Undisclosed conflicts of interest in media interviews

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Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee have a piece in Slate today that asks, “Are doctors shilling for drug companies on NPR?”

The piece begins:

“A few weeks ago, devoted listeners of National Public Radio were treated to an episode of the award-winning radio series The Infinite Mind called “Prozac Nation: Revisited.” The segment featured four prestigious medical experts discussing the controversial link between antidepressants and suicide. In their considered opinions, all four said that worries about the drugs have been overblown.

The radio show, which was broadcast nationwide and paid for in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, had the air of quiet, authoritative credibility. Host Dr. Fred Goodwin, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, interviewed three prominent guests, and any radio producer would be hard-pressed to find a more seemingly credible quartet. Credible, that is, except for a crucial detail that was never revealed to listeners: All four of the experts on the show, including Goodwin, have financial ties to the makers of antidepressants. Also unmentioned were the “unrestricted grants” that The Infinite Mind has received from drug makers, including Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the antidepressant Prozac.

We don’t know just how much funding or when the show last received it, since neither Goodwin nor the show’s producers responded to repeated requests for interviews. But the larger point is that undisclosed financial conflicts of interest among media sources seem to be popping up all over the place these days. Some experts who appear independent are, in fact, serving as stealth marketers for the drug and biotech industries, and reporters either don’t know about their sources’ conflicts of interests, or they fail to disclose them to the public.”

Disclosure: I am interviewed in the story. But don’t let that stop you. The piece is worth reading.

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Jan H.

May 7, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Here is a great resource for reporters and other interested parties. The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy publishes the names of Minnesota practitioners who have received gifts from pharmacy companies. I’d encourage reporters who call me about the next new “wonder” drug to check this list before they even consider doing a story. Even though the practitioner may seem genuine this list is pretty telling. I also share an article from the Nov. 25, 2007 edition of the New York Times called “Dr. Drug Rep.” It’s a very poignant story written by a practitioner who deals with the ethical dilemma of accepting “gifts” from drug companies. (I think you’ve posted this article Gary in past entries.)