Apr 26 2011

A Skeptic in Oz

Cross-posted from Science-Based Medicine

I must say I was a bit shocked two weeks ago when I was contacted by a producer for The Dr. Oz Show inviting me on to discuss alternative medicine. We have been quite critical of Dr. Mehmet Oz over his promotion of dubious medical treatments and practitioners, and I wondered if they were aware of the extent of our criticism (they were, it turns out).

Despite the many cautions I received from friends and colleagues (along with support as well) – I am always willing to engage those with whom I disagree. I knew it was a risk going into a forum completely controlled by someone who does not appear to look kindly upon my point of view, but a risk worth taking. I could only hope I was given the opportunity to make my case (and that it would survive the editing process).

The Process

Of course, everyone was extremely friendly throughout the entire process, including Dr. Oz himself (of that I never had any doubt). The taping itself went reasonably well. I was given what seemed a good opportunity to make my points. However, Dr. Oz did reserve for himself the privilege of getting in the last word—including a rather long finale, to which I had no opportunity to respond. Fine—it’s his show, and I knew what I was getting into. It would have been classy for him to give an adversarial guest the last word, or at least an opportunity to respond, but I can’t say I expected it.

In the end I decided that I had survived the taping of the show and did fairly well. After watching the final version that aired I feel that the editing was fair. They allowed me to make my major points, and did not change anything significant about the discussion. Again, the real problem was that Dr. Oz controlled the framing of the discussion and made many fallacious points at the end that I was given no opportunity to respond to.

What are you afraid of?

But enough about the process—let’s get to the meat of our discussion. I knew that no matter what happened on the show, I would have the opportunity to give my unfettered analysis here at SBM—so here it is. I knew going in that the biggest challenge would be the way in which Dr. Oz framed the debate, and right at the beginning this was evident. The name of the segment was “Why your doctor is afraid of alternative health.”

David Gorski has already pointed out the obvious – we are not afraid of anything. Dr. Oz tried to make it seem as though doctors are afraid of the controversy, because it will result in professional criticism. He accused me (he spent a lot of time arguing against straw men of his own creation) of not wanting to discuss so-called alternative medicine, either professionally or with my patients.

Here is where being a skeptic who deals with a wide range of issues comes in handy. We get the same exact nonsense from believers in alien visitation, psychic phenomena, ghosts, or whatever – they naively and self-servingly assume that anyone who disagrees with them must be afraid of something. The reality is we are just interested in the truth. With respect to medicine, we want to do our professional due diligence to make sure that the treatments we recommend to our patients are based upon the best scientific evidence available. We take the dictum “first do no harm” very seriously – and the only way to be sure that you are not causing harm is to rely on objective, high-quality evidence. It is always about the scientific evidence. But proponents of modalities that are not backed by evidence, like Dr. Oz, desperately want to make the debate about something else. So they invent issues that don’t exist, such as being afraid.

It is also patently untrue that my colleagues and I don’t want to discuss alternative medicine. Quite the contrary: if anything, we are accused of discussing it too much. We spend a great deal of time acquiring expertise in a long list of sectarian and controversial treatments, so that we can discuss them with authority. I talk to my patients all the time about treatments considered “alternative” (if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a term we do not like because it encourages a false-dichotomy and is a distraction from the key question – whether it is safe and effective). They ask me questions, and I give them evidence-based answers, without judgment or fear.

I find that my patients greatly appreciate that I have taken the time to understand the research on such topics and can give them accurate, no-nonsense information they can use. This is essential for informed consent, which is part of medical ethics.

In short, we are not afraid of anything. We want there to be open debate and discussion. We want to shed as much light as possible on controversial and “alternative” methods, because we feel the public and individual patients will benefit from having all the information. SBM is largely dedicated to providing that information. Our criticism of Dr. Oz and others who promote such modalities is that they give the public partial or distorted information – often grossly so.

A recent example is an episode a few weeks ago in which Dr. Oz uncritically promoted homeopathy. He told his audience that the evidence shows that homeopathy works, even if the mechanism may be mysterious. He stated this as a non-controversial fact, which was very misleading. Every objective review of the clinical evidence demonstrates that homeopathic products do not work for any indication.

