Monday, July 14, 2014
Meet the medical student who wants to bring down a popular quack
Benjamin Mazer is a third-year medical student at the University of Rochester. Last year, after becoming increasingly concerned with the public-health impact of Dr. Mehmet Oz's sometimes pseudoscience health advice, he decided to ask state and national medical associations to do something about it.
"Dr. Oz has something like 4-million viewers a day," Mazer told Vox. "The average physician doesn't see a million patients in their lifetime. That's why organized medicine should be taking action."
Last year, Mazer brought a policy before the Medical Society of the State of New York—where Dr. Oz is licensed—requesting that they consider regulating the advice of famous physicians in the media. His idea: Treat health advice on TV in the same vein as expert testimony, which already has established guidelines for truthfulness. I asked Mazer about what inspired the policy, and what became of his efforts.
Julia Belluz: So you're the medical student who wants to bring down Dr. Oz?
Benjamin Mazer: I'm definitely not the only one. This issue was brought up by a number of physicians I worked with during my family medicine clerkship. We had all of this first-hand experience with patients who really liked his show and trusted him quite a bit. [Dr. Oz] would give advice that was really not great or it had no medical basis. It might sound harmless when you talk about things like herbal bills or supplements. But when the physicians' advice conflicted with Oz, the patients would believe Oz.
JB: Tell me about the policy you proposed. How did doctors react?
BM: I wrote policy for the Medical Society of the State of New York [where Dr. Oz is licensed] and the American Medical Association asking them to more actively address medical quackery on TV and in the media—specifically Dr. Oz.
The New York policy was passed in modified form. Organized medicine in New York is aware of what Dr. Oz is saying and how he is able to fall through the gaps of regulation. Many New York physicians testified at their annual meeting about the harm they are seeing happen day-to-day with their own patients. Patients stop taking proven medications in favor of "natural" medications that Dr. Oz promotes. Many patients trusted Dr. Oz more than their own family doctors and this conflict hurt the doctor-patient relationship.
When we brought the policy to the American Medical Association, they reaffirmed existing policy instead of our resolution asking them to take action against inappropriate medical testimonials on TV. The AMA basically thought they were doing enough with existing policy.
JB: Why don't you think the policy was picked up at the national level?
BM: Organized medicine is a slow beast. Also, some people might be underestimating the harms he's doing. Many physicians and certainly much of the public often ask, "What's the harm in an herbal pill or new diet?" The indirect harms can be great.
Organized medicine has an interest in protecting physicians as a profession. They want to maintain the prestige, trust, and income that physicians have historically received in the US. In order to protect the profession as a whole, organized medicine sometimes has to protect individual doctors, even if they are not acting in the best interest of patients. The AMA may fear that undermining Dr. Oz could undermine overall trust in doctors.
JB: Was there a particular patient who inspired this crusade against TV quackery?
BM: The patient who inspired the policy I wrote was an older woman in her 60s who had a lot of the classic, chronic health problems we deal with in America. She was overweight, she had diabetes, heart disease. And so the physician I was working with was recommending these oral diabetes medications that are pretty standard fair. She had watched the Dr. Oz Show featuring green coffee-bean supplements—and how it was great to lose weight—and she was convinced this was going to be a huge impact on her weight.
We tried to politely express concerns that this probably wasn't going to be effective because there's no evidence for it. She refused the diabetes medications. The hope she had placed in the green coffee-bean extract was part of that.
JB: What do you think is the impact of Dr. Oz's sometimes dubious health advice?
BM: I think these things impede the doctor-patient relationship. These doctors are actually doing a great job. But the trust people are placing with Dr. Oz—when their family physicians even nicely try to contradict him—disrupts their relationship.
JB: As a physician, what are you thinking when you hear Dr. Oz say he believes in magic?
BM: The movement in medicine has been toward evidence-based medicine because physicians had done things by their gut and belief for hundreds of years. Most physicians would agree it's only through the scientific process and evidence that we were able to make huge differences in medical care. It's insulting to talk about important medical issues and drugs as if it they were a matter of belief. It degrades all that work that has been done.
JB: If you could talk to Dr. Oz, what would you say to him?
BM: I would probably say that he does have the health interest of his viewers in mind. But in the long term, undermining good science and the relationship patients have with their current physicians is probably doing much more harm than good. If they're not going to listen to advice from physicians—who are providing good, evidence-based advice—if they're going to listen to other doctors on the show, it's going to do more harm than good.
Federal judge orders IRS to explain lost Lerner emails ‘under oath’
A federal judge has ordered the IRS to explain "under oath" how the agency lost a trove of emails from the official at the heart of the Tea Party targeting scandal.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan gave the tax agency 30 days to file a declaration by an "appropriate official" to address the computer issues with ex-official Lois Lerner.
The decision came Thursday as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which along with GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has questioned how the IRS lost the emails and, in some cases, had no apparent way to retrieve them.
The IRS first acknowledged it lost the emails in a letter to senators last month.
"In our view, there has been a cover-up that has been going on," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. "The Department of Justice, the IRS, had an obligation, an absolute obligation ... to alert the court and alert Judicial Watch as soon as they knew when these records were supposedly lost."
