Dr. Oz – like all journalist physicians – has a duty to act as a filter and evaluate the credibility of the studies he covers before promoting them to a national audience. And when certain studies fall well short of even the most rudimentary scientific standards, he has a responsibility to his viewers to skip covering them to avoid inciting unnecessary public hysteria.
But he failed that test this week when he devoted more than seven minutes on his national show to an obscure German study on vinyl pool toys, the findings of which even he and the guests on his show agreed were inconclusive.
Dr. Oz clarified in the segment that parents shouldn’t be alarmed by the study’s uncorroborated assertions. But the time and attention he dedicated to this relatively unknown German study did exactly that in the minds of many of his viewers. His show even featured alternatives to vinyl pool toys, giving viewers a false reason to believe some of the study’s findings may indeed be worthy of concern.
Are we surprised? The British Medical Journal determined that over 50% of the recommendations on Dr. Oz show were either flat wrong or based on no scientific evidence whatsoever. And he maintained that dubious batting average by irresponsibly airing this segment featuring a slew of baseless claims about the safety of vinyl pool toys and PVC products, despite our best efforts to enlighten him of the facts in advance.
PVC’s safety has been proven time and time again by countless studies and decades of real-world use. It’s one of the most widely researched materials in the world. It’s manufacturing complies with some of the strictest regulations of any material produced in the United States. And its safe use has been verified over and over by U.S. government agencies tasked with protecting the health and safety of the American public.
But Dr. Oz opted to incite unnecessary fear about vinyl. He promoted an obscure German study that made a number of unsubstantiated and irresponsible claims about vinyl. This isolated, unreplicated study uses flawed methodology to make sweeping claims about an entire category of vinyl pool toys based on a review of only four product samples. And it asserts that odor emissions detected from those products – at any level – can indicate toxicity to humans, which just isn’t true. Any reputable scientist wouldn’t give these inconclusive results the time of day, let alone promote it to millions of people -- or encourage people to change their daily lives -- because of it. Yet that’s exactly what Dr. Oz did.
We told Dr. Oz prior to his segment that no credible scientific findings could be drawn from the German study -- but he went ahead with his segment anyway. We sent him a lengthy response highlighting the many reasons why the German study falls short of any definitive scientific conclusions. We pointed out that the study relies on data gathered using only four products—an insufficient sample size to justify the claims it makes. We also noted that two of the samples were from unidentified origins, and one was sourced from China. This is important since PVC pool toys sold in the United States are required to follow strict production regulations that other countries may not observe. And we clarified that the authors of the study themselves noted that their findings were inconclusive and would need additional research to prove. In the two years since the study was published, that research has never been done.
Dr. Oz and his guests even noted that the study’s findings were inconclusive - but the show went ahead with the segment anyway.
Mara Schiavocampo, a correspondent for Dr. Oz featured in the pool toy segment, stated:“... we have to keep in mind that this is a very, very small study. They only looked at four toys. Even the researchers of this study said, ‘we need to study it more.’ So the takeaway here is not that these pool toys will make you sick, it’s just that we need to look into this more.”
Toxicologist Tamykah Anthony stated, “I don’t want to alarm a lot of people because the study was kind of small.”
And even Dr. Oz himself said, “Good advice for everybody is don’t be scared of the pool floats...”
Yet Dr. Oz ran this baseless fear-mongering segment anyway, because the opportunity to scare viewers and generate clicks to his website was simply too tempting to pass up.
The chemicals that the study claims are emitted by PVC pool floats aren’t even used in the production of PVC. They are often used in the solvents that adhere ink to the floats, but they are not used in PVC or vinyl material. We pointed this out to him as well before his story went to air, but he ignored this, too. What’s more, Toxicologist Tamykah Anthony claimed that “PVC plastics” are “endocrine disruptors” when there is no credible evidence to support her statement.
Dr. Oz’s decision to push this uncorroborated German study fits with his track record of peddling bad science. As we noted at the outset, a review by the British Medical Journal found that more than half of Oz’s advice wasn’t supported by scientific evidence. His claims have been ridiculed in the Washington Post, New Yorker, and Popular Science, among other outlets. The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics expressed serious concern about Dr. Oz, and physicians at Columbia University told CNN they were “dismayed” when he joined their faculty. He’s even been called before Congress to answer for his promotion of dubious diet supplements.
Some of the segments presented by Dr. Oz are downright laughable. In the past, he’s claimed that eggplants can cure cancer, that numerology holds secrets to health, and that people should eat pasta and broccoli for breakfast. Here’s a supercut of some of his “miraculous” claims from the Washington Post:
So it’s no surprise that he’s promoting a questionable study on vinyl pool toys. Dr. Oz succumbed to click-bait temptation, once again, and put his own self-interest ahead of his viewers. He pushed a flawed scare narrative that will no doubt generate views across his platforms and earn him money from his corporate sponsors, but won’t help the public live healthier lives.
Facts help people. Regardless of how boring they can sometimes be, they matter.
And when personalities like Dr. Oz push fear-mongering over facts, in pursuit of fame and financial success, the public loses.