A Stent and a Statin

Another example of the dissemination of biased or partial information comes from the other guest appearing on that segment with me, Dr. Mimi Guarneri. Her schtick is that she is an interventional cardiologist who became disillusioned with mainstream medicine and was drawn to the focus on preventive measures in alternative medicine. This, of course, is complete fiction – nothing but marketing hype by promoters of dubious treatments.

On the show she summarized the mainstream approach to heart disease by saying that, as a conventional doctor, the only tools she had in front of her were a “stent and a statin.” This is nice alliteration, and I’m sure it plays well with her target demographic, but it is highly deceptive. Calling such a statement “unfair” is being charitable.

I pointed out during taping that science-based medicine has identified and actively promotes many modalities for preventing heart attacks, in addition to stenting blockages and using statin medication to lower blood cholesterol. These include diet for weight and cholesterol control, exercise, controlling diabetes, controlling high blood pressure, and using ‘blood thinners’ like aspirin.

I could have added that scientific studies are also looking into the role of chronic anti-inflammatory treatments (perhaps it is the anti-inflammatory effects and not the anti-platelet effects of aspirin that are most effective in preventing heart attacks). There are frequently published studies examining every aspect of diet to see which factors are most helpful. A diet with excess simple sugars may also be detrimental, although its exact contribution remains controversial. And just about every vitamin has been looked at for its preventive effects (which turn out to be modest, and high doses of vitamin E may actually increase heart disease risk). The benefits of stress reduction have been clearly established by scientific studies, and is also part of standard recommendations.

Modern medicine has examined every nook and cranny of heart disease prevention, and continues to do so as new ideas come to light. Where are the great innovations to cardiac disease prevention brought by so-called alternative medicine? They appear to be non-existent – except for dubious claims made for superstition-based treatments that were rejected long ago by science.

This is the kind of ideologically-driven misinformation that has earned Dr. Oz our criticism.

Heads I Win, Tails I Win – Now Stop Being so Dismissive

If there were any doubt where Dr. Oz is ideologically, he removed it during this episode. He clearly staked out the anti-scientific ground that most defenders of alternative medicine use to dismiss criticism of their claims. Make no mistake – at its heart the disagreement between defenders of science-based medicine and promoters of alternative medicine is an ideological struggle over the role of science in medicine. We have made our position at SBM clear (which also reflects the consensus opinion in the medical profession) – science is the best method for determining which medical interventions are safe and effective and which are not.

Promoters of alternative medicine only pay inconsistent lip-service to science, but the core of their philosophy is that science is optional. They rely upon the fact that to many non-scientists, the word “science” is sufficiently arcane that they can use the term to generate confusion.

What we mean by “science”, however, is simply rigorous methods of observation. Good science looks at all the evidence (rather than cherry picking only favorable evidence), controls for variables so we can identify what is actually working, uses blinded observations so as to minimize the effects of bias, and uses internally consistent logic.

So when promoters of alternative medicine claim that science is not always the best method to test their claims, which part are they willing to reject? Perhaps they want to dismiss inconvenient evidence, or use logical fallacies, or sloppy research methods, or just make things up as they go along.

Dr. Oz played this game during the show as well. He claimed that for many “alternative” modalities there is scientific evidence to back them up. But he focused on herbal therapy to make his point. This a bit of the bait and switch (and why the false category of “alternative medicine” is counterproductive). Herbal remedies are not really alternative – they have been part of scientific medicine for decades, if not centuries. There is even a research specialty focusing on pharmacognosy – or using natural sources for drug development. Herbs are drugs, and they can be studied as drugs. My problem is with the regulation and marketing of specific herbal products, because they often make claims that are not backed by evidence.

But there is no a priori reason to think that any particular herbal drug will or will not be safe and effective. It just needs to be properly studied.

For modalities where there is some evidence of efficacy, Dr. Oz is all in favor of science. But when the discussion turned to acupuncture, where the evidence is largely negative, Dr. Oz suddenly characterized reliance on “Western” science (another false dichotomy) as arrogant and dismissive. Western science, he argued, cannot wrap its collective head around something as Eastern and mysterious as acupuncture (although he recoiled when I characterized this approach as mysticism – again, he seems to want to have it both ways).

This is a clearly anti-scientific attitude. When studies are positive, science is great. When studies are negative, Western science cannot fathom alternative medicine and relying on research is “arrogant.” Heads I win, tails I win.

