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.