Can you trust the medical advice you hear on the radio?

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Nov. 21 2008 3:38 PM

Doctors' Fees

Can you trust the medical advice you hear on the radio?

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TheInfinite 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. Pitts, who to his credit did give us an interview, said he didn't know why his ties to industry weren't revealed on the show. Curious, we tried to learn more about the funding for TheInfinite Mind—and could discover only that the show's award-winning production company, Lichtenstein Creative Media, was dissolved by the state of Massachusetts on March 28 for failing to file a single annual report since its establishment in 2004.

Some reporters and producers argue that they can't be expected to ask every source whether he or she gets money from the drug industry. But there are obvious first steps to take. A list of academic researchers who are known to have financial ties to the drug and medical-device industries is available through the Center for Science in the Public Interest. (Yes, the name is a lot like the Astroturf group we mentioned earlier—coincidence?) To be fair, the list is inevitably incomplete, and Astroturf groups and academics with undeclared financial ties can make it difficult to ferret out their financial conflicts.

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In hopes of making reporters' jobs a little easier, we've created for journalists an international list of prestigious and independent medical experts who declare they have no financial ties to drug and device manufacturers for at least the past five years. We have nearly 100 experts from a wide array of disciplines. E-mail us at Brownlee.Lenzer@gmail.com, and we'll be happy to name names.

Correction, May 9, 2008: After this piece first appeared, Slate posted a correction saying that the piece had incorrectly stated that The Infinite Mind is carried on National Public Radio, rather than public radio stations. We now understand from NPR's ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, that it was the correction that was wrong. In fact, NPR has a contractual relationship with The Infinite Mind to run the show on two Sirius channels. The show also runs on NPR member stations. Return to the corrected sentence.)

Shannon Brownlee is a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Her e-mail address is brownlee@newamerica.net.

Jeanne Lenzer is a freelancer whose work appears regularly in the medical journal BMJ. Her e-mail address is jeanne.lenzer@gmail.com.