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Physicians to Columbia: Dump Dr. Oz for Hawking 'Quack Treatments'

Ten physicians are demanding Columbia University to boot TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz whom they deem guilty of misleading and endangering the public.
/ Source: NBC News

Ten physicians spanning cancer research to psychiatry are demanding Columbia University to boot TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz whom they deem guilty of "outrageous conflicts of interest" while misleading and endangering the public.

In a letter Wednesday to the college, the self-described "disgruntled" physicians wrote they are "surprised and dismayed" that Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons would maintain Oz's faculty appointment, "let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery."

"Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops," the letter states. "Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain."

Columbia University stood by Oz on Friday, citing his right to free expression in a statement emailed to NBC News.

"As I am sure you understand and appreciate, Columbia is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members' freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion," read a statement by Doug Levy, spokesman for Columbia University Medical Center.

NBC News contacted representatives for Oz. His team declined comment.

On Friday, Oz posted on Facebook:

Oz came under scrutiny last June during a U.S. Senate hearing that examined false diet-product ads. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, grilled Oz, citing moments when he used his TV show to peddle green coffee extract as a “magic weight loss cure,” and raspberry ketone as “the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.”

McCaskill told Oz: “When you feature a product on your show it creates what has become known as the ‘Dr. Oz Effect’ — dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products.”

Since that hearing, however, Oz has not altered his methods as a TV doctor pushing scientifically unproven products to his massive audience, one of the letter's 10 signing physician told NBC News on Friday.

"It’s one thing if some huckster or quack gets on (TV or the Internet) to do this, and of course you can find hundreds or thousands of such people, trying to sell rapid weight-loss products with no exercise, or fat burning this or that, the antioxidant 'miracles' and cancer 'cures,' " said Dr. Gilbert Ross, president and executive director of the American Council on Science and Health.

"But when an erudite, well-respected and highly trained physician goes on television with a huge audience and does the same thing, he has a vast potential to do harm, presenting these useless and potentially toxic supplements and magical cures," Ross said in a phone interview.

Oz could be doing "vast amounts of good" by using his TV pulpit to administer sound health advice to millions of viewers, including guidance on balanced nutrition, vaccinations, not smoking, or enjoying alcohol but not to excess, Ross said.

"But no, he’d rather take the easy route with spectacular, sensationalist warnings about stuff like arsenic in rice, for goodness sakes, and 'magical' blueberry potions. I don’t how much of this he actually has a financial interest in but I would suspect it’s quite a bit," Ross added.

What's more, Oz's position as a physician at Columbia University should cause him to "redouble his responsibility," not shirk it, Ross said.

"He’s a very well-respected — or at least he was — cardio-thoracic surgeon, very well trained. And it’s a shame he left the field of practicing surgery and helping patients to become a media star," Ross said.

The so-called "Dr Oz effect" that McCaskill cited has been noted by other physicians as a well-worn pattern. On air, Oz talks up certain foods, drinks, supplements or other products — often with little science to support them, his critics say.

Then, online entrepreneurs begin pitching — apparently without the doctor’s approval — Oz’s quotations as out-right endorsements.

For example, in an episode devoted to relaxation drinks, one close-up camera shot showed five cans of beverages that claim to help people calm down.

Soon after, a “liquid sleep aid” called iChill boasted online: “Dr. Oz is talking about a new way to wind down with relaxation drinks," although iChill was not one of the products mentioned on Oz's show.