Dr Oz Blasts Writers of 'Brazen Letter' Calling for Ouster

April 23, 2015

On his television show today, Mehmet Oz, MD, accused some of the 10 physicians seeking his ouster from Columbia University of being hired guns of Big Business who oppose his call to label genetically modified food.

Dr Oz also asserted his First Amendment rights in the face of what he called "public shaming and bullying." The 10 physicians wrote a letter to Columbia University saying that Dr Oz did not belong on its medical school faculty and then shared it with the press.

"Freedom of speech is the most fundamental right," he said. "These 10 doctors are trying to silence that right. We will not be silenced."

While he was dealing with the 10 letter writers, none of whom work at Columbia University, eight members of the faculty there published an op-ed piece today in USA Today saying that Dr Oz's "unsubstantiated" medical advice on his eponymous television show "sullies the reputation of Columbia University." However, they did not call for his resignation, and praised his track record at the school.

Dr Oz is a professor of surgery at Columbia University and vice chair of his department.

When Medscape Medical News requested an interview with Dr Oz about the USA Today article, a spokesperson said he was unavailable, and pointed to an article by the physician that Time Magazine published today, and the first paragraph in particular.

"I don't expect all of my colleagues to understand this marriage between conventional medicine and the broader definition of wellness that the show pursues," wrote Dr Oz. "I expect and respect the criticism of colleagues who struggle with my approach and I try to improve the show accordingly."

For Dr Oz as well as his critics, there's been a lot to respond to lately. Earlier this month, Columbia University received the letter from the 10 physicians arguing that his "disdain" for evidence-based medicine, "baseless" opposition to genetically modified food, and promotion of "quack treatments" for financial gain disqualify him from working there. Columbia University in turn issued a statement defending academic freedom for its faculty.

As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, four of the 10 signatories to the letter are past and present officials of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), which opposes the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. It's also a position taken by the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which cite the lack of evidence for genetically modified food posing a health threat, and the possibility that labels could confuse the public.

Some leaders in public health view the ACSH as a front group that, in return for corporate donations, whitewashes products and practices such as genetically modified agricultural seeds, glyphosate herbicide, fracking, and e-cigarettes, all of which the ACSH has supported. Today's episode of The Dr Oz Show reiterated those charges, which ACSH says aren't true.

A portion of the show billed as an investigative report also took aim at some of the individual signatories. It described one of them, Henry Miller, MD, as a key supporter of the tobacco industry in the 1990s who "helped write the guiding scientific principles of a group established to fight smoking restrictions."

Dr Miller, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a former member of the ACSH board of trustees, declined to comment on today's episode of The Dr Oz Show. However, he shared an article he wrote for the Daily Caller in 2012 in which he denied the accusations. "As a physician, I detest cigarettes and the carnage wrought by smoking," he wrote. "I have never worked directly or indirectly, with or without compensation, on behalf of the tobacco industry. And I certainly never knowingly lent my name or support to any activity that questioned the linkage between cigarettes and cancer."

The Dr Oz Show today also noted that another letter-signer, Gilbert Ross, MD, the executive and medical director of the ACSH, was convicted of Medicaid fraud in 1993 and served time in prison. The show did not mention, as reported by Medscape Medical News, that the state of New York eventually restored his medical license after concluding that he had rehabilitated himself. Dr Ross said yesterday that he now regrets signing the letter because "the mistake I made more than 20 years ago" diverts attention from the issue of Dr Oz.

Dr Oz Says He Reports Both Sides

Speaking to the camera, Dr Oz took offense at the "brazen letter" for calling him a quack. He said that even his harshest critics — the authors of a study published last year in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) — did not stoop that low. The study found that of 80 randomly selected healthcare recommendations made on The Dr Oz Show, roughly half lacked believable evidence, or else were contradicted by the evidence.

In a response to readers, the authors of the BMJ study wrote that they were "disappointed that the overwhelming commentary seems to be that our study proves that Dr Oz (and physicians on another television show) are quacks or charlatans or worse. Our data in no way supports these conclusions." Dr Oz quoted this statement on his show.

Dr Oz talked at length about genetically modified foods. He said that contrary to what the letter writers alleged, he does not categorically oppose genetically modified organism (GMO) products. "But just like 64 countries around the world, I support GMO labeling so you can decide on the foods for your family." He also said that he has reported both sides of the issue, interviewing the maker of the "Artic apple" that is genetically engineered not to brown, for example.

Dr Oz speculated that the 10 physicians urging Columbia University to fire him may have coordinated their letter with a bill before Congress that would prevent states from requiring that GMO foods be labeled.

No Comment on an ACSH Trustee Resigning

When asked to respond to Dr Oz's on-air discussion of the ACSH, the group responded with a written statement attributed to Dr Ross.

"Instead of addressing the primary concern — that he often dispenses questionable medical advice — Dr Oz has chosen to evade responsibility on this topic by once again changing the subject," said Dr Ross. "He's personally attacking his critics, while at the same time claiming they are trying to silence him.

"Let's be clear: No one is looking to deny Dr Oz his right to free speech. All the public deserves is that when he speaks [italics are his], he sticks to offering sound medical advice that helps his viewers, rather than causing them harm."

ACSH declined to comment on two developments for the group. Paul Offit, MD, listed on its website as serving on the board of trustees, told Medscape Medical News today that he is resigning because the group supports e-cigarettes. Dr Offit is a professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and an advisory board member and contributor to Medscape Infectious Diseases.

In addition, another prominent scientist told Medscape Medical News yesterday that he asked ACSH to remove a decade's-old endorsement of the group that is posted on the website. Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, said that he now objects to some of the group's positions.

By late afternoon today, the endorsement had disappeared from the ACSH website.


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