Friday, January 06, 2006

Mere Magazines

Still catching up from the holidays. A Dec. 30 commentary in the Wall Street Journal made much the same point in the Vioxx debate as raised earlier in this blog: even our most prestigious medical journals are "mere magazines." Thomas Stossel, the American Cancer Society Professor at Harvard Medical School, decried MSM coverage of Merck's Vioxx situation, stating the media conclusion: "Medical academics are saints -- devoted selflessly to patient care -- and corporate people are sinners, morally blinded by greed." Stossel obviously disagrees: "But having worked in academic medicine for over 35 years and consulted for companies, this Manichean duality is inconsistent with my experience and a woeful distortion of reality. In a Sept. 8 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, I reported that no systematic evidence exists that corporate sponsorship of academic research contributes to misconduct, bias, public mistrust or poor research quality." Stossel urges medical journals to "stick to their core business of facilitating imperfect communication between researchers. Leave drug and device monitoring to the FDA -- and theology to theologians." Picking up on the last point, it is disturbing how anti-scientific (theological) have become the calls to restrict dietary salt against accumulating evidence that the intervention just doesn't deliver health benefits for the general population. The anti-science has a theological tenor -- faith in the absence of evidence. In this case, it's worse -- faith in the face of evidence to the contrary. As in the case of the all-knowing Wizard of Oz, we're advised: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." We need truth-tellers like Dr. Stossel...and Dorothy.

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