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Pause to reflect on excellence in health/medical science reporting

Amidst the daily drumbeat of dreck that we see as we peruse health care news coverage every day, it is refreshing to reflect on the peaks of excellence that rise up above the cacophony.

The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing this year honored John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Joanne Silberner with its Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting.  From the announcement:

The judges were particularly impressed by Silberner’s enterprising December 2012 seven-part series on global cancer issues in Haiti, India and Uganda: “Her sparkling storytelling and the human dimensions in this series are hallmarks of Silberner’s sterling radio career,” they said. The radio series, broadcast on Public Radio International’s “The World,” was an independent multimedia project initiated by Silberner with travel support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Fauber was cited for what the judges said was his “dogged, never-give-up” investigative series, dubbed “Side Effects,” on financial conflicts of interest in medical research and health care delivery.

Fauber never takes his foot off the gas pedal, adding a new gem this week, “Developer of acne guidelines largely funded by drug makers.”  We’ve become friends who share ideas regularly.

And I’ve known Silberner for a long time, going back to her NPR days.  What an ambitious project she took on.

On the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Paul Raeburn wrote: “Congratulations to Fauber and Silberner for reminding us what old-fashioned investigative journalism can do.”

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Meantime, Raeburn also lauded the work of Paul Goldberg of The Cancer Letter and Eric Berger and Todd Ackerman of the Houston Chronicle for investigating the question, “Did M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s president mislead investors about his company’s drug?

Finally, don’t miss a new ProPublica project just published – “Use Only As Directed” – that lists these “major takeways” :

1. About 150 Americans die a year by accidentally taking too much acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, federal data from the CDC shows.

2. Acetaminophen has a narrow safety margin: the dose that helps is close to the dose that can cause serious harm, according to the FDA.

3. The FDA has long been aware of studies showing the risks of acetaminophen. So has the maker of Tylenol, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson.

4. Over more than 30 years, the FDA has delayed or failed to adopt measures designed to reduce deaths and injuries from acetaminophen. The agency began a comprehensive review to set safety rules for acetaminophen in the 1970s, but still has not finished.

5. McNeil, the maker of Tylenol, has taken steps to protect consumers. But over more than three decades, the company has repeatedly opposed safety warnings, dosage restrictions and other measures meant to safeguard users of the drug.

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