Connections: Medutainment

Am I really being spammed by the actual Dr. Oz?

   The worst television commercials (IMHO) are those that hype drugs — those obnoxious, fast-talking “ask your doctor if” messages about panaceas for all kinds of ailments. They make me happy that I don’t watch much television.
    In the last two months or so, however, similar pitches (advertorials? infomercials?) have invaded my Mac’s inbox. I have clicked to request that the e-mail system filter them as junk, but so far it hasn’t worked.
    It is, in general, annoying that my e-mail address has gotten on lists for people selling such things as walk-in (rather than sit-in) bathtubs, arthritis treatments, and something called Sensa, which promises to change your shape without changing your life. You sprinkle it on your food and, voila, lose an average of 30.5 pounds in six months.
    These solicitations are trifling, however, compared to the vast variety of health-related e-mails that come from Dr. Mehmet Oz, or purport to. “The Dr. Oz Show” is the worst offender of them all.
    A Feb. 4 New Yorker profile of Dr. Oz by Michael Specter credited him with being an extraordinarily skilled heart surgeon and almost unbelievably gifted. Esquire named him one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century. His TV show is reported to draw four million viewers daily. Wow!
    Am I really being spammed by the actual Dr. Oz? Or by unauthorized persons using his name? Perhaps the marketing whizzes at “The Dr. Oz Show” have just gotten a bit too overenthusiastic and hyperbolic in their copywriting?
    I certainly wish I could believe it when the Incredible Wizard of Oz is quoted as saying that the extract of green coffee beans is a “staggering new discovery,” proven to melt belly fat; that an extract of saffron is a “miracle appetite suppressor,” and that garcinia cambogia, which comes from the rind of tamarinds, is the “holy grail of weight loss” because it increases muscle mass and decreases body fat.
    I am afraid I missed the “number-one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat,” raspberry ketones; and I’ve missed the boat on red palm oil to help me live longer, too.
    According to a doctor I spoke with this week, the Dr. Oz who haunts my inbox is a purveyor of snake oil. When I asked whether it was fair to say that at least these products did no harm, my friend the doctor was adamant: There’s no scientific data for their effectiveness — or their safety — he said, pointing out that federal legislation in 1994 freed the herbal-remedy or “nutraceuticals” industry from having to report side effects.
    For me, Dr. Oz is the ultimate example of the blurring between fact and fiction that characterizes conventional wisdom in the digital age. (Not only received ideas about what is healthy and what is not, but about climate change, about politics, about crime, about . . . everything debated in American public life today.)
    To Eric Topol, a scientist and Oz critic, Dr. Oz is at fault for presenting what is real and what is magic as if they were the same thing. He calls what Dr. Oz does “medutainment.” And Dr. Oz does nothing to help his cause when he says, “Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours.”
    Some time back, I attempted to “unsubscribe” from various e-mail services trying to sell me things I couldn’t possibly want. It isn’t working. I guess I will have to bring in a computer professional to clean up my e-mail situation. (Or at least make those rude sales pitches for weight-loss and geriatric products go away!)