Never mind that much of the acupuncture research is designed in cooperation with, and executed by acupuncturists. They signed off on the research and certainly would have claimed support if the studies turned out positive. In fact, they’ve even tried to claim, as ‘positive,’ studies that were completely negative – another example of deception in the world of alternative medicine.

I wish I’d had the opportunity to ask Dr. Oz exactly what is it about “Western” science that makes it incapable of detecting any real physiological effect from acupuncture or a similar method. This is the same intellectual failing as claiming that Bigfoot can turn invisible at will, to explain why there are no good pictures of him. Or that psychic powers do not function in the presence of skeptics.

This is a logical fallacy (special pleading) with which we are very familiar. Ironically, it is a very dismissive attitude – the casual dismissal of scientific evidence simply because it contradicts a pet belief. The scientific approach, of course, is to look fairly at all the evidence – a process that Dr. Oz unfairly characterized as “dismissive.”


In the end I am glad for the opportunity to expose science-based medicine to a wider audience. Despite the accusation that we are “afraid” of alternative medicine, we are anxious to address it head on. Honest and open intellectual discourse is the way to work out such differences of opinion and approach, and we are confident in our ability to defend science-based medicine.

I wonder if Dr. Oz is as confident. I was happy to go into his forum, where he and his producers controlled the conversation. In return I invite Dr. Oz to continue our discussion, either in written form here at SBM or on my podcast, the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. We have interviewed those on the “other side” before, and have given them essentially an unedited forum to express their opinions and answer questions. I passed this offer to Dr. Oz through his producer (but I don’t know if he actually received the invite, and I was not given the chance to make it directly during the taping of the show).

So I repeat the offer here in public. There is a lot to hash out about so-called alternative medicine and the role of science in medicine. Let’s continue the discussion, on SBM or the SGU – you have an open offer, Dr. Oz, and you obviously know how to contact me.

58 responses so far

58 Responses to “A Skeptic in Oz”

  1. MorsDeion 26 Apr 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Can the video be found on the internet somewhere? I don’t own a television… :\

  2. Sc00teron 26 Apr 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Quick and dirty webcam video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDrUEazNdAo

  3. vbalberton 26 Apr 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I saw this and frankly I felt that a) it wasn’t long enough and b) he addressed very little of what you said, just passing it off and moving on to some other alt-med BS. I say you won but your opinion was buried under a mound of BS that would have been difficult for anybody to dig out from under.

  4. saraXedon 26 Apr 2011 at 7:03 pm

    My favorite part was when Dr Oz said that there were many studies which now look favorably upon alternative medicine.. then cut to a woman in the audience saying “yes, we have a website with studies that say this” and that was that.

    Also, the clips of pills being poured into a patient’s hands after the “your doctor’s take” clips were shown.. very subtle.

    I thought you did a great job, and obviously wish you’d been allowed to speak more!

  5. PabloHoneyon 26 Apr 2011 at 7:32 pm

    To the moderator, some of my comment got whacked because of the characters I used. Here’s a better version:

    Here’s my summary…
    Dr. Novella: Says something completely reasonable that makes perfect sense
    The Great and Powerful Oz: Slips behind his curtain, ignores Dr. Novella’s comments and spews out a fresh batch of BS.

    …rinse and repeat for 15 minutes or until the guests on your show become soft and manageable.

  6. tlegoweron 26 Apr 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I’m working on a paper for my grad school public relations class and wanted to focus on the skeptic movement. I was planning on looking at the public relations approach of anti-vaccine groups compared to skeptical approach. However, this blog posting made me think that I might want to widen my topic a bit or shift the focus to comparing the pr approach of Science-based Medicine Vs “Alternative” Medicine. Thank you for posting this and giving me a new insight on my paper.

    If you have any other advice, information, insight or other blog posts related to this it would be greatly appreciated.

    Hopefully this paper will help me with my eventual thesis on the skeptic movements public relations/communications.

  7. Happy Camperon 26 Apr 2011 at 8:09 pm

    From the little I was able to watch you were a class act. I hope you were able to make an offer to the other guests to engage in the discussion here and at SBM.


  8. robmon 26 Apr 2011 at 8:37 pm

    my favorite part was when dr oz accused you of not reading the acupuncture research when you had just said so 30 seconds earlier.

