Medical and Journalistic Shading

Marcia Angell has an article in the New York Review of Books that considers three books touching upon modern medicine and unseemly links to corporate pharmaceutical companies.

Angell takes up various problems, but I was intrigued when she got around to how companies now control research, sometimes shading a negative experimental result in a way that is perceived as a positive outcome for their product. See if the following paragaph from Angell strikes you in the same way it did me:

The suppression of unfavorable research is the subject of Alison Bass’s engrossing book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial. This is the story of how the British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline buried evidence that its top-selling antidepressant, Paxil, was ineffective and possibly harmful to children and adolescents. Bass, formerly a reporter for the Boston Globe, describes the involvement of three peopleóa skeptical academic psychiatrist, a morally outraged assistant administrator in Brown University’s department of psychiatry (whose chairman received in 1998 over $500,000 in consulting fees from drug companies, including GlaxoSmithKline), and an indefatigable New York assistant attorney general. They took on GlaxoSmithKline and part of the psychiatry establishment and eventually prevailed against the odds.

I wonder whether the fact that the last person referred to in the next to last sentence was Eliot Spitzer, subject of a sex scandal, led to the elliptical references all around. It stands out in the article as one place where Angell eschews naming names. Would the fact that someone with an all-too-human failing was involved in standing up to corporate misdeeds really detract that much from the force of the article? [Comments point out that Bass’s focus was not on NY AG Spitzer, but to NY AAG Rose Firestein, and thus there is not a specific reason to avoid naming the cited person. My apologies to Marcia Angell.]

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

6 thoughts on “Medical and Journalistic Shading

  • 2009/01/06 at 9:04 am


    According to Bass’ own website the book is described –

    Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and A Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial tells the true story of a groundbreaking court case and the personal drama that surrounded the making and unmasking of a bestselling drug. It chronicles the lives of two women – a prosecutor and a whistleblower – who exposed the pattern of deception in the research and marketing of Paxil, an antidepressant prescribed to millions of children and adults.

    I don’t think they are referring to Spitzer as the ‘Prosecuter’, rather, a woman named Rose Firestein. At the time Spizer was the AG, not an AAG. Yes, Spitzer was involved, but this reference was apparently to Ms. Firestein.

    See HERE.

  • 2009/01/06 at 9:15 am

    Ah, OK, that then makes more sense. The media notice concerning GSK and Paxil had a lot of references to Spitzer.

  • 2009/01/06 at 1:41 pm

    Spitzer has the name recognition, and he was the boss, so presumably thats why he was featured in the media notice. Since the title of the book itself uses the elliptical form of titles and not names, its entirely reasonable for Ms. Angell to do likewise. I think your retraction set the right note here, barring any further new probitive information.

  • 2009/01/06 at 3:19 pm

    If I’ve screwed up, I prefer to note that somehow in the post rather than deleting posts or amending them without notice, as one sees happen in other places. The elliptical references seemed out of place to me, but it does appear that Angell was simply mirroring the style others had used.

  • 2009/01/07 at 7:40 am

    Yeah Wes. It’d be all too easy to say it was a bit of street theatre and then delete the post as if nothing ever happened. Far more honourable is to leave the post as is and either add an addendum retracting what was said with a mea culpa, or witing a new post that does so. Sadly, the egos of some cannot take the idea of their admitted errors being recorded for posterity for all to see.

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