Please go check out Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer’s Slate article on conflicts of interest among medical “experts” appearing all over the damn media–up to and including public radio. Then go reread point 10 here.
I’m gonna quote liberally, ’cause there’s just too much here to narrow it down.
How frequently are journalists glossing over such conflicts? 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.
Conflicts of interest abound even in unexpected places. A recent survey of academic medical centers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 60 percent of academic department chairs have personal ties to industry—serving as consultants, board members, or paid speakers, while two-thirds of the academic departments had institutional ties to industry. Such ties can be extremely lucrative. And according to these articles in the medical literature, researchers who receive funding from drug and medical-device manufacturers are up to 3.5 times as likely to conclude their study drug or medical device works than are researchers without such funding.
An equally clever way for companies to get out their marketing messages is to go through a consumer group. Drug companies often seed “pharm teams,” consumer groups that start out as legitimate advocacy organizations and are subtly manipulated by funding from pharmaceutical companies to convey the desired talking points. Unless reporters ask where groups and individual researchers get their money, they have no idea that their sources may be biased—and neither do their readers, viewers, and listeners.