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Oz on autism: phony numbers, real emotion

February 17th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Easy marks

Dr. Mehmet Oz practices in a parallel universe where emotion trumps logic, correlation is another word for causation, and the plural of anecdote is data. But Oprah Winfrey’s kept man is indistinguishable from his peers in the make-believe world of day-time talk shows. So it makes sense that when Oz tackles autism, he stacked his audience with Jenny McCarthy’s angry mob.

Every anti-vaccine talking point is here. Autism is an epidemic. Check. “Is it the government’s fault?” Check. “Could vaccines be to blame?” Check. “Are parents to blame?” Check. All that’s missing is Bruno Bettleheim’s embalmed cadaver and a giant refrigerator prop with dancing Nurse Ratchets.

Oz pushed the epidemic angle particularly hard. “One in 110 children born in this country will have autism,” he tells us in the first minute. “Boys are hardest hit, with a staggering 1 in 70! Why is this happening?” But Oz never comes close to showing us how changes in diagnostic criteria, diagnostic substitution, greater awareness and other factors are better explanations for a “staggering” increase in prevalence. That would ruin the show, and everything that followed.

“Let’s talk for a moment about what autism is,” asks Oz. “It’s a neurological disorder that robs a child of his emotional foundation.” He emphasizes “emotional foundation” by clenching his fist, as if he’s holding a secret that will be revealed in the next 40 minutes. “It’s a disorder that makes it impossible often times for the child to communicate, even to smile.”

Good grief. Here is a medical definition of autism spectrum disorders:

A group of disorders characterized by impairment of development in multiple areas, including the acquisition of reciprocal social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and imaginative activity, and by stereotyped interests and behaviors. It includes autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Asperger syndrome.

Impairment of communication is not absence of communication, because communication is “something imparted, interchanged, or transmitted,” a capability shared by all sentient creatures.  Take Oz, for example. He imparted fear and loathing of autistic people, and interchanged fellow traveler status with the anti-vaccine movement that relies on fear and confusion for its propagation and survival.  But even though Dr. Oz’s communication is impaired by seven-years of Oprah-think, his needs can still be understood and accommodated.

It is inexcusable in polite society for anyone to tell parents their kids are less capable of imparting, interchanging, or transmitting something than a golden retriever. Except for Oz. He’s excused because he is on TV, an unserious medium where even life and death matters are trivialized for their entertainment value.

Take vaccines for instance. There is simply no evidence which links vaccines to autism, or any developmental disorder for that matter. But the unserious Oz listed the discredited vaccine link as one of three “theories” of autism causation, and even invited pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears to promote his alternative vaccine schedule which leaves children unnecessarily vulnerable to preventable diseases. On his Facebook page, for example, Sears advises parents not to vaccinate their autistic children until they “recover”.

Against such nonsense serious professionals struggle in vain. Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and staunch defender of children’s health, pointed out that one of Sears’s under-vaccinated patients was patient zero in the February, 2008 San Diego measles outbreak.  Sears ignored her and Oz didn’t press the issue. Immediately after the show, Brown posted this to her blog at

“I base vaccination decisions for my patients and my own children on science, not anecdotes or conspiracy theories. I’m passionate about vaccinations because I watched a child die from chickenpox – a vaccine-preventable illness. I refuse to let another child become a statistic because of hearsay. I’m compassionate towards families whose children have autism, because I have personally walked that road with several patients.

After 40 minutes, Oz thanked his audience for “harvesting their emotion”, which is Oprah-speak for being good sports and playing along. Unfortunately, if Dr. Oz and Oprah keep playing doctor, we’ll all be reaping the whirlwind in the form of more cases of communicable diseases, and less acceptance of autistic children and adults, as we amuse ourselves to death.



16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 lisa // Feb 18, 2011 at 6:43 am

    How could I be the first commenter here?!

    Ken – have to say you gave me a much-needed giggle this morning… loved the dancing fridge and Nurse Ratchet!

    IMO, one of the worst aspects of this type of program is the language that suggests that people with autism are emotion-free, uncaring individuals unable to connect or engage with the world. There may be a few such people out there, but I personally have never met them. And I truly take offense on behalf of my son, who is among the kindest individuals I know.


  • 2 Liz Ditz // Feb 18, 2011 at 10:15 am

    One of your best stories ever.

  • 3 KWombles // Feb 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I agree with Liz; you did an excellent job! Oz should be ashamed of himself, but we know that’s as likely to happen as Dr Jay to admit he’s wrong about vaccines and autism.

