I Know Michael Moore Is Happy That Dr. Sanjay Gupta Won’t Be America’s Next Surgeon General!

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has turned down the offer to become the next Surgeon General. Although I thought he would have been great,there are some folks who are far from being impressed by Dr. Gupta. Michael Moore made his qualms with Dr. Gupta known on Larry King,which I discussed in a previous post. But,he wasn’t the only one who had some misgivings about Dr. Gupta. Here’s more from Respectful Insolence:

“As I was sitting in the O.R. lounge yesterday afternoon between cases, the television in the lounge was tuned to CNN. One thing I noted was some rather fawning coverage of President Bush regarding the military that seemed as though it belonged on FOX News rather than CNN. Not long after that, Wolf Blitzer breathlessly reported that CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, had apparently been approached by the Obama Transition Team about becoming the new Surgeon General. I thought to myself, “Hmmm. That’s interesting.” And then I went back to the O.R. to finish up my schedule.

Later on, I just so happened to check my stats, and I noticed a Pharyngulanche. Apparently, P.Z. Myers was incredibly unimpressed by this pick because he seems to view Dr. Gupta as some sort of tool of the capitalist health care system. Oddly enough, he wondered what my opinion was referring to me as “that ol’ conservative.” Of course, these days I’m about as centrist as they come, perhaps slightly right of center, but compared to the predominate groupthink of the ScienceBlogs collective I might as well be a member of the John Birch Society compared to the flaming liberals that surround me. Or at least, so it seems. However, PZ is a the Big Kahuna among ScienceBloggers, and he was nice enough to boost my traffic for a day. So it would be churlish not to weigh in. Besides, everyone else and his grandmother around here appears to be doing the same, and, far be it from me as–gulp–a grand old man of the medical blogosphere (hey, four years is a really long time in terms of blog time)–to deny him or the rest of my readers my stunning insights, for which, no doubt, all wait anxiously with bated breath. (How’s that for a surgical ego?)

Suffice it to say that I, too, am unimpressed, but not for the same reason that PZ is. Indeed, it has little or nothing to do with politics. In this, I’m afraid I’ll be having a rare disagreement with blog buds PalMD, who thinks the appointment is pretty cool, and Abel Pharmboy, who admires Dr. Gupta’s communication skills. It’s pretty unusual for me to disagree with them, but, hey, it sometimes happens.

My reasons for not being too thrilled with Dr. Gupta as the new Surgeon General come down to two areas. First, like Val Jones, I think he lacks gravitas. He’s too young and has no experience as the administrator of a large organization, which is important. Although the Surgeon General is an important position, it is not a policy-making position but rather primarily an administrative position. Dr. Gupta’s academic rank is only Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, and his other position, Associate Chief of the Neurosurgery Service at Grady Memorial Hospital, isn’t sufficient administrative experience to prepare him to administer the Public Health Service. In brief, the Surgeon General is the chief medical officer for the 6,000 strong Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service. It is also an advisory position, being the primary medical science advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Health, who in turn is the principal advisor to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on public health and scientific issues. Depending on what the President wants, the Surgeon General can be simply an administrator with little public role, but an unofficial role of the Surgeon General is to be “America’s chief doctor.”

It is that second role of the Surgeon General that makes me somewhat less than thrilled with the apparent selection of Dr. Gupta. A Surgeon General’s influence with the public and with policy makers derives primarily from his gravitas and his persuasiveness. If the Surgeon General is perceived as a lightweight, legislators and the U.S. public will pay him little mind. One reason that Dr. C. Everett Koop was so influential was because his long history as a pediatric surgeon and his manner led him to be respected throughout the medical community and by policy makers and the movers and shakers in HHS. I just can’t see Dr. Gupta commanding that sort of respect, given his history as a talking head.

However, what concerns me most about Dr. Gupta is his relationship with science-based medicine. Being a medical correspondent is a tough job to have and still stay true to science- and evidence-based medicine. The temptation to “sex a story up” or to do credulous puff pieces about the latest “alternative” medicine in order to drive ratings is strong, and it takes a strong commitment to be able to resist them. In this, Dr. Gupta has made some high profile stumbles. Chris Mooney points out how poorly he performed in the Clonaid fiasco. In actuality, this is something about Dr. Gupta that I had not heard about. I do remember the Raelians and their claim, presented without any evidence, that they had cloned a human being. But I either did not see or hear about Dr. Gupta’s credulous report on the Raelians. It was truly a low point for medical journalism in the last decade, and he was at the center of it. As Mooney points out, he may not have been a willing participant. He may have been inexperienced then. He may not have been confident enough in his position to say no. However, his involvement with that story does not give me confidence in his judgment.

What concerns me even more that that is that, when it comes to one of the most important threats to public health of our time, the antivaccine movement, specifically the movement that claims that vaccines cause autism, Dr. Gupta has shown a maddening tendency to straddle the fence and play both sides in his reporting. His coverage of the Hannah Poling case, in particular, was distressingly credulous, so much so that the crank blog Age of Autism approved of it heartily. Meanwhile, on his own blog, Dr. Gupta was disturbingly sympathetic to the antivaccine viewpoint:

I want to continue the discussion today. Couple of points. First of all, it seems as if parents bring up concerns about vaccines, they are automatically portrayed as anti-vaccine. Why is that? Is it possible to completely believe in the power and benefits of vaccines, but still have legitimate and credible concerns?”(End of Excerpt) Read the rest here.

And here’s more on why Dr. Sanjay Gupta turned down the job from ABC News:

Sanjay Gupta says he is no longer in the running to be the nation’s next surgeon general, CNN reported today, as President Obama brought health care to center stage.

CNN cited his desire to continue working instead as a neurosurgeon and CNN medical analyst. His wife is pregnant with their third child.

It has been two months since ABC News first learned that Obama was paging CNN journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta to become the nation’s next surgeon general.

Since early January, several people have speculated about what was taking the celebrity doctor so long to answer the call.

And despite some concerns about Gupta’s qualifications, some said the reason the surgeon general selection had not been formally announced since Gupta’s name leaked on Jan. 6 may not have had anything to do with Gupta himself.”(End of Excerpt) Read the rest here.

1 Comment

Filed under Scientific Reasons

One response to “I Know Michael Moore Is Happy That Dr. Sanjay Gupta Won’t Be America’s Next Surgeon General!

  1. Great article, especially bringing up Gupta’s age, gravitas (lack of) and years of “sexing up” stories.

    We may never know the real reason for Gupta’s withdrawal but we are way better off.

    more at my post today:

”Staging Dr. Gupta”


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