Is even NPR owned by Big Pharmaceuticals?

Douglas Kalman makes a great case that even National Public Radio allows uneven handed coverage of the drug debate.

In the quest for more infotainment Marketing and Advertising is being pushed as real science. There aren’t any real hardball questions from real scientists and researchers not involved in profiteering from whatever is being pushed.

conflicts of interest, NPR?
Posted by: “Douglas Kalman” dougkalman
Wed May 7, 2008 10:25 am (PDT)
medical examiner: Health and medicine explained.

Stealth MarketersAre doctors shilling for drug companies on public

By Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer
Posted Tuesday, May 6, 2008, at 1:06 PM ET

A few weeks ago, devoted listeners of National Public Radio member
stations* were
treated to an episode of the award-winning radio series The Infinite
Mind called “Prozac Nation: Revisited
.” The segment featured four
prestigious medical experts discussing the controversial link between
antidepressants and suicide. In their considered opinions, all four said
that worries about the drugs have been overblown.

The radio show, which was broadcast nationwide and paid for in part by
the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, had the air of quiet,
authoritative credibility. Host Dr. Fred Goodwin, a former director of
the National Institute of Mental Health, interviewed three prominent
guests, and any radio producer would be hard-pressed to find a more
seemingly credible quartet. Credible, that is, except for a crucial
detail that was never revealed to listeners: All four of the experts on
the show, including Goodwin, have financial ties to the makers of
antidepressants. Also unmentioned were the “unrestricted grants” that
The Infinite Mind has received from drug makers, including Eli Lilly,
the manufacturer of the antidepressant Prozac.

We don’t know just how much funding or when the show last received it,
since neither Goodwin nor the show’s producers responded to repeated
requests for interviews. But the larger point is that undisclosed
financial conflicts of interest among media sources seem to be popping
up all over the place these days. Some experts who appear independent
are, in fact, serving as stealth marketers for the drug and biotech
industries, and reporters either don’t know about their sources’
conflicts of interests, or they fail to disclose them to the public.


Take the November 2006 NBC Nightly News story that asked, “Can lung
scans really prevent cancer death?” Reporter Mike Taibbi, a former
smoker, underwent scanning by Dr. Claudia Henschke, a professor of
radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Henschke claimed
on the show that early detection with lung scans could prevent 80
percent of deaths from lung cancer. Although Taibbi included another
expert who said that Henschke’s claim was “outrageous,” viewers were
left with little way to evaluate the two conflicting viewpoints. And
Taibbi himself concluded that early detection was his “best chance.” At
no point did viewers learn that Henschke’s research was funded by a
tobacco company, which has an investment in making the risks of smoking
appear to be manageable-or that many experts warn that more research is
needed to determine whether the potential benefits of scanning outweigh
its harms.

How frequently are journalists glossing over such conflicts? Gary
Schwitzer, a professor of journalism at the University of Minnesota, is
the publisher of, 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
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

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.

Which brings us back to The Infinite Mind and “Prozac Nation:
Revisited,” a show that may stand in a class by itself for concealing
bias. In addition to the show’s unrestricted grants from Lilly, the
host, Goodwin, is on the board of directors of Center for Medicine in
the Public Interest, an industry-funded front, or “Astroturf” group,
which receives a majority of its funding from drug companies. CMPI
President Peter Pitts was one of Goodwin’s three guests for “Prozac
Nation.” We don’t know which companies fund his group because when we
asked him, Pitts said, “I don’t want to go into that.” But CMPI took in
more than $1.4 million in 2006 and, according to its tax forms, spent
$210,000 to influence the media through a large conference, a blog the
group maintains, op-eds published in major newspapers, and multimedia
programs and podcasts. Pitts has another title that might have been
relevant to The Infinite Mind; he is the senior vice president for
global health affairs at the PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee, which
represents Eli Lilly Inc., GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and more than a
dozen other pharmaceutical companies. Yet on the show, Pitts was
identified only by his title as “a former FDA official.”

The second guest on “Prozac Nation,” Andrew F. Leuchter, is a professor
of psychiatry at UCLA who has received research money from drug
companies including Eli Lilly Inc., Pfizer, and Novartis. The third
guest, Nada Stotland, president-elect of the American Psychiatric
Association, has served on the speakers’ bureaus of GlaxoSmithKline and
Pfizer. None of Leuchter and Stotland’s ties to industry was revealed to
listeners-instead, each was introduced as a prominent academic.

The Infinite 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 The Infinite
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.

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 , and we’ll
be happy to name names.

Correction, May 6, 2008: The original sentence incorrectly stated that
The Infinite Mind is carried on NPR itself, rather than on NPR member
stations. (Return to
the corrected sentence.)

Douglas S. Kalman PhD, RD, CCRC, FACN

Miami Research Associates

Director, Nutrition & Applied Clinical Research

6141 Sunset Drive #301

Miami, FL. 33143


305-595-9239 (fax)


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