Field of Science

Gupta for Surgeon General?

I stopped watching CNN when they called on Dr. Phil for proffering his deep insights on student psychology after the Virginia Tech shootings. Since then the quality of the channel has just kept on sliding in my opinion. Where Fox News brings you the best of cherry-picking and biased right-wing propaganda under the guise of being fair and balanced, CNN smothers you either with sensationalist news items, unqualified "experts" (Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra and a horde of others) or mostly completely irrelevant entertainment covering the likes of Anna Nicole Smith. The Onion might be the only decent news source to follow now.

In spite of this I respect some of CNN's correspondents, especially Anderson Cooper who I think tries his best to do an objective and fair job. Another correspondent who I respect is Sanjay Gupta, and that's not just because he is a professor at my school. I have always been impressed with his sheer stamina and wide knowledge of issues, his capacity to traverse the globe and country and report on diverse stories, and his (generally) sincere and unbiased efforts to report accurately and present all the relevant sides. While he did have his bad moments (like the one with Michael Moore), Gupta usually does a good job. Most of his shortcomings I attribute to CNN, whose lazy buffoons like their correspondents to focus on sensationalist or unimportant news items.

So I personally feel satisfied upon hearing that Gupta has been tapped for US Surgeon General. The Surgeon General may not be the Secretary of State, but he has the power to do a significant amount of good...and bad. Remember this lady? (although I think her dismissal was completely unjustified). In an age where bug-resistant infectious diseases, poison from abroad, controversies about AIDS and abortion and stem cell research riddle the front pages, I would think that the Surgeon General's post is one of the more important posts in the country.

That does not mean I am in complete agreement with Gupta's appointment; for instance I don't know how qualified he would be to make decisions at the highest level or fend off bureaucracy. But if not for any other reason, I feel gratified that the administration would at least pick an intelligent, young, knowledgeable and driven person who would ask the right questions and draw on his extensive background. Gupta knows about the important issues and because of his reporting knows the right sources to plumb regarding them. At least in principle he should be able to make some informed decisions.


  1. Has Gupta actually taken care of sick people? Not just one or two now and then, but how many and how long. The NYTimes had a rather adulatory article yesterday about him, that focused on his public face, but said relatively little about his medical experience. I'm asking because I don't know.

    Physicians spend a lot of time cleaning up the misinformation in the press and TV (vaccination causes autism, mercury in fillings causes MS, etc. etc. ) and tend to discount the medical knowledge of talking heads.

    People will ask their docs (among others) about what they hear, so credibility in the profession is important.

    As a medical student, one of our profs was Everett Koop M.D, a great man (who literally developed pediatric surgery as a specialty). He was a devout Christian, which raised a few liberal hackles, but he did a great job as Surgeon General, partly because of his stature in the profession. Senator Kennedy later apologized to Koop for his criticism during the confirmation hearing, admitting that he was wrong about him (how often does any politician do that).-- a real sign of class.

    Now we're all intelligent, but that isn't a qualification for everything -- witness Prince at Citi, Cox at the SEC. Most of Obama's appointments have been excellent -- particularly Chu. I don't know if Gupta is a Chu or a Panetta (who has no qualifications for directing the CIA other than being smart).


  2. Good questions Retread. I don't know about Gupta's actual medical experience except that he has been a neurosurgeon at Emory for a while. Would be worth checking out.

    The reason I am enthusiastic about his appointment is because as I see it, the Surgeon General is really responsible for making announcements about emerging threats and public health problems. He doesn't seem to influence actual policy; the Secretary of Health seems to have that responsibility.

    If it was a policy making position, then you are right, I think we would have preferred someone else. But if the main job is to be aware of all the problems and then make public announcements about them, then I think Gupta's extensive journalistic background and knowledge of health issues would come in handy. Many seem to hold the fiasco he had with Michael Moore on CNN against him, but I don't think that example is enough to disqualify him (and then again, it's not that Moore enjoys unqualified support for his activism...)


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