Columbia U sticks by academic freedom for Dr. Oz

Some doctors that were not from Columbia U asked the University why they put up with Dr. Oz. They were professionally told to buzz off.

A group of doctors just asked Columbia to reconsider Dr. Oz’s faculty appointment.

A group of doctors has had enough of Dr. Oz. On Wednesday, 10 physicians, surgeons, and professors from across the country signed a letter — addressed to Columbia’s dean of medicine — calling the medical school’s affiliation with its most famous employee “unacceptable”:

[…]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 in the Department of Surgery.

[…] Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgements about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both. 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 dean responded by noting academic freedom and to noting that faculty members’ have freedom of expression. So, that did nothing. Of course it didn’t. It’s happened time and time again where faculty members really disagree with the views of another, perhaps public faculty member. Note what happened with Dr. John Mack at Harvard (now deceased) who advocated that alien abductions were taking place. A secret committee formed to investigate his work and in the end found no ethics violation and reaffirmed academic freedom. These types of public stands by fellow faculty don’t fly. If a school disassociated with every prof with fringe ideas, there would be a lot less colorful professors.

  17 comments for “Columbia U sticks by academic freedom for Dr. Oz

  1. BobM
    April 16, 2015 at 9:39 PM

    There might be fewer colourful professors, but there is a difference between colourful and harmful. And like most of these doers of harm, he makes a lot of money from it. Makes me wish I’d started a religion – sigh.

  2. Bill T.
    April 16, 2015 at 11:59 PM

    Accademic freedom apparently includes allowing dissemination of questionable advice if the advisor is a celebrity?

  3. Woody
    April 17, 2015 at 5:46 AM

    Many things are true, many are false. If I required dangerous chest surgery I would be more than happy to allow Dr Oz to perform it, because he has proven his ample ability at that task.
    Like all sceptics I find little if anything else that I would give him trust with. When I hear psuedo-talk from him it pains me and I think he should be kept far from the medical field.

  4. Mr. B
    April 17, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    That the response is from the Chief Communications Officer instead of the faculty themselves is telling, in my opinion. He’s probably all PR; more concerned with the image of the university, and in that case will say anything positive.

  5. Andrew
    April 17, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    It may not be right to ask for his removal but, it is right that he be asked to stop pushing pseudo-science and snake oil peddling, as his show is leading to worse health outcomes and will lead to actual harm.

    It is one thing to express an opinion, it is another to push that opinion as fact, when infact it is solely baseless, and the agenda is one that appears singularly to be of a commercial nature.

    I do know as humans we have dichotomous nature but, as a medical person, Dr. Oz has been taught to do no harm and also as leader in his field, he must lead by using the scientific method, not woo that he is advocating now.

  6. John Welch
    April 17, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    But this isn’t like saying OMG ALIENS. This is a medical professional using his experience, titles and employer prestige to repeatedly and constantly push bullshit quackery. He’s saying things *in his field* that he knows (and has admitted) have no medical support.

    That’s not supported by academic freedom. He’s not disagreeing with his peers by presenting supported or even marginally supported hypothesis and evidence for them. He’s selling snake oil.

    (To be frank, the comment about Dr. Mack implies he was pushing the idea that alien abduction really happened, which doesn’t seem supported by anything. Even just limiting to Wikipedia, he wasn’t saying that. He seemed to view them more along the lines of other spiritual things such as vision quests, etc. Given the areas of psychiatry he studied the most, this is hardly some kind of radical or wild viewpoint to have.)

    If Dr. Oz were doing research into nutrition, you know, actual research into nutrition and was finding weight-loss therapies that were supported by actual research and evidence, then this would be no problem at all. It is his relentless shilling, his credulous advocacy for other quacks, and the rest of the nonsense from his show that causes the problem. As Sen. McCaskill said when she (properly) roasted him in front of her committee, maybe if he stopped saying such unsupported nonsense, he’d not be having these problems.

  7. Adam
    April 17, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    If this were the UK there would be a good chance that Oz would be struck off the medical register. And from that the college wouldn’t want to know him either, academic freedom or not. I’ve always wonder why the US is so lackadaisical about holding doctors to a high standard.

