Writing about medicine, health, public health, science, and the pharmaceutical industry

December 7th, 2017

How to write college term paper?

Writing college term papers can be a significant burden for those students who do not have much time for conducting a thorough research on the topic, especially if writing and reading is not exactly what you enjoy doing. You will need to spend much energy and time to craft something really decent and deserving a high grade. In most cases, writing a college term paper requires a few weeks of thorough research. It is definitely quite exhausting to spend that much time on studying. However, if you are striving for perfection, you will need to spend a generous amount of time for reading and subsequent writing an academic paper.

What are the basic steps that you will need to perform in order to create a masterfully written college term paper? Here is a list of writing stages that every students needs to undergo to reach success in academic writing.

• First of all, you will need to come up with an excellent thesis statement. Sometimes it might be hard to do so, but you can’t write a paper without composing a thesis.

• The first thing you will need to do is review some other theses and read the information previously studied in classroom. Besides, you will have to consult peers and teachers to come up with a perfect thesis for your college term paper.

• Another requirement consists in gathering information for future research. Once the thesis statement is complete, it is high time to gather materials for the research. Keep in mind that this step is of crucial importance. It includes analyzing reputable sources to make your piece of writing shine.

• One more important step is outlining your paper and then composing it, which includes making several drafts before coming up with the final draft of the paper.

Finally, when writing a college term paper, it is important to edit and proofread it to make the term paper professionally written and well-organized.


September 17th, 2007

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…

Major technical problems here - our webhost (jatol.com) went bust at the end of August, and the site went down. Our most recent backups were corrupted. We had a backup from mid-July, so we only lost a couple of entries, but it has taken a while to get everything back up and running — and we lost some of your comments (sorry about that). Thanks for your patience…

July 10th, 2007

The Medical Writing Blogoverse

When we started this blog in July 2005, we were the only blog in existence on the topic of medical writing (as far as we know). The landscape has changed a bit since then. There are few, if any, barriers to starting a blog these days - you don’t need to know HTML, you don’t need to have a domain, you don’t need to have any web design skills - all you need is something to say and an account at blogger or wordpress or any of the million other free hosts. Still, there aren’t nearly as many blogs by medical writers as there are by doctors, economists, or technology gurus. Slowly but surely, blogging is catching on amongst the AMWA set. This blog was even linked to in a recent AMWA newsletter - gave us quite a thrill.

Most of the other medical writing blogs we’re aware of are focused on the mechanics and practical issues related to the profession. For example, Diego Pineda at Medical Writer has been actively blogging for awhile now. He’s also working hard to build the “blogoverse” by requesting link exchanges. He would like to sell you his ebook and home study course. His blog has lots of basic tips (and simplistic commandments like “always proofread the hard copy”).

Emma Hitt has started a blog recently. She also wants to sell you some mentoring, and more power to her. She offers a valuable free email job list, so we don’t begrudge the shilling for paid mentoring effort to get paid for her expertise.

Then there’s Cliff Mintz at BioJobBlog. He’s a recruiter and seems pretty plugged in to the biotech and pharma world. There are some pretty good job-hunting tips there.

Last, but not least, comes a new blog from Malaysia called Surviving Medical Writing 101. Nothing to sell here. A light, breezy style of writing, focused on the medical communications side of the medwriting world.

Although not focused on medical writing, there are some really great resources linked in the blogroll here that we think medical writers would benefit from reading. We particularly recommend the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Health Care Renewal, In the Pipeline, and Science magazine’s career blog (which has posted several little medwriting nuggets lately).

Know of any other medical writing blogs? Drop a note in the comments.

July 9th, 2007

Science article on medical writing careers

Via the new blog at MedWriteInfo, we’ve been alerted to a Science article on medical writing in their careers section. It’s a decent top-level overview of the field with several personal anecdotes. However, this statement jumped out at me:

Academic papers and conference proceedings make lousy writing samples because they are dense and jargon-laden, whereas the emphasis in medical writing is on clarity.

