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How the Media Fell for a GMO Front Group Attack on Dr. Oz

mehmet oz

The 55-point headline in Slate blares, “Letter from Prominent Doctors Implies Columbia Should Fire Dr. Oz for Being a Quack.” The story by Ben Mathis-Lilly is based on a letter by a group of doctors who want Columbia University to relieve Dr. Oz of his position as vice chair of the department of surgery at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“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,” states the letter, which was sent soon after Dr. Oz aired a show about glyphosate, the herbicide associated with most genetically engineered crops that was recently designated as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

The complaint to Columbia was signed by Dr. Henry I. Miller and nine colleagues, “all of whom are distinguished physicians,” the letter claims.

So who are these prominent distinguished physicians?

Mathis-Lilly didn’t ask that question, nor did reporters who covered the letter for the Associated Press, Washington Post, USA Today, NPR, Vox or New York Daily News.

If they had, they would have learned that not all the physicians on the letter are so distinguished. One was stripped of his medical license in New York and sent to federal prison camp for Medicaid fraud. Yet Dr. Gilbert Ross plays up his M.D. credentials in his role as acting president of the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH). Ross was joined on the Columbia letter by ACSH board member Dr. Jack Fisher.

So what is ACSH? Though some reporters treat it as an independent science source, the group has been heavily funded by oil, chemical and tobacco companies, and has a long history of making inaccurate statements about science that directly benefit those industries – for example claiming that secondhand smoke isn’t linked to heart attacks, fracking doesn’t pollute water, and there is no scientific consensus on global warming.

Two other signatories of the letter – Miller and Dr. Scott Atlas – hail from the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank based at Stanford University that has a special affinity for featuring the work of climate change deniers.

“In other words, it’s an institution whose commitment to science is highly questionable to nonexistent in one area, and it’s attacking Oz for pseudoscience?” pointed out Dr. David Gorski in his blog about the Columbia letter.

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