Why I think Sanjay Gupta is a good pick for Surgeon General

PharmGirl just sent me this tip after I got out of a meeting but I see that some bloggers have already weighed in about Obama’s apparent selection of Dr Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General.
PalMD was briefly positive but PZ is concerned that Gupta is merely a talking head or placeholder and an apologist for the US health care system. However, I see two main advantages.
1. He knows firsthand the limitations of the US health care system, especially in poor rural and urban areas where access to care is a challenge even under normal circumstances. Gupta has also been on-site for several of the most challenging medical emergencies the US has faced in recent years, most significantly the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
2. Literally millions of Americans already trust him for health care information. Some may consider this a detriment but let me frame this in the context of the recent brouhaha between science bloggers and traditional science journalists: as accurate and influential as science bloggers or top-tier science journalists think we may be, the vast majority of Americans still obtain health information from television, again, in poor or rural areas where internet access is limited or too expensive. The Sanjay Gupta’s of television play an incredible role in dissemination health information to much of this country.
Be thankful Obama didn’t pick Dr Phil.
The primary question is how Gupta would use this position in the Obama cabinet to promote health care reform and improved access to care for the indigent and the increasing number of un- or underinsured. But he is an expert in framing messages and complex medical issues to a diverse audience. This could be very good, if the position is used wisely to effect health care reform and improved public health.
Addendum: My dear friend and colleague, Dr Val, levies her disappointment at Better Health.

5 thoughts on “Why I think Sanjay Gupta is a good pick for Surgeon General

  1. I agree. Gupta is certainly an unexpected choice, but an excellent one. The Surgeon General is “America’s doctor,” after all, and Gupta not only knows his stuff and keeps it real, but like the best family doctors he knows how to communicate that knowledge to the lay person.
    A “celebrity doctor”? Yes, but in this case the reputation is well-deserved. No one can seriously dispute his qualifications, and we need a strong official voice like his to begin to counterbalance all the woo out there.

  2. If you think Dr. Gupta is a good choice, you must have loved George Bush’s editing of science reports. Gupta is an advocate of facilitated communication (FC) a “treatment” for autism supported by no well-controlled scientifc studies. Gupta accepts it based on anecdotal evidence. The result is that thousands of autistic kids get FC instead of scientifically documented therapy. In addition, parents of autistic children are accused of child abuse based solely on “reports” provided by facilitators. This is reminiscent of the “recovered memory” therapy myth. Anyone who believes in scientific method cannot know about FC and support Gupta’s nomination, no matter how charismatic Gupta may be.

  3. Sanjay Gupta is to autism what much of the Bush administration was to meteorology. We are looking to replace climate denialism with developmental disabilities denialism.
    With his advocacy of the discredited technique “facilitated communication” (FC), Dr. Gupta joins those who prey on the desperate parents of children with autism, instilling the false hope that a child who has never once spoken, read, or written will, with a little physical support, suddenly type out, “Mommy, I love you.” These are ersatz experts who refuse to acknowledge the accumulated and well-established scientific evidence on autism — that it is a real developmental disability with profound cognitive implications — replacing it with the fanciful notion that autism is a movement disorder akin to Parkinson’s, and that within everyone with autism is a philosopher-poet waiting to get out. Thirty years of FC have produced not a single properly controlled, peer-reviewed study showing that it works. Such facts will not find much purchase if our personable young top doctor, succumbing to the seduction of a touching anecdote, gives his imprimatur of his office to an ineffective and dangerous intervention.
    And, while children with developmental disabilities are denied their own voices–because they did not get the real treatments that might have given them their own voices–the rest of us can worry that someone’s irrelevant inkling will be turned into a story of victimization at our hands by an overzealous interviewer who has followed the lead of our top doctor. Gupta’s naive public speculations about repressed memories and multiple personality disorder, which he himself admitted were uninformed, risk breathing new life into long outmoded psychodynamic models of memory and the false memory horrors they brought us not so long ago.
    Dr. Gupta may have important talents in valuable areas–but he is no empiricist. We have hoped for a long time to see our 21st century become one of science and rationality instead of what it has been for the most of a decade. Elevating Gupta to Surgeon General would be a step back with the potential to cause irreparable harm to the most vulnerable among us.

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