Shouldn’t all writing emphasize clarity? Why should academic papers and conference proceedings be exempt from the requirement to communicate succinctly, clearly, and eloquently? Sometimes it’s hard to be eloquent amidst a lot of formulas or acronyms, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

July 5th, 2007

Cervical cancer: politics and public relations

The Center for Media and Democracy’s associate director, Judith Siers-Poisson, has recently published the first two parts of a four-part series on the political and marketing aspects surrounding cervical cancer. It’s an interesting look at the subject from a different perspective than the usual mainstream media offers. Part two, especially, gives some fantastic background on how Merck has built the advertising and marketing strategy for Gardisil, by funding a cancer advocacy group, getting celebrity spokespeople on board, and engaging in “public health” campaigns to build demand for the vaccine before it was even approved by the FDA. I suspect that Merck has devoted so many resources to this campaign because they need to do huge volumes to make the drug worthwhile for them. Compared to drugs for diabetes or other chronic conditions, vaccines and antibiotics aren’t as lucrative, since they are used only once. Thus, the path Merck has chosen is to attempt to create a huge public outcry that results in mandatory vaccinations. As the article states, “A mandatory vaccination for more than half of the population is the financial equivalent of the Holy Grail for a pharmaceutical company.”

Tell someone!

July 5th, 2007

Clear communication to non-professionals

Over at Business Writing, Lynn dissects a letter she received from her health plan, which was designed to recruit volunteers for a clinical study.  We don’t often get this kind of feedback on our work, so pay attention!  If you’re writing for a general audience, write in language anyone can understand.  Get your non-professional spouse or best friend to read the material before you send it out.  If it’s really important, conduct a small focus group composed of members of your target audience to review the material.

May 22nd, 2007

Rachel Carson, Science Writer

As we approach the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birth, the Washington Post has a thoughtful article about her life, work, and continuing influence in the 43 years since her death.

May 22nd, 2007

When doctors write

Stephen J. Dubner (co-author of Freakonomics, the book and the blog) has an interesting two-part post up called When Doctors Write: Part I, Part II. Part I mentions How Doctors Think, a book that’s getting a lot of attention these days. Here’s a good quote:

So why do these doctors write so well, and so much better (to my mind, at least) than other non-writers? Perhaps there are elements of doctoring that lie in harmony with writing: peeling back the layers to get to the core of an issue; confronting the obvious but being willing to look beyond it; learning where to “cut in,” of course; and, more than anything, recognizing that this object before you – in one case a human body, in the other a manuscript – is on a certain level a miraculous object with the power to astound, and on another level is a complex, dynamic system which can (and must be) reduced to a schematic, laid out on paper or x-ray film.

May 21st, 2007

Drug Reps Talk Shop

Check out this video: Drug Reps Talk Shop. It was produced by an organization called PharmedOut and is billed as an investigative-style exposé. For most readers, none of it is news — but some of you may be enlightened by the discussion. The principal investigator at PharmedOut is Adriane Fugh-Berman, who was previously discussed here.

May 21st, 2007

Senate Report on Pharmaceutical Companies and CME

Many medical writers are involved in writing continuing medical education (CME) content.  If you’re one of them, you may be interested in this post on Health Care Renewal that summarizes a recently released Senate Finance Committee report on the industry and CME.

May 20th, 2007

Science Journalism Tracker

We like what Knight Science Journalism Tracker is doing. In fact, a lot of what they do is similar to what we intend this blog to do, but focused more on journalism than on our niche of medical/science writing for professional audiences. Here’s a great example of some recent media criticism from a very focused perspective: that of a peer who knows what they’re talking about.


If medical writers learn anything with their years of experience, it is that studies involving small numbers of subjects are notoriously unreliable. Good medical writers almost always pass up such potential stories because the public assumes that if we devote space to them, we have concluded that their findings merit attention, and merit it roughly in proportion to the amount of play. In today’s New York Times, reporter Ian Urbina, not one of the paper’s science or medical writers, has a 1,300-word story along with a three-column photo (see pic) and a map under a six-column hed: “Troops Exposure to Nerve Gas Could Have Caused Brain Damage, Scientists Say.” The package takes up half a page. It says there is new evidence that troops exposed to sarin nerve gas during the first Gulf War suffered permanent brain damage.

So how big was the study? Only 13 of an estimated 100,000 troops exposed to the gas were studied, along with an equal-sized control group. Worse, the story says, the subjects were not randomly chosen. Worse yet, the study was based on MRI imaging of brains, itself a field fraught with misinterpretation.

