I haven’t paid much attention to Dr. Mehmet Oz lately (or, as I like to call him, America’s quack). Indeed, the last time I wrote about Dr. Oz as the main topic of a post was nearly three years ago. (Believe me, I was just as shocked as anyone when I looked through my archives and this realization struck me.) Actually, on second thought, I did write about him when his featured guest was Donald Trump during the 2016 election, but that was more about Donald Trump than Dr. Oz, although together the two did seem to have quite the grifter bromance going on.
Ironically, given what I’m about to discuss now, the title was Dr. Oz promises to stop promoting pseudoscience. Should we believe him? At the time, Dr. Oz had had a bad year, having been humbled by Sen. Claire McCaskill when she called him to testify in front of her committee and basically called him out for his promotion of quack dietary supplements. The Wikileaks hack of Sony’s e-mails that year had revealed some of the inner workings of his syndicated TV show, mainly just how much the content of the show was driven by business, rather than medical, considerations, and an attempt at an “Ask Dr. Oz” promotion on Twitter under the hashtag #OzInBox had backfired, as people flooded the answers with hilarious mockery of his pseudoscience. But that wasn’t all. A group of physicians had written an open letter to the Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University complaining that Dr. Oz is faculty at Columbia. It made the news for a few days, but unfortunately it came from doctors closely affiliated with the astroturf group American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), which let Oz effectively paint its authors as industry shills and apologists (which, quite frankly, most of them are). More effectively, a then-medical student named Ben Mazer had persuade the American Medical Association to pass a resolution that media doctors should not spread medical misinformation. It was very clearly aimed at Dr. Oz.
So Dr. Oz was chastened at the time and promised not to spread pseudoscience any more. Did he stop? No, not really, but he did tone down his promotion of pseudoscience and quackery. Gone were the shows featuring psychic mediums (such as John Edward and “Long Island Medium” Theresa Caputo) as healers, faith healers, homeopathy, fear mongering about cell phones and breast cancer, and reiki. Anyway, since 2016, anyway, whatever woo Oz has been promoting on his show never rose to the level that I felt obligated to write a post about it.
On Wednesday, I started seeing Tweets like this:
Some say that the season of your birth may have an influence on your health. Today, an astrologist is here to share your health horoscope. Plus, Todd Fisher opens up about losing his sister #CarrieFisher and his mother #DebbieReynolds. You don’t want to miss it. pic.twitter.com/zo2shFF5U5
— Dr. Mehmet Oz (@DrOz) June 6, 2018
Actually, there was a Tweet before this, but Dr. Oz got so much mockery and criticism in return that his social media team took it down and replaced it with the Tweet above. Here’s the original:
Both are pretty bad. The responses were epic. For example:
Can you imagine asking your cardiac surgeon about your options for treating severe aortic regurgitation and the surgeon saying, “That depends… What’s your astrological sign?” https://t.co/IpIHiB1cCx
— Fred Wu, MD (@FredWuMD) June 6, 2018
Maybe I will introduce the astrology guide to contraception:
Taurus – Mirena IUD (the arms look like horns)
Gemini -diaphragm and spermicide (because you need 2
Virgo – abstinence (sorry kids!)
Aries – a coil IUD bc coil looks like Ram horns!
What do you think @DrOz?
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) June 7, 2018
Some say the earth is flat.
“Some” is not evidence, it’s a egregious hook to make a sale. https://t.co/9UGMz56p3t
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) June 7, 2018
You get the idea…
So when the actual segments made their appearance on Dr. Oz’s website, I must admit, I had to watch them. I couldn’t resist. So I started with the first segment, the introduction.
Oz begins by pointing out how “we all love to look up and gaze at the stars,” which is something that’s largely true but irrelevant. Then he says:
Civilizations throughout history have looked to astrology to find meaning in everything, from the changing seasons to hour health. Now, I never studied astrology in medical school because it’s no longer considered to be based on science. But I am interested in learning more about it, and many of you believe the season of your birth can influence your health.
That’s nice. “Many of you” believe in ghosts as well. That doesn’t mean that ghosts are a proper topic for discussion on a show that claims to be about medicine. Oh, wait. That never stopped Dr. Oz before, given his having had psychic mediums on his show before. In any event, he introduces Rebecca Gordon, author of Your Body and the Stars: The Zodiac as Your Wellness Guide, who is described as an astrologist who’s been practicing for 15 years. Of course, if what you’re practicing is mystical, pseudoscientific nonsense, practicing it for 15 years is meaningless. All it means is that you’ve believed mystical, pseudoscientific nonsense for that long and made a career out of conning the credulous.
