This 5-star Friday is a good example. Take three of our choices below: drug companies that aren’t drug companies, a tick-borne illness that may or may not be a disease, and the very human urge to be drawn to the repulsive.
Other times things are quite clear. As in our first choice below which reminds us that we not only need “more healthy skepticism” but “more science journalists [who] are moved to dig beneath the surface to reveal when individuals and organizations distort science to subvert the public interest.”
The writing below features just such journalists (and one blogging scientist!)
After we recently announced the probable end of our daily publication at the end of 2018, many of our followers emailed or wrote on social media things like, “Where can we turn now for reliable health care information?” Science journalist Liza Gross wrote about us, but added, “I hope more science journalists are moved to dig beneath the surface to reveal when individuals and organizations distort science to subvert the public interest.”
But others can step up as well, as scientist Paul Knoepfler, PhD has done, often pointing out harmful stem cell hype as he did in one of our podcasts.
This week he criticized a New York Times story, Dying Organs Restored to Life in Novel Experiments. Knoepfler wrote:
Restored to life?
In my train of thought there was a kind of “uh-oh” moment both from reading that title and then some more as I got deeper into the piece.
He went on to list detailed concerns about what he called the Times’ uncritical coverage. Here are his headings – please read the rest yourself:
First, some things about the technology struck me as ranging from puzzling to improbable.
Second, this research is very preliminary.
Finally, some aspects of the NYT piece itself are concerning and it feels unbalanced overall. I think there should have been more healthy skepticism in the piece in general.
He concludes, sounding like a member of our editorial team:
It can be a challenge to find the right balance between reporting on cool new research to appropriately convey the associated excitement and at the same time to keep asking the needed probing questions, but the bottom line is that there are concrete risks from science coverage that doesn’t take a sufficiently critical eye to sexy, new biomedical research. How many times have we seen that in the stem cell field?
Whether HealthNewsReview.org survives or not, we need more scientists and clinicians – like Knoepfler, Vinay Prasad, Otis Brawley, Susan Molchan, John Mandrola, Deanna Attai, Kenny Lin, Timothy Caulfield, etc. – who have shown that they can communicate effectively to help patients, health care consumers and news consumers avoid avoidable ignorance and avoidable harm.
This deeply reported long read takes readers far beneath the façade of Acadia Pharmaceuticals, a company that reporter Roddy Boyd describes as “a ruthless marketing entity whose pursuit of regulatory approval is best described as ‘loophole-centric.’” We’ve written a lot about Acadia, and how journalists failed to scrutinize the marginal benefits and significant harms of its drug Nuplazid used to treat psychosis related to Parkinson’s disease. This story provides that missing scrutiny and then some, describing how the company is borrowing from the marketing playbook of another small drug company — Avanir Pharmaceuticals – whose aggressive pursuit of the nursing home market has been flagged by regulators as potentially fraudulent.
This is a story for journalists to keep an eye on, because Acadia wants to expand approval for Nuplazid to the larger and more lucrative Alzheimer’s market. Experts are already raising red flags about the research supporting this new use, but journalists may have a hard time hearing them above the din of “key opinion leaders” (like Robert Yapundich, MD, whom we wrote about) on the growing Acadia payroll.
If you’ve ever wondered why the very existence of chronic Lyme disease is contentious, this is the article for you. The authors, two journalists experienced in writing about gender bias in medicine (Maya Dusenbery) and poorly understood illness (Julie Rehmeyer), tackle the controversy.
They do so with an impressive telling of the science as it currently stands. One big problem is the trouble with diagnosis: Lyme’s telltale rash doesn’t always show up and the blood test is known to give both false positive and false negative results with some regularity. How can you know if an experimental treatment works when you don’t have a reliable measure of infection? And yet patients, often women, who may well have chronic Lyme are all too frequently dismissed by mainstream doctors.
Those who reject the possibility of chronic Lyme cite the current lack of evidence and, in the authors’ words, “act as though the science is already settled.” But the weak knowledge base about Lyme (and other tick-borne infections) is actually the result of a lack of research, Dusenbery and Rehmeyer argue. Their conclusion: “Cut the contempt. Let’s do the science and figure this disease out.”
Maybe we’re all feeling like science reporter Brian Resnick after what seems like an endless flow of school shootings and other 24/7 coverage of unfolding human drama-trauma stories.
Resnick wants to understand why we feel compelled to watch, “and is it okay if we tune in?”
He struggles with “what was very likely a traumatic experience for these young people [and] turning it into round-the-clock entertainment” in which the boys become “unwitting celebrities.”
Put another way:
I also felt uneasy because of a frustrating bias in humans. We tend to care more about dramatic tragedies that strike a relatively small number of people, and grow numb to the slow, ongoing horrors that inflict millions. Twelve boys were trapped in a cave, yes. But there are millions of children living in war zones.
If this all sounds like a worn-out and unsoluble agony, it’s in his focused Q&A with sociologist, Tim Recuber, that we come across the notion of “empathic hedonism” … and that’s the point when the article is hard to put down.
Please Note: These stories have not been subject to our rigorous, 10-criteria systematic review for accuracy, balance, and completeness. Rather, they represent pieces of health care journalism and opinion writing that members of our staff found compelling and wanted to share with others.
5-Star Friday is a regular feature on HealthNewsReview.org. You can find a list of previous installments HERE.