May 10th, 2007


Here’s a great post from Penelope Trunk at the Brazen Careerist on why you should avoid jargon.  Many of her examples sound like the stuff I used to hear when I worked with a bunch of MBAs, but some of that language has crept into everyday (non-business) conversations, too.  Yuck!

Something to be aware of…

March 6th, 2007

The importance of data graphics

As biomedical communicators, many of us are responsible for presenting data graphically in our work. When we write for a journal, our graphs and tables are usually redesigned, but when we produce work for other media — such as a poster or presentation — we need to present data graphics that are as professional as possible. Unfortunately, most of us have little-to-no training in this area. Even worse, it’s really easy to produce terrible data graphics — especially if one relies on the default settings in Excel and Word. This is why I recommend getting some training, or at least doing some reading, in the area of information design.

Here are two great blogs that use published examples from the media to illustrate poor design (and sometimes, flat-out deceptive design): Junk Charts and Pictures of Numbers. Also, AMWA offers at least two workshops on tables and graphs as part of their core curriculum (the editorial approach and the pharmaceutical approach — I don’t know what the differences between them are). If you get really inspired, see if your employer will send you to one of Edward Tufte’s seminars.

March 6th, 2007

Using pictures in health education

From the National Institute for Literacy comes this recent (January) discussion of using pictures in health communication materials for low-literacy audiences.  If this is an area of interest, you may want to subscribe to the health and literacy discussion list available through the institute (the archives are also available and searchable).

January 31st, 2007

Editing out climate change

This article from last year is timely, here on the eve of the IPCC’s Fourth Report on climate change. It’s evidence of how changing some words here and there can make a big difference.

January 30th, 2007

What to eat

From the NY Times Magazine, a good story on food and nutrition:

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts.

January 10th, 2007

Consumer Reports

The February issue of Consumer Reports has a feature on how patients can get better medical care. The feature is based on a three-part survey - 2 parts surveying patients, and 1 part surveying 335 PCPs. There are a few things of potential interest to medical communicators, including:

  • Online health information: “The Internet has given consumers almost limitless sources of information on their medical conditions. But 41 percent of doctors said their patients often showed up poorly informed because of bad information found online. If you research your condition online, as almost 40 percent of respondents did, take care to assess the site’s credibility before relying on its information.” It’s likely that some sites are putting out inaccurate health information. It’s also likely that some patients are misunderstanding poorly communicated information, or misreading well-communicated information. As the recent National Assessment suggests, only about 12% of adults are proficient in health literacy.

  • Direct-to-consumer ads: “Seventy-eight percent of doctors said patients asked them at least occasionally to prescribe drugs they had seen advertised on television, and 67 percent said they sometimes did so.” The report also urges consumers to “ignore drug ads.”
  • Doctor-patient communication: “Almost one-third of the doctors failed to discuss side effects of prescribed drugs, and two-thirds never brought up costs of treatments and tests, patients said.”

    Link to the summary.

January 10th, 2007

The Sunday Times Gay Sheep Debacle

The Next Hurrah has published an entry claiming that the Sunday Times of London deliberately published a pack of lies about a scientist’s work. It’s an interesting story about how two journalists apparently got all the facts of a story completely wrong — whether deliberately, as the Next Hurrah claims, or carelessly, as this Language Log post attests. Also involved: PETA, wacky science, Martina Navratilova, and people who think you can “cure” gayness. What a debacle. Interesting illustration that even when a scientist goes out of his way to provide facts to the media, sometimes the media gets it really wrong anyway.

By the way, I agree with Liberman at Language Log that “a generation of young intellectuals is … learning the lesson that everything they read and hear is likely to be bullshit,” but I would argue that that is a lesson that every new generation of young intellectuals learns (or believes it learns) in some way or another. Then they grow up to be bullshitters themselves, I guess.

Can we really say that our generation’s newspapers are any worse than the newspapers a hundred years ago?

