Top 5 blog posts of 2021

Gary Schwitzer is the founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview. He has covered health care news almost exclusively since 1973. Here is his online bio.  He tweets as @garyschwitzer or as @HealthNewsRevu.

My productivity dropped off for a number of reasons in 2021, but here are my five best blog posts from a smaller than usual total overall.

Top spot

Cure for Type 1 diabetes? We’ve been down this road before with NY Times.  Key excerpt:

“It is the framing and the emphasis of the journalism by a leading science journalist at a leading newspaper that demands scrutiny.  It has an impact on readers and on sick people that may cause harm by promoting false hope about extremely preliminary research.”

A close cousin for #2

“Blood test finds 50 types of cancer” – we’ve also been down this path before.  I began:

“Shoddy, incomplete, fawning news coverage of screening tests is one of the most clearly established problems in health news coverage – something HealthNewsReview.org has revealed countless times over the past 15 years. …. This week, The Guardian drew the ire of many observers on social media and on email listservs that I follow.”

#3 – A three-fer criticizing the Star Tribune (MN), the Washington Post, and much Alzheimer’s aducanumab news coverage

Zombie health care news

The headline derived from the first of 3 topics I wrote about that day – a Star Tribune story about “survival increased in mice with COVID-like illnesses when they received drugs that removed senescent cells – sometimes called ‘retirement’ or ‘zombie’ cells.” I wrote:

“Mythology depicts a zombie as something you think is dead but it’s not.  Zombie health care news is not dead.  This story is based on interesting mouse research, but it’s still mouse research – not front page news in my view, unless you have a huge circulation in the rodent population.”

Other topics in that day’s terrible triad:  Fawning coverage of FDA approval of an Alzheimer’s drug, and the Washington Post continues its troubling series of pharma-funded “Chasing Cancer” events.

#4 – A call for more disclosure about health care op-ed authors

Transparency watchdog criticizes STAT’s non-disclosure on pro-Pharma op-ed.  Money quote:

“Should publications that post op-ed pieces tell us more about who wrote the op-ed and what their potential biases and conflicts of interest might be? I’m in the camp that answers a resounding YES.”

This was not our first criticism of STAT’s op-ed publishing practices, as you learn if you read the blog post.

#5 – What Mainstream Media Got Wrong About the Pandemic and ‘Dreck’ to Drama: How the Media Handled and Got Handled by COVID

In June, two new journalistic analyses of 2020-21 pandemic news coverage – with the two titles above – were released.  I was interviewed in both. It was refreshing to see journalists step back and reflect on coverage of “the biggest story in the world.”

Summary:  The themes reflected in these critiques are not new.

  • promoting false hope about extremely preliminary research
  • shoddy, incomplete, fawning news coverage of screening tests
  • front-page attention drawn to mouse research
  • conflicts of interest in news organizations partnering with drug companies
  • failure to disclose conflicts of interest in health care op-ed authors

In the first two years of COVID-19 pandemic news coverage the pressure on journalists to meet their responsibilities was greater. With more newsroom cutbacks, buckle up for more of the same in 2022 unless news management faces these problems head on in ways they haven’t before.

Addendum:

A reader posted on Twitter a link to his own “favorite of this year’s bad stories” – Aducanumab offers Alzheimer’s patients a new lease on life

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