re­stric­ted our use of words…

My job, I feel on the show, is to be a cheer­lead­er for the audi­ence. And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it hap­pen, I want to look and I do look every­where, in­clud­ing al­tern­at­ive heal­ing tra­di­tions, for any evid­ence that might be sup­port­ive to them.

Ba­sic­ally, Oz is say­ing that even if the sci­ence is du­bi­ous, if he be­lieves in the “thumb­nail sketch” of the pre­lim­in­ary evid­ence, he’ll present it to view­ers as a solu­tion to a prob­lem. In turn, if that solu­tion works for the view­er, it might just mo­tiv­ate them to seek oth­er healthy solu­tions.

But it isn’t sci­ence. And giv­en his vis­ib­il­ity in homes across the coun­try. Busi­nesses will be sure to con­tin­ue to use his not-quite-sci­entif­ic en­dorse­ments to sell products.

COR­REC­TION: This post ini­tially mis­stated Sen. Mc­Caskill’s role on the com­mit­tee.

What We're Following See More »
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
1 days ago

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
2 days ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
2 days ago

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
2 days ago
California: It’s Not Over Yet
2 days ago

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.