January 9th, 2007

From the mailbag

This is an email we received yesterday, here at writers central:

I had heard that pharmaceutical companies did odd things with their research findings, but having recently taken a freelance pharma gig, I never really had it driven home. None of it is obscure, either — it’s things anyone who sifts through PUBMED or FDA.GOV can find out. Like — why aren’t there citations in a drug’s Package Insert? Why is it hard to find the studies the PI refers to? Why is it acceptable to run a trial in which the new drug is compared against a low-dose of an established drug? Why is only the smallest margin of significance over placebo allowed? Why is toxicity so forcefully underplayed? And why are interactions with female hormonal systems considered too complicated to risk testing on, yet then ok to prescribe to women?

When I first started out in this business, I got really disillusioned by some of what I saw and heard. I had the misfortune to work for a CRO that engaged in some slimy practices — I left as soon as I felt I could, after one year. That experience made me super cynical, which is one of the reasons I felt compelled to get involved in this project. I feel like we need to expose some of what is going on and get people talking about it.

Thanks for your email, S. - I know how you feel. I don’t know the answers to your questions, but maybe one of our other readers will chime in in the comments…

December 23rd, 2006

Disease mongering

Disease mongering is a term that describes the efforts of companies and individuals to expand the market for a treatment by convincing people that they are sick and need medical interention.This series of articles from PLoS Medicine includes articles on erectile dysfunction and bipolar disorder, among others. The articles came out of the Inaugural Conference on Disease Mongering, held in April of this year in Australia.

This is relevant to anyone who writes about health and medicine, so check it out.

December 23rd, 2006

Expressions of Risk

Here’s a good article about expressing risk in medical writing. The authors clearly explain the concepts of absolute and relative risk and the importance of fully reporting both (preferably in the abstract!).

For example:

Readers may be told that the relative risk of death with drug A compared with placebo is 0.5; in other words, people who take drug A are half as likely to die as people who take placebo. But without the underlying absolute risks—the chance of death in each group—the information is incomplete. A relative risk of 0.5, for example, is compatible with a wide range of changes in the risk of death: from 20% to 10%, from 1% to 0.5%, and from 0.0004% to 0.0002%.

This is a very common problem with journal articles, which is compounded when the results are reported in the popular press.

Found via DB’s Medical Rants.

December 10th, 2006


This is a meta post to apologize for the recent downtime experienced by this site. We were hit by a major storm of comment spam, which pushed us over our disk usage limitation. We managed to repair the damage this weekend. Hopefully, the changes we’ve made will prevent anything like this from happening in the future.

-The Management

December 4th, 2006

Science Reporting in the Popular Media: As Wrong as it Gets

In recent months, a number of stories have been reported in the popular press about differences in the ways that men and women communicate. One story in particular has to do with the mythological “fact” - completely unsupported by actual science - that women talk three times as much as men.

Over at Language Log, a blog about linguistics, there has been a fantastic flurry of posts related to the media coverage of the book that made this claim (The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine). See also this Boston Globe article.

This is all superbly illustrative of some of the problems with mass media reporting on science.

November 5th, 2006

100th Post!

This is the 100th post on MedWritingBlog.Com. We’d like to take this opportunity to welcome new readers and encourage everyone to comment on posts, send tips, send stories, and/or join us as a contributor. No commitment necessary. Very little technological know-how necessary. The only requirement is that you have an opinion!

Send mail to writers. Thanks for reading!

November 4th, 2006

Ghostwriting, medical writers, and ethics

In case you’ve missed it, Michael Altus, PhD, ELS, has been posting a running series on medical writing ethics on the message board at the the Council of Science Editors forum. He’s also been posting the series to the AMWA Freelancers list, but being able to read all the posts on the message board is nicer. For one thing, it facilitates discussion because the posts can be linked to. For another, if you happen to have joined the AMWA listserv midway through the series, as I did, you can go back and read the earlier posts on the message board (the AMWA listserv posts are not archived on a website anywhere, which is a serious flaw of the list).

Anyway, I haven’t read all the posts yet, but there have been 24 posts so far — 7 in the last month — and the author appears to have some interesting thoughts on the issue.

November 4th, 2006

The Corporate Author

How did we miss this one? This was published in April ‘05, and we’re just now reading it! See, this is why we need more writers.

