Interviewing smart people is the best part of my job.
Well, going backstage to interview rock stars followed by getting free concert tickets to front row center is pretty epic too, especially when said rock star is also really smart, but I love that my career allows me to interview some of the most respected MDs, PhDs, RDs and trainers on the planet and learn some of the cool wisdom they’ve attained over a lengthy career.
And one of my favorite people to interview has been Dr. David Katz.
I interviewed him at length for my first book, and I sung his praises in said book for the excellent advice he gave. To this day I still believe that he is one of the wisest people around when it comes to obesity and weight loss, which is why I interviewed him again for what I knew would be a contentious column in the Chicago Tribune about the health dangers of obesity. He gave me great quotes for that piece too.
I’ve also linked to his articles on numerous occasions as a reliable source, like this piece I wrote on high fat diets. In that column I even wrote: “another man I trust is Dr. David Katz, the internationally renowned obesity expert and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. I’ve interviewed Katz before and follow his work closely.”
And I still trust his diet and weight loss advice; I’ve read a lot of his articles on this subject and find them to be filled with excellent information. But I’ll never interview him again, and probably think twice before even linking to one of his articles as a source.
It’s because he’s become a liability by embracing bullshit.
Guys like Dr. David Gorski and Dr. Steven Novella have been picking apart Dr. Katz’s embracing of alternative medicine for a while now, but I’ve only learned of Katz’s penchant for such things recently. It was actually about two months ago that I told a good friend (an MD) that I wouldn’t be interviewing Katz anymore because I considered attaching his name to any work of mine – using him as an expert source to bolster a point I wished to make – could now have the opposite effect.
I had no intention of going public with my decision, but then today happened.
Today, Dr. David Katz shared a link from Natural News in defense of Dr. Oz on his Facebook page. Natural News, if you’re not aware, is quite possibly the most quacktacular source of “health” information on the web, and recently made this very popular list of 10 Facebook pages you need to stop sharing from.
Katz mentioned in one of the comments that he failed to conduct a proper background check, and that he wasn’t aware of Natural News’ reputation. I thought everyone who worked in health in some way, and who was on Facebook, was well aware of what kind of shite that site is. Nevertheless, if he was genuinely ignorant it is still no excuse, as the article in question that he linked is it’s typical fear-mongering, pseudoscientific bullshit, and it’s in defense of Dr. Oz!
Dr. Oz is the worst kind of charlatan: the kind that is half right.
It’s easy to blow apart the stupid health claims made by the blatant frauds; anyone with two brains cells to rub together knows that an electro-shocker belt won’t help you see your abs and that weight loss earrings won’t really help you lose weight. But with Oz what we have is bringing people in with some good health information, and then sliding on over to the dark side with mystical woo bullshit. It’s hard for the average person of average health knowledge to be able to tell the difference. And Katz is defending this, and using Natural News as his source to do so. I’ll note that this was not the first time Katz used Natural News as a source. I mentioned speaking to an MD friend about no longer wanting to interview Katz a couple of months ago, and what triggered that was him using Natural News as a source for this article. After getting flack on his Facebook page for today’s post he wrote “I had not heard of ‘Natural News’ before now,” but apparently he had.
It sucks, because I genuinely like Katz’s work; the work of his that I’ve focused on, that is. I still believe he is one of the best sources of information regarding the problems associated with obesity and a healthy approach to weight loss. My book and articles that sourced him aren’t wrong for containing his opinions.
But moving forward, knowing what I know now, I can’t risk an association any longer. I can’t write a contentious article like the dangers of obesity one and have someone able to dismiss it by simply saying, “He used Dr. David Katz as a source therefore this article is crap.”
It makes me sad.
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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com.