Mehmet Oz, doctor who advocated for the deaths of tens of thousands of children, running for U.S. Senate

This is going to basically just be a list of all the batshit insane things Dr. Oz has said, but let’s start properly: in this installment of Who the Fuck are all these Fucks?, we’ll be looking at Mehmet Oz, who is apparently running for the U.S. Senate.

NAME: Mehmet Cegniz Öz
AGE: 61
CURRENT JOB: Television charlatan
PREVIOUS JOB: Actual doctor

Mehmet Oz was born in Ohio, where his father, Mustafa, was a surgeon. He spent his summers in his parents’ native Turkey, but spent the rest of the year in the U.S., attending the prestigious Tower Hill School, then Harvard, then Penn. He earned his medical degree from Penn – where he also got an MBA – and became a cardiovascular surgeon at Columbia, as well as professor there.

“If you did a poll of the staff at Columbia and asked them, ‘If you needed a heart operation and Mehmet was there, would you want him?’ they’d say yes,” Dr. Richard Green, associate chief of cardia, thoracic, and vascular surgery at New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, told Vox in 2015.

Oz became a health expert for The Oprah Winfrey Show beginning in 2004.

Oz was, strictly speaking, a health expert. He was not there to give medical advice, but rather to suggest how people could be healthier. Although thought of today as some kind of level-headed matronly saint of enlightened television, Oprah Winfrey is almost single-handedly responsible for the spread of pseudoscientific nonsense that pervades every corner of American life.

Winfrey promoted weird cures and New Age ideas that were harmless – in theory – like The Secret, a self-help book that claims that the universe is governed by the Law of Attraction. Reading The Secret, you could learn how to manifest your wants and desires. And, because Oprah Winfrey said it would work, a woman wrote to her explained how she was going to stop seeking breast cancer treatments and instead simply manifest health.

Winfrey made an appeal on her program that came just a nanometer shy of acknowledging that maybe The Secret was nonsense, insisting that the woman shouldn’t give up on proven medical techniques just because a television entertainer recommends a book.

Conflating segments on self-help and basically spiritualist ideas with Oz, who came onto the show dressed in scrubs, helped to further warp audience perceptions of what was happening. Was Oz just an entertainer, like Winfrey? Or was he “America’s Doctor,” as the television kept blaring every few minutes?

In 2009, Winfrey decided to produce The Dr. Oz Show. This would take the health segments from Winfrey’s show and make them their own entire program. How do you elongate five or even ten minute segments into a half-hour television program? Well, by lying.

Oz peddled “miracles” and “magic” on both Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz, but he earned his first big bout of scorn when he claimed in 2011 that arsenic in apple juice was far about the limit the Food and Drug Administration considers safe. This was, of course, bullshit. But concerned parents flocked to their screens as Oz warned about the dangers of arsenic, all the while concealing that he mean organic arsenic, a naturally occurring chemical that is miles apart from inorganic arsenic.

Oz’s arsenic hoax quickly called to mind the controversy around mercury in vaccines that also ignores how there are different types of mercury that have different effects on the human body. Oz would never stoop to suggesting that vaccines were unsafe. In fact, during a segment about how scary vaccines are and how many people believe they cause autism because of the mercury in them, his show made it clear that there’s no evidence to support that theory. So that’s great.

In 2013, researchers recorded 78 episodes of The Dr. Oz Show. Their findings, published in the British Medical Journal, were that evidence could only substantiate 46% of the recommendations made on the show. 15% were contradicted by medical evidence, while 39% lacked any supporting evidence either way.

Two years later, a study on the fat-burning effects of a green coffee bean supplement was retracted after it was revealed that the whole thing was falsified. Oz had hosted the creators on his show and praised them for their miraculous discovery.

Then, in 2016, Dr. Oz hosted a “certified olive oil expert” who conducted a “smell test” to prove that just one of five popular extra virgin olive oils was actually an extra virgin olive oil. Oz then proclaimed that a majority of the extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. was “fake.” This might be, perhaps, the most inane Dr. Oz moment, except that Oz frequently touts the supposed health benefits of olive oil. Oh, and the “expert” was an employee at a rival olive oil company whose employment was not disclosed.

Oz is still a faculty member at Columbia despite a 2015 petition signed by over 1,000 doctors calling on him to resign. You could say Oz is not well-liked by the medical community. Or maybe by any community. He’s been pilloried in Science, The Ringer, New Republic, American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, Variety, Health News Review, Vox, Business Insider, The Daily Beast, The Hill, and CBS News for that one time he said it would be worth it to kill 2.2 million children if it meant we could reopen schools again.

I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2-3% in terms of total morality… it might be a tradeoff some folks would consider.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

CBS did argue that technically the mortality rate for children is lower than the average population, so it would only be up to 3% of children who contracted COVID, and so only 2.2 million children would die if every child got COVID and the mortality rate is actually only 0.03% for children, so probably Oz was only calling for the deaths of 22,000 children, a far more reasonable number of otherwise preventable child deaths.

It should be no surprise that Oz is frequently lambasted with jokes about his name, which he shares with arguably the best-known charlatan in the American literary canon. But what is maybe more of a surprise is how durable Oz has been. “We don’t adopt this ‘open-minded’ approach in other realms of science — physics or engineering or chemistry,” explained health law professor Tim Caufield to Vox (in the same piece mentioned above). Two years into the most deadly pandemic in modern American history, it’s not unfathomable that Pennsylvania voters might send the man behind the curtain to Capitol Hill. Writing for Vox, Julia Belluz said back in 2015:

The medical community’s reluctance to hold Oz accountable is part of a problem that’s bigger than the man himself. The number-one book on in the children’s health category is an anti-vaccine guide. The “natural” supplements business now rivals the pharmaceutical industry in profitability — and is much less regulated, largely because of a small handful of powerful congressmen with ties to supplement-makers. Americans spend billions on homeopathy despite the overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work. While we don’t go to hairdressers to talk about the mechanics of our cars or ask waiters for legal counsel, when it comes to our bodies, we routinely take medical advice from just about any celebrity “expert” — actor or folk singer, business tycoon or “Food Babe.” This problem will only become more urgent in a multimedia age, when information is balkanized and health proselytizers can disseminate their messages through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

The Making of Dr. Oz