  9. delaneypaon 26 Apr 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Nice work, Steve. If nothing else, the Oz audience now knows that there is a “reality-based” practice of medicine. You opened a door they probably didn’t even know about.

  10. ozzy1248on 26 Apr 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Excellent interview Dr. Novella. Even in the short time they gave you. It is unfortunate that every logical talking point you hit had to be hand-waved away as “dismissive”.
    I really hope Dr. Oz takes you up on your offer to appear on the SGU.

  11. badengineeron 26 Apr 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Great job, Steve. It is difficult to enter such an arena and make any difference, but I think at the very least you might have swayed some people to talk to their doctors about the alternative stuff. Oz is too invested to acknowledge any facts, which is too bad, but maybe you started a wedge in there someplace.

  12. Greglemon 26 Apr 2011 at 9:20 pm

    This show went much better than I thought it would. Sure Oz did not respond to Steve’s points, but what really struck me is apparently the Skeptic community is starting to make waves.

    Steve you did great, your responses were measured and you were respectful.

    I think continuing on the same course, pointing out reality is going to win eventually. For instance I recall Oz saying there wewr positive NIH CAM studies. Perhaps a SGU episode specifically on what OZ referenced and the truth about it would lead some who are on the fence to see the fallacies.

    Steve glad I saw you at NECESS and can’t wait for TAM

  13. Jimon 26 Apr 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I just registered to say that, even with the editing, you did a great job Steve. Oz just had a narrative and he was sticking with it regardless of the points you made. I really hope he decides to come on the SGU. If there’s anyone can get though to these people, it’s you.

  14. Cayon 26 Apr 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Obviously, if Steve had been wearing scrubs he would have been taken more seriously.

    I fear our world in entering into a new Dark Ages.

  15. BenAlberton 26 Apr 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Just wanted to pipe up and say good on you Steve. Your bravery, confidence and clear thinking are a wonderful example to us all.

  16. Cayon 26 Apr 2011 at 10:56 pm

    What an insulting jerk.

    I am just sick about how he is misleading his viewers and insulting rationality.

  17. Cayon 26 Apr 2011 at 11:10 pm

    My last comment. Wow, this made me angry.

    Even though Oz was idiotic and reset the debate constantly, Steve’s rational positions were clear. They did not make him an unsympathetic character and that is the best we can hope for.

  18. hypertrouton 26 Apr 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Thank you Dr. Novella.
    For being and for doing.

  19. Janelon 26 Apr 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Bravo, Mr. Novella! You have my utmost respect.

    It made me rather tense how blatantly manipulative Dr. Oz was with his rebuts; he provides his audience with too much false information to allow them to continue living in their little dream world of “alternative medicine.”

    If a teenager like me can see the logic in Novella’s arguments, why can’t the guy with the PhD do it? Just pathetic. Thanks for taking the chance, and trying to reach out to those dragged in by this phenomenon.

  20. Jeremiahon 26 Apr 2011 at 11:47 pm

    If you can get Oz to publicly confirm that he really was and is the idiot that heretofore was thought to be a pose for the audience effect, then that’s even better than trying to tell an audience what it didn’t come there to hear, or tune in to want to hear..

  21. PhoenixSkepticon 27 Apr 2011 at 1:07 am

    Good job Steve!
    I had a chance to watch posted links of the broadcast before it aired here in Phoenix then again at the normally scheduled time.
    The segment after yours featured the lady in the audience with the web site and her ratings of natural supplements. Talk about a mish-mash of confusing crap. She used the argument from popularity/antiquity to infer efficacy, and the argument from popularity/antiquity to infer safety. In between, she gave three products her sites ratings based on a lot of sciencey sounding terminology. I have yet to go to her site to look at the studies she referred to, but from the sound of her mumbo jumbo, it doesn’t sound like I’m going to be impressed.