The linked article is an account of Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman’s experience of being approached to be a “sham author” for an article. The author also brings to light the issue of articles that don’t explicitly promote a particular drug, but instead lay the groundwork for a new drug or make claims about a competitor’s drug. If I had to guess, I’d bet that this practice is more common than anyone realizes.

In response to Fugh-Berman’s article, our favorite campaigner against ghostwriters wrote a good reflective article that also links to an Effect Measure post on the topic and a slightly more sensational Guardian article by Fugh-Berman in which she names names.

Good stuff.

November 4th, 2006

Supplements (the written kind)

This Forbes article was recently brought to our attention (it was published in May 2006). A relevant quote:

Tulane University cardiologist Thierry Le Jemtel, who wrote a different article in [a fall 2004] supplement, says MedReviews offered to ghostwrite his article for him, but he demurred. MedReviews says it doesn’t typically use ghostwriters. J&J wouldn’t answer whether ghostwriters were involved.

That means they probably were.

I recently worked on a supplement that consisted of five articles, all of which were ghostwritten. I am less than proud of the work, but at least supplements are clearly marked as sponsored, unlike many of the articles in the referreed literature.

October 9th, 2006

Clarifying the Differences

I’d really like to see more of this kind of physician education: Goodbye Ghostwriters!: How To Work Ethically and Efficiently With Professional Medical Writers - an article published in the September 2006 issue of Chest (and freely available!).

By the way, I learned about this from the AMWA freelancers mailing list, which seems to be where all the discussions are happening. I never subscribed before (I’m not a freelancer) but there never was any discussion happening on the other lists, so I decided to check it out. It’s like any other mailing list, in that there’s plenty of noise, but it’s still a great resource. It’s for members only - go to your account update form to subscribe.

August 30th, 2006

Ghosts Begone!

Health Care Renewal: The Stealth Marketing of Neurontin is Dr. Poses’s latest coverage of ethically suspect behavior on the part of pharmaceutical marketing departments and the MECCs that work with them.

Dr. Poses rightly opposes the practice of ghostwriting. Unfortunately, he tends to lump all professional medical writers in together with ghostwriters, which is understandable. How is he supposed to believe that there is a difference between a medical writer and a ghostwriter, when too many of us allow our work to be unacknowledged? We need to put acknowledgement in our contracts and not work for companies that engage in ghostwriting. The practice needs to be made extinct.

August 9th, 2006

Healthy Skepticism

Healthy Skepticism is a nonprofit based in Australia that looks like it has some great resources. There’s an extensive library and a monthly international newsletter. Their reform agenda is “to improve health by reducing harm from misleading drug promotion.”

I like how they frame the problem of deceptive drug advertisements as a systemic issue. The Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors takes a similar approach in working to improve patient safety:
“The typical reaction to [medical] errors has been to assign blame to an individual or an institution and impose punitive measures. A punitive atmosphere only encourages people to hide mistakes, which makes it difficult for the industry to get a true handle on the types of errors that occur, their causes, and strategies for prevention.”

I think it’s wise to take the same attitude about misleading drug promotion - rather than trying to punish companies that engage in misleading tactics, the goals should be to raise awareness, and disseminate best practices, “improve regulation of drug promotion, improve health care decision making, [and] redesign the incentive systems for all involved in drug use.”

June 22nd, 2006

Medical Journals & Conflicts of Interest

How confident should we be in the objectivity of medical journals? Do commercial biases play a part in determining what appears in print? Read more in a commentary at BMJ.

June 22nd, 2006

Open Access

Last fall at AMWA’s conference in Pittsburgh, I attended an open session on “open access” publishing - the model in which peer-reviewed journals are freely available to readers and authors pay to publish. This week, Nature published an article looking at the finances of the flagship open access publisher, the Public Library of Science, or PLoS, which is struggling to establish itself and the model.

On Declan Butler, a blog, the author of the Nature article discusses the issue, and there are some interesting comments from readers. More discussion is also available at Nature’s own blog.

June 2nd, 2006

Journal Retracts Ghostwritten Article

A medical journal is retracting an article that they published in 1997 because it was ghostwritten by a consulting firm called ChemRisk on behalf of a polluting utility company. The press release from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog group that discovered the “serious breach of ethics,” has this to say:

ChemRisk was working for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a San Francisco-based utility whose dumping of the industrial chemical chromium-6 had contaminated the drinking water of the small town of Hinkley, Calif. Hinkley residents’ lawsuit against the company, which PG&E eventually paid $333 million to settle, was the basis for the film “Erin Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts as the legal investigator who uncovered the dumping.

