Because I said So = Truth?
Dr. Oz, a popular television host and doctor, is under fire for some of the claims he made as part of his television show. Most recently, a group of University doctors have requested that Columbia University fire Dr. Oz via a written letter that claims:
“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. Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.…Thus, Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgements about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both…Members of the public are being misled and endangered.”
Dr. Oz responds to the recent letter sent to Columbia University requesting his termination:
“These doctors are criticizing me for promoting treatments and cures for personal financial gain. Something that I tell you everyday on this program that I never do…”
“In addition the cite my baseless and relentless oppositions to the genetic engineering of food crops. Again, it’s not true. I have never judge GMO foods. But just like 64 countries around the world, I support GMO labeling so that you can decide on the foods for your family…”
“They went as far as to call me a quack…So I wanted to learn who these doctors [that are accusing me] are…It is ironic that I am being accused of a conflict of interest by these doctors when…some of them have their own conflicts of interest issues and some integrity ones also.”
Dr. Oz fails to respond to the critique that he endorses products on his television show that are not supported by evidence-based medical research by relying on a Red Herring fallacy. Additionally, Dr. Oz’s relies on a Personal Attack fallacy as a way of discrediting his critics’ concerns.
Dr. Oz begins his 1,000 television show with a statement about the recent challenges to his position at Columbia University and critic of his television show:
“I know I have irritated some potential allies in our quest to make America healthy, but no matter our disagreements, freedom of speech is the most fundamental right we have as Americans. And these 10 doctors are trying to silence that right. So I vow to you, right here, right now. We will not be silenced. We will not give in.”
This statement uses Appeal to Popularity as a way to convince the audience to side with Dr. Oz in this controversy.
While Dr. Oz makes a point to respond to some of the claims made by the 10 university doctors, he fails to respond to the accusation that he makes statements on his television show that are often false and not supported by medical research. Dr. Oz’s choice to only focus on the part of his critics’ argument that he can easily challenge (the GMO claim) result in him committing a Red Herring fallacy. Even if Dr. Oz did not intentionally avoid the claim that he promotes products that lack scientific evidence, his response to his critics fails because he failed to address this concern. We cannot necessarily conclude that his critics were wrong until Dr. Oz successfully challenges each part of their argument.
Dr. Oz begins by reminding his viewers about the purpose of his work, which of course, begins by refocusing the controversy by trying to convince the audience that his is a good person, who is being unfairly attacked:
“My life’s work has been built around one simple message: You have a right and a responsibility to become a world expert on your own body. And the way you do that is by having access to the best, most current information, multiple points of view and diverse opinions. That is the best you that you can make an informed decision about you and your family’s health. Figuring out how to talk about your health and to talk to you about it can be difficult. And there has been a backlash to my approach from some parts of the medical community…”
Here, Dr. Oz is committing a Red Herring because he is trying to divert the audience’s attention away from the issues raised by his critics. He is saying: “Look over here at my good intentions, and not over there where their may be some evidence to suggest otherwise.”
Dr. Oz’s overall argument can be broken down to this:
Premise 1: I want to make sure that you have access to the best, most current information
Premise 2: You should have the right to make informed decisions about you and your family’s health
Premise 3: I only support GMO labeling (I do not oppose GMOs)
Premise 4: I tell you on my show that I do financially benefit from products I promote
Conclusion: My critics are wrong about everything (opposition to GMOs, special interests, promoting products not supported by medical research)
If you break down his argument, you can see how the reasons to do not necessarily lead or connect to the all parts of the conclusion. If Premise 3 and 4 are true, then it may be true that his critics are wrong about GMO opposition and special interests. However, it does not establish that his critics are wrong about Dr. Oz promotion of non-scientific medical treatments and products.
Even if Premise 1 and 2 are true, this does not mean that his critics are wrong about him being guided by special interests or not using evidence-based medicine. Dr. Oz has failed to establish how his critics are wrong because he has not explained how he is ensuring his viewers have “access to the best, most current information” and are “well informed” to make health decisions. Therefore, Dr. Oz cannot reasonably claim that his critics are entirely wrong.
Appeal to Reason
In responding to his critics, Dr. Oz focuses attention to his good intentions as a way of convincing his audience that the critics are wrong. However, changing the topic of discussion doesn’t count as responding to an argument. Be careful of attempts to ignore the argument (or part of the argument) as a way to refute or challenge the argument, as this is a Red Herring fallacy. The deliberate diversion of attention away from the original topic often happens when the person cannot successfully challenge the original argument. This typically means that the original argument is more reasonable than the challenger wants to admit.
Dr. Oz chooses to attack the credibility of the people criticizing him instead of attacking the credibility of their critique. This results in him committing a Personal Attack fallacy as another way to avoid engaging in a meaningful response to his critics’ claims. When you break down the argument it becomes clear that the reason does not lead to the conclusion:
Premise 1: Several of the doctors criticizing me are guided by special interests
Conclusion: These doctors’ critiques are wrong
The character of the doctors challenging Dr. Oz have little to no bearing upon the truthfulness of their claims. It could be true that Dr. Oz is guilty of being influenced by special interests and promotes products that are not scientifically proven to work, even if those accusing him of this are also guided by special interests. Therefore, Dr. Oz is not effective in responding to his critics’ argument by way of attacking their integrity.
Appeal to Reason
This is an attempt to distract the audience and avoid addressing the core issues raised about Dr. Oz’s practices on his television show. This Personal Attack shifts the focus to something that is irrelevant: the truthfulness of the doctors’ concerns are not necessarily contingent upon their character.
In another response to his critics, Dr. Oz appeals to the importance of the freedom of speech as a way to deflect attention away from his critics’ argument. In this way, Dr. Oz is committing a Red Herring fallacy.
Dr. Oz is not concerned with responding to the claims that he endorses inappropriate medical treatments on his television show or is influenced by special interests. Instead Dr. Oz chooses to appeal to his audience’s firmly rooted American belief in the First Amendment Right: freedom of speech. By doing this, Dr. Oz relies on the fallacy of Appeal to Popularity to gain public support for his right to do what he wants on his television show.
Premise 1: Freedom of speech is a fundamental right
Conclusion: I should be allowed to say whatever I want on my television show
With this argument, Dr. Oz tries to convince his audience to ignore the issue raised by his critics and instead focus on freedom of speech. The right to free speech is a less controversial topic and one that most Americans cherish. By focusing on this topic Dr. Oz can easily gain popular support and avoid having to respond to challenges about his integrity as a doctor.
Appeal to Reason
Dr. Oz shifts the focus of the conversation away from claims about his lack of medical integrity to the importance of freedom of speech. This tactic is a Red Herring fallacy that uses Appeal to Popularity. It is much easier to convince people to be on your side if you focus on firmly held beliefs and ignore the more controversial parts of the argument. Simply because you believe in the right to free speech, does not necessarily hold you to accept that Dr. Oz has integrity as a doctor or should be able to promote products without medical based evidence.