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

by Fred Hahn on 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.

drozzilla

Oh, c’mon I kid Dr. Oz….

I've been involved in exercise ever since I became a member of The Charles Atlas Club when I was 10 years old. In 1998, I founded and established Serious Strength on the Upper West Side of NYC. My clients include kids, seniors (and everyone in between), top CEOs, celebrities, bestselling authors, journalists and TV personalities.
my book. my Gym.

in Current Affairs,Health/Fitness,Nutrition · 26 comments

{ 26 comments }

Lynn March 14, 2011 at 9:23 AM

In addition to the fallacy of authority used by Dr. Oz, one could also add this from Upton Sinclair:  “If is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. A major advertiser on the Oz website is Post Cereals. It is very unlikely that a person whose livelihood depends on money from cereal manufacturers is going to alienate a major sponsor by agreeing with Taubes that high-carb foods like cereals should be reduced or avoided altogether. Huge amounts of money are at stake. Plus it is more entertaining to play the authority-card and see how the other guy responds. This is TV, after all.

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 9:29 AM

This is what I mean Lynn. Why then do a show on it? What was the purpose? If he knows that he cannot agree with Gary and at the same time knows that cereal and other foods are poison, what’s the point? Get the meat, egg and seafood industry to sponsor the show. Better yet, we should get them to sponsor our own show! Hmmmm….

Lynn March 14, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Well, who knows what goes on during program-planning sessions of entertainment TV shows, but certainly ad money is in the room either implicitly or explicitly. It pays the salaries of everyone there. Better to go with the current money suppliers than challenge them. Plus, changing sponsors may require breaking long-term contracts with the cereal companies and replacing them with someone else. Too risky. Look at the bright side. Maybe low-carb is gaining some traction in the popular mind and is now viewed as a threat to the carb industry. Hence, the “I’m a doctor and you’re not” right from the get-go.

Jenna Shannon March 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM

This is one of the best articles you’ve written Fred. You make a lot of good points. It’s easy to get frustrated by people like Dr. Oz, who could make a real impact if he took the time to review the literature (and a few testimonials). The upside to Gary Taubes’ appearance is that a huge audience saw that he’s a smart, classy guy who’s not swayed by Oz’s rhetoric.

How about that giant can of LARD? I knew they had the gloves off when I saw that.

Jonathan March 14, 2011 at 11:04 AM

And I guess infections are caused by too many white blood cells so we should all take medicine to lower our white blood cell count to avoid infections.

A point Oz missed too, Gary is not pushing a diet. He is merely showing how crappy the science is! He keep stressing the point that it is not that you can’t eat carbs, it is just that the carbs are the part that is making you fat; Do what you want with that information.

Kevin O'Neall March 14, 2011 at 2:08 PM

I don’t watch daytime TV so I’ve never seen Dr Oz.

Doctors-in-training have a year or two of basic physiology in med-school on top of whatever classes they had as undergraduates. I graduated from college with a degree in zoology and minors in microbiology and animal science. Then in vet med school we all had one year of basic medical physiology using Guyton’s
Textbook of Medical Physiology. I graduated in 1985. That amount of training allowed me to talk to clients about basic physiology and understand myself what basic metabolic patterns are occuring in disease situation. I assume Dr Oz is a lot younger than me and probably had more up-to-date basic medical science than someone my age. But as a surgeon his focus is in putting out the fires. Opening clogged cardiac arteries or stenting or replacing, etc. It’s not his job to prescribe a low-carb diet. That’s the job of the pateint’s primary care physician. I wonder how many of these pateints are willing to live on a low carb diet while they’re still young enough to not yet have cardiac disease. My guess is not many. My doctor wanted to prescribe Lipitor for my elevated cholesterol but I went on the Sears diet instead and dropped my total cholesterol from 260 to 160.

Yes, there’s more at work in cardiac disease than just cholesterol. Most people can lower their cholesterol by limiting carbs. But that also seems to make them think they can pig out on bacon rinds five times a day, as if they’re somehow protected. I don’t believe that’s the case. I doubt Dr oz does either. Regardless, anyone would be lucky to have him as their cardiac physician.

kevin

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 2:16 PM

Kevin – It might not be Oz’s job, but he sure goes around telling people to avoid red meat and egg yolks.

A 160 cholesterol is quite low – you’re getting into potential stroke range with a level that low Kevin. What did your HDL fall to?

And I have no idea what Oz was taught in med school. But although he does agree that trans fats and added sugars are bad news, he still has yet to read any of the low carb literature. It’s painfully obvious that he hasn’t.

And yes, you can eat all the bacon you want. Ideally, nitrate and sugar free bacon.

Pork rinds are a manufactured food filled with nitrates and preservatives. No health minded low carber would suggest you eat that crap. But Oz did this to make fun of the diet.

Kevin O'Neall March 14, 2011 at 2:41 PM

“A 160 cholesterol is quite low – you’re getting into potential stroke range with a level that low Kevin. What did your HDL fall to?”

I don’t believe that. The Framingham study showed total cholesterol of 160 was optimal for cardiovascular health. Any number higher or lower showed increased heart disease. I don’t remember my individual numbers. I know that the HDL was quite high, I assume because I run daily.