PG&E hired ChemRisk to conduct a study to counter Hinkley [CA] residents’ claims of cancer and other illnesses from chromium-6 in their water. ChemRisk tracked down Zhang, a retired Chinese government health officer, and paid him about $2,000 for his original data. ChemRisk distorted the data to hide the chromium-cancer link, then wrote, prepared and submitted their “clarification’” to JOEM under Zhang and Li’s byline, and over Zhang’s written objection.

Here’s a link to the abstract of the retracted article.

The consequences of these shenanigans were pretty ghastly. The article was “cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in allowing continued use of chromium in a wood preservative, and by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in a report that discounted chromium-6 as an oral carcinogen. Most significantly, the fraudulent article was cited by a scientific panel whose 2001 report forced California health officials to revise a recommendation for how much chromium-6 should be allowed in drinking water.”

Thanks to B.W. for the tip.

May 31st, 2006

Drug firms and nonprofits: closeness without disclosure

Drug firms and nonprofit patient advocacy groups sometimes have very close relationships. The problem comes with ties that aren’t disclosed. How are patients supposed to trust anyone in the health field when these undisclosed potential conflicts of interest are so rampant? The Philadelphia Inquirer - at pharma ground central - has a story.

April 26th, 2006

Media Coverage of Chronic Fatigue

From the new Women in Media and News (WIMN) group blog, a post for journalists on covering chronic fatigue. Includes dos and don’ts for writing about this misunderstood disease.

April 18th, 2006

The Next Wave of MedComm

HealthBlog : Old Media Meets New at AMA Medical Communications Conference:

A younger generation of medical communicators is gravitating towards new media… that desktop or notebook PC you are using puts communication technology at your fingertips that used to require a $100 million broadcasting studio and tower to pull off. No more! The power is in your hands.

Nice to know we’re on the cutting edge. I agree with his positive outlook, but I kind of hate the idea that blogging has to be “monetized” (yuck!) for it to be viable. Some people do make a living from blogging, but most people don’t (and shoudn’t, if you ask me.) The ones who don’t make a living aren’t any less interesting or worthwhile.

April 18th, 2006

Adding Insults to Injury

A new law goes into effect on July 1 that requires Medicaid beneficiaries to produce official papers proving their citizenship. Okay, fine, I get that times are tough and people think we can’t be spending taxpayer dollars on health care coverage for illegal immigrants. Fine. But do I get to be annoyed by the Times journalist who clumsily makes it sound like black people and Native Americans are always poor? Here’s the quote: “State officials worry that many blacks, American Indians and other poor people will be unable to come up with the documents needed to prove citizenship.”

Rewritten to be more accurate: “State officials worry that many eligible people will be unable to come up with the documents needed to prove citizenship.”

The explanations come later: “Ms. Gregoire said the provision would cause hardship for many older African-Americans who never received birth certificates and for homeless people who did not have ready access to family records,” and, “Many older Americans do not have birth certificates because their parents did not have access to hospitals, and so they were born at home. In the last century, all over the South, because of segregation and racial discrimination, many hospitals would not take minorities,” and, “The new requirement is causing alarm in Indian country. Representative Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican whose district includes more than 145,000 Navajos and Apaches, is urging the Bush administration to let people qualify for Medicaid by showing “certificates of Indian blood” and other forms of tribal identification.”

Then we find out that the bill is superfluous anyway:

State Medicaid officials were already required to check the immigration status of people who said they were noncitizens. But until this year, when applicants claimed United States citizenship, states had discretion: they could choose whether to require documentation. More than 40 states accepted the applicants’ written statements as proof of citizenship unless the claims seemed questionable… Dr. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services… said he was unaware of any fraud. “The report does not find particular problems regarding false allegations of citizenship, nor are we aware of any,” Dr. McClellan said…

PS The law is actually called the Deficit Reduction Act. What about cutting defense spending, which is what is really causing the deficit?