  22. NStormon 27 Apr 2011 at 2:53 am

    I thought the interview was kind of strange in the following way. He went to a lot of trouble to frame up the whole segment as this battle between regular and alternative med. and granted there is a whole heck of a lot to battle about. What was interesting is that every point he seemed to make wasn’t what many doctors actually are saying. (The strawmen were everywhere) So while there is many legitimate points of disagreement to be had, he wasted a lot of time focusing on things like massage or meditation which western doctors have no problem with. There is a weird kind of grouping mentality with alt med apologists. They continually try to lump it altogether and get you to admit you hate it all, which makes western doctors seem like idiots when in reality each modality has to be taken on a case by case basis. Lumping all herbs together is just silly. I would have like to have seen Steve bring up the really ridiculous things being practiced in alt med such as Therapeutic Touch or other modalities that have come and gone as examples of where alt. med fell down on its face and that even alt med people don’t use anymore. These kinds of historical examples help to illustrate how blindly accepting everything that gets practiced under the group category is dangerous to consumers. I always try to mention the Movie “Road to Wellville” as a great movie to give people something entertaining to watch that makes a good point. Another great tactic is just to ask your own leading questions with your own framing such as “Dr Oz do you think that in large alternative medicine facilities that at least some of the practices used there are questionable, and that to group them all together under one title of alt med is harming the ones that might actually work? How would you propose separating out the snake oil from the things that really help people? Unless you are saying that it all works, and no one is dishonest in the field of alt med?”

  23. Dave McGinnon 27 Apr 2011 at 5:10 am

    Well done Steve. I wouldn’t feel too frustrated about it. People who watch Dr Oz’s show are unlikely to be neutrals or undecideds; they’re true believers in all this stuff. Therefore you shouldn’t think of it as though you would have been able to put your points across better if Oz had given you more time, etc., as though it were a real debate. The fact that you even got 5 minutes to talk is great, and will hopefully plant a seed in some of his viewers’ minds. Hopefully a percentage of those goes onto the SBM blog and moves a bit further away from the darkness.

    You were very concise and articulate, I can’t think of anyone who would have done a better job tbh !

  24. BillyJoe7on 27 Apr 2011 at 6:33 am

    The interview went really well, which surprised me somewhat

    I’m talking about the interviewee of course.

    The interviewer, on the other hand, was totally incompetent. The mark of top class interviewer is impartiality. In that he scored zero.
    And how disrespectful for the interviewer to not only not be impartial but also to take up the last few minutes summarising his own case, such as it was, and give the interviewee no opportunity to do likewise.

    The result was about as good as could have been hoped for, and I think that any impartial viewer couldn’t help but be impressed by how the interviewee conducted himself and prosecuted his case.

    Steven, congratulations on your effort. 🙂

  25. drrichkon 27 Apr 2011 at 8:47 am

    Great job Dr. Novella! I particularly enjoyed identifying all the logical fallacies used by Dr. Oz. I actually identified the argumentum ad populum fallacy before he even finished his sentence about the widespread use of acupuncture. That one is usually easy to spot though.

  26. TheDawgLiveson 27 Apr 2011 at 9:21 am

    I wonder if Dr. Oz would be brave enough to be a guest on SGU. You certainly out class him.

  27. Rikki-Tikki-Tavion 27 Apr 2011 at 9:37 am


    I think on the whole you got the point over pretty well, but there is one thing that upset me a little:

    Did you actually nod slightly during Dr. Oz’ closing argument, or have they edited that shot in from another topic? At that point you could have known he was going somewhere horribly wrong, and at least put on a questioning look. The way it is, it seems like you agree with his point that patients should just do what “feels good” to them.
    But then again, it’s hard to control all of your body movements all the time and I couldn’t have done it either.

    Whenever you talked I thought you came over as very convincing. Good job!

  28. Ufoon 27 Apr 2011 at 10:13 am

    Thanks for the vid Scooter.

    Excellent job Steve, the biggest problem was that they didn’t let you talk enough and always moved on when it was time for a reply. I hope there’s more TV appearances for you in the future. Keep up the good work!


  29. Jim Shaveron 27 Apr 2011 at 10:34 am

    Dr. Novella:

    I echo the positive comments above and congratulate you on going into the lion’s den to stand up for scientific medicine. In the interview as it was aired, you were given insufficient time to fully respond to Oz’s and Guarneri’s pathetically weak arguments and unprofessionally sloppy medical advice, a rapid-fire format which is blatently unfair and confusing to the casual viewer by design. But you responded thoughtfully and did not play into their desire to portray you as something other than objective and rational.

    Did you get through to Oz in any meaningful way? Not a chance! But did you give some fraction of his audience reason to perhaps question his advice? Undoubtedly.

