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Monday, August 18, 2008

Mainstream Media and Health Reporting

Health News Review is a service I subscribe to. The article referred to here is about an ABC story on Vitamin D.

Looking at critical journalistic issues is as important as facts when considering health news: what you hear or what you read.

Gary Schwitzer, publisher of this site is very helpful to me in improving the critical skills I use in reviewing the news and in deciding what is important to post on Natural Health News.

Remember, this site, Natural Health News, is about education, not sensationalism that seems to be found elsewhere.
Conflicts of interest among sources of health/medical news and information represent an enormous – and growing – problem.
Created 7/22/08

Health care consumers, and news consumers, are often not told of the biases that may exist in medical research, in clinical care, or in health care professionals’ continuing medical education because of financial ties to drug companies and medical device manufacturers.

Journalists, broadcasters, editors, and producers too often rely – wittingly or unwittingly – on drug industry sources. The result: medical news often helps sell drugs to the public, accentuating the positive and minimizing risks, rather than giving readers a balanced, accurate view.

To counter claims that it is impossible to find experts who are not on the payroll of industry, independent journalists Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee have compiled a list of more than 100 experts from several nations with expertise across a wide range of disciplines. There are two parts to the list. One part includes experts who have no financial conflicts of interest, or conflicts that are irrelevant to most stories. The second part includes experts with a variety of potential conflicts. Some of these experts have ended their pharma ties – but only within the past five years. Others may have current financial conflicts of interest. These experts, despite their commercial ties, are included in the list because they have provided important insights into the inner workings of industry – effectively biting the hand that fed them in some instances --and/or because their conflicts did not limit their ability to comment in areas unrelated to the conflicts.

The experts include: two former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, the former editor of the western journal of medicine, current editors of American Family Physician and Public Library of Science-Medicine; former FDA advisors; physician educators; researchers; bioethicists; epidemiologists, methodologists, geneticists, and clinicians from a various specialties; medical whistleblowers; and several medical journalists.

Information about the list appears in the “Journalist Toolkit” section of the site at: If you’re a journalist, you’ll be given instructions about how to acquire the list, complete with experts’ contact information. The general public will be able to see the list of names without any contact information.

It’s our hope that this list helps journalists find and use sources who do not have financial conflicts of interest. We hope that the general public understands the gravity of these issues and their impact on the integrity of medical science.

For further information on the list see: Naming Names: Is There an (Unbiased) Doctor in the House? BMJ July 23, 2008.

Gary Schwitzer

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