April 18th, 2006

Drug Pushers

There’s a pretty harsh article in last week’s Boston Phoenix about pharmaceutical research, scientific publishing, ghostwriting, “honorary” authorship, and other relevant subjects. It’s pretty accurate if you ask me. The president of my chapter of AMWA, Andrea Gwosdow, is quoted several times.

April 12th, 2006

Newspaper Publishes “Well, Duh” Article About Drug Trials

The Washington Post is apparently surprised to learn that
drug trials funded by drug companies often favor the sponsor. Well, duh! What did they expect?

March 29th, 2006

PR Tactics in the UK

Today’s Guardian has an interesting report on the role played by the Ketchum PR firm in promoting Herceptin for Roche Pharmaceuticals through support for patient groups such as CancerBACUP, which gets a significant chunk of its funding from Roche and other drug companies. According to one survey, 18 of 24 major patient groups in the UK accept drug-company money.

March 20th, 2006

Cloning Paper Controversy

Medical writers aren’t the only ones who are sometimes denied credit for the work they do in scientific and medical publishing. Technicians who were involved in cloning Dolly in 1997 are speaking up about their part in the cloning breakthrough.

Many scientists say technicians are merely doing what they are told, while the credit - the all-important name on the paper - goes to those whose intellectual thought made the research a success. “You get some papers where the authors haven’t done a scrap of work themselves, it’s all down to the technicians acknowledged at the back,” said one researcher.

Link 1. Link 2.

February 23rd, 2006

Fast Food Restaurants’ Toilet Water Surprisingly Clean

You may have heard the news about the middle-schooler’s science project showing that the ice from 3 out of 5 fast food restaurants harbored more bacteria than their toilets. CJR’s take on it is quite amusing, to wit: “given enough time, money, and perseverance one of America’s largest news networks can, in fact, duplicate the results of one kid’s middle-school science fair project.”

Great bit of media criticism.

February 16th, 2006

The Low-Fat Diet Story

I’ve been asked to explain why I think that Delthia Ricks’s article on the low-fat diet study was “pretty poor.” First off, I know that she probably didn’t write the headline, so I shouldn’t hold it against her, but the headline sucks.

Secondly, in any article about this study, I think it’s hugely important to note up front - in the lede, in my opinion - that the overall difference between the two diets was minimal. The so-called low-fat diet group averaged 24% fat intake the first year, and 29% the 6th year. The control group’s fat intake ranged from 35 to 37%. [Source]

The real fat intake may have been higher, since it’s very common for people to claim better eating habits than they really have.

The control group’s diet was very similar - they even reduced the amount of fat in their diets, even though they weren’t asked to change their diets at all.

LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) decreased only 2.6 percent more in the low-fat diet group than in the comparison group. How can you show between-group differences when the groups didn’t follow substantially different diets or see much change in their clinical test results?

Besides that, the researchers made no distinction between bad fats (like saturated fat and trans fatty acids) and good fats (like omega-3 fatty acids). And if you believe T. Colin Campbell, the real culprit in cancer and many other diseases isn’t just fat intake, but intake of animal-based foods. If you ask me, the study needed a vegetarian/vegan group.

In any case, the incidence of breast cancer was 9 percent lower in the study group than in the comparison group. So although that’s not enough to be statistically significant, the sub-head is wrong: “New study shows no added protection against stroke, heart attack, breast cancer in women 50 to 79.”

I know it’s difficult to write nuanced stories covering all sides of an issue, but stories like Ms. Ricks’s make it really difficult for the public to know whom to trust.

(By the way, the NY Times article on the study was equally poor)

February 16th, 2006

Hormone therapy and hidden potential conflicts of interest

Columbia Journalism Review Daily had an interesting post yesterday on lack of disclosure in a media story. Dr. Lila Nachtigall, who gets paid to speak for at least 11 drug companies (including Wyeth, the biggest maker of hormone replacement drugs) is quoted as an expert who thinks that the package insert for the estrogen drug Premarin should be revised so it’s not so “frightening”. The Newsday story was written by “Newsday Health and Science Writer” Delthia Ricks. I notice she also wrote a pretty poor account of the “low-fat” diet study that came out last week. Journalists who write about health and science have a huge responsibility to cover stories accurately and, if they don’t know how to do that, they need to get some training.