Fred, this will be another case of you and I agreeing to disagree. I don’t eat bacon and don’t intend to ever start. Not just bacon but most saturated fat meats. I do splurge on a disgusting, dripping-with-grease pizza roughly once a month. 🙂

kevin

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 3:12 PM

No it didn’t Kevin. You misread the study. And what I said is not my opinion – it’s what research indicates. Low cho levels are associated with greater incidences of stroke. This does not mean you’ll get o one of course. Research also indicates that men over 48 who have cho levels above 240 have LESS chance of heart attack and CVD.

It is not a case of agreeing to disagree – it’s what the research indicates.

It’s not the grease in the pizza that’s bad for you – it’s the wheat and the dough and to a much lesser extent, the tomato sauce.

Have you seen this 2010 paper:

http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract

Conclusion:
A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.

Stephanie March 14, 2011 at 4:53 PM

After trying to download parts I and II of the Gary Taubes / Dr. Oz videos I gave up. I got an on screen message saying that they are no longer available. I can view the commercials but that’s where it ends. Its unfortunate that the bureaucracy has won again and the message has been stifled.

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 5:24 PM

Really Stephanie? They probably thought that the show harmed Oz more than helped and yanked it off Oz’s site. Wow!!

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 5:26 PM

I checked – it works Stephanie. After the ad it runs.

Stephanie March 14, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Thanks for letting me know Fred. I’ll give it another whirl and try again as I really do want to view them. Will let you know how it goes.

Seán March 14, 2011 at 6:22 PM

We encounter the same sort of appeal to authority when it comes to vaccines. Most pediatric doctors know very little about immunology, but they are very forceful about vaccines and that they are good for you and your children. They’ll also make you feel that you are endangering your child’s lives in refusing them and opting for achieving health and immunity through other means. Meanwhile some immunologists have serious questions about the risk vs. benefits. The point is that letters behind the name does not always translate into knowledge about the subject, but more often than not we immediately trust their opinions. I look at the science as objective as I can, compare the conclusions amongst peers, and watch out for conflicts of interest and the funding. I also give some weight to common sense.

Stephanie March 14, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Hi Fred, I’m still batting “zero” on the downloads of all 3 video segments. It might have something to do with the speed of my “dial-up” capabilities. Naturally, the ads come across just fine. If they are still available on another day, I’ll try again when I can garner a faster speed. How’s your paleo eating going? Good luck with that as well as your knee.

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 6:50 PM

Paleo eating is doing well. Knees are still an issue. I guess my parents should have put me in braces when I was a wee lad. We’ll see if the Prolotherapy works. I might blog on this soon.

Fred Hahn March 14, 2011 at 6:58 PM

Thanks Jenna!

Firebird March 14, 2011 at 7:47 PM

Oz made an embarrassment of himself, but then the point of his show is to scare the living crap out of his audience and into submission to the “dogma” (funny he used that term to describe Taubes’ research) of what his advertisers want him to peddle.

I had several comments deleted from his website which only further proves that, if he wasn’t threatened by the truth, the posts would have remained up there.

Bravo to Taubes for holding his own!

Audley March 14, 2011 at 8:31 PM

Ahh yes, daytime TV..the drama…break out the tissues as the tears will flow. Oprah has left her mark on TV, and Dr Oz is part of that.
This is entertainment/theater and Gary Taubes knew what he was getting himself into. Sometimes that is a necesssary evil to get the word out.
I thought he did well not laughing out loud, as it was hard to take Oz seriously with the bad acting, from his pre-taped segment of 24 hours on “Gary’s” diet, to brilliant statements like there was no sugar on Gary’s table.
A Maury Povitch show about children with Tourette’s Syndrome that aired several years ago really showed how bad Tourette’s could be….mostly because the parents were asked to not give their children any Tourette medication the day of the show so their tics would be out of control. Pure theater.
And yes, the sponsors must be pleased. The late Jack Lalanne once grabbed a piece of white bread, balled it up and threw it on the ground proclaiming it was crap. Apparently he didn’t know or care a bread company was a sponsor. Now THAT’s entertainment!

Gretchen March 18, 2011 at 2:27 PM

Gary did a follow-up pod cast with Jimmy Moore to discuss his experiences with the Dr. Oz show. This is the link to part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQKH3sqjcDU and you’ll find the links to parts 2 and 3 on the side of that page. Very interesting to hear how these things are put together. And it’s more than clear that when Oz said”I’m not trying to set up” in regards to the cholesterol ambush, he most certainly was!

Fred Hahn March 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Thanks Gretchen.

johnny April 22, 2011 at 11:32 AM

When Oz said “You’re not a doctor,” Taubes should have responded – looking like Nikita Kruschev at the United nations – and you are not a nutritionist!

Mike Sereny May 18, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Thanks Fred,

Finally someone calls it like it is and thanks for the language necessary to convey
how many of us feel.

Mike

Fred Hahn May 19, 2011 at 9:41 AM

Thanks Mike.

Chasity August 14, 2012 at 9:35 PM

My spouse and I stumbled over here coming from a different web
address and thought I should check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to exploring your web page for a second time.

Fred Hahn August 14, 2012 at 10:21 PM

Thanks Chasity! Much appreciated.

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