  8. April 17, 2015 at 10:09 AM

    The Senator and that committee was the appropriate way to address Oz’s antics, not booting him out of the university.

  9. April 17, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    Really? Are there examples of that?

  10. Adam
    April 17, 2015 at 12:11 PM

    Not direct equivalents since UK broadcast standards would probably stop Oz from being able to put out such a show in the first place.

    But many doctors have been struck off for bringing the practice into disrepute, conflicts of interest etc. The normal charges are things like incompetence, sexual impropriety etc. but it goes beyond that. For example this doctor was struck off for selling quack supplements that claimed to cure a bunch of serious illnesses.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1181020.stm

    The GMC has a heap of fairly broad rules to cover patient care, honesty, integrity and so forth that could be the basis of a complaint.

  11. April 17, 2015 at 12:54 PM

    I don’t agree he’s brought practice into dispute. I don’t think there is evidence he’s even hurt Columbia. I think (at least Columbia thinks) there is a clear difference between his role at the university and his role as a TV doctor. This is why I believe it’s dangerous to kick him out of the school. There may be unintended effects for others if this is a precedent.

    Orac has a post on why it’s more than just about the letter/university and why that was really not such a great idea. http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2015/04/17/americas-quack-dissected-yet-again/

  12. John Welch
    April 17, 2015 at 10:32 PM

    Even though he’s essentially committing medical fraud on his show?

    I mean, that’s what we’d call it if some other snake oil peddler was making the claims he makes. We’d call it fraud, medical fraud.

    Based on the things he’s said and pushed, at this point, I’d not let him near me or my family with a scalpel or even in the damned room. I’m unwilling to put my life in the hands of a doctor who has so thoroughly left any form of scientific thought behind, and no, I don’t think he can compartmentalize that well.

    This isn’t a disagreement about academic freedom. This is a licensed medical professional only avoiding real sanctions because no one has yet come to harm or died from his quackery. If we’re going to give Oz a bye, then why go after any other quack?

  13. John Welch
    April 17, 2015 at 10:35 PM

    Let me ask it another way:

    What’s the real difference between Oz pushing his Garcinia Cambogia-fueled quackery and a Ph.D in geology with tenure suddenly deciding that YEC is right and demanding to be allowed to teach that? Neither are supported by science or evidence.

  14. Adam
    April 18, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    By hawking various “miracle” weight loss supplements and other woo he might well have since the GMC has guidelines about acting with honest and integrity, with maintaining trust, etc. It’s a hypothetical of course since they don’t have power over him but I think he would have had a case to answer.

  15. April 18, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    If he is committing fraud (you’d have to prove that), that’s for the FTC to deal with. It does not have to do with his work at the university. Of course, anyone can extrapolate and use that against all his work. That’s not unfair. But I can understand why Columbia would not take any action against him. Sets a terrible precedence and CAN backfire on others in the long run.

  16. John Welch
    April 22, 2015 at 12:16 PM

    So then at what point does he leave the realm of “academic freedom” protection? It’s clearly not enough that he’s pushing scientifically and medically unsound weight loss pills and using both his title and position at columbia to lend weight to it.

    It’s not enough that half of what he says on his show is medically and scientifically wrong, even though he fully plays the “I’m a Famous Doctor, Listen To Me” schtick, again, making false claims *as a physician*.

    It’s also not enough that he lends credence to other forms of quackery like Mercola, Anti-Vaxxers, etc., again, via his title and his position at Columbia.

    So if a Doctor pushing nonsense is covered by academic freedom, exactly what would Oz have to do for Columbia to have to rescind that protection? Actually commit a crime? Actually have someone die from something he pushed that they took *solely* because A Famous Doctor pushed it?

    And if a Doctor pulling what he does is covered by academic freedom, then why deny those same protections to a hypothetical geologist teaching YEC? Or a biologist teaching that God made everything as it is and evolution is a lie?

    Why should they *not* get tenure and/or those protections, but he should? (Aside from the obvious fact that Oz is a money-making machine for Columbia. Money talks, etc.)

    As John Oliver said, correctly, if he was doing this as “Some Guy Named Mehmet” it wouldn’t be nearly as wrong. It is the fact that he is doing this *as a doctor and as part of Columbia* that is the problem.

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