  30. Squilloon 27 Apr 2011 at 10:34 am

    Haven’t seen the show yet, but dropping in to add my bravos for taking this on and agreeing to meet on Oz’s turf.

    Don’t want to talk about alt-med? I’m just curious as to how you came to Oz’s attention? It couldn’t be through, oh…. your blogs or your talks.

    I hope he gets Edzard Ernst next and tells him how doctors are “afraid” to talk about alt-med.

  31. Draalon 27 Apr 2011 at 10:53 am

    Great job Steve!
    It wasn’t apparent there was excessive editing to slant your responses, rather it was the lack of response time, and Dr. Oz insisting on getting in the last word. Oh, and loved that he slipped in a plug for his Supplemental Health website. Greasy stuff.
    I’d say that more use of anecdotes would help out in such a public forum with that targeted audience.

  32. charles Englishon 27 Apr 2011 at 11:58 am

    I just want to say that I have been waiting for Dr. Oz’s website to post a clip (or clips) from your segment yesterday, and it has arrived. It is very disappointing though. I think you spoke ~ 3 words during the whole 4:39 clip.

    Que lastima, i suppose. Good job for appearing and fighting ‘the good fight’ for all of us out here! keep up the good work Steve

  33. jovanteon 27 Apr 2011 at 12:20 pm

    At my house, this silly show gets TiVo’ed. I was scrolling through the list and I saw that the subject of this episode was right up my ally. I thought, this should be easy enough to make fun of…I peed myself when I say who the guest was!


  34. Sc00teron 27 Apr 2011 at 12:37 pm

    High res version now available http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6kn-JJ2HiU

  35. ksverdlovon 27 Apr 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Know what – it’s the same problem with science discussion as with political discourse as with anything else worth talking about in this media culture. The attention span is unbelievably short, the media format their shows to cater to this, which ultimately allows for no deep exploration of topics and no subtlety in argument.

    In the end the point is to build straw men and to burn them down for the audience’s delight. Whatever salient argument Dr. Novella presented will be paved over by the time the next show airs and another member of the square, contemptuous science elite gets torn down. There’s no search for truth, nor an interest in doing so, just a desire to stroke one’s own ego and rally the faithful for fun and profit.

    I’m heartened that you still maintain a shred of faith in people’s ability to think rationally.

  36. miketheironon 27 Apr 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Was anyone else terrified when, in response to Steve’s point on exaggerated claims of relaxation and meditation (e.g to cure cancer), Dr Oz immediately responded by saying that maybe we could someday enlist our immune system to fight cancer? Tacitly endorsing such crazy claims as Steve was trying to counter.

    Rather than acknowledging a perfectly reasonable critique of the dangers of claims for which there is no evidence, he willingly muddied the waters and leaves doubt in his audience as to whether Steve’s concerns were valid… and to use (exploit) cancer as he did is particularly distasteful.

    I struggle sometimes to maintain my belief (hope) that such peddlers of snake oil are just themselves deluded, and aren’t the scumbags they so demonstrably appear to be 🙁

  37. smashleyon 27 Apr 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I’m going to be an optimist and say that at least every claim they made about alternative medicine came with qualifications: make sure it’s safe, don’t ignore your doctor’s advice, tell your doctor about everything you’re taking, alternative medicine should never be used as a way to “cure” cancer or heart disease, etc. I never watch Oz’s show in normal circumstances (if I did, I’d probably need some blood pressure treatment of my own) but it would be cool if they only got particularly qualification-happy because they needed to bolster their case for the skeptic. Either way, it’s not as bad as I had feared.

    I did happen to visit that Natural Standard website they kept mentioning. It’s a pay site. They don’t event mention how much it costs; you just fill out a ton of info about yourself and then a “sales representative” will contact you about pricing. I mean, I know that a lot of medical journals cost money, but 1) most journals are pretty transparent about their costs and will at least let you pay for single articles without subscribing and 2) Oz seemed to be saying that anyone could just stop by the site and read up on the latest natural therapy studies. Kinda misleading, and it once again sounds like the website mention was more of a ploy to make money than anything else.

