Dr. Steven Novella vs. Dr. Oz

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t care for Mehmet Oz. And it’s not just because the beliefs he espouses are so wacky he feels he needs to always be seen in his medical scrubs to convince people that he is a legitimate doctor. No, it’s because of the actual beliefs he espouses and the harm it does to those who follow his crackpot advice.

Now don’t get me wrong. He is a real doctor. He’s a heart surgeon, and from what I understand, a very good one. The problem is that despite his expertise in one very specific area of medicine, he insists on speaking out of school by talking about all manner of medical treatments, real as well as bogus, playing off of people’s ignorance about medical specialization. People generally think any medical doctor is some form of general practitioner who knows everything about medicine when more often than not, they just know a lot about one area of medicine. A cardiac surgeon may know an awful lot about the heart but there’s no reason to assume they significantly more about the foot than the average laymen.

But why I’m talking about Mehmet Oz now is because my skeptical mentor Dr. Steven Novella was invited onto Oz’s show to argue a more science-based point of view on bogus–err, I mean”alternative” “medicine”:

Surprisingly, according to Novella, the piece wasn’t that poorly edited against him. Unfortunately, the format in which the show was structured was heavily weighted against him. As can be seen from the clip, the show was framed around the highly biased idea that doctors who don’t share Oz’s particular brand of faith are “afraid” of discussing it when obviously Novella talks about it almost every day on his podcast and many blogs. Also, Oz always got the final word on each topic and Novella wasn’t given a real chance to rebut those rather large claims. For instance, when discussing acupuncture, a promoter of the bullshit treatment was given the platform to insist it was backed by copious research after Novella said it wasn’t, and then Oz reiterated what she said as the final word on the topic without given Novella another chance to speak.

Suffice it to say, it was very clear why such shows make terrible venues for having real scientific debates about fringe medical claims. Though it was still great that Novella had the opportunity to speak before Oz’s audience and dispel a few myths about what Oz’s critics are saying.

Orac also wrote about this here.

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5 Responses to Dr. Steven Novella vs. Dr. Oz

  1. [...] Dr. Steven Novella vs. Dr. Oz [...]

  2. ingreenman says:

    I disagree with your notion that the show is a poor venue for scientific debate. To assume that the viewer becomes merely a follower of Dr. Oz’s prescription for life’s many medical problems is to assume that you can look into the viewer’s mind. In fact, because of Dr. Oz’s controversial approach towards the medical platform, discussions are being had about acupuncture. You may not necessary feel that Dr. Novella was treated with respect on the show. And while it is true that Dr. Novella was not given the last word, his appearance on the show led me to his blog. That alone is very powerful.

    The other issue I have with your commentary is to align acupuncture with “bullshit treatment”. While I agree with Dr. Novella that acupuncture, as we “currently” understand the research, directs us towards the conclusion that this treatment is no better than a placebo sugar pill, we cannot stop asking questions about the research itself. For example, are the sham needles in the double blind studies for acupuncture designed properly? How long does the benefits for the real treatment last for the patient vs. the placebo treatment? How is pain defined in the study for acupuncture? Is it a mere checklist on a questionnaire for patients to fill out or is there a numerically accountable diagnostic test for pain? As you can see, many more scientific studies can be done on acupuncture.

    To say that it is “bullshit” is to simply imply that we, the medical and healthcare establishment, should stop devoting resources to the study of these type of treatments. Science changes all the time, and the knowledge available today may not be the same as what may be available tomorrow.

    Providing a platform for Dr. Novella to speak on the Dr. Oz show is actually a fairly brave thing for the producers to do. Naturally, the Dr. Oz show has its own agenda, but again that doesn’t mean that his guest speakers do not pique the interest of the viewers.

    • mjr256 says:

      Don’t get me wrong. I agreed with Dr. Novella’s decision to go on the show for the very reason you said. It gave exposure to a more science-based viewpoint and to Dr. Novella’s writing specifically, which is excellent. If anyone was going to go on Oz’s show to argue the other side, Dr. Novella would have been my first choice. So I’m glad he did it and I’m glad it led you to his blog.

      I didn’t mean to imply I was assuming the audience blindly accepts everything Oz says, but I stand entirely behind the position that a biased forum where the entire subject is framed around the notion that those who disagree with the host are “afraid” of something and where the other side is misrepresented at every turn and not given enough time to adequately address criticisms, is not an ideal setting for scientific debate.

      If discussions are being had about acupuncture, they’re primarily in the form of public debates, not scientific ones as acupuncture is rarely taken seriously anymore in legitimate medical science. Now I understand if you’re not ready to give up on acupuncture entirely yet but given my knowledge of it, I still must maintain that referring to it as “bullshit treatment” is both accurate and fair. I also think the questions you ask have been sufficiently addressed in studies. I’ve compiled a number of scientific articles about it, including some from Dr. Novella, here: http://www.dangeroustalk.net/a-team/Acupuncture

      I didn’t mean to imply that the medical and healthcare establishment should stop devoting resources to the study of these type of treatments, but rather meant to say it say it straight out. I think we’ve adequately proven acupuncture is nothing more than an ancient superstition and researchers are wasting precious time, money, and energy continuing to study it. Further, by continuing to study this bogus treatment, they lend false legitimacy to a multi-billion dollar industry that charges people money for medical services not proven to actually work, which is reprehensible. Nobody doubts that science changes, but that doesn’t mean every proposition is equally valid. For instance, I wouldn’t recommend indefinitely studying whether or not the Earth is flat or not. If we had infinite researches, I’d be fine with the continued study of acupuncture. But since we don’t, continuing to study acupuncture is taking away from more legitimate research, squandering precious resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

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