Editor’s Desk

Columbia Sticks By Its Wizard, Oz

Frank Diamond
Managing Editor

Mehmet Oz, MD

In the land of Oz, you can take a pill that makes you lose weight. In the land of Oz, endive, red onion, and sea bass decrease the likelihood of ovarian cancer by 75%. In the land of Oz, acupuncture can help patients stop smoking, lose weight, and even avoid colds.

Mehmet Oz, MD, a national talk show host started his career as one of the best heart transplant surgeons in the world, practicing at Columbia and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Now, he’s under fire for allegedly peddling quackery. Ten physicians wrote to Columbia on Wednesday demanding that the school cut ties with the celebrity doctor who, they wrote, “has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”  

Oz’s long relationship with Columbia includes launching the Cardiovascular Institute and Integrative Medicine Program, and serving as vice-chairman of the surgery department. It is a deep bond that the hospital intends to maintain, as it made clear in this response to the physicians, saying that, “Columbia is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members’ freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion.”

Oz has been a brand for years now. He’s immensely photogenic and articulate. Oprah Winfrey fell in love with him. Soon, so did the rest of America. He has his own syndicated TV show. But that’s where the problems begin.

A New Yorker profile a couple years ago (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/02/04/the-operator) reported that, “Much of the advice Oz offers is sensible, and is rooted solidly in scientific literature. That is why the rest of what he does is so hard to understand.”

A study in the BMJ last December seemed to understand, making headlines that half of what Oz recommends on his show is baseless and/or wrong. “For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%.... Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed. The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

Perhaps so should Columbia.