  38. skeptical rdon 27 Apr 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you so much Dr. Novella! I lost a dear friend last year who experienced seizures related to her traumatic brain injury caused by a “hit & run” driver while riding her bike. I discovered a lot of over- the- counter herbal treatments in her medicine cabinet and often wonder if she stopped taking her seizure medications in place of the herbs which led to her life-ending grand mal seizure.

    Another friend admitted to taking a herbal supplement in lieu of her diabetes medication after we rushed her to the hospital when she was in a semi-comatose state. She would never press charges because the health food store salesman was “such a sweet man” in her own words. I often wonder how many cases like this go unreported?

    Also, our tax dollars go to fund research under NCCAM.
    We can only hope that the research will prove effective in over half of NCCAM-Funded Research.

  39. Sintesion 27 Apr 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Bravo Steve. Could not have done a better job considering the format and time constraints. It would be wonderful to have you and Dr. Oz (or Andrew Weil or Deepak Chopra) on a stage somewhere engaged in a lengthy moderated discussion followed by audience questions. We have these things between evolutionists and creationists all the time to much success I think it’s high time the science-based vs.”alternative” medicine debate had an elevated profile.

  40. PScotton 27 Apr 2011 at 9:33 pm

    I don’t want to upset anyone, but I would like to offer an alternative approach to this: tune out.
    I am grateful for Dr. Novella, and his persistence and class and intelligence. I’m also grateful for this blog and the rpeeated posters who constantly push and educate me.

    I for one though, was happy to have never even heard of this talk show host prior to reading this blog.
    I consider myself culturally literate, well-educated, and admit to having some very base pop tastes, but not once since giving up TV back when I left home for college back in ’95 have I regretted the decision.
    This may seem to some people like I’m backing out of a fight, and letting the morons take the airwaves, but it has been a great way of freeing up time and head space in my life.
    Dr who? Oprah what?
    It is insanely liberating to walk past a magazine rack and not know who most of the people on the covers are.
    So, just offering another option, Folks. It may not seem like a big deal, those shows grabbed here and there, but those moments add up, and until some anti-aging concoction comes out, life is far too short for me to be plugged into this sort of inanity.

    If you had a time machine, and could go to any point in history, would you get out of the pod, and watch television? No, because there are way too many more interesting things to discover.
    That’s how I feel about life right now.

  41. ksverdlovon 27 Apr 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Rikki-Tikki, I thought that nod was more of an “I’ve heard this BS before” nod than a “oh yeah, you’re totally right, Doc” nod

  42. rafalon 28 Apr 2011 at 1:09 am

    Wow, I’m very impressed with your efficiency. In a few short replies, you’ve been able to both address his questions effectively and even add extra insight. It’s impressive how it felt as almost an equal exchange considering how much less time you had (and of course with him having the final word on every exchange).

    The only possible suggestion for the future, is to consider how your frequent nodding may be misinterpreted as agreement.

  43. UKnow4Kidson 28 Apr 2011 at 4:59 am

    Great work, Steve, and thanks for taking this on. I’m sure having to give true believers the last word and to let Oz chew the scenery like that was painful. Not as painful as the facepalming I did watching Oz run around in scrubs for half an hour where there wasn’t a chance he’d be anywhere near a scrub-necessary situation, but still….

  44. BillyJoe7on 28 Apr 2011 at 6:33 am


    Your head in the sand attitude has been tried before and failed.
    If nonsense isn’t opposed by intelligent people, it becomes commonsense for the public.
    You don’t want to live in such a world.
    So, people like Dr. Novella are doing all the hard work while you reap the benefits. At least show some appreciation.

  45. PScotton 28 Apr 2011 at 5:27 pm

    “I am grateful for Dr. Novella, and his persistence and class and intelligence. I’m also grateful for this blog and the rpeeated posters who constantly push and educate me.”

    Next time I’ll use crayons.

  46. thequixoticmanon 29 Apr 2011 at 1:30 am

    I just watched the interview via the intertubes, I don’t know how the segments were cut up on TV, I thought online they were cut in a really clearly biased way. Each segment ends with Oz asking Steve a question. You need to go over to the next segment so that you can actually get an answer from Steve. This has the effect of 1 – making it so that people uninterested in using the awful UI on the Dr. Oz site not hear an answer. And 2 – create a disconnect between the backing up of the woo from the cardiologist/question from Oz and Steve’s well reasoned response.

