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Conflict of Interest?


4 Star

Conflict of Interest?

Our Review Summary

This story, which reports on revelations calling into question previous positive findings about the use of spiral CT scans to identify lung cancer, is a good example of the press acting as watchdog over the medical research industry. While the New York Times did the original reporting to reveal the researchers’ conflict of interest, ABC’s immediate broadcast of the findings serves the public interest.

This report does several things quite well:

  • It provides useful consumer takeaway by the medical editor, which allows people to figure out what these revelations may mean to them
  • It draws on a good number and range of sources
  • It uses the findings to raise questions about the independence of medical research generally

The only off-note here is that the report says "ABC has learned" that the researcher also had financial interests in the spiral CT scan technology via several patents. ABC News should have explained whether it "learned" these things through its own independent reporting, or by reading the news accounts of other journalists.  


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Because the segment reveals the lead researcher’s financial interest in the scanning technology–and because it raises suspicion about whether the widely used test is effective–the cost of a scan should have been reported.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The segment reports that the findings now called into question suggested that the use of spiral CT scans could reduce lung cancer risk by as much as 80 percent.

This helps viewers understand the magnitude of benefit the previous research showed–and why the revelations about this study’s funding are so important.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The segment does a good job describing the potential harms–unnecessary biopsies and surgeries–that even someone at high risk for lung cancer may face.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The segment states that the New York Times discovered the conflict of interest, but does not indicate what evidence was found.   

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The segment does not exaggerate the severity or frequency of the underlying disease, lung cancer, or of the side effects of the treatment’s high-dose radiation.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The segment is very well sourced. Sources incude:

  • the New York Times story
  • a medical researcher
  • a representative of an anti-smoking non-profit group
  • the former editor of the medical journal that published the questionable results
  • the offical statements of the medical school and tobacco companies involved

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The end of the segment plainly addresses questions viewers may have about whether to consider getting a spiral CT scan. The medical editor also indicates that research that is still going on may resolve questions about the efficacy of the treatment.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


While the availablity of spiral CT scans is not in question here, the story accurately implies the tests are both widely used and currently being studied.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

The novelty of the treatment is not in question in this story.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story was based on reporting by the New York Times, not a press release. But the segment should have been clear about this from the outset.  Nonetheless, the story used multiple independent sources. 


Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory


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