Do the Right Thing
Do you know where your medical news comes from?
Drs. Michael Hochman and Danny McCormick of Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School survey how often reporters mention where the money came from in studies looking at the effectiveness of prescription drug products.
Their study -- published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and highlighted with an op-ed in the Boston Globe -- suggest the media are doing a so-so job. Only 42 percent of the articles list the funding source of the study.
The issue is important based on recent cases like the one involving the pain killer Vioxx, where it turned out the flawed study failed to contain data that would have contradicted the work done by the authors -- scientists associated with the pharmaceutical company that funded and conducted the research.
It is standard procedure to include funding sources in all of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's press releases about faculty-authored studies. (For example, see this study on sleep and memory).
One nitpick with the authors -- they note "pharmaceutical representatives frequently send journalists favorable press releases and other materials that are not balanced by alternative views."
That's true. Public relations doesn't call for pharmaceutical companies to present alternate views any more than medical centers are required to quote people skeptical about a research finding about sleep or diabetes or cancer. That is still the journalist's job.
And it is worth noting that the Boston Globe does have a firm policy about disclosing funding sources as they do about seeking out alternative points of view.