Video is here.
Recently, Dr. Oz invited noted skeptic and advocate of science-based medicine Dr. Steve Novella to be on his show. Novella frequently investigates and critically discusses “alternative medicine” (which he considers to be a false category and an improper term). Novella, in this show, says that alternative medicine is an artificial category that exists only to create a double standard instead of just having a science-based standard.
Beginning the show, Dr. Oz poisons the well making Dr. Novella look dismissive, arrogant, and “afraid” of talking about alternative medicine. This is also strawmanning Dr. Novella because he’s not “dismissive;” Novella is not, out-of-hand, writing off alternative medicine – he has studied and written about the claims being made in support of alternative medicine. He’s also not afraid of discussion. Dr. Novella’s real stance is that there is no good reason and evidence to support the efficacy of alternative medicine beyond that of the placebo effect or other factors that are unrelated to the usage of the medicine such as a caring practitioner spending time with their patients, relaxation, etc. “There is no effect from sticking a needle in the skin,” Novella says.
Throughout the show, Dr. Oz makes various fallacious appeals to the masses by saying that 40% of Americans use alternative medicine, more than half of Americans have used herbal alternative medicine (an inconsistency here…what exactly are these numbers anyway?), and 69% of people tried alternative medicine without talking to a doctor, and billions of people have used acupuncture. So what? Just because many people have used these “treatments” does not mean that they actually work from a scientific standpoint.
Dr. Oz says that we can’t know that harvesting cells, for example, can cure cancers would do anything because it’s “darn hard to study.” We actually can study these things and there is no good evidence to suggest that this is true. Might it work in the future? Perhaps…but there’s no good reason to suggest that it does now. Anything might work in the future, but we should be concerned about what reason there is to suggest something is true today.
Dr. Oz poses a false dichotomy when he says that we can “figure out what works for us” or “take the ballistic approach to medicine that we’re used to.” Both of these depictions are quite inaccurate and these aren’t the only two choices. “Figuring out what works for us” can be very silly in most cases because the doctors, not the people, are the qualified persons to make the decisions based on evidence leading us to the conclusion of whether a certain treatment works. We can also easily deceive ourselves, not be aware of what is causing improvement, or simply make a wrong decision based on faulty evidence. We also don’t have to take a “ballistic approach” to medicine and can, instead, take time to research what experts are saying, consider various treatments, get the advice of multiple doctors, etc.
Dr. Oz mentions that various schools are teaching about alternative medicine, but this does not say anything about the efficacy of the alternative medicine being studied. Schools teach all sorts of competing ideas and show that certain ideas are wrong. I’ve learned about pseudoscience in my college science course and was taught that creationism isn’t science. I study what philosophers have said, but they all aren’t correct. Imagine me saying, “All sorts of schools are teaching Plato’s theory of forms, so it must be right!” This seems to be exactly what Dr. Oz is doing.
Dr. Oz states that alternative medicine is at a “grassroots level” and that “nobody owns it.” It’s not really the case that alternative medicine is at a grassroots level because many people who aren’t members of the general pharmacy-going public who know little to nothing about alternative medicine are selling nonsense and profiting tremendously. Even if it were at the grassroots level, this doesn’t entail that alternative medicine can’t be critiqued by scientists and people who have the relevant information to show why it is ineffective (this is what I think Oz is trying to do when he says “nobody owns it”).
Dr. Oz mentions that alternative medicine “empowers us.” What does this even mean? How does this entail that alternative medicine is effective at all? Dr. Oz uses fuzzy terms and seemingly is saying, “If it makes you feel good and you think it works (faith?), you should go ahead and use it.” This perspective is supported by Dr. Oz’s “if it works for you, don’t let anyone take it away from you.” I already talked about why non-experts aren’t experts and how we can easily fool ourselves. Here’s a true dichotomy: treatments are either supported by evidence or they are not. Why should we not follow where the evidence leads?
Dr. Oz is special pleading when he says that acupuncture hasn’t been studied properly. Acupuncture has been studied and a meta-analysis of studies shows that there is no good reason to suggest that sticking needles into skins is beneficial to health. When Dr. Oz doesn’t get the results he seemingly wants to get, he enters into fallacious territory. The same methods and ways of studying the efficacy of treatments are employed regardless of whether acupuncture, penicillin, or vaccines are being considered. Dr. Oz will accept that penicillin works and cite the reasons and the methodology used to establish this, but when the same method is used to study acupuncture, Dr. Oz is the real dismissive one.
Dr. Oz poses another false dichotomy when he asks Dr. Novella if he thinks that meditation is “soft and fuzzy” or “unproven and worthless.” Novella soon calls out Dr. Oz on this and admits that there is some benefit to meditation (of course), but the benefits come from relaxation and shouldn’t be wrapped in a mystical sounding language and then leap to meditation being able to cure physical diseases like cancer.
Dr. Oz makes no good case for the efficacy of “alternative medicine.” As Tim Minchin says, “What do you call alternative medicine that’s been proven to work? Medicine.” There is no good evidence, when considering a meta-analysis of scientific research, to support the efficacy of alternative medicine.