Health news watchdog Health News Review is an excellent website that evaluates health care journalism, advertising, marketing, and public relations (as we have shown you over the years, those categories often overlap).
In this interview with New York magazine, its creator, Gary Schwitzer, shares his insights on science journalism’s current status.
- “For our first, I think it was, two and a half years, we were knocking ourselves out to review the actual on-air product of both the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning programs, as well as the evening news. We stopped after a sample of around 223 stories, because they were clearly the worst, predictably the worst, and they were not getting any better.”
- “[When I worked at CNN,] we had a ten-person medical-news unit: eight in Atlanta and two in Washington. But the only reason it was so large was that it was sponsored by the drug company that was then named Bristol-Myers, now Bristol-Myers Squibb. And I knew that before I accepted the job. I brought it up in the job interview, and my memory is that I almost literally was paternalistically patted on the head and told by a senior executive, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to jeopardize the reputation of the world’s most important network by caving into a sponsor.” Well, before it was all over, I had in my mind evidence on two occasions of one of two things happening, and I don’t know which one was worse: whether it was direct sponsor interference, or worse yet, in my mind, management perceiving the sponsor looking over their shoulder and acting accordingly.”
- “We’re now reviewing health-care-related news releases, and so that one fortuitously fell in our hopper, and it just smelled right away. Our antennae went up immediately. We published our review, but one of our reviewers didn’t stop there, and went to the university and said, “We reviewed you. You didn’t do very well in our review, but we want to know more” — because there really wasn’t any data in this news release. We were immediately stonewalled.”
- Within eight days of our review, the university — which, it’s now clear, was reeling after we pulled the cover back on what was being promoted — announced an internal review. Three months later, which was just last March, they announced the results of that internal review, which made 15 sweeping recommendations. They admitted that they were very concerned about the total lack of awareness of rigorous scientific-research processes, the total lack of concern for conflicts of interest — because the researcher’s department had received a $228,910 grant from some milk foundation, and the researcher didn’t disclose it because, he said, “The money didn’t come to me, it came to my lab.” How would the public ever know about some of these growing number of partnerships between academics and industries?”