The IRS says it lost the emails in 2011 when Lerner's computer crashed. At the time, Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. She has since retired.
During the court hearing, Sullivan indicated he wanted the portion of the declaration on the computer issues to be wide-ranging, saying "that's about as broad as I can make it."
It also emerged at the status hearing that a Treasury Department inspector general probe into the matter is underway.
The lawyer representing the IRS, Geoffrey Klimas, argued that any further discovery in this case might impede the IG's investigation.
Sullivan seemed leery of that argument and also asked that the IRS official speak to that subject in the explanation the agency submits.
Further, Sullivan ordered that the IRS official explain how Lerner's files may be recovered through "other sources."
Hamas Co-opts Leftmedia
Hamas Orders Civilians to Die in Israeli Airstrikes: Order comes down to ignore warnings from Israel, stay inside
Hamas’ Interior Ministry has ordered residents of the Gaza Strip to remain in their houses if they are about to be bombed by the Israelis, a move that effectively turns citizens into human shields and is intentionally meant to boost the casualty rate, according to a copy of the order published by Hamas.
Israel warns Gaza residents of air strikes before they take place so innocent civilians have time to flee and seek shelter.
The latest Hamas order that citizens ignore Israel’s warnings and stay put is a clear effort by the terror group to increase the death count and apply pressure on Israel to cease its military campaign meant to end Hamas’s attacks.
“The interior ministry warned citizens about Israel sending messages telling them to leave their houses,” according to translations of the official Arabic statement provided by Oren Adaki, an Arabic language specialist at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
“The goal of these actions is to create confusion among the citizens,” the Interior Ministry said, instructing “all citizens to not heed these messages from Israel.”
“The goal of these messages is terrorizing citizens and to cause panic among them,” read the statement, which instructs Palestinians to “not do what the messages instruct them to do,” Adaki explained.
“The ministry [is] calling all our people not to deal or pay attention to the psychological warfare carried out by the occupation through rumors that broadcast across his media and delivering publications and communications on the phones of citizens, and the lack of response for each of these means, which aims to weaken the domestic front in light of great steadfastness of our people to face the aggression,” the Hamas Interior Ministry for National Security stated on Thursday in an order published in English and Arabic.
The Israeli military attempts to communicate with Palestinians and warn them of upcoming attacks via paper leaflets, text messages, and phone calls, among other means.
Hamas is notorious for intentionally putting citizens in harms way in order to maximize body counts and portray Israel as an aggressor.
The terror group often fires rockets from heavily populated civilian areas and uses schools, mosques, and hospitals as bases for their military operations.
The Interior Ministry also demanded that Egypt fully open its border crossing with the Gaza Strip and allow the free flow of people and goods.
“The Interior Ministry [is] demanding Egyptian authorities to urgent [sic] open of the Rafah crossing to deal with humanitarian cases and to alleviate the difficult conditions in the strip,” the statement reads.
Israeli Ambassador to U.S. Ron Dermer criticized Hamas’ disregard for innocent life during a speech on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
“We are dealing with an enemy that not only has no respect for our civilians,” Dermer said, explaining that the terror group is “hoping to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible.”
“They also have no respect for their own civilians,” Dermer added, criticizing the group for putting its people in harms way.
Sending pink slips to a war zone
By Jonathan Hendershott
In a stunning display of callousness, the Defense Department has announced that thousands of soldiers — many serving as commanding officers in Afghanistan — will be notified in the coming weeks that their service to the country is no longer needed.
Last week, more than 1,100 Army captains — the men and women who know best how to fight this enemy because they have experienced multiple deployments — were told they’ll be retired from the Army.
The overall news is not unexpected. The Army has ended its major operations in Iraq and is winding down in Afghanistan. Budget cuts are projected to shrink the Army from its current 520,000 troops to 440,000, the smallest size since before World War II.
What is astonishing is that the Defense Department thought it would be appropriate to notify deployed soldiers — men and women risking their lives daily in combat zones — that they’ll be laid off after their current deployment.
As one Army wife posted on MilitaryFamily.org, “On some level I knew the drawdowns were inevitable, but I guess I never expected to be simultaneously worried about a deployment to Afghanistan and a pink slip because my husband’s service is no longer needed.”
Yet the issues go far beyond thanklessness. The nation should worry about the increased national-security risk of separating such a large pool of combat-experienced leaders. The separated soldiers are those who carry the deepest knowledge base of counterinsurgency operations.
A senior Defense Department official warned: “If the force is smaller, there’s less margin for error. Let’s face it — things are pretty uncertain out there.”
Commenting on the extraordinarily large number of captains being retired, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell said: “In other times, they’d probably continue to stay in the Army. But these are not normal times.”
Indeed not. While mass layoffs in the private sector generate front-page headlines, the media have largely ignored the reduction of our military. But who can blame them?
The war-weary public doesn’t want to hear that the cuts put the country at risk.
After more than a decade of fighting, even the most faithful — who used to rally behind the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by sending CARE packages filled with cookies, candies and reminders of home — have moved on with their lives, with few thoughts of the soldiers still serving there.
And for far too many, a soldier is an uncomfortable reminder of what we have failed to do in the Middle East.
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Posted by JR at 12:48 AM