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Home » The 2015 Great Debate » The “Great Debate” now out on tape! Part 1: Where’s the Beef, Mr. Goetzel?

The “Great Debate” now out on tape! Part 1: Where’s the Beef, Mr. Goetzel?

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Background: Finally, the “Great Debate” tape has been released by the Population Health Alliance (PHA).  One could imagine that there was pressure to squelch it, but honestly I don’t think so. True, the major tactic of Mr. Goetzel and his cronies is to send “secret” defamatory letters to the media urging them not to publish my material. (How’d that work out for ya, Ron?) and in general try to squelch my exposes.  But I suspect the explanation for this delay was more that there were changes of leadership at PHA, and they needed to address other priorities.  Sorry I can’t be more conspiratorial about this. I do like a good conspiracy, but at some point one has to concede that, like it or not, there is no evidence of a second gunman on the grassy knoll. 

I don’t need to blame a conspiracy or a faulty mic or anything else, because I won this “Great Debate,” held November 2 in Washington, DC, at the 2015 Population Health Alliance conference.  How do you know I won (besides this article in Employee Benefit News)?  Because I’m the one publicizing the recording.

Today’s installment is Ron Goetzel’s opening remarks.  Listen hard to see if you can hear him cite any examples to back up his thesis that I am inaccurate and, among other things, “bad for society.” If you hear any, let me know. Your timer for this tape should coincide with the minute-marks corresponding to the annotations below.  I encourage you not to just look at the annotations but listen to the tape itself.

Before we start, a special shout-out to Fred Goldstein, who pulled this all together and moderated. He did a great job.


Quoting the compliments about him in my award-winning book Why Nobody Believes the Numbers,  earns him a point for now…but stay tuned as we get further into the debate as the plot thickens.  One irony: I am proud of my book, which, though written as a humor book, is used as a textbook in at least 5 graduate-level courses on population health.  Ron also (co)authored a wellness guidebook…but we’ll hear later that he disavowed it after I observed that none of the numbers added up.

However, for the time being, he would win a point, quoting my book as saying he was one of two credible researchers in the field.


Ron is correct that I offered $1000 to anyone who could convince him to debate me, and deftly turns that into a solicitation for his Koop Committee.  Since I wouldn’t want to be associated with characters who give out awards for defrauding states and who reward obviously falsified savings claims and vendors that harm employees, I did not take him up on that offer.  Still, great debating technique. He’s on a roll.


Ron accuses me of spreading rumors and false and misleading information that is “harmful to society.”  Starting a theme that will continue throughout the debate and into his “poison pen” media missive, he offers no examples.  Then, he immediately concedes that I am right a lot of the time.  This will be another theme–admitting my stuff is right.  He did the same thing in that letter to the media. Lots of accusations of inaccuracy, but not a single example offered.


My ideas are “convoluted and just plain wrong…and harmful to you, me and all of society.” (Once again, no examples.)  Then a brief diatribe on how my ideas harm people.  (This is ironic given the number of wellness companies that do actually harm people.) Once again, no examples are given.


The first of many walk-backs by Ron. While I consistently maintain that “pry, poke and prod” programs (wellness done to employees instead of for them) are pure alchemy, Ron repeatedly concedes that many programs don’t work.  His view is that “good programs work” though there are a lot of “bad/lousy/awful” programs that “stink.” This was, once again, a brilliant debating tactical retreat, making it impossible for me to cite the 50 or so vendors whose programs have been eviscerated on this site. He can just excuse the many failures of wellness — and he will on multiple occasions during this debate — “oh, well, that’s just a bad/lousy program.”

It was also a brilliant debating technique to avoid mentioning his most recent debacle, Graco, because I would have immediately invalidated it.  He is also lucky this debate was held in 2015, and not 2016, after the scathing expose of the Koop – Wellsteps scandal, by award-winning journalist Sharon Begley in STATNews.

He knows how to debate. If he had even a single fact on his side, I’d be toast!


Once again, yet another unsupported attack: I “make erroneous, outlandish claims.” Um, where?  All my claims are on this very site. No one has challenged any of them, ever.  (We have corrected and admitted a few mistakes, this apology to HERO being my favorite.)  In general, he and his Koop Committee cronies are the ones making the erroneous, outlandish claims. I merely show them how do simple arithmetic correctly.


Ron “applauds” me for  going after “cheaters” who make “bombastic claims especially about ROI.” He is turning the lemon of the wellness industry and my ability to invalidate it into lemonade, by throwing “cheaters” — meaning many of close his colleagues, all detailed on this site — under the bus.  [All the cheaters, that is, except his friends that he gives awards to, like Wellsteps.]


He concludes by accusing me of “bombastic opinions, sarcasm, and hyperbole.” (Ron: my literary style is called irony, not sarcasm.  Irony is, to use a recent example, your Vitality friends saying companies should be required to make their employees do wellness when they themselves admit they can’t even make wellness work on their own employees.  Or that your friend Steve Aldana’s Wellsteps ROI model, besides being made up, doesn’t actually calculate an ROI.)

Once again, no examples are offered. Clearly if he had even a single example, having attacked me three times, he would have offered it.

Where’s the Beef?

In 7 minutes, he cited zero examples to back up his assertions and accusations, but conceded three important points — that I am right sometimes, that many programs don’t work, and that he “applauds me” for calling out cheaters.

So I’m already ahead even before I speak.

And now, on to Part 2.

In the immortal words of the great philosopher Pat Benatar, hit me with your best shot.

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