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The Gupta Chronicles

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While I was on vacation last week, many web surfers found my name when searching for articles on Sanjay Gupta’s work after the announcement that he was being considered for the Surgeon General position.

Because of a failure in search engine functioning, some surfers weren’t able to find what they were searching for and asked me to provide an index. Here’s some of what I’ve written:

• on non-evidence-based screening test advice for men

• on an “unquestioning – almost cheerleading – approach to health news”

• about a journal article that pointed out his involvement in a doctor’s office waiting room video program that “overtly offers sponsors, including drug companies, the chance to boost sales of their products.”

• about the political newsletter CounterPunch and the Chicago Tribune asking readers:”Do you trust CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta?”

• about Trudy Lieberman’s article describing ineptitude by CNN and Gupta in coverage of health policy news.

• about Gupta vs. Michael Moore regarding “Sicko”

• about the waste of air time speculating over the cause of death of Anna Nicole Smith.

• about a one-sided view of the controversy over mammography for women in their 40s.

• about a Pfizer ad for Pfizer’s sponsorhip of the “Paging Dr. Gupta” program.

• about some laughable, some dangerous coverage on Gupta’s “Housecall” program

• about bad judgment employed in his live TV news coverage of Raelian cloning news conference.

Two of his stories were reviewed on HealthNewsReview.org:

• about disease-mongering of wrinkles on CNN

• a review of his CBS story about a treatment for addiction to painkillers that got one of our lowest scores.

One of the smartest pieces I saw was by Sandy Szwarc on her Junkfood Science blog.

My summary:

1. What does the President want from a Surgeon General? Is it just PR & glitz? Then let’s stop the charade and abandon the position. Like ending the Pony Express – a once good idea whose usefulness is past.

2. What does the American public need from a Surgeon General? I suggest “Nothing.”

3. The prevention & wellness messages that Gupta so often promoted on CNN can go too far – pushing screening tests outside the boundaries of evidence and ignoring that such screening may cause more harm than good. If that is the message that he would promote as Surgeon General, I would consider that a non-evidence-based abuse of the bully pulpit. And a huge mistake by the Obama administration. See Gilbert Welch’s pre-election essay in the NYT on the overpromotion of screening/prevention by both Obama and McCain.

4. The industry conflict of interest questions that have arisen are cause for concern. Usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

5. On the air at CNN he too often acted as a doctor not as a journalist. That’s because he really wasn’t a journalist. He wasn’t trained as one – CNN threw him into that situation. There are countless more pre-eminent doctors and countless better health communicators than Sanjay Gupta. So what’s his qualification?

6. Presumably Surgeon General Gupta would work closely with new HHS secretary Tom Daschle. Several passages from Daschle’s book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis,” raise questions in my mind about the Gupta appointment. Daschle wrote about “using evidence-based guidelines and cutting down on inappropriate care” as effective ways to control rising health-care costs. But Gupta’s reporting, as noted in the entries above, often didn’t reflect a great appreciation for evidence-based health care. Daschle also wrote, “It is relatively easy to misinform the public and stoke fears, no matter how strong the desire for reform.” Promoting screening outside the boundaries of evidence is fear-mongering. These are potentially troublesome disconnects for an Obama health care team.

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Comments

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Christine Gorman

January 13, 2009 at 9:46 am

I worked with Sanjay at TIME and looked at a small portion of the conflict-of-interest issues you raise on my blog.

Marilyn Mann

January 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Hi Gary,
I tend to agree with you on Sanjay Gupta, although as always I would reserve judgment on anything written by Sandy Szwarc unless I read all her sources myself. She may well be totally correct, it’s just that whenever I have read something she has written that I know something about I find errors. That makes me distrust her posts when I don’t know anything about the topic. I also found out recently that she is a member of The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (THINCS), an organization I abhor. I put THINCS in the same category as HIV/AIDS denialists.
“What does the American public need from a Surgeon General? I suggest ‘Nothing.'”
I don’t get this. I understand why you don’t want Gupta for SG, but wouldn’t it be possible for a Surgeon General to do some good if the right person were appointed?
I was disturbed to read that Gupta pooh-poohed the connection between Vioxx and heart attacks as late as October 2003.
I also read a statement from him on Gardasil where he overstated what we know about the vaccine’s efficacy. I’m not against Gardasil per se, I just don’t believe in overhyping things.
Marilyn

skeptic

January 13, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Marilyn, you are a lawyer who trolls health blogs and attacks anyone who questions the need for preventive screening or pharmacological management. Your personal attacks are the types of obnoxious comments that Gary will hopefully delete as part of his comment policy.

Marilyn Mann

January 13, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Skeptic, you are right that I am a lawyer. Do you view that as a bad thing? I don’t. I am proud of what I do.
You are right that I post comments on blogs. I also blog myself on Gooznews. You are mistaken about my views, however.
I agree that not all screening is a good idea. Each screening program must be evaluated on its own merits.
Likewise, each medical intervention must be evaluated on its own merits. It’s about balancing the benefits and harms. Frequently, the answers are not that clear.
My impression is that Gary and I come out differently on certain issues. To me, that doesn’t seem like a problem. I agree with him that statins are overprescribed for primary prevention. I still think they are appropriate for certain people, however, if their risk is high enough.
The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics is an organization that believes eleveated LDL does not cause heart disease. They spread other lies and distortions. They do a lot of harm. Harriet Hall on the Science-Based Medicine blog has written about them.
My daughter, husband and mother-in-law have a genetic disease that causes very high LDL, and if untreated, can cause early death and/or disability. In fact, in the case of my mother-in-law it has already done so. It also killed her father and brother at a very young age. Does that help you understand why I hate THINCS?
On the THINCS website, you will see Sandy Szwarc’s writings marked with an asterisk. There is also a note saying members’ writings are marked with an asterisk. Many or most of her views are similar to those of THINCS. I was also told privately by a THINCS member that she participated in their discussions.
She is entitled to her opinions, of course. I am equally entitled to disagree with her.
It is interesting that in my comment I state that Gupta hyped Gardasil. I also criticized him for playing down the risks of Vioxx. That doesn’t seem to fit in with your criticism of me, does it?

The Publisher

January 14, 2009 at 6:41 am

I’m going to jump in as moderator and end the back-and-forth between Marilyn and “skeptic.”
It is getting way off point of the original post and should be conducted in private between these two parties, not via my blog.