The HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver hasn’t been on the air for long, but already he’s nailed a myriad of important issues that are so absurd, yet not many people seem to see through them. Yesterday’s show was no different, when he highlighted the Congressional Panel of popular celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz’s testimony regarding the efficacy of the products he promotes on his show.
Those who know me know I’ve never been Dr. Oz’s biggest fan, so I can’t say it hasn’t been satisfying watching him stumble through excuses and backpeddling hyperbole through the pressure of the Senators. The trust people put in him is based on the fact that he’s an M.D., a real honest to goodness surgeon- a heart surgeon at that! This represents an archetypical example of an authority fallacy. Just because someone is a highly trained expert in one category, doesn’t make their opinions on unrelated fields any more valid. Weight should be applied to the side of evidence, not of clout. Diets and supplements are not his forté, and as his show has descended into the realm of quackery, so should his shame grow. We should find it intolerable that a man blessed with a platform such as his, has chosen to use it to exploit an anti-intellectual trend in America, rather than espouse evidence- based healthcare.
But that’s where John Oliver delivers comedy gold in displaying the absolutely illogical passion people have for natural health. One line that struck me, in particular was how several years ago, when the FDA tried to implement regulations on supplement companies (so they wouldn’t, you know, kill people or mislead them into buying junk that, for all we know, could have been mixed in someone’s dirty bathtub before being bottled with a pretty label with flowers on it), more people wrote to their congressmen to defend their “right” to take vitamins than did people who wrote letters in protest of the Vietnam War. Sure, I get it, when a bill may affect you personally, it’s easier to get angry over than when it affects people thousands of miles away in a war you have no control over. That doesn’t make it excusable, however.
Make no mistake, the supplement industry is HUGE. Call it Big Placebo if you want, and they want to make profits just like any other “evil” corporation. The difference is, they don’t have to prove safety or effectiveness before selling it to you. They just want to protect their business model from being stifled by those pesky scientists that work for Big Government, by convincing you that you need their products for total body wellness. And after all, Natural equals Safe, right?