Neuron Culture

A couple weeks ago Slate ran a piece asking "Are doctors shilling for drug companies on public radio?", which I took brief note of in a previous post.

Now I’ve written up a longer reaction (actually a reaction to the reaction to the Slate story) for Columbia Journalism Review’s "Observatory" blog, which covers science journalism. The gist:

If journalists … want the information they present to the public to be taken as credible, they need to err on the side of transparency, presenting not only the voices but also the relevant financial interests of the experts they feature. Failing to do so only damages message and messenger alike. But in the wake of the repeated scandals about drug-company concealment of drug-trial data, it’s strange that I have to spell this out.

As expected, this generated some blowback from people less worried than I about the trust problems created by failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest in experts quoted in medical stories. I expected, for instance, to be accused of trying to end all links between doctors and drug and device developers or to shush doctors with such ties from public discussion, and I was, at least indirectly. Yet as I noted in the comments column:

I am not proposing that doctors or researchers with financial ties to industry be excluded from press stories or public discussion of medicine. That would be destructive. I am arguing that the relevant financial ties of quoted experts should be disclosed so that the public can consider those in considering their positions. Butterworth appears averse to this idea. But it’s one that the leading medical journals have embraced, and it seems to have raised rather than eroded faith in the studies published in those journals.

The issue of industry influence on medical opinion is a rich one; may this little squabble shine a bit of light on it. Check it out at "To Disclose or Not to Disclose."

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