As a physician, Dr. Mehmet Oz exists 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 Dr.Oz.com:
“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.