Note to our followers: Due to a lack of sufficient funding, HealthNewsReview.org will cease daily publication of new content at the end of 2018. Publisher Gary Schwitzer and other contributors may post new articles periodically. If you wish to donate, your gift might help keep the site available to the public for a few more years, by defraying costs of web hosting and maintenance. All of our 6,000+ published articles contain lessons to help people improve their critical thinking about health care. Read more about our change in status. And here's how to make a donation.

HealthNewsReview.org’s 12-year run will end with some nagging questions unanswered

Gary Schwitzer began publishing HealthNewsReview.org in April of 2006 after a year of preparation.  This project is the pinnacle of his 45-year health care journalism career.

It appears that this unique project’s span of more than 12 years of public service to journalism and to the general public will end in December when HealthNewsReview.org ceases publication. Our current funding ends then with no replacement funding in sight, and I will slip into retirement. I will still post an occasional piece. And I plan to keep the website open and searchable for a couple of years.  But my terrific editorial team will reluctantly dissolve and go on to other pursuits.

I want the public to remember what we did when we were at full strength.

What we stood for

We were clear about what we stood for: improving the public dialogue about health care. We educated journalists and the general public to help them improve their critical thinking about health care, and about claims made in research, in journal articles, and in the marketing rollout of new health care interventions in the medical arms race.

Amidst the daily cacophony of claims of cures, breakthroughs and game-changers we became – for thousands of you – a place to turn to every day in order to step back, view the bigger picture, and learn how to ask tough, appropriate questions. Almost every day we have awakened to emails or social media messages with plaintive cries for “Help” or “Anxious to see what you have to say on this” in response to the tsunami of confusion washing over so many of you.

We stood for combating health care hype – from any source – because of the very real harm it can and does cause to real people.

We stood for sometimes standing alone – as we often did in certain situations and scenarios in which we knew we were the only publisher questioning evidence, the only one raising issues of conflicts of interest in health care or even in health care journalism, the only project to systematically analyze the quality of health care journalism and public relations efforts, and the only one to regularly scrutinize claims made in advertising, marketing, talk shows, op-eds and elsewhere.

“The Mighty Mouse watchdog”

Journalism, which is supposed to be a watchdog, needs to have a watchdog eyeing it – especially on health care topics so often polluted by inaccurate, imbalanced, woefully incomplete reporting.  For 12+ years we have been that independent, expert watchdog.  One physician, on Twitter this week, called us “the Mighty Mouse watchdog.”

When I started planning this project in 2005, I never thought about a 12-year run. I will forever be grateful for the initial support of Floyd J. (Jack) Fowler, PhD, of the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (now out of operation), and for the ensuing support that FIMDM gave this project for more than 8 years.  Then, the four final years of support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation allowed me to build a team that brought this project to new heights of bold new undertakings and new impact. These were the purest of hands-off, no interference funding relationships.  These have been the best years of my 45-year journalism career.

My team and I will share final personal parting thoughts closer to the end of the year.  Meantime, we are hard at work on our new series telling stories of people discussing real harms from misleading media messages about health care. If anyone finds it easy to dismiss the caveats and constructive criticism from my expert team of industry-independent editorial contributors, maybe the stories of real people incurring real harm from shoddy mass media messages will open their minds.  This series is one more of the kinds of themes you could only find addressed regularly on HealthNewsReview.org.

Nagging questions that we can’t answer

My widespread search for continued funding for this project has been fruitless. Maybe we’ve made it hard on ourselves by following a stricter fundraising conflict of interest policy than those of many of the journalism organizations we write about. But that was vital to our integrity. There is so much more that could be done – and needs to be done – to educate journalists, PR and marketing professionals, the health care industry and clinician-researchers about the harm that is done by shoddy and conflicted health care communication.  So who will attack this need and provide adequate no-strings-attached funding for work like this in the future?

Will anyone take on a project like this again? Will anyone fill this void?  Who? How? When?

If not, why not?

And with the HealthNewsReview.org team no longer systematically watching and reviewing every day, will the standards of responsible health care communication to the public be lowered? You can review the report card we published at the end of last year to see the scope of polluted health care news and public relations messages in this country.

How will we ever achieve truly meaningful health care reform when our public dialogue about health care is as misinformed and misguided as it is?

These questions will continue to burn in us – over the next six months and long after we cease publication.  As my team breaks up and we go our separate ways, we will surely each continue to watch although our voices may not be heard as often or as powerfully as they were through this important platform for the past 12 years.