    All that said, I thought that Steve shined in the moments where he was allowed to speak. I’ve debated in front of a hostile audience before, I think one of the most important things in those situations is to show that you are not some monster who is just trying to destroy what people love and I think that, at the very least, Steve showed a kind face of Skepticism. Critical? Of course, all science is critical. But not cruel or dismissive, no matter how Oz wanted to frame the conversation.

  47. Rikki-Tikki-Tavion 29 Apr 2011 at 8:01 am


    No matter how it was meant, you have to consider how it looks to an unsceptic viewer. I think Steve should have nodded a lot less and looked a lot more questioning. Again: He was brilliant when he talked, but my nodding he made way for the interpretation, that Dr. Oz convinced him, or that Dr. Oz’ statements seemed agreeable to him.

    As thequixoticman said, he shouldn’t have been too hostile, but a bit less nodding would have better warranted the title of this blog post. 😉

  48. ccbowerson 29 Apr 2011 at 10:41 am

    “I think Steve should have nodded a lot less and looked a lot more questioning.”

    I have a hard time really criticizing Steve on this, although I agree with your comment somewhat. It is a fine line, because if he looked more questioning he would looked perfectly like the “dismissive skeptic” image that Mr Oz was trying to paint.

    On the other hand excessive nodding made it seem like Steve was being told things that he never thought of (and therefore could have given the impression that he is less informed on the topic than he really is). The problem is that the audience does not know that Steve is very knowledgeable about “alternative” medicine, and qualifies in my book as an “expert” on the subject.

    There really wasn’t a great way to respond body language-wise because most of the nodding occurred when Steve had no chance to respond.

  49. ChrisHon 29 Apr 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I suspect some of the editing focused on the nodding, one would have to see the unedited version to put it into more context.

  50. BillyJoe7on 29 Apr 2011 at 5:21 pm


    “Next time I’ll use crayons.”

    Considering the self-contradictory nature of your earlier post, I suggest you actually put them away. 😉

    My point, though, is that you cannot afford to ignore people like Dr Oz. History tells us this is an error. They don’t go away and their influence grows and effects society as a whole and everyone in it – including you. Tuning out is not really a sensible option.

  51. Jeremiahon 29 Apr 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Ouch, I just posted the following under the wrong post! I’ll try again:

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that not watching television at all because of its bad programs, is a bit like not reading good books at all because so many bad books are out there.

  52. BillyJoe7on 30 Apr 2011 at 4:22 am


    In Australia, the ABC has a lot of shows worth watching. In fact, my problem is finding the time to watch them all. I watch the commercial stations only for the football.

  53. Doctor Evidenceon 01 May 2011 at 1:16 pm

    super job Dr. Novella.

  54. soxmoeon 02 May 2011 at 1:37 am

    Great job Dr.Novella! You were definitely in “The Lion’s Den.” I would love to see a televised debate where you and Dr.Crislip could really get this guy in a corner! I’m sick of this airy fairy mystical garbage!

  55. PAPERSONon 02 May 2011 at 9:09 am

    First of all, herbal medicine IS alternative medicine and Dr. Oz doesn’t push one over another type of medicine… he combines both. AFter all, he still puts stents in people.

    Well rounded medicine is the best avenue for him… well rounded in the fact that all types are used for the goal of healing.

    Most of the curing process is what the patient believes in … mind over matter. Positive thinking also has been proven in cancer patients.

    Dr. Oz is a brilliant person with another college degree besides medicine. Other doctors are just envious…. the sour grapes syndrome.

  56. titmouseon 02 May 2011 at 12:06 pm

    First of all, herbal medicine IS alternative medicine…

    Pharmacognosy or the study of herbs has been a part of “Western” medicine for a very long time.


    Dr. Oz doesn’t push one over another type of medicine… he combines both. AFter all, he still puts stents in people.

    So if an “alternative” treatment is practiced by a “Western” MD, how is it actually “alternative”? What is the rule that defines what is “Western” and what is “alternative”?

  57. PAPERSONon 02 May 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Western are pill pushers… prescription drugs to promote the pharmaceutical industry with synthetic drugs. Free samples are given to doctors constantly to push the products.

  58. garnercxon 03 May 2011 at 11:55 pm

    I always thought the expression was “Heads I win, tails you lose”?

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