Media and the new public health

Julia Belluz at Vox published an article discussing the tensions between being a scientist/physician and being involved in the popular media. My views on the importance of this issue were also quoted:

A very insightful medical student at Rochester, Benjamin Mazer, has been lobbying the American Medical Association to publish media guidelines for doctors — as well as to condemn and discipline those who use the mainstream press to spread false medical information.

I asked Mazer why he made this the focus of his advocacy.” We’re on the very beginning of a technological and societal change that will allow mass media to be an important component of public health — if not the most important component,” he told me. “We need to begin the conversation about how we’re going to give people information through technology responsibly and accurately.”

Here, Mazer was again raising a conflict that Sacks foreshadowed. With the publication of his best-selling books Awakenings and Migraine, Sacks recalls in his memoir, “Suddenly I was in contact with a great many people. I had powers to help — but also powers to harm.” If only all doctors would realize the same.

I have received many messages that are critical of this project. Rather than defend Dr. Oz directly, they usually question the importance of this whole endeavor. I have been asked why I’m not “taking on” the hospital lobby, insurance companies, or big agriculture. Of course, I have also received plenty of emails telling me to “stay within my paygrade” as a medical student and to wait until I can write prescriptions before trying to share my opinion. (Sometimes I’m given both suggestions in the same message.)

I hope Vox’s article helps to show that Doctors In Oz is not looking to provide all the solutions but rather to expand a conversation that is central to the future of medicine and public health.

April 28, 2015 | Benjamin Mazer