Saturday, 10 May 2008

Trust Me, I’m on NPR



“A few weeks ago, devoted listeners of National Public Radio were treated to an episode of the award-winning radio series The Infinite Mind called "Prozac Nation: Revisited." The segment featured four prestigious medical experts discussing the controversial link between antidepressants and suicide. In their considered opinions, all four said that worries about the drugs have been overblown. “ Ok, that’s good right, I mean, to most of us National Public Radio is the most trustworthy source out there. After all these are our kind of people, right? Maybe the Republicans think they are a little too liberal, but that’s just because they are out there presenting an honest evaluation of the issues, right? I mean that is right, isn’t it??? Ummm but then… I read this article on Slate.com which follows the quote above with the notice that, “All four of the experts on the show, including Goodwin, have financial ties to the makers of antidepressants. Also unmentioned were the ‘unrestricted grants’ that The Infinite Mind has received from drug makers, including Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the antidepressant Prozac.”
Now just because they take big bucks from the drug companies didn’t mean they lied, does it? I mean if they were up front about their connections, they are still credible experts who have meaningful opinions. But then I read, “The Infinite Mind's Web site states, "Our independence is perhaps our greatest asset." Perhaps, indeed. Neither Goodwin nor the show's producers responded to our repeated requests for interviews and queries about their funding.”
Ok, so maybe it’s just a one-off as the British say, something that slipped by NPR on this one show…. Well, not so says the article…It is all over the media. “Gary Schwitzer, a professor of journalism at the University of Minnesota, is the publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, a Web site that reviews health care news for balance, accuracy, and completeness. Schwitzer and his team of reviewers have looked at 544 stories from top outlets over the two-year period from April 2006 to April 2008. Journalists had to meet several criteria in order to receive a satisfactory score, among them: They had to quote an independent expert—someone not involved in the relevant research—and they had to make some attempt to report potential conflicts of interest. Half the stories failed to meet these two requirements, Schwitzer says.”
Yikes! I mentioned the Cowboy Comic Will Rogers a few posts ago in regard to a statistical effect which bears his name, and now I remember one of his famous lines, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” Well, Will, don’t believe half of it.
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