February 11th, 2006

A Black Box Warning for Ritalin?

An FDA advisory committee voted 8 to 7 this week to require that Ritalin and other stimulants carry a black box warning. The action was especially surprising because the FDA had convened the committee to advise on research to assess possible heart risks of the drugs–not to address the drugs’ labeling. [NYTimes]

February 9th, 2006

Why Do Patients Seek Nontraditional Care?

The reasons are many–disappointment, disillusionment, desperation, to name a few–and the numbers of people getting alternative or complementary medicine are growing: from 42% of American adults a decade to 48% in 2004. And the most current estimate for what they’ve spent is $27 billion annually. NYTimes

January 30th, 2006

Health Literacy

“Come Again?” Good Medicine Requires Clarity.

If doctors’ overreliance on consent forms is bad for patients who can read well, it is a disaster for the 21 percent of adults in the United States who read at a sixth-grade level or below, and for an additional 27 percent who, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, lack the proficiency needed to navigate the health care system easily. Unless they pay close attention, doctors may miss the signs that a patient is a poor reader, said Toni Cordell, a literacy advocate who graduated from high school reading at a fifth-grade level. “We’re often ashamed, and we get really good at hiding it,” she said.

For more about health literacy, start at Harvard’s Health Literacy Studies site.

January 25th, 2006

More Fakery Exposed

Respected Norwegian scientist faked study on oral cancer. This guy clearly wanted to be caught, because he gave 250 of the 900-odd faked patients the same birthday. Either that, or he worked in such isolation that no one else ever saw his data, which, as someone who works in the clinical trial business, I find implausible. I wonder whether some manufacturer of anti-inflammatory drugs paid him, or whether he just had some kind of mental break or something?

January 25th, 2006

MDs to Pharmas: Please, sirs, less!

In today’s issue of JAMA, physicians from Harvard, Columbia, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the University of California, among others, call for more stringent regulation of the pharmaceutical industry’s “gifting” practices.

Medical schools and teaching hospitals should take the lead in the elimination or modification of common practices related to small gifts, pharmaceutical samples, continuing medical education, funds for physician travel, speakers bureaus, ghostwriting, and consulting and research contracts - and all doctors should eventually follow suit.

Sounds like they really, really, really mean it this time!

January 24th, 2006

Brand Management in Health Care

Here’s an article about how hospitals and health care systems are placing more importance on their brand recognition and spending millions of dollars promoting their brands. Found via Health Care Renewal, whose post sort of sets up a false dichotomy — they imply that you can either spend money on marketing OR patient care, but not both. I do agree that MBAs run amok is a good way to describe many hospitals for the last 30 years!

January 19th, 2006

Fraudulent oncology article in Lancet

From the New York Times:

Published: January 19, 2006
A large study concluding that anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the risk of oral cancer was based on fabricated data, according to The Lancet, the prominent British medical journal that published the report last year.

The principal author was Jon Sudbo, a cancer researcher at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo. He had four co-authors at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and another at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.

In the Lancet paper, Dr. Sudbo said he received financing from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. The news agency Agence France-Presse said the amount was $10.5 million.

A spokeswoman for the institute said yesterday that she could not confirm it had provided the financing. She noted that $10 million was a minute slice of the agency’s budget.

Officials at the Norwegian Radium Hospital told The Lancet they had information that the data was manipulated, the journal’s editor, Richard Horton, wrote in its current issue.

Dr. Sudbo is away on sick leave, according to Agence France-Presse. His American co-authors declined to comment, but their institutions both said in statements that they were not involved in the Norwegian hospital’s investigation.

“We are still reeling from the shock,” said Dr. Leonard Zwelling, vice president for research at M. D. Anderson. “There is no worse feeling in the world” than for a researcher to learn that he has put his name to a paper with fabricated data, Dr. Zwelling said.

A special feature of epidemiological studies like Dr. Sudbo’s is that they involve large numbers of patients and are unlikely to be repeated by other laboratories. Replication is considered the most reliable test of scientific quality.

The data problems in the Lancet report were discovered by Camilla Stoltenberg of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who is responsible for the Cohort of Norway database from which Dr. Sudbo had said the data were drawn, according to a report in the journal Nature.