“Integrity in Science” – who’s paying the piper?

UPDATE: The Integrity in Science database is no longer posted on the CSPI website. See ProPublica’s Dollars For Docs: How Industry Money Reaches Physicians site for comparable financial conflict of interest lists.

Looking for a luscious way to noodle away an hour this weekend? Check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest and their Integrity In Science conflict-of-interest project. But before you back away slowly for something more exciting like organizing the sock drawer, consider this: there is strong evidence that researchers’ financial ties to chemical, pharmaceutical, or tobacco manufacturers directly influence their published positions in supporting the benefit or downplaying the harm of the manufacturers’ product.

In other words, as a heart attack survivor whose doctor has prescribed a fistful of meds, I have no clue which of those drugs has been recommended based on flawed research or tainted journal papers that have essentially been bought and paid for by the drug company who made them. And, worse,  neither do my doctors.

So to check who’s taking money from whom, you can now visit the Integrity in Science database and find out for yourself.   Continue reading

Seattle report claims: “Admitting medical errors is not always the best policy”

Five years ago, a medical laboratory in Canada made a series of catastrophic mistakes. Lab tests misdiagnosed the estrogen receptor status of almost 400 Newfoundland women with breast cancer – a potentially deadly error because women who are estrogen receptor positive must receive different cancer treatments than women who are ER negative. But it wasn’t until two years later, after the CBC and other national media across Canada ran stories revealing this disturbingly high rate of errors, that the provincial government finally ordered a commission of inquiry to get at the truth. Of those wrongly tested and thus wrongly treated women, 100 are now dead.

Fifty of the women, some of whom had undergone mastectomies, had been told they had advanced breast cancer when they did not.   Continue reading

Why the poor pay virtually no attention to ‘quit smoking’ campaigns

Years ago, while working on a street outreach program feeding the homeless, I observed that virtually every one of our clients was a smoker. (In fact, researchers now estimate that about 94% of the North American homeless population smoke). These are men and women whose health is already severely compromised because of their living conditions, mental health issues, addictions or disease – not to mention lack of money for smokes.

Why are they adding a known health threat like tobacco to the mix as well?

A fascinating study in the UK shed some light on that question by observing that the poorer you are, the more likely you’ll be to take up smoking, and the less likely you’ll also be to quit smoking.(1) It helps to explain the spectacular lack of success that otherwise effective anti-smoking campaigns have among lower socioeconomic populations.   Continue reading

Why industry lobbyists and pseudo-scientists insist that the “meat and butter diet” is actually good for us

Did you ever notice those little food pyramid guideline posters that are issued by the government to remind us how to eat healthy? Did you also notice how these guidelines have managed to change over the years? Turns out that industry lobbyists, front groups, special interest organizations, and a long line of pseudo-scientists are working very hard to demand official dietary guideline changes that will benefit their specific financial goals. And compared to other arguably healthier non-government eating programs like the Mediterranean diet or Harvard University’s Healthy Food Pyramid Alternative, one wonders just how good these processed carb-heavy government pyramids are anyway.

This year, the powerful lobby group called The Sugar Association, for example, is calling any official government recommendation to reduce daily sugar consumption “impractical, unrealistic, and not grounded in the body of evidence.” Continue reading

How 10-year old children are helping Philip Morris earn billions in cigarette sales each year

Philip Morris CEO Louis Camilleri

It’s bad enough that cigarettes are deadly for those who choose to smoke, but workers in the tobacco industry can be equally at risk.  A report called Hellish Work released by Human Rights Watch has revealed 72 cases of children as young as 10 working 12-hour days in Kazakhstan tobacco fields for Philip Morris International, a job with particular risks for child workers, warn the authors of Hellish Work. Nicotine absorbed through the skin is a serious health issue. Those handling tobacco leaves can absorb as much nicotine daily as they would get by smoking 36 cigarettes – a staggering dose for children.   Continue reading

What doctors should do – but don’t – when their colleagues are “significantly impaired or incompetent to practice medicine”

 There’s an old nurses’ joke that goes like this:

  • Q:   What do you call the medical student who finishes dead last in every one of his classes all through med school?
  • A:    “Doctor”

But what happens when these docs are eventually let loose upon the unsuspecting public as professionals with the letters MD after their names?  Who keeps an eye on substandard doctors?

The alarming results of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveal that, although most physicians believe that their medical colleagues who are “significantly impaired or incompetent to practice medicine” should be reported, the reality is that a disturbing number actually chose instead to sit by and do nothing even when they admitted they had “direct personal knowledge” of such incompetence.  Continue reading