Doctors are supposedly some of our most credible experts, right? And surely with their years of education and experience, they’d never steer us in the wrong direction — or would they?
While many of us use our platforms to speak our minds and establish our “expertise,” we’re hardly prolific enough on our own to hold much sway, for better or worse. Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing the ill effects of fake experts’ reckless commentary to the general public, which largely echoes that of President Donald Trump. Reality television host Dr. Drew Pinsky initially downplayed the severity of COVID-19 in relation to the flu. While not as egregious as other cases given he made these remarks before the pandemic rounded into full force, it’s still a poor look in hindsight.
Meanwhile Dr. Phil McGraw decried the need for nationwide quarantines because “45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools but we don’t shut the country down for that.” Sure, let’s listen to a man who’s not licensed to practice medicine and whose base argument consists of inaccurate statistics for non-contagious causes of death! Perhaps the most sinister comments were made by Dr. Mehmet Oz, who described the reopening of schools as “a very appetizing opportunity” to revitalize America in exchange for a mere “2% to 3% in terms of total mortality.” Of course, only a real doctor would cite the occasional sacrifice of human life as a necessary evil, wouldn’t they? Pinsky and Oz have since apologized for their misguided statements. Yet the damage has been done, not only to the wellbeing of the trio’s most impassioned advocates, but also to the significance of being labeled a doctor.
Obviously legitimate medical professionals have taken the brunt of the undue burden for these incidents. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a prominent member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, is arguably our most credible voice on all things COVID-19, yet those who prefer style over substance are drowning out his input (as well as that of other informed sources). Such willful ignorance is irritating enough on its own, but it becomes even more insulting once you consider all the legitimate doctors and nurses who’ve been risking their lives to safeguard ours during this public health crisis. We all know (or at least know of) people within the profession, whether they be longtime-practicing family members (e.g. my psychiatrist dad, alongside his two brothers), budding peers (e.g. my cousin, among other nursing school students) or those with whom we have less direct ties. Certainly we should trust their word above that of mere celebrity doctors regarding COVID-19 and other medical issues, but unfortunately not everyone appears to be following such logic.
The proliferation of misinformation by reality television mainstays also harms the reputability of non-medical doctors, an underreported yet equally unfortunate consequence. It’s important to remember that doctoral degrees come in a wide variety of disciplines beyond medicine — such as philosophy, social work and psychology — and that they each hold significant merit. Case in point, Pinsky and Oz are licensed medical doctors, with McGraw earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. But at the same time, we can’t simply take their words as gospel on every issue because their perspectives are informed by their work within specialized fields. Thus we must be more mindful in evaluating the credibility of different types of doctors across various contexts, ensuring we don’t blindly trust or distrust them. And most importantly, celebrity doctors should stay in their lane (or at least conduct their due research) before presenting themselves as authorities on a given issue.
I find it somewhat ironic that Pinsky, McGraw and Oz, in their attempts to mitigate the paranoia surrounding COVID-19, have only exacerbated it via their improper statements on the matter. On a more serious note, it’s truly a shame to see the magnitude of a doctoral signification become so greatly diminished. Throughout and beyond this pandemic, we all must ensure that doctors’ credibility doesn’t continue to be doctored.
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Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.