Dr Oz Should Go, Say 10 Physicians in Letter to Columbia

April 17, 2015

Columbia University should fire faculty member, cardiothoracic surgeon, and TV personality Mehmet Oz, MD, because of conduct unbecoming of a medical school professor, 10 physicians say in a letter to the university.

The physicians cited his "disdain for science and for evidence based medicine," his "baseless opposition to genetically modified foods [GMOs]," and his promotion of "quack treatments" for financial gain.

"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 (vice chair) in the Department of Surgery," the physicians wrote.

"Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both," they wrote. "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."

The lead author of the letter is Henry I. Miller, MD, who was the medical reviewer at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first genetically engineered drugs evaluated by the agency. Dr Miller was " instrumental in the rapid licensing of human insulin and human growth hormone," according to his bio on the website of Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where he is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy. He also served as the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology Products.

Earlier this month, Slate published an article coauthored by Dr Miller that accused Dr Oz of irresponsibly trying to scare the public about genetically modified foods, including the "Arctic apple," designed not to brown.

In an email interview with Medscape Medical News, Dr Miller said that he had shared the letter to Columbia University with several journalists and editors he knows.

Dr Oz did not respond to a request for an interview. However, a post today on his Facebook page appears to rebut the letter.

"I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves," he wrote. "We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts. For example, I do not claim that GMO foods are dangerous, but believe that they should be labelled like they are in most countries around the world. I will address this on the show next week."

The letter to Columbia University was addressed to Lee Goldman, MD, dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine. A university spokesperson declined to grant an interview with Dr Goldman, saying that "the university doesn't comment about specific individuals."

The spokesperson also shared the university's reply to the letter from the 10 physicians, which read: "As I am sure you understand and appreciate, Columbia is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members' freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion."

Four Doctors Tied to Group Supporting Genetically Modified Food

At first glance, it's not clear what the 10 signatories to the letter have in common besides their convictions about Dr Oz. One is a colleague of Dr Miller's at the Hoover Institution — Scott Atlas, MD, its David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow.

Others have positions in academia as well, such as Joel Tepper, MD, a professor of cancer research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Two are emeritus professors — Jack Fisher, MD, at the University of California, San Diego; and Gordon Gill, MD, emeritus dean of translational medicine at the same institution. Still another signatory is Glenn Swogger Jr, MD, the retired director of the Will Menninger Center for Applied Behavorial Sciences at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas.

What's not readily apparent is that four physicians who signed the letter have ties to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a nonprofit educational and advocacy group that has defended genetically modified food. The letter lists one signatory, Gilbert Ross, MD, as the group's acting president and executive director. Dr Fisher is a current member of the board of trustees, while Dr Swogger and Dr Miller are former trustees.

Dr Miller told Medscape Medical News that the signatories do not share any organization affiliation.

"I am personally or professional acquainted with all of them," he wrote. "What they have in common is that they have a commitment to science and evidence-based medicine."

When it was later noted that several of the signatories are past and present ACSH officials, Dr Miller replied, "The only common thread is that they're smart docs." He noted that Dr Fisher was a professor of plastic surgery at his medical school.

Medscape Medical News asked Dr Miller if the letter's main bone of contention with Dr Oz is his stance on genetically modified food.

"It's the whole constellation of his fear-mongering (genetic engineering, arsenic in apple juice, Ebola virus becoming transmissible through the air, etc., etc.) and his recommendations of snake oil (garcinia extract, green coffee bean extract) and dangerous advice (discontinuing prescription drugs such as Plavix)," Dr Miller replied.

The Latest Public Rebuke

The physicians' letter to Columbia University is the latest public rebuke of the controversial Dr Oz.

In June 2014, he received a scolding from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in a hearing about ads for bogus diet products. McCaskill said Dr Oz bore responsibility for perpetuating fraud on his eponymous television show. "I don't get why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true," McCaskill said at the hearing. "When you call a product a miracle, and it's something you can buy and it's something that gives people false hope, I just don't understand why you need to go there."

Dr Oz replied that he "personally believe[s] in the items that I talk about on the show."

An article published online in the British Medical Journal in December 2014 found that of 80 randomly selected healthcare recommendations made on The Dr Oz Show, roughly half lacked believable evidence, or else the evidence contradicted them.

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