  • 4 Tweets that mention Oz on autism: phony numbers, real emotion -- // Feb 18, 2011 at 11:53 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liz Ditz, Alltop Autism. Alltop Autism said: Oz on autism: phony numbers, real emotion […]

  • 5 Kabie // Feb 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    The way to tackle people like this is through education. He and others are excused not because they are on TV but because in the absence of answers people will cling to anything, however incredible. When people repeat the rubbish about absence of communication it makes me so sad because what they’re really saying is that they don’t want to listen.

  • 6 Ross Coe // Feb 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Dr oz owns a large amount of stock in Siga technologies, a vaccine producer. He’s on the board of directors too. Search Siga Technologies and Dr Oz and read for yourself. As for vaccines causing autism, only a blind/deaf/and dumb fool couldn’t figure out it the common denominator. No other theory makes sense. How can the unnatural injection of anything producers care to put in a vaccine make sense. How can anyone be surprised it causes side effects and vaccine induced disease. The most ridiculous part is the semantics. The vaccine court has ruled that vaccines cause the conditions that cause autism, so I guess theres no direct link because you can’t say vaccines cause autism. MORONS.

  • 7 Chris // Feb 19, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Ross Coe:

    The vaccine court has ruled that vaccines cause the conditions that cause autism, so I guess theres no direct link because you can’t say vaccines cause autism. MORONS.

    Actually, no. The court ruled on table injuries (that is a list of things that have actually been associated with vaccines, and the criteria is very lenient). None of those were actually autism.

    Also, science is not done in the court room. You are using the type of logic that would make us believe you would head over to the nearest court house if your child had a medical condition. Please, don’t.

    Instead of idle speculation like “unnatural injection”, please provide any evidence you have from reputable researchers that vaccines cause more harm than the diseases. Or that the MMR is associated with autism. Thank you.

  • 8 Science-Based Medicine » Dr. Oz and John Edward: Just when I thought Dr. Oz couldn’t go any lower, he proves me wrong // Mar 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    […] I didn’t think Dr. Oz could go much lower, although he tried, two examples of which were his anti-vaccine-sympathetic episode on autism in which he featured Dr. Robert Sears and his utterly reversing a previous scientifically correct […]

  • 9 Ross Coe // Apr 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Chris I don’t care what you think. More double talk. People like you aren’t interested in science or proof. You think your opinion is enough. What I wrote is based on what I know. Do your own research if mine isn’t good enough. I’m sure you can subjectively come up with something that will make you feel clever. And you think that vaccines are natural injections? That we are meant to have toxic product placed into us, circumventing our natural defences? Dude stop smoking pot.

  • 10 Chris // Apr 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Aren’t you the guy who thought the reason Roald Dahl’s daughter could not speak after measles was due to something like autism?

    I don’t believe you focus much on fact. If you would have, you would had provided some. Like evidence that autism became an issue after the MMR was introduced in the USA in 1971, not when the UK version was introduced there in 1988 (and switched to the American version in 1992).

  • 11 autblog // Apr 4, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Tough question, Ross, how do you explain that? If MMR causes autism, then why didn’t the US “epidemic” start in 1975 or so?

  • 12 Julian Frost // Apr 4, 2011 at 11:25 pm


    That we are meant to have toxic product placed into us, circumventing our natural defences?

    Riight, children never fall down, scrape their knees and get germ-infested dirt in their grazes. Oh wait.

  • 13 Oz and Eastern Wizardry | Skeptikai // Apr 26, 2011 at 8:05 am

    […] people fear conventional medicine – but also promoted a dangerously neglectful vaccine regime by Dr. Robert Sears, another misled doctor with a daytime TV show, as well as other sorts of pseudoscience-minded […]

  • 14 Tiffany // May 24, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I believe that people who are autistic, are just in between this dimension and the one above us. Autism isn’t a condition or a bad thing. I believe autistic people serve a higher pupose as messengers of light. We can probably learn a lot from them (if people open their minds to all possibilities) The only reason autistic people function differently, is because they are used to a higher rhealm. Not all rhealms require a body.

  • 15 Science-Based Medicine » Vaccine Confidence: Attitudes and Actions // Jul 7, 2011 at 5:30 am

    […] daytime television was a top information source for less than 1% of respondents, so Dr. Oz, no friend of science, may not have the influence on vaccination that his viewership might […]

  • 16 - InstantKEbooks Blog // Jul 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    […] daytime television was a top information source for less than 1% of respondents, so Dr. Oz, no friend of science, may not have the influence on vaccination that his viewership might […]

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