Perhaps they tried this because Columbia has been having a bad ethics year so far… that could be it, I guess.
For the record, here are are the ten prominent individuals in the field of medicine who called on Columbia University to kick Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known to Oprah fans and junk TV addicts as “Dr.Oz,” off its medical school’s faculty:
Henry I. Miller, M.D.
Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy
& Public Policy
Scott W. Atlas, M.D.
David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow
Jack Fisher, M.D.
Professor of Surgery (emeritus)
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA
Shelley Fleet, M.D.
Gordon N. Gill, M.D.
Dean (emeritus) of Translational Medicine
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA
Michael H. Mellon, M.D.
San Diego, CA
Gilbert Ross, M.D.
President (Acting) and Executive Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York, NY
Samuel Schneider, M.D.
Glenn Swogger Jr. M.D.
Director of the Will Menninger Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences (retired)The Menninger Foundation
Joel E. Tepper, M.D.
Hector MacLean Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research
Dept of Radiation Oncology
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC
And here is their letter. They are troubled because “Dr. Oz” has embraced dubious products and health promotion techniques on his TV show. Indeed he has. On TV, Dr. Oz is a quack. He uses his medical credentials to, as the letter says, show “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine” and to display “baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops.” And no one can deny that “he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”
None of which is justification for taking him off the faculty, where his teaching duties are unrelated to his lucrative TV persona, and are the direct result of his recognized expertise in cardiothoracic surgery.
Could it be that all of these doctors—including Professors Tepper and Fisher, and Dean Gill— have never encountered the sacred educational principle of academic freedom?
Here you go, guys: read the statement on the subject by the Association of American Colleges & Universities board. The short version is that society is best served if teachers, professors and scholars can teach, study, speak and write without interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, professional threats or public pressure. It is closely allied with the freedom of speech, which is an extension of academic to the public. A particular professor’s public statements may seem objectively irresponsible, ill-motivated, inappropriate or embarrassing to his or her discipline or the institution that employs her, but that institution may not take action against that individual without being in breach of academic freedom.
Is Oz abusing his influence and position? Absolutely, and unethically so. This is one reason why schools choose their faculties with care, or try to. You just never know what orbits some of these people will spin off into, though. Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists in history, was a pioneer in the fields of quantum chemistry and molecular biology and who won two Nobel Prizes, spent his latter years being a shill for the vitamin industry, although an unpaid one. The best teacher I ever had was the late Professor George Wald, who also won a Nobel, in his case for his work on the biochemistry of the human eye. He became a fanatic, if persuasive, anti-Vietnam war activist. His mania even crept into class sometimes. Then, as now, I considered Wald’s politicking an abuse of his fame and position, just like I believe that singers shouldn’t mix their partisan rants in with their songs during concerts. And they shouldn’t, just like scholars and professors shouldn’t cash in by lending credibility to dubious weight-loss schemes and anti-vaxx nuts, like Dr. Oz has.
If there was ever a terrifyingly slippery slope, however, this is it. There is no way, no way at all, to allow these doctors to pressure Columbia into sacking Dr. Oz and then find a bright line that wouldn’t lead to the harassment and dismissal of today’s Walds, like Cornel West, Angela Davis, and Noam Chomsky on the left, or Ben Carson and Thomas Sowell on the right. Then there is Catherine McKinnon, the Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, a radical feminist who has championed, indeed inspired campus speech codes...Leon Kass, University of Chicago’s Addie Clark Harding Professor Emeritus of Social Thought, who has vigorously opposed stem cell research… William Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University, who dares to question the “consensus” on global warming…Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, who has has the temerity to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage while supporting the philosophy of–the Horror!— Capitalism…Peter Singer, of course, the Princeton ethicist who sees no moral or ethical distinction between late-term abortion and killing a healthy newborn with a hammer, and who regards both as ethical…and Thomas Nagel, Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, and national pariah who thinks Charles Darwin was wrong.
Now personally, I wouldn’t want many of these scholars on my faculty, and while I’d love to have been taught linguistics by Professor Chomsky, to name one, his forays into political science are as embarrassing as Pauling’s obsession with Vitamin C. Still, if these professors are removed for their views, then no scholar whose blasphemous, outrageous, unconventional ideas just might be right, could ever challenge the conventional assumptions of academia.
Dr. Oz’s tawdry hucksterism is small-potatoes in this context. Yes, he’s annoying, and I can’t blame any doctors who gag watching his show. In the end, however, their effort to remove him from the faculty at Columbia is as ethically misguided as anything Oz has done, and far more dangerous.
Columbia’s med school replied to the doctors’ demands succinctly:
Dear Dr. Miller et al,
As I am sure you understand and appreciate, Columbia is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members’ freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion.