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Let’s Discuss the Dr. Oz Scam

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A friend sent me this CNN article about Dr. Oz getting grilled by the senate. There's also one on Fox News. When CNN and Fox News agree with each other, you know there's a huge problem.

Update: Dr. Oz got eviscerated by comedian John Oliver. This should be required watching. I'm putting it at the top of the article, so you can set it up while you read:

Let me recap what's going on for those who don't want to click over to read the articles.

Senator Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance is looking at false advertising for weight-loss products. The committee found that there is a "Dr. Oz Effect" that when he mentions a supplement being healthy online scammers jump on it and illegally promote the supplement with claims that have little or zero credible scientific evidence behind them.

McCaskill went straight at Dr. Oz, "The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles'... I don't get why you need to say this stuff when you know it's not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show? ... With power comes a great deal of responsibility."

I added a emphasis on an important part.

His response is that he passionately believes in these products and would recommend them to his family. In psychological terms, I think this line of thinking would be called cognitive dissonance. I describe cognitive dissonance as creating your reality to settle inner conflict. The Wikipedia page gives an example where the snake oil salesman will believe in his products, because he has to. If he doesn't he has to confront the possibility that he's simply a bad person defrauding people out of their money. Few people are comfortable with thinking of themselves in that way.

Dr. Oz painted himself as a victim, saying that it isn't his fault that the scammers use his words and image to promote the products. He goes further to say that he hasn't endorsed the products or receive money from them. In fact, I wrote years ago how Oprah and Dr. Oz sued MonaVie, because their distributors were taking Oz's words about the acai berry and using it to promote the juice.

Specifically Dr. Oz admitted that he used "flowery" language which was "not helpful but incendiary providing fodder for unscrupulous advertisers."

Playing the victim is a good plan, but it isn't altogether accurate. Clips of the Dr. Oz show have him saying that he has "the #1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat." This goes beyond "flowery" language in my book.

As Sen. Claire McCaskill responded, "I know you feel that you’re a victim. If you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized as frequently."

He also said, "I concede to my colleagues at the FTC that I am making their job more difficult."

Pressed further on the topic, he admitted that his show is about providing hope:

"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 in alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them."

This is really the problem. There are millions of studies done on millions of products... and many of them have conflicting results. This NY Times article explains it well. If you only show the results that bring hope, you aren't giving an accurate view of the science.

The old "selling hope" is a trademark of scammers. Forbes has an article on MLM scammer Orrin Woodward saying that he's selling hope. Yes it's the same Orrin Woodward that I busted not once, but twice.

I have no problem with providing people with hope, just don't use it to sell snake oil and pyramid schemes that harm consumers. Isn't that reasonable enough for me to ask?

I think Dr. Manny Alverez in that Fox News article put it best:

"Dr. Oz’s predicament is quite understandable. He wants to be a doctor, but at the same time, he wants to be a talk show host and entertain people.

But the truth of the matter is that sometimes, medical information is boring. And over the years, I’m sure that mounting pressures from his producers to increase ratings have transformed Dr. Oz into less of an educator, and more of an entertainer.

...

Yet throughout the years, he has forgotten what made him a great doctor: truthful medical information.

Over time on his show, he’s included fewer genuine medical professionals, who spend countless days healing the most detrimental medical conditions in this country. Instead, he replaced them with snake oil salespeople – vitamin gurus, nutritional experts, beauty consultants and more – and all of this razzle dazzle has ultimately led to Congress’ stern criticism.

Dr. Oz knows perfectly well that there’s no miracle pill for anything. He knows perfectly well that the only miracle 'pill' for weight loss is modifying one’s lifestyle habits, whether it’s through diet, exercise or meditation. And to his credit, Dr. Oz does talk about taking these measures. But as I said before, he has to entertain and create sensationalism in his show in order to compete in the same timeslot as Judge Judy, a very tough hour for daytime TV."

I want to finish up with one more thing that was mentioned in this CNN video:

The end of the video makes note that the government simply doesn't have the funding to go after all the scammers who pop-up. You may have heard this before, but we have a big deficit issue here in the United States. It's up to us to protect ourselves from these scams.

How do you do that? You have to develop critical thinking skills. You have to know that Dr. Oz is an entertainer and as part of that he has to give the audience what they are looking for, hope that there's a quick fix... even if it doesn't exist.

Some might say that this isn't a scam. However, I've seen "scam" defined in many places (such as Wikipedia) as a "confidence trick."

When multiple people cite that the medical profession doesn't back him up and that he knows better and his response is that he's a cheerleader instead of taking responsibility as a doctor... well... I call that a "confidence trick."

Update: I usually don't update an article on the same day, but I'll make an exception this time for further reading. This is far from the first time that Dr. Oz has been called out for promoting quackery.

More than three years ago he was called out by Science Based Medicine for promoting Joseph Mercola, known for supporting quackery himself.

Some 15 months ago, the New Yorker asked if he's "doing more harm than good".

Just last month, the Slate slammed Dr. Oz for the irony of him attacking scammers for using his name to sell questionable products. The article cited about a half dozen articles of cases where Dr. Oz himself selling questionable products. In particular that article referenced an earlier Slate article that covered many of his claims in detail.

It seems like everyone knows that Dr. Oz is a scammer himself except for the most important people... his audience.

Update 2: Canadian researchers have reviewed the claims on the Dr. Oz show and the results aren't pretty in the LA Times' words. In particular the article wrote that based on the research: "Only one-third of claims made on 'The Dr. Oz Show' can be backed by medical evidence" and "11% of the recommendations made by Dr. Oz or his guests contradict medical facts." This leads to a conclusion of "Viewers of 'The Dr. Oz Show' should be skeptical about advice given on the program."

Last updated on December 20, 2014.

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6 Responses to “Let’s Discuss the Dr. Oz Scam”

  1. Money Beagle says:

    I’ve been following it a little bit. I’ve never cared for Dr. Oz all that much. He always seemed to be a bit too preachy and over the top. I think after Oprah ended her show, they hoped that Dr. Oz would kind of be the heir to the throne….my local station even put Dr. Oz in her old spot, but I don’t think it’s quite worked out. Oprah, at least, put her influence behind real products, where Dr. Oz seems to try to put his influence by ideas, which obviously now others try to jump in and exploit with ‘fake’ products.

  2. Vogel says:

    Yep, “but I’m selling hope” is the same defense every snakeoil con artist uses when their scams have been exposed. It’s sickening. The damage that people like Oz inflict is bad enough; the abject refusal to accept responsibility and play the victim card adds insult to injury. Oz is a victim of his own greed and irresponsibility.

    And what’s up with his statement “my colleagues at the FTC”? They are not his colleagues; they are the people tasked with bringing miscreants like him to justice.

  3. I do not trust Dr. Oz. he is always making claims for new products. I am sure he gets a cut from most of them, no matter what he says.

  4. Kerrie Peacock says:

    My mother watches Dr Oz and is always calling me about some new miracle he is selling. It’s just ridiculous, everything he “tells” you about is a miracle. It’s him selling products and who knows if they are actually good for you.

  5. Vogel says:

    John Oliver just killed it with this segment on Oz and the supplement industry. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone on TV get into the issues in this much detail; and to do it with such wit and humor is amazing. Everyone should watch this.
    http://www.vox.com/2014/6/23/5834160/watch-john-oliver-pull-back-the-curtain-on-dr-oz-and-the-fda?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_name=staff&utm_campaign=ezraklein&utm_content=monday

  6. […] have written articles about this, but I found John Oliver’s video take especially good because he uses […]

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