I am very pleased to announce that this project has received a two-year, $1.3 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. I had hinted at this good news with some of you in recent weeks, but was not able to share details until the grant paperwork was signed.

The LJAF, on its website, states:

“LJAF’s Research Integrity initiative aims to improve the reliability and validity of scientific evidence across fields that inform governmental policy, philanthropic endeavors, and individual decision making. As a society, we often rely on published scientific research to guide our policy, health, and lifestyle choices. Although some published research is rigorous and reliable, some is not. Worse, the unreliability of research is often difficult or impossible to ascertain. LJAF is currently working to address this problem by supporting organizations that are committed to improving the openness, transparency, and quality of research.”

Stuart Buck, JD, PhD, the Vice President of Research Integrity for the Arnold Foundation, said:

“With a ‘publish or perish’ mentality, researchers are incentivized to produce findings that are striking enough to grab headlines and citations, even though such findings may be exaggerated. News organizations often pass along such findings uncritically, without carefully considering how a study was conducted and whether the results are based on accurate science. We are pleased to provide funding so that Gary Schwitzer and his team can help the media to evaluate medical studies and press releases with a skeptical eye.”

LJAF had earlier caught my eye with its support of Dr. John Ioannidis’ Meta-Research Innovation Center, or METRICS, at Stanford.  For years, I have urged journalists to follow Ioannidis’ work.

Another notable LJAF-funded initiative that I knew about was the Nutrition Science Initiative.  The co-founder of that project, Gary Taubes, is well known by many journalists and by those who follow nutrition science news closely. Here’s what we’re going to do with the funding:

  • Create a Center for Media Communication and Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health – the new home for the project.
  • Add new systematic reviews of health care news releases (from sources including medical journals, drug/device manufacturers, academic medical centers). This is the most important new feature made possible by the new grant, allowing us to critique news releases that are often the faucets that turn on health news.  (Note:  this is not an embargo break, but an invitation to check back later this week to read about a study on this very topic that helps set the stage for our new feature.)
  • Rebuild and expand the size and diversity of the team of reviewers for systematic story reviews (journalists, health care researchers & professionals, patients, public health graduate students, journalism academics, science writers – some of whom are veteran public information officers – all trained in the evaluation of evidence).
  • Add a fulltime managing editor, Kevin Lomangino, who, in the past, was one of our best and brightest and most diligent story reviewers.
  • Add new voices to our prestigious team of reviewers, including several hundred years of experience from highly respected individuals such as:
    • Steve Miles, MD, Professor and Chair in Bioethics, University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics.
    • Trudy Lieberman, a health care journalist with one of the longest and most respected careers in the industry, including work for the Columbia Journalism Review, Consumer Reports, The Detroit Free Press, the Association of Health Care Journalists.
    • Sharon Dunwoody, Professor Emerita, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication;
    • Earle Holland, retired Assistant VP for Research Communications at Ohio State University;
    • A’ndrea Elyse Messer, Senior Science & Research Information Officer at Penn State University;
    • Joann Rodgers, longtime reporter and columnist for Heart Newspapers and magazines, Lasker Award winner, and 25-year science communicator for Johns Hopkins Medicine, now a faculty scholar at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics;
    • Matt Shipman, a science writer and public information officer at North Carolina State University
  • Continue blogging about other issues in health care news, PR, advertising, marketing.
  • Offer workshops/training to journalists (in which we’ll bring the training to the newsrooms if necessary for a couple of workshops per year).
  • Experiment with offering podcasts about our observations about health care media messages.
  • Involve University of Minnesota School of Public Health faculty and students as contributors.

John R. Finnegan, Jr., PhD

The Dean of the School of Public Health, John R. Finnegan, Jr., PhD, said:

“The School of Public Health is delighted to host the Center and to engage with Gary Schwitzer in its important mission of improving the quality of media reporting about health.  This is a true public service.”

I am thankful for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s interest in, and support of, this project.  Many of you have written or told us that this project can’t be allowed to die.  Now we can continue our mission of improving the public dialogue about health care.

At the same time, I want to thank again the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation, which made this project possible with funding that began in 2005, running through mid-2013.

Let me emphasize that no funder  – indeed, no person except those on my editorial team – has ever influenced what is written or how it is written on our website. That will not change; the LJAF will have no influence or control over the project’s editorial process or decision-making.

The newly redesigned website – with the rollout of the new systematic reviews of health care news releases – may not be available until March or April.  The redesign and relaunch is a complex effort and we’ll introduce it as soon as we can.  But starting January 5, the team of reviewers will be at work publishing systematic criteria-driven news story reviews again – something we haven’t been able to do since May 2013.

The Health News Watchdog blog will still be lively, just as it remained over the past 18 months without funding.  And we’ll begin working on the systematic review of health care news releases – behind the scenes – so that they’re ready to be published when the newly redesigned site is ready.

Our team is excited about 2015.  Thanks to each of you for not giving up on us.  We’ll work very hard to earn your trust, your interest, and your continued support.

Thanks for the early articles about the new grant, and for the kind words:

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