Gary Taubes vs. Dr. Oz: Science vs. Logical Fallacies

March 14, 2011

(Open heart surgery. The field of work that Dr. Oz IS an expert in.)

I'm a little pissed.

As anyone who watches his hit TV show knows, Dr. Mehemet Oz is fond of exploiting the fact that he is a medical doctor who possesses masterful surgical skills to make it seem as if he is knowledgeable about nutrition. Of course, if you're up on the science on nutrition, you know that much of what Dr. Oz says on the subject may as well be coming from the Land of Oz.

I've heard him state several times on his show or on other shows something akin to "I take a band saw and open people up, reach in and go elbow deep into somebody's chest and see fats and cholesterol in people arteries." His point being that fats and cholesterol are evil and should be minimized in our diets because they'll wind up giving us a heart attack.

Observation does not equal causation. So what that he sees cholesterol in peoples bodies? He also sees organs, blood vessels, nerves, etc. Are all of these bad too? Why does he assume that the cholesterol he sees in some peoples arteries got in there because they ate it? Now, the blockage of blood flow to the heart is indeed bad and the plaque and cholesterol in the arteries are part of the problem, but that doesn't mean that the cholesterol and fat you eat goes into your arteries and causes the blockage. Whenever you go out in the pouring rain you'll see lots of open umbrellas. But open umbrellas do not cause rainfall.

Doesn't Dr. Oz know this? Doesn't he know that the human body makes its own cholesterol and the less of it you eat the more your body makes? Doesn't he know that virtually every cell in the human body requires cholesterol making it ever so vital to our overall health? Doesn't he realize that our livers convert much of the carbohydrate we do eat to saturated fat? And since this is so, how can eating saturated fat be harmful?

While saving peoples lives via surgery is certainly admirable, Oz is little more than a skilled technician or as my wife likes to term it "a glorified tailor." His lay audience of course is clueless to the fact that cardiac surgeons have little to no idea of of how the arterial damage happens in the first place - which is why the cholesterol is in the arteries - and which is the question that should be asked. Why IS all that cholesterol and plaque in the patients arteries Herr Doktor? It's certainly not there just because we ate it. If that were the case, Atkins proponents would be dropping like flies and the Inuit would never have been the Inuit.

Additionally, Oz and other surgeons usually have virtually zero experience or expertise treating obese patients. And, as is obvious to anyone who reads even a smidge of literature on the subject, Oz-docs have not just little nutritional knowledge, they spout incorrect, outdated and downright dangerous nutritional information like we need to eat whole grains and to avoid saturated fats.

Last week, Dr. Oz invited Gary Taubes on to his TV show, spinning him as his "ultimate nemesis." Take a look at part 1 of the segment. Clicking on the picture will take you to Dr. Oz's site. So just hit your back button after you take a look-see. It's in three parts. It was on Youtube as an all-in-one video, but it got yanked off by your guess is as good as mine.

At the very outset you can tell that the show is rigged in favor of the good doctor. But of course it is since it's his show - or his sideshow I should say. In fact, after Oz introduces Taubes and gives the audience Taubes' credentials, not a moment later does he look at Gary and toss a giant strawman in the air saying by saying (in an ever so slightly derogatory tone) "You're not a doctor." DING! Foul! Strawman argument.

So what that Gary is not a doctor? First of all, what does the typical doctor know about nutrition? Nada. Second, the fact that Gary is not a doctor does not mean that the information he is presenting is not valid nor does it mean that because Oz is that his nutritional advice is sound. But Oz knows that the typical layperson does indeed think that doctors know all about nutrition and so by creating a strawman, he neuters Gary's position right from the get go. Nice one there doc. Lame. Cheap.

At one point in part II, Dr. Oz point to the side of the table that has the foods Gary says are OK to eat which are broccoli (representative of many other vegetables), meats, fish. pork and poultry and says "How can a person eat like this for the rest of their lives - there's no sugar in it!" Gary smartly and swiftly answers "That's the point!"

First of all, fruit is indeed allowed on a low carb diet. Oz as you saw or will see tried to spin the LC diet as devoid of all carbohydrates. I have to say I could not believe that Oz would have Taubes on his show and hot have read any of his books or any of Dr. Atkins books or for that matter, ANY major low carb book. Had he read even one, he'd have not said 90% of what he did. He probably wouldn't have had Gary on his show in the first place come to think of it.

It seems that Dr. Oz doesn't know that all carbohydrates - simple and complex - once digested are converted to simple sugars. I find it truly amazing that Oz isn't horribly embarrassed to say so much of what he said since it exposes his lack of nutritional know-how. He didn't even catch the slip Gary nervously made in the beginning where he said that proteins do not cause insulin secretion. Were I Oz, I'd have seized that as a Taubes-killing opportunity! But he blew it 'cuz he didn't know. He's looking at Gary dead in the face when Gary says it too. It's actually really funny when you realize it because it almost seems like Gary said it on purpose to test Oz. I wonder if he did because Gary does indeed know that eating protein causes insulin (along with glucagon) secretion.

According to Gary, a lot of the scientific evidence and other pro low carb info he presented on the show never made it on air. Apparently there were some really juicy Oz knockout tidbits that got severed and dashed to the cutting room floor. Here's Gary's blog post response to the show.

There are many, many other subliminal subtleties that Oz and his crew of spinmeisters used to make Gary and the low carb idea seem like nonsense. In my opinion, Oz and his peeps didn't do a very good job of this however. In many cases Oz seemed downright testy, sounding as if he was having mini temper tantrums. "I'm a doctor so I HAVE to be right!" (Sounds of feet stamping and sights of ear plume smoke.)

Dr. Oz seems to have a good sense of humor. But as I see it from watching many of his shows, he doesn't care about his audience. Not really. He doesn't care that what Gary or others are saying about why we get fat has great merit and is so important that it could virtually "cure" diabetes and obesity in a very short time. Given his reach, Oz could help the entire world. But by sticking to his nutritional guns instead of reading up on what Taubes, Atkins, Eades, etc. and the science has to say about low carb, he turned a potential finger of God into a third rate TV charade.

In a way, I'm sort of glad he made fun of and poo-poo'd the low carb diet. Now, as more and more research continues to support it, he won't be able to take any credit for being one of the proponents. He'll be known as one of the nay-sayers who allowed many of his fans to stay obese and diabetic.

In a very short time my friends, Oz and his high sugar, low fat ideas will be left in the nutritional dust.

Until then, we are still in the midst of the current low fat/no fat high carb charade thanks to doctors like Oz. I shudder to think how many millions of people have had their preconceived notions that eating fat and cholesterol is bad and that eating sugar is good reinforced by this episode. Gary did an admirable job. I hope he was able to overcome the power of the fearsome Ozilla and get the truth across to many.


Oh, c'mon I kid Dr. Oz....