We hear you, Dylan Thomas. We will not go gentle into that good night, but will rage against the dying light.

 

 

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Comments (15)

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Jonathan Jarry

June 20, 2018 at 8:45 am

Truly devastating. The work you do is invaluable. I respect your integrity and really wish someone would step in at the eleventh hour to save this precious ship….

    Gary Schwitzer

    June 20, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan. We need more people chipping away from their own platforms – as you are doing – at the problems with pollution of health care information to the public.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher

Tio

June 20, 2018 at 8:53 am

This makes me both sad and angry. Nothing of good value can resist our money-hungry society. Somehow I still hope you can get funding to continue, but I suppose at this point this is quite difficult.

Rose Hoban

June 20, 2018 at 9:53 am

I worry about similar things with NC Health News, Gary. All kinds of folks are lauding the rise of nonprofit journalism and how we’re going to “save the world,” but we lack the capacity to continue past the founders’ passion. Journalism is broken in many ways and will need things/ money/ a business model beyond piecemeal efforts to revive it.

    Gary Schwitzer

    June 20, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Amen, Rose. And keep up the fight with NC Health News.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher

Kathi Mestayer

June 20, 2018 at 10:38 am

I’m heartbroken.

    Gary Schwitzer

    June 20, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Kathi,

    Remember, though, that the website, with its thousands of lessons about how to analyze studies and media messages about them, will remain open and accessible for several years into the future. The lessons will remain valid and important because we’ll continue to see the same recurring flaws and patterns of pollution in the flow of information to the public.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher

Lila Guterman

June 20, 2018 at 5:28 pm

I’m very sorry to hear this! I’ve followed you from the beginning. What a useful and important resource this project has been.

Gary Schwitzer

June 21, 2018 at 9:03 am

I wanted to share a bit of the outpouring of the emotional and/or supportive comments received via email or social media in response to yesterday’s announcement.

The emotions some of you have expressed include “horrible news…this sucks…oh, crap…say it ain’t so…this is tragic…this is a travesty.”

I’m touched by some of the labels people have assigned to us, such as: “utterly fearless & rigorously evidence-based…..a legacy of brutal but fair review criteria.” You could put that on our headstone. Other comments include:

• “In this era of harmful bullshit, @HealthNewsRevu has been a steadfast, essential anti-bullshit service.”

• “Clear-eyed, objective, always on point – a valuable resource for so many.”

• “a voice of reason and truth out in the world that is too often manipulated by profit and ulterior motives.”

• “single-handedly improved the dialogue on health research.”

There are too many to list. We are reading them all, and they hit home. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Gary Schwitzer
Publisher

Ellen Mitchell

June 22, 2018 at 9:43 am

I’d be happy to help post reviews of health stories after you retire (will the website still be around?)

    Gary Schwitzer

    June 22, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Ellen,

    Thanks for the offer. As explained in the blog post, the website will still be available online for several years.
    But our well-oiled process of publishing new criteria-driven systematic reviews, employing 3 reviewers per article, will end.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher

Tamara Sellman

June 22, 2018 at 2:00 pm

This makes me so sad. You’re one of the good guys, and a necessary watchdog in times of rampant misinformation. I hope you can find an angel to help keep your work alive.

Lydia Green

June 22, 2018 at 3:36 pm

Like JJ hoping an organization will step in and provide funding. In either case, thanks for everything you have done, in particular all your content that clearly and concisely explains foundational concepts. Felt shocked when I saw the announcement this week that HNR might be closing up shop. My use of conditional words reflects my hope that there will be a reprieve.

Gary Schwitzer

June 26, 2018 at 2:37 pm

You may be interested in the article published by Undark magazine (from MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program). https://undark.org/article/healthnewsreview-funding-closing/

Gary Schwitzer
Publisher

Gary Schwitzer

June 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm

I wish to correct one possible misimpression I conveyed in the piece above when I said that my search for continued funding was fruitless. In fact, one major funder did recently approach me with a very well-intentioned grant possibility, but I declined it after deeming it insufficient to allow us to continue at a meaningful level of operation. So, not fruitless, just not fruitful enough.

Another piece about our work was published by our German counterparts at Medien-Doktor.de (“The German HealthNewsReview”). It is headlined, “Who will warn us when the watch dog remains silent? Gary Schwitzer, founder of HealthNewsReview.org, retires.” http://www.medien-doktor.de/medizin/sprechstunde/who-will-warn-us-when-the-watch-dog-remains-silent-gary-schwitzer-founder-of-healthnewsreview-org-retires/

Gary Schwitzer
Publisher