The journalism industry frets a lot over issues like anonymous blog authors and reader comments.
Who writes these things? What are their motivations? Are they honest and how can the public separate facts from spin, or even facts from malicious lies? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is showing that our society has larger concerns than partisan postings.
Since January, the J-S has exposed that a group of doctors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sold their integrity to a pharmaceutical company to push drugs already known to be hugely dangerous. J-S reporters John Fauber and Meg Kissenger last week detailed how Wyeth in 2001 paid for five articles that “appeared under the names of doctors who specialized in diseases common to menopausal women, but actually were written by professional writers paid by the company.”
In a nutshell: You can’t even trust that the named authors wrote the articles, never mind the issue of whether the articles contain misinformation. “I find myself wondering about every medical article I read, certainly studies sponsored by industry,” Julie Fagan, the UW medical professor who initially reviewed the Wyeth articles for the university, told the J-S.
That is a terrifying admission.
The UW-Wyeth articles touted hormone therapy for menopausal women and downplayed concerns about links between the treatment and cancer. Those concerns became facts shortly thereafter.
Fauber and Susanne Rust, in an earlier article, showed that UW had also promoted hormone therapy through a medical education program for doctors even as the drugs were being widely questioned.
“Rigorous studies involving thousands of women showed that hormone therapy increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, blood clots and dementia,” Rust and Fauber wrote. “They also showed quality-of-life benefits are short-lived.”
Private industry (pharma and everything else) is fast becoming the primary funding source for university research. Don’t think for a minute this is just a Wisconsin problem.
In fact, the J-S explains that the U.S. Senate Finance Committee “reported in 2007 that pharmaceutical firms have taken control of these programs to get favorable presentations of their products, grab market share for expensive brand-name drugs and encourage doctors to write prescriptions for off-label use.”
Who can we trust? I say verify, then trust (Reagan had this correct but out of order). That should apply to all sources of information.
Given print journalism’s collapse, it feels strange to call any newspaper a “hot” place to work. But the J-S has been hot, kicking ass and serving the public well, particularly in the past few years. Bravo!