Gordon just lathers the woo on thicker. She goes on and on about how, even though horoscopes of the kind published in newspapers are directed at millions, people feel personalization, feel that the horoscopes are directed at them. Of course, that’s nothing remarkable, given that horoscopes are written vaguely and involve topics and predictions that could apply to virtually anyone. That’s a feature, not a bug. Indeed, there’s even a name for it, the Forer effect. The Forer effect is not a new discovery, either. Its description dates back at least to the 1940s.
That’s just a warmup, as Oz gets to the nitty-gritty, asking Gordon how horoscopes relate to our health. Her answer is, as you would expect, full of woo:
Well, we all have seen the drawing of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci…The human body is actually shaped like a five-pointed star, with a head, two arms, two legs. And you also may have seen the drawing of the Zodiac Man, where you see Aries ruling the head, the first sign of the zodiac, Pisces ruling the feet, and all of the other body parts correlating to different zodiac signs. So the point is that your zodiac sign doesn’t just govern personality traits, and all of the zodiac signs live within you, and this is really about balancing all of the signs within your body.
It’s hard to relate just how utterly ridiculous this segment and explanation are. Just because the Vitruvian Man vaguely resembles the drawing of Zodiac Man, astrological signs determine the health of various body parts? It’s like something that a child would have thought up, except that most children would exhibit more skepticism.
It didn’t stop there, though. Oz had divided up the audience according to astrological sign, and then, with Gordon, launched into a survey of the various signs and how they relate to health. He started out with Gemini, because that’s his sign. According to Gordon Gemini rules the hands and the arms, as well as the concept of communication, which means that, astrologically speaking, it makes sense that Dr. Oz is a surgeon and that he hosts a talk show. I couldn’t help but notice that, even if this were true (and there’s no evidence that it is), it’s meaningless. It tells you virtually nothing. It makes no predictions about your health, tells you nothing about what sorts of health problems you might suffer from, suggests nothing about how to avoid health problems.
The closest she came to linking astrological signs to an actual health condition was for Taurus, because of the “neck of the bull.” Because of the stubbornness of the bull, the “stiff neck” if you will, Gordon claims that Tauruses can get too stuck in life, too stuck in their ways, and that the tension “also resides in the area of the neck” so that we can “get a stiff neck literally.” I must admit that I had a hard time watching after this rank nonsense, but I’m nothing if not persistent (even though I’m not a Taurus); so I soldiered on. Not surprisingly, the Tauruses in the audience agreed with this.
Perversely, though, I couldn’t resist seeing what Gordon would say about Leo, given that I’m a Leo. No, I don’t believe in astrology, but I have to amuse myself somehow, and making something about me is one way to do it. So here’s what she said about Leo:
So Leos are ruled by the sun, the center of the solar system. And Leos are the most creative sign, and they’re also a sign of leadership and creativity, if you think about the sun’s rays shining out to the world. So when the Leo becomes too exaggerated, peple start to puff their chest way out, pinche the shoulders back. And this kind of posture, an imbalance of posture can result in a lot of tension in the upper back as well.
In the slideshow, we learn:
Leos are ruled by the sun and thrive on shining their light to the world through creative expression and leadership.” When Leos feel that their leadership skills are being used effectively, they may puff their chests or hinge their shoulders back. On the other hand, an imbalance can lead to upper back problems in a Leo, such as tightness and tension.
I guess I’ve had the occasional back pain, but I am in my 50s. How many middle-aged guys who might be a little overweight, and a little (or a lot) out of shape don’t have some back pain every now and then? Also, while it’s very flattering to be told that, just because of when I was born, I’m “ruled by the sun” and bursting with creativity and leadership, unfortunately, I know that I’m not. Sure, I’m pretty creative in my writing, but as a leader I’m probably at best competent for mid-level leadership. Of course, I don’t aspire to much more because I’m far more interested in my science, surgery, and blogging; so I’m not unduly disturbed. Things are fine now as they are, at least, other than the difficulty in getting grant funding.
Oz’s segment ends with Gordon explaining how to strengthen your star sign, whatever that means. Basically, this involves standing on one foot, which leads Oz to stand on one foot with Gordon. Oh, and a Neti pot. Use a Neti pot. Annoyingly, both Gordon and Oz used a Neti pot as the segment ended, something I didn’t really need to see.
What this episode of The Dr. Oz Show tells me is that Dr. Oz has not changed. Despite his promise three years ago to stop promoting pseudoscience, he’s still at it, promoting pseudoscience every bit as ridiculous as psychic mediums, faith healers, and homeopathy. His show was also renewed at least through the 2020-2021 season, no matter how much ACSH’s President Hank Campbell briefly deluded himself a month ago into thinking that ACSH efforts got his show canceled.
Yes, we’re stuck with Dr. Oz for at least another three years. After his foray into some truly ridiculous woo this week, I might